1. Have a sense of what you want to accomplish.
I started our MeetUp group at a very low point in my life and for very selfish reasons. I was struggling with my dreams of being a photographer and knew at some level I had to keep practicing but I didn’t want to shoot alone. Now, over 2 years later, and with over 500 registered members – my agenda is completely different – I want others who love photography to practice in an exciting, non-judgmental environment, and share their knowledge with other members.
Action: Sit down and write out a few paragraphs for yourself about why you started the group, what you hope to accomplish, and what is in it for the members who join. That way, if someone unexpectedly asks you about your group or wants to interview you for a local story, you’ll be prepared.
2. Take time to welcome new members to the group.
Reach out in some way, even if it means sending a quick hello greeting or welcome email. Review their member profile or information page. If you are meeting them in person for the first time, walk around a bit with them. Find out what their shooting interests are and what kind of equipment they use. For instance, I shoot with an Olympus. That makes me somewhat of an anomaly. Finding out who else in the group shoots Olympus gives us a chance to talk about ideas, share lenses and troubleshoot equipment issues.
Action: Find out what ‘features’ the group’s platform has – what will it let you do, and what can you set up automatically. For instance, Meetup.com lets you send greetings to new members who sign up – either automatic ones or ones that you customize yourself. Make a habit of checking in every few days to see how many members have joined, and spend a few minutes greeting them. You will be glad you did.
3. Make sure the events you choose are diverse.
The members in your group will all have great ideas and suggestions as to what to plan for – it’s sad that we cant do everything – just keep the activities varied to interest as many of the members as possible. Sometimes that means planning events you have absolutely no personal interest in at all. In those cases, I say suck it up and go anyway, or find a person willing to act as the organizer in your place.
Action: Ask for suggestions from other members. Research your community’s event calendar. Some events are posted far in advance, and that will let you as the organizer make some plans. Other events may be a spur of the moment idea, with little or no planning at all! Make sure you plan at least a month in advance to give your group enough time arrange their schedules.
4. Don’t assume any one’s interest or skill level.
As the Organizer, accept the fact that there will always be people who know more, and people who know less than you. The biggest mistake I made early on was to be intimidated by ‘the assumed experts’ in the group. That led to me abdicating leadership and information, and for the most part, it backfired every time. The best plan is to create your own, trust your gut, and go with it. You can always do something different next time!
Action: What is your skill level? Can you anticipate how to handle questions that you don’t know the answer to? How will you respond to someone who may ‘take over’ your event? What will you do if you have to ask someone to leave the group? Being prepared not only as the photographer but a leader will help keep you grounded and confident.
5. Always listen.
Hearing is one thing, listening is another. I made a big mistake my first year assuming the actions and responses of some of the members and they left the group pretty angrily. You don’t have to do what everyone wants or thinks you should do, but you have to respect them enough to hear them out. They still may be upset, but truly listening will at least help them feel validated and heard.
Action: Anticipate questions, requests and feedback that is not always pleasant. Practice the art of true listening whenever you can.
6. Recognize and celebrate the important milestones.
Every year in our anniversary month, we’ve done something to recognize the date and thank our members for being a part of something so fantastic! The group is THEM, not just us. We are successful because they show up, participate and have fun. After every event, members post their images to an album on the website, so that others can see that just because we were all at the same place doesn’t mean that all of the images will look the same. Sharing our work gives us feedback, support and lots of ideas for the next shoot.
Action: When you are planning out the photo events and activities for the year, build into the calendar some time to celebrate your milestones, anniversaries or member appreciations.
7. Do what you can to keep it free.
This one is important to me, but no so much to other organizers of different groups. That is OK, because it’s a personal preference. The organizers in our group pay the yearly dues to Meetup.com because that is how we give back, but other groups may ask their members to help share that cost when they join. When we plan events that involve entrance or parking fees, we let the members handle that and choose if they want to participate or not. Trust me, it all works out in the end.
Action: Some groups have formal sponsorship programs; others wont. You can still work with local owners to underwrite some of your direct costs. Make some calls, and build some strategic alliances with businesses your community. You may be surprised at how much support you can get.
Here are some organizations that have active photo groups – find one near your area, or even start one of your own. It’s your dream!
Until next photo,
Remy’s dream is creating opportunities for photography showings and public displays of her work