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Running a Small User Group - Getting Help

When we first started Midlands PASS, we tried to do it the way PASS suggested. We tried to get folks together to work on a set of bylaws, and the first try floundered. Myself and one other person attending the first organizational meeting. Needless to say, we tabled the effort until we could get more people to help. A year later, with no group around, folks remembered that I had originally tried to organize an effort but they hadn't seen a group. They asked if I would try again. So I did, but I didn't repeat the same mistake.

Instead of conducting an organizational meeting to work on bylaws, I worked on them myself. I called the organizational meeting, indicated it was more of a meet and greet than anything else, and we had a good number (for our area come out). We were able to validate the bylaws and elect officers right away. And we ran like for that the next couple of years with one slight hiccup in between. That hiccup was officer election. Basically, no one wanted to run who wasn't already an officer. So that left a couple of us holding two offices in order to make it through the year.

Midway through that second year, Andy Leonard came to speak. He also happens to be our regional mentor. He took the time to really hear out our pain points and he offered some suggestions. They were:

  • Let go of the formal structure so much. In a larger group it might be necessary. At Midlands PASS it was more about getting folks out and participating.
  • Don't wait for people to volunteer. Look at which folks are interested and invite them to help in a direct role.
  • Swag is great, excellent speakers help, but people need to feel like they belong to something.
  • Advertise, advertise, advertise.

I'd like to say we jumped on his advice and did everything right the next meeting. We didn't. Some of these issues we're still struggle with. So let's look at each in turn.

Formal Structure:

We didn't start to go less formal really until about a third of the way into this year. That's nearly nine months after Andy gave his advice. The writing on the wall was in January when we tried to hold formal officer elections again. Basically, if you showed up, you got an office. Our bylaws also said a person could only serve in a role for two years before he or she would have to step down. Everyone looked at me and said, "You need to be president." At which point I said, "Oh, no you don't! The bylaws say I have to step down!" To which point they did the motion thing and next thing I knew, the bylaws were changed. And I was president again. So much for formalities.

So we're approaching when we should be doing elections again. But given then elections have not worked, and a lot of user groups around us are running fine without them, I think we're going to suspend things with regards to that. If one of the current officers wants to step down, we'll try and adjust, but it just doesn't make sense to try the formal approach when really people just want a place to get together, learn some SQL, trade some stories, and be a part of something.


We've done a better job here, and that's because it started with the folks who showed up for elections this past January. We had needs, we laid them out on the table and we said, "We need your help. Would you consider serving in these areas?" Those new guys stepped up, three of them. They have been invaluable. There's no other way to say it. We were down to two returning officers, with a second one having to step down due to work responsibilities (traveling consultant based out of Charlotte). And throughout the year they've come through. Now it looks like we've got another one on board. But I've still got a long way to go to understanding how to get folks to involved. This is one of my weaknesses.

A Feeling of Belonging:

We've tried to work on this, making sure out meet and greet time starts early and lasts a good time. The officers make it a point to talk to everyone and to introduce new folks to the other members. If we find common points of interest, we try to get people talking to one another. We've done this a bit better, but we still need to work on it. Part of it is having a lot of operational folks, some of whom can't make two meetings in a row due to work. Others are about just having a better plan for getting folks together.

Advertise, Advertise, Advertise:

This we've done a ton better. We have a site thanks to PASS. We advertise there, on Twitter, through emails, through Community Megaphone, and on this blog. My work has a lot of IT folks (for Columbia) and I post flyers there. As a result we've been able to keep up numbers, even as we've seen turnover in the members. There are some regulars who have been with us all along. But we've lost quite a few folks due to the mortgage market imploding and two organizations employing DBAs going bankrupt. We've picked up folks from new organizations that we didn't know had database folks. So advertising has gone well. Of the list of four things Andy gave us, this has been our best effort.


K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by Anonymous on 29 December 2009

Pingback from  Dew Drop – December 29, 2009 | Alvin Ashcraft's Morning Dew

Posted by kr4ster on 29 December 2009

Lately, I have been putting a lot of thought to community involvement.  There's an oft misunderstood difference between the requirement for a 'formal' community organization and providing an opportunity to get people together with common interests.  I think what you have here is a nice hybrid - you have a good group of like-minded people with a few that are interested enough in the development of the community to work together to get some good speakers to come to town.

Perhaps if you moved away from a formal board of directors to a leadership committee (with semi-permanent members, but providing for floating participation/membership) you could achieve what you're looking for in your 'Structure'.

As for 'Belonging', this is something that I am currently struggling with.  How do you foster a sense of team or community, but at the same time empower those individuals to stand-up and "represent".  One idea I had was to introduce the concept of professional testimonials.  Wherein at community events, individuals would have the opportunity to stand up and discuss a challenge that they faced and overcame in their career.  This has the twofold effect of allowing individuals to feel like they are directly contributing to the group as well as allowing others to learn from their mistakes/challenges.  Of course, you have the problem of dealing with those who are not fond of public speaking, but in that case you ensure that you keep things short and possibly allow breakout sessions afterwards.

Just some passing thoughts...

Posted by Anonymous on 29 December 2009

This post was mentioned on Twitter by sql_joker: SSC Blog - Running a Small User Group - Getting Help: When we first started Midlands PASS, we tried to do it the wa... http://bit.ly/64XCu6

Posted by Grant Fritchey on 29 December 2009

Excellent post. Thanks for putting it up. I didn't know about the Community Megaphone. Going now to push our group.

Posted by cherie j sheriff on 29 December 2009

We are trying to get a group together in the Lafayette, LA area.  I have 10 people interested now, but I need to find facilities and figure out how others are doing it and what all we need to do next.  Some other chapter leaders have gave me some helpful information, but it is always good to hear what works and doesn't work for different groups.  Thank you for the article!

Posted by Anonymous on 30 December 2009

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Posted by Anonymous on 30 December 2009

Pingback from  Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, subdivision earns its first LEED for Homes … | Idaho Real Estate

Posted by Anonymous on 30 December 2009

Pingback from  Dew Drop – December 30, 2009 | Alvin Ashcraft's Morning Dew

Posted by K. Brian Kelley on 30 December 2009

Cherie, if you contact me through the SSC interface, I'll be glad to help however I can.

Posted by Grant Fritchey on 31 December 2009

Cherie, if you want someone else to natter in your ear, contact me through my blog. I'd be glad to help too. Contact PASS. They really do have a lot of good info to get you started.

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