Two user groups thinking about their future

This morning I see not one, but two posts from user group leaders who are reassessing how their user group is working and what they need to do for the future of the group.

Sam Gentile leads Beantown.NET, in downtown Boston. The other long-established and very large Boston.NET group is actually in Waltham, which is some 20-30 miles outside of Boston, so having meetings downtown definitely satisfies the needs of some developers. But after a year, Sam was ready for the group to be more than a one-off every month: get more organized, have some direction. Here is his description of the meeting his group had about this and the outcome. (Also in this post is some great news for Sam, a new fun job doing something he is really excited about!)

Joey Brenn, from Wichita Developers.NET had similar things on his mind when he attended the INETA User Group Leader summit in Orlando last month. He wants his group to be more organized and really think into the future. He knew that to do that he needed to have some corporate sponsorship, but without non-profit status, there are barriers to that. I definitely know about this. For VTdotNET, I try to keep financial transactions at a minimum and anything anyone gives the group, they do out of the goodness of their heart since we aren’t a non-profit. We don’t even have a bank account. Any extra cash we have (like oh, $40 maybe – when we get pizza ourselves and the members contributions exceed the cost of the pizza) is in a little jewlery box in my dresser! So Joey came home from the summit and knew that the next step for his group was to become a non-profit. This will take organization and dedicated volunteers and it sounds like Joey is on the right track for his group.

User groups are very different and everyone has a different formula for success. I like to use my little group, VTdotNET, and Chris Pels’ Boston .NET as good examples of how different they can be. My group is small, though we get 25-40 people at our meetings and a few times even 50. I basically run the group myself, though I now have a dedicated person to pick up pizza and someone who has just started picking up the soda. Other than that, I do it myself – organize meetings, find space, find speakers, get swag, do the website, do the meeting announcements, etc. and it has worked. Chris’s group went through a major transition about 3 years ago when he realized it was just getting too big. Boston has a HUGE developer community – Code Camps and DevDays there draw some 400-500 attendees. Boston.NET is now very organized and runs like a little corporation. They have lots of very dedicated volunteers who have totally taken ownership of different tasks and their website… wow! But both groups are very successful. Everyone figures out what works for them. Not having a structure and people to be responsible for and all of the overhead of being very organized works very well for me – it’s my style and I know how to run with it! Except for 2 weather related cancellations, we have had great and well attended meetings every month for over three years now. We have done well without getting funding. We manage to get gifts for speakers, donated or from the jewelry box fund and get pizza paid for for about 1/2 of our meetings and we get lots of books and swag to give away.

Anyway, there is no one pattern that works for all groups. Although people focus on the tangibles that INETA provides (i.e. speakers, some swag and whatever else they have up their sleeves for the coming years ūüėČ ) I think what user group leaders can learn from each other has always been the greatest benefit. Oh – that’s a perfect way to plug the totally ignored INETA forums, except for the fact that there is a new website coming down the pipes so I have no idea what will happen to them. Hopefully all of the info in there will stick around in some format.

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