Guest Blogger - Tips for running a user group

Guest Blogger - Tips for running a user group

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Graham Jones (Vancouver, British Columbia, IT Pro)

Graham Jones from VANTUG is the one of the grandfathers of user groups in Canada (he is probably going to kill me for putting it that way) having been part of VANTUG for many years including acting as president for 5 years now.  VANTUG was putting on user group meetings long before most.  Because of this I thought it would be appropriate to share his tips for running a user group.  With over 25 user groups that we help, plus the many more we haven't discovered (HINT: Click the Email link at the top of the page) and the many we also hope to help create (See previous hint) we have a strong community in Canada and we'd love to help it grow.

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1. Running a UG is like running your own, small not-for-profit business. If you do not have the “passion”, energy or time to commit to whatever it takes to make it a success, don’t go there! If you fail then you may just have made it very difficult for those who come after you to try again. Often UG’s are run or started by people with good technical skills. This has its advantages but business and management skills are far more important today.

2. Your members are your customers and the fact that membership may very well be free (though not always) doesn’t mean that they won’t have very high expectations.

3. Functionally you will eventually need the following:

1. President (CEO and outward ‘face’ of the UG)
2. Vice-President (stands in for and assists President)
3. Finance Director (somebody has to decide which “pot” the beer money for the Board meetings will come from :))
4. Secretary (someone has to get the short straw and take the Board meeting minutes)
5. Program Director (works with the President to set up a program of speakers and to organize the events)
6. Marketing/PR Director (the money for the beer for the Board meetings has to be raised somewhere)
7. Events Director (recruits & marshals the volunteer troops for bigger events)
8. Webmaster
9. SIG Coordinator (acts as Board liaison to SIG Leaders if you have SIG’s)
4. As President be prepared to be any and all of these at various times!
5. Practice your best inter-personal skills. I was raised with “please and thank you” being 4 of the most important words in English. They have always worked for me!
6. The commitment, compatability and quality of people on the Board can be the difference between success and failure. The UG must choose very wisely!
7. Continuity of Board members is very important.
8. Build confidence through regular, relevant communication using email, website and blogs.
9. Ask your members for input and listen to their suggestions (the occasional survey doesn’t hurt but keep it very brief) – remember they are your customers.
10. Ultimately you will be judged on the ‘product’ – consistently high quality events that impart practical knowledge and education.

When people regularly send you unsolicited emails or come up to you at meetings and say that they learned something that they can take “back home” and use then you know that things are on the right track. Don’t ever assume that “silence” means that things are OK. It is often the opposite! Make people feel like they want to attend for the content and not the SWAG or pizza and pop!

I hope that my musings from 5+ years as the President of VANTUG are helpful. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance.

Rodney's note: To protect Graham from the spammers I did not publish his email address, click the Email link at the top of the page and I will get you in contact with him!

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Graham Jones is the president of VANTUG going on 5 years now.  He is passionate about the user group community in Canada and offers assistance to both newly formed user groups as well as those that have been in operation for years.  He is also organizing Vancouver Techfest and is the founder of IT Volunteering two ambitious projects that are set to change both the IT community and the public community for the positive.

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