Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Join a Group

What makes you decide to give up your time and energy to belong to a group?  Why attend meetings?  These are some of the questions I have been grappling with.  I belong to a group called MERC.  When I first joined (In the last century) we averaged 100 plus members.  It has dwindled down to about 20 dedicated members. 

Next year I may be in a leadership role.  A role I have avoided in the past because of time commitments.  None-the-less I believe literacy and reading is important and I want the organization to be a success.  A few years ago we ended up in the hole.  The last few years the leaders have worked hard at rebuilding the organization.  Through their efforts we are again in the black.

From the brochure sent out to recruit members:  “The Midland Empire Reading Council (MERC) is a nonprofit educational organization whose members are dedicated to improving reading instruction and promoting literacy needs in the community.  MERC contributes to the professional growth and development of its members and addresses literacy needs in the community.”

These are lofty goals that the organization generally meets.  I come back to the question what do we need to do to – (1) Build membership numbers (2) Make it so people look forward to attending (3) Make it fun  (4) Meet our mission statement?

I keep looking to the PLNs  (Personal Learning Networks) that I belong to. - lots of knowledgeable people,  lots of support,  and an online community.  I think that is what is missing in MERC.  As an organization we have not connected personally.  We have not built a community where everyone feels included and welcomed.  How do you build that community?  How do you build that membership base?

When you have a small membership base, the same people end up doing all the work.  That builds resentment and disenchantment, as well as burnout.  I know that many service organizations across the nation are feeling the pinch of dwindling membership.  Our young members are extremely busy people.  How do we recruit them?  What can we offer that makes for a fair exchange - for the time, money and effort that they contribute?

We stand on a pivotal point, our world is changing at a rapid rate.  How do we keep up?  How do we move forward?  How do we convince others to take the journey with us?

A line from an old song comes to mind, “the answer is blowing in the wind”.  Here is a funny coincidence – 2 teachers just came in and were looking for the book “The Wind Blew”.  Maybe the answers to my questions are blowing in the wind.


  1. I think there is often a natural progression in groups, and some are just meant to fade. Some fade away, even if they weren't meant to. I think groups that don't have some sort of online connection may be in danger of being anachronistic (I don't ever remembering using that word in my writing before!). The debate is whether that shift is good or bad.
    It sounds like your council has noble goals and maybe needs some sort of spark to keep folks connected.

  2. I am one that has a hard time staying in groups. When I join, I am usually excited and ready to get right down to work but there are so many things that pull me in other directions as you have said. Perhaps the group needs to do something more personal at the meetings like a book group (children's books or adult books). Maybe personal coupled with business would make it more appealing to attend. It is is time to read, The Wind Blew:)

  3. I know you are right there is an ebb and flow to groups. The spark is what we have been missing. A book group sounds like an interesting idea to explore.

    Having a greater online connection I think is critical. One gal suggested our theme for next year might be technology. I think your council is on the mark.
    Thank you.

  4. I think the joining up of the comments thus far with your post make a valuable statement about the benefits and drawbacks to groups. I just left a reading group--it was agonizing, but we'd lost our mojo, our numbers and I just had to go. I have heard since that they folded.
    On the other hand, I just joined a writing group. Our numbers are small (by design), and we've all been in grad school so know each other fairly well. I have the same hopes you have for our new group. Great post--thank you!

    Elizabeth E.

  5. I would like to know what kinds of things your group has offered the community. Because of the mission statement of community literacy, perhaps you can link with other organizations that will help sponsor events? Is there a strong library community? Would people gather for a family book fair? Is there a need for tutors to help those whose primary language is not English? If there are certain 'traditional' events an organization is known for, people might be interested in lending a hand to help. I really am just brainstorming-it seems as if it could be a wonderful service organization.


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