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Organizing a Mountain Town Meetup – Growing Pains – Part 6

tahoe pitch showcase lively crowd

Background

This post is part of our series on Organizing a Mountain Town Meetup.

Here are the previous posts:

Part 1 – Introduction please read this for the background you’ll need to fully enjoy this post.

Part 2 – Meetup Basics

Part 3 – Getting the Word Out

Part 4 – At the Event

Part 5 – Meetup Finances

In this post, we’ll be using Tahoe Silicon Mountain (TSM), the nonprofit we’ve been running since 2010, as an example.

Maintaining Meetup Quality

The goal for any growing meetup should be to maintain the quality of the events that originally attracted the attendees while not requiring one organizer to put in heroic efforts to maintain it.

It’s possible that as your meetup grows and becomes more popular, it may become a victim of its own success.

This blog post will give you some strategies to help manage the growth and ensure your group thrives, including:

  • Working with volunteers
  • Venue challenges
  • Code of Conduct
  • Creating systems

Learning to Work With Your Volunteers

Volunteers are critical to the success of any growing meetup. Meetup founders may burn out, grow to be too busy or decide to move on. If you’d like to build a sustainable organization that can grow to meet the demand, you must develop and support your volunteers.

How to Find Volunteers

Finding volunteers is often as easy as asking the people already attending your meetups. If people are finding value, they will often want to help. For those who are hesitant to commit too much time, many volunteer tasks may only be needed during the event itself, so that volunteering takes no more time than simply attending the meeting.

Good Tasks for Volunteers

Some things that you may want to assign to your volunteers:

  • greeting and registering people
  • setting up chairs
  • cleaning up trash
  • setting up audio/visual equipment
  • ordering food
  • etc.

Ensuring a Positive Volunteer Experience

If people are volunteering, you’ll want to make sure that they have a good experience. When your volunteers arrive, be sure to welcome and thank them. It’s usually best to give new volunteers training on some very specific tasks. If they’re new, volunteers often won’t be motivated to find tasks to do and they’ll look to you for direction. This especially may apply to younger volunteers.

Once your volunteers are done, be sure to thank them again and invite them back. This really helps people feel welcome and ensures that they return. Some school-age volunteers may have paperwork for you to sign so that they can receive credit at school.

If you have regular volunteers, you may want to give them additional recognition. At Tahoe Silicon Mountain, we make special name badges for all of our regular volunteers and provide free dinner at the event.

Venue Considerations with Growth

As your meetup grows, the location where you hold your meetups may also need to grow.

Bigger Venues Might Mean More Planning

Larger venues may have special considerations. You may need to arrange for microphones and speakers so that everyone can hear. Depending on your audience, you may find that you need to make accommodations for people with young children or with disabilities.

A larger venue may take more advanced planning to book or there may be increased fees. If you serve food, you may also have challenges with feeding a larger group.

Consider Limiting Attendees

An alternative to moving to a larger venue could be limiting the number of people in attendance. If your venue only holds 100 people and a larger venue is not possible, you may need to use a reservation system to avoid too many people showing up. This can work well for popular events but it can also turn people off or make the event inaccessible to some.

Livestreaming Your Event

Another alternative to moving to a larger venue is livestreaming the event. This has the additional benefit of reaching people who might not have been able to make your event because of timing, travel required, or prior commitments.

Services like YouTube will allow you to livestream and post recorded videos for free. Many speakers will find this to be a big benefit because applying to speak at a conference or larger event may require a video of their talks. Or it may just help you and them reach a larger audience.

However, livestreaming or recording an event does bring its own set of complications. You may need to hire a video crew or have a volunteer who is willing to operate the video equipment. Trying to record an event with a phone or webcam probably won’t give very good results. Often, the speaker may need a microphone so that they’re audible on the recording. If it’s not done professionally, it will be hard for people to see any slides presented during the event.

For Tahoe Silicon Mountain, we got creative when space at our original venue, Pizza on the Hill, became tight. We explored moving to a larger venue but were deterred by high fees and more planning time.

Instead, we hired Truckee Tahoe Community Television for professional livestreaming, which reached both members at home and those down the hall from our main presentation room in an overflow space. The overflow space is perfect for casual livestream viewing and appropriate for people with smaller children.

Code of Conduct

When you first start a meetup, it may be tempting to think that you will always know and trust all of your members to be respectful. Inevitably as you grow, you run the risk that people may intentionally or unintentionally do things that may upset others within the group.

A code of conduct is a set of rules that you ask all of your members to observe along with guidelines on what may happen to someone who breaks the code. Your code of conduct should be in place before any problems arise within the group. Every member should be made aware of the code of conduct either by signing it and/or by reviewing it prior to the start of each meeting. It should also be published on your website.

If there are any violations of the code of conduct, you should enforce the rules. After all, rules aren’t very useful if they’re not enforced.

And while you may not see the benefit of a code of conduct, some people will be uncomfortable or may not attend your meetup if they do not see that you have a code of conduct in place. This especially goes for speakers who may not be familiar with your group.

There are many places where you can find pre-written codes of conduct online, so you can pick one that is appropriate for your group or use it to customize and create your own.

Systems

As more people become involved, it becomes difficult to organize and make sure everyone follows the same procedures to ensure a quality event. Systems are standard operating procedures like documents, checklists, training manuals, etc. that help by giving people a set of instructions to follow.

As your meetup grows and evolves, keep your systems up-to-date and make it mandatory that people read and follow them.

Examples of situations in which written procedures might be useful:

  • promoting the event
  • checking people into the meetup
  • setting up/breaking down/cleaning up an event
  • organizing a speaker
  • etc.

Different events may need their own systems. For example, at Tahoe Silicon Mountain, the steps necessary to promote our flagship Mountain Minds Monday event are vastly different from those to promote our smaller First Friday at Four events.

Conclusion

Having a growing meetup is very exciting. It’s very rewarding knowing that more and more people are finding your events valuable.

Growth brings its own challenges: the logistics become more complicated and it’s unsustainable for one person (or a small group of people) to do by themselves.

The advice in this blog post should help a lot with growing your meetup while still maintaining the quality that attracted people to your event in the first place.

What’s Next?

Stay tuned for Part 7 – Finding Speakers

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