Andy Warren (blog | twitter) recently blogged about wanting input on What Should PASS Be? and I think it's a reasonable question to ask. What he is basically saying is, "Okay, member of PASS (or potential member), what do you want PASS to be in the future? After all, you're a member and I want to hear from you."
And I think Andy hit the nail on the head: PASS should be about meeting and catering to the needs and wants of its members, just as any professional organization should. Now there comes some governance with that, because it has to do so in a way that sustains (and hopefully grows) the organization in order to continue meeting and catering to the needs and wants of its members. So here are some thoughts I have on the subject.
Trust the Members More:
I wrote this earlier today with respect to who would be eligible to be a part of the Nominating Committee (NomCom) for the PASS Board of Directors:
What we're saying there is we are trusting the members of PASS to do a good job for the future of the organization. If we can't trust the members to do this, then there's no point at having a vote at any level.
I stand by it. Give more opportunity for input to the members. Listen to that input more. As much as you can, in fact, without threatening the viability of PASS. For instance, if the members decides that PASS should give each member a new, fancy sports car, that's not reasonable. And while I'm using hyperbole there, I'm doing so to make a point, which is that, in general, PASS members should be pretty reasonable in what they want and what they need. So let them in more on the decision making. And obviously you can't let them make every decision. That would fall close to paralysis by analysis. But big decisions: the site for the Summit after potential sites are whittled down to what we really can do, the election process for the Board of Directors, maybe even where to spend some of the money, give the information to the members and let them choose.
Work to Add More Members - Real Benefits:
One of the recurring themes when you talk to chapter leaders is that their members see no real benefit to joining PASS. If they go to the Summit, they become a member by default. If they want to access certain content on the web site, technically they are a member. But realistically, they aren't members by any real sense of the world. What benefits does PASS offer for you to be a member? How is that different than being a non-member? And that's the crux of the issue. Basically when we chapter leaders say, "Hey, you should be a member of PASS!" Our answers to, "Why?" stop pretty much after, "Because it is the Professional Organization for SQL Server!" I don't have to be a PASS member to attend user group meetings. I don't have to be a PASS member to attend SQL Saturdays. And realistically I don't even have to be a PASS member for any of the numerous training webinars the virtual chapters put on or even for the 24 Hours of PASS. So except for the Summit, where I'm automatically a member, or wanting to volunteer at a higher level than my local chapter, there is no benefit.
The takeaway from this, though, is the old phrase that's thrown around a lot in Perl circles: TANSTAAFL - "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." I know PASS has been resistant to once again going to a charged membership. But folks like the Association for Computing Machinery have figured out ways to have a membership charge and a good number of members. So if there is real benefit to being a PASS member, people will pay to be one. And that in turns means you can have more benefits. Eventually you'll reach a balancing point where you don't want to up the membership fee any more and the benefits are acceptable by the membership.
Invest in the Sources for Generating New Membership:
Yes, I mean user groups. Do I mean hand 'em cash straight up? No. But the obvious things that come to mind:
- Website that's not in DNN: I have spent a lot of time using DotNetNuke. So building websites in DNN isn't a big deal for me. But realistically, Wordpress is more accessible and in some ways more powerful. More and more folks are becoming familiar with Wordpress. But we're still using DNN. The problem is, DNN expertise at a hobbyist level is dying or dead. So while it may seem like a great benefit on paper, I'm sure more and more folks don't see it that way.
- A Useful Speakers Bureau: Most user groups struggle to keep speakers lined up. Midlands PASS has had a good number of great speakers. We're blessed with Atlanta and Charlotte being relatively near, with Andy Leonard and Brian Knight having made trips to Columbia as consultants, for Kevin Kline doing a tour of the Carolinas, and the fact that Myrtle Beach is a golfer's paradise (meaning Andy Kelly left New England for it). I understand we got it good. And we still struggle at times for speakers. So if we're struggling with all the breaks that have come our way, you get the picture. And some locations just aren't suitable for LiveMeeting, so it's not a realistic option. We need a Speakers Bureau where speakers can be located per region by chapter leaders and where there is some funding to offset at least part of their travel expenses.
- Better Access to Sponsors: Again, Midlands PASS has had some great sponsorship. Quest and Red Gate have been awesome. SQLSkills is dishing out SWAG. ApexSQL has sponsored a couple of user groups. Microsoft? Not so much. But that may have been due to our IT Pro evangelist, or I should say, our former IT Pro evangelist. If it wasn't Hyper-V, he wasn't interested. That killed us. I need to make contact with our new one. Hopefully that will be better. And that's an area I think PASS can help. If PASS can get general sponsorship from some of the larger sponsors and work out ways they can help the certified user groups, that would help out across the board.
- SQL Saturday Expertise: No offense to the PASS HQ crew, but when you sign on for SQL Saturday with them, they can't provide a lot of guidance. They manage the cogs of the machinery behind the scenes, but they aren't on the ground running SQL Saturdays. And SQL Saturdays aren't like the Summit. I know. I used to help run large, 5,000+ attendee, week-long technical conferences. It's a completely different animal from a SQL Saturday or a Code Camp. Getting a crew of advisors, again, per region together that can not only help newcomers to the SQL Saturday game, but also provide on-site assistance the day of, would be wonderful. When we did SQL Saturday #48, I already had a crew familiar with running a code camp who were familiar with working with each other (we did the Columbia Code Camp together). We also had Mr. SQL Saturday, Andy Warren, on site. John Welch, Andy Leonard, Sandra Muller, Jimmy Dixon, Stu Ainsworth, and Paul Waters were all also on site, with previous SQL Saturday experience. And that ain't even the whole list! So I know we were dealt a royal flush, but other groups don't have this. This is something that can be built up - now.
I could go on, but that's enough, I think, for now, as I'm already a few hundred words over a thousand.