Report from the Grand Council: October 2006
A. COMMITTEE ACTIVITY
The committee discussed the following issue:
What, if anything, can the SCA, Inc. do to increase membership? In a further clarification, the committee’s ombudsman informed the committee that this question should be addressed in the context of increasing membership in order to increase membership revenue, and that the intent was to address the question by generating a number of ideas.
Extensive discussions resulted in a broad array of ideas and issues being discussed. While no actual proposals were voted upon, there was a general sense that some approaches were clearly favored over others. A brief summary of ideas grouped into general categories, along with an indication of general preference where applicable, follows:
The Grand Council identified 3 general strategies for increasing membership – focusing entirely on increasing the total number of participants, focusing on encouraging current non-member participants, or pursuing both of these avenues simultaneously. There was general agreement that the best approach is to attempt to both increase total participation and encourage non-member participants to become members.
Ways to Increase Total Participation
As a number of Grand Council members observed, in order for the SCA to successfully recruit new members, they must be able to find us. Therefore, the SCA should increase its visibility. At the Society level, this should include developing a comprehensive marketing plan for the society that includes publicity, public relations, and appropriate advertising. Recognizing that most recruiting will, by necessity, occur at the local Branch level, the majority of the council feels an appropriate role for the Board and Society officers is providing improved resources for local Branches, such as “how to” guides for demos and similar PR opportunities, a comprehensive media kit, brochures, and similar marketing materials.
One specific weakness identified in current SCA policy is the lack of emphasis placed on the Chatelaine’s office at all levels. Another was the relative difficulty some potential new Branches encounter in forming a new Branch, often largely due to a lack of information and support on how the Branch formation process actually works.
Ways to Encourage Non-Member Participants to Join
Three General approaches were identified: further restricting the participation of non-members to coerce them to join, increasing the value of membership through additional members-only perquisites (see “Increasing the Value of Membership, below), or taking a combined approach. It is the general consensus among the Grand Council that additional restrictions on non-member participation would create ill-will, and possibly create an additional burden on the local officers faced with implementing such restrictions, and that therefore the SCA should focus its efforts instead on increasing the value of membership by adding additional membership perquisites.
Increasing the Value of Membership
A number of approaches were identified which the Grand Council felt would add value to membership. Affinity programs for members, such as discounts at retail merchants or group life or accident insurance were mentioned – as long as they were offered on a purely opt-in basis, and the SCA’s mailing list was not released to potential vendors. Members-only content could be made available on the SCA Website. Members could be given some degree of franchise with regard to the selection of Board Members.
One suggestion which would equally benefit member and non-member participants was for Society Officers to develop a uniform framework for Inter-kingdom events to help provide a more consistent and predictable “War experience,” including combat conventions, A&S competition guidelines, live weapons rules, and similar guidelines. This was seen as similar to what many other national or international sports, hobby, and craft organizations provide as their key benefit.
Retention of Current Members/Participants
Other than suggestions already listed elsewhere, such as increased emphasis and resources for the chatelaine’s office and increasing the value of membership, the Grand council suggests an attempt be made to determine why members allow their membership to lapse, and why participants stop participating – recognizing that while these two questions may have identical answers, they also may not. To this end an “exit interview” should be conducted where possible, either as a questionnaire mailed to lapsed members or as an individual interview conducted by the local Chatelaine with participants who have greatly curtailed their participation.
This was seen as an area that will be increasingly important, and one posing unique challenges. In particular, the SCA will need to address apparently growing feelings of isolation from, and disaffection with, the corporate office and Society Officers on the part of international members and members of affiliate corporations. Most of the ill-will appears to stem from a perception that the Corporation is “run by and for the US” and is unresponsive to the unique needs of SCAers in other countries. This also appears to primarily be a game-side issue, with most problems arising from policies applying to various forms of combat, the chirurgionate, etc.
One suggestion for approaching this problem is to create a venue to give affiliate corporations and other non-US members more of a voice in game-side rules and policy decisions, such as an International Rules Committee that would review rules changes to determine their impact on non-US areas. Many members of the Council brought up the earlier World Proposal as an example of this type of body.
B. COMMITTEE STATUS AND COMMENDATIONS
Tegan verch Dwgan – Kingdom representative for Gleann Abhann
Helena Bryenissa Raoulaina – at-large member from An Tir
C. PUBLISHABLE SUMMARY
In the third quarter of 2006 the Grand Council addressed ways to increase membership in the SCA. The council discussed a two-fold approach intended to both increase total participation and create increased value for membership so as to encourage non-member participants to become members.
Suggestions for increasing total participation focused on three areas:
Increasing the visibility of the SCA at all levels by creating enhanced promotional tools and creating better resource materials for local Branches to use.
Placing more emphasis on the importance of the Chatelaine’s office, and providing both Branch and Kingdom Chatelaines with enhanced resources.
Streamlining the process of new branch formation and improving the availablility of information to persons trying to form new branches
Suggestions for increasing the value of SCA membership focused on developing additional membership benefits, such as developing members-only content for the SCA website, offering “affinity” benefits such as life or accident insurance, negotiating member discounts at selected vendors, or providing a degree of franchise for members when selecting Directors.
A benefit suggested for both members and non-member participants was creating a uniform set of guidelines for inter-Kingdom events, covering such things as combat conventions, A&S competitions, live weapons, equestrian activities, and similar competitive activities. This was seen as providing a similar benefit to that provided by many other national or international sport, craft, and hobby organizations.
The council also discussed various approaches to conducting “exit interviews” at either a national or local level. These interviews or questionnaires would attempt to determine why members allow their memberships to lapse and why SCA participants stop participating in the SCA.
Nothing to report.
The following is a detailed report of the discussions conducted by the Grand Council regarding ways to increase membership and membership revenue. The discussions ranged beyond the initial topic to address related topics of membership retention, possible ramifications of increased “pay-to-play,” and the overall role of the SCA, Inc in local Branch activities. Discussions are arranged by general topic, for clarity.
Increasing Membership versus Increasing Participation
Most of the Council agreed that increasing overall participation would be an effective way of increasing both membership and revenue for the SCA, as at least some of the new participants would likely become members while the rest would generate revenue through the NMS. However, one Councilor consistently expressed the view that new participants would have no motivation at all to purchase a membership, unless they either wanted to become an officer or lived in a “pay to fight” Kingdom.
Some, by contrast, expressed the belief that increasing participation was the only viable avenue for increasing membership, due to a perception that current non-member participants would be very resistant to efforts to entice them to become members. While most believed there were ways the SCA, Inc could add value to membership (see “Adding Value to SCA Membership” below), they did not believe this increased value proposition would change the learned behaviors of the longer-term non-member participants. However, most of them did agree that increasing the value of membership would likely encourage new participants to be more likely to join, and would also aid in membership retention.
Increasing Visibility of the SCA
There was widespread agreement that increasing visibility was the key to gaining new participants. As a number of Grand Council members observed, in order for the SCA to successfully recruit new members, they must be able to find us. It was pointed out that most SCA activities are not very accessible to outside observers, being either private or secluded. Even fighter practices are often in relatively secluded parks or an individual’s yard. In addition, since most non-fighting attendees at most practices are not in garb, there is no way for an onlooker to even know who they can approach to ask questions if they are interested.
It was also observed that the SCA has a culture of secrecy. This was thought to originate in a fear of bad publicity – the belief that mainstream society would dismiss the SCA as a sort of cult, or lunatic fringe activity. As some pointed out, however, the vast majority of publicity the SCA has received has been positive.
Many felt a good way to combat this lack of visibility would be for the society to develop a comprehensive marketing plan that includes publicity, public relations, and appropriate advertising. One suggested role for the Board and Society Officers is providing improved resources for local Branches, such as “how to” guides for demos and similar PR opportunities, a comprehensive media kit, brochures, and similar marketing materials. Some have suggested promotional videos as well, for use both for broadcast and as a recruiting tool at particularly large demos, conventions, and similar venues.
A number of specific venues for increasing visibility were mentioned:
Public activities – demos; practices in public places
Increased outreach to schools, libraries, other educational organizations
Free publicity - TV, radio, newspaper articles & features.
Posters in bookstores, college campuses, hobby shops, etc.
Paid advertising - at the local level, include ads in local papers
Enhanced web presence
Recruit at local colleges
Participation as a group in charitable functions and community festivals
Reasons for Membership
Some said they were members because they were obligated, and viewed it like any other bill. One GC member compared it to paying his dentist. A recurring theme was that members felt like they belonged to their local Branch, but felt remote from the SCA, Inc. This was frequently described as feeling isolated from the SCA offices and the highest levels of decision-making
Others referred to the “value” of a membership as having two parts: the psychological value of inclusiveness and appreciation and the monetary value of benefits offered.
For some, a key component of the value of a membership, and therefore of their reason for being a member, was provision of a uniform “game” across Kingdoms. As one commenter put it, “I like being able to go anywhere and have the same game everywhere, with my device and my name recognized everywhere as mine. All else is value delivered by local organizations, not by the corporation.”
Some commenters emphasized the importance of a feeling of “belonging,” and felt a purely economic motive would be inadequate for most non-members to join the SCA. Many pointed out that availability of event information in Kingdom newsletters was once a powerful incentive for membership, but that this is no longer true since that information, and more, is now typically available online.
One Council member described it as “Officers may get a feeling of membership by their participation in the "running of things", so there is some psychological basis to being "a member" for officers, but anyone else is no more a ‘member’ of the SCA than I am a member of the NY Times for receiving a newspaper.”
Reasons for Not Having a Membership
The vast majority of non-member participants are non-members for one or more of a handful of reasons:
1) They feel that SCA membership is entirely artificial and irrelevant to their, or anyone else's, participation in and contribution to the SCA.
2) They are opposed to one or more policies or actions of the Board of Directors, and this is a way for them to symbolically protest these policies and/or actions.
3) They are temporarily (or in few cases, permanently) unable to afford membership due to financial hardship – although for most active participants it is a relatively small expense compared to travel, food, garb, and other event expenses, and with the advent of the NMS only saves money for those attending relatively few events.
4) They are new and/or occasional players whose activity level and/or commitment do not justify an annual membership.
5) They see no benefit to SCA membership.
Of these, only Groups 4 and 5 were seen as likely candidates for membership. Groups 1 and 2 are potential candidates for membership only if their perceptions of the SCA and/or the Board and its actions can be substantially altered, while Group 3 is the result of outside factors. A previous Council member effectively summed up the attitude of those in groups 1 and 2 thus:
“I used to pay membership dues because:
I wanted to belong.
It was what I was told was the right thing to do.
It gave me access to useful information I couldn't get another way.
I stopped paying membership dues because:
I became disenchanted with the management structure of the SCA
I saw money being wasted
The SCA said I was just a magazine subscriber anyway
The SCA trended toward interfering with good local work”
The introduction of the NMS should create a desire for membership in persons in Group 5 if they attend more than 6 events a year – less if they attend a major War. An improved value perception will also motivate this group.
Additional Restrictions on Non-Members
After a brief debate, and some heated comments, the body of the Council and other commenters agreed that it was more productive to concentrate on increasing perceived value for members rather than on coercing non-member participants to join by further restricting their activities. Some even stated that it would be better to move to a pure “pay to play” system than to continue to widen the gap between activities available to members only and those available to non-member participants.
Some councilors pointed out that the need to check the memberships of volunteers or other participants because certain activities were restricted to members would increasingly place volunteers at events in the position of repeatedly checking membership cards. Others pointed to the difficulties that could entail due to an accidental and temporary membership lapse on the part of key event staff.
Adding Value to SCA Membership
Suggestions for adding value included:
Discount programs/cards negotiated by SCA, Inc. with various merchants, such as Tandy Leather, Hancock Fabrics, or Panther Primitives
Group Life and/or accident insurance. It was quickly pointed out that this would need to be offered as a pure opt-in promotion, and it was suggested that programs be offered online via a click-through link on the website, or mailings be included with renewal packets, so that no information was released by the SCA to vendors
Group rates at one or more hotel chains
A limited franchise in selecting Directors – this was met with mixed reaction, as some supported this idea while others believed it would simply lead to an increase in “SCA politics”
Some sort of live or near-live access to Board meetings, such as a web-based video feed. This resulted in a substantial digression into various implementations, and a side discussion on possible legal ramifications.
Members-only content on the SCA web-site. Suggestions for content included electronic publications and an archive of past publications.
The discussion of retention efforts centered on ways to identify and reach lapsed members, as well as lapsed participants, in order to better identify reasons for lapse. This lead to speculation that the most common reasons for losing members had little or nothing to do with actions at the Society level, but was usually a result of one or more of:
- Local Branch-level politics
- Kingdom politics
- Changing life circumstances – marriage, children, health issues, financial situation
- Competing interests or hobbies
It was also pointed out anecdotally that members were most likely to lapse at the 2 or 3 year mark. It was felt that members in their first few years have less investment in the SCA as a hobby, and likely have a less well-developed network of “SCA friends,” and that makes it easier to leave the SCA. If this is true, then retention efforts should largely be aimed at relative newcomers, and getting them more fully involved in the SCA early in their SCA careers.
There was a discussion on the importance of the Chatelaine’s office to recruiting and newcomer retention/integration. It was observed that this is officially a “lesser office” in most, if not all, Kingdoms, and further that local Branches often use it as a “starter office” for first-time office holders. This was seen by some as a sign that the office is not considered as important as many other offices. A straw poll of the Council revealed that while almost all Councilors could name most of their Greater kingdom Officers (seneschal, Earl Marshal, Principal Herald, Exchequer, A&S, etc), almost none knew who their Kingdom Chatelaine was.
Further, many local Chatelaines do not know what resources are available to them through Corporate, and there appears to be little emphasis at any level on training Chatelaines. Some Councilors and commenters pointed out that if recruiting and retention are really high priorities for the SCA, then the office most responsible for those functions should also be considered important.