I’ve been informed that if I do a blog with bullet points I’ll get more traffic here. So I asked myself, “what is something I do that could actually help people, and include bullet points?”
For the past 9 years or so I’ve been hosting an informal gathering of cartoonists in Asheville, NC. This informal gathering began when, Bruce Higdon, the (then) chairman of the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society (SECNCS) told me that I was their man on the ground in Asheville–and it was up to me to do it. (Nine years later, I’m the chairman and hoping that this set of suggestions will help others have similar success).
• Gather those with similar Interests. I like to call us cartoonists “the similarly affected” because nobody in the whole world seems to see things quite the same way as a room full of cartoonists. But I suspect that the same can be said for gymnasts, cross-country skiers, orthodontists, etc. You’ll be well ahead of the game if you have a group of folks with at least one similar focus.
• Find a neutral meeting place. There is no single ideology amongst cartoonists (or probably any other group of enthusiasts). In spite of what you might think, we vary wildly in our religious views, politics, and any number of other hot-button topics. Yet somehow we seem to get along. However, if I had chosen a place that catered to a particular crowd in Asheville I might have given some the impression that they were being singled out as the odd one, and others the impression that this group was about some agenda beyond cartooning.
As it was we settled on Frank’s Roman Pizza on Tunnel Road. It’s family friendly enough that they support little league teams, but they also host various local rock bands on some Friday nights. Church groups meet there, but then again it’s been the local hang out for artsy types since the 70s. They serve beer and wine, but also have video games for the kids. A great mix.
• Send out personal invitations to each participant. This one seems like a no-brainer, but many people would simply post something online, or put up posters–then be miserable when nobody showed up. This doesn’t mean you can’t send out generic e-mails later on, just make sure that you give people the personal touch when making that first invitation. That will get your core group started.
• Follow up your personal invitation with reminders. That’s reminders, plural. I send out a reminder approximately one week before our monthly event, then one day before I follow that with a shorter reminder about the event being only 24 hours away.
• Offer something to contribute. With cartoonists it’s easy. I always tell our gang to bring along their latest samples. Artist love to show off their work to one another, and look at other’s work. (For gymnasts maybe it’s a medal, new leotard, or box of sequins, I don’t know–but I’m sure there are things like that each group can share). But be sure to make everyone feel comfortable sharing their latest achievement or creative struggle. And be sure to remind everyone that’s one of the reasons you’ll be gathering.
• Encourage regular participants to bring friends and family. You might think that since your meeting is in a public place, and you’re friendly with the various participants–maybe even with their families in other contexts–that people would simply assume it’s okay to bring their spouse or kids along. But not everyone thinks that way. They’re probably just trying to be courteous (nothing wrong with that) but in this sort of thing you have to be extra courteous. Be sure to remind regular participants they friends and family are more than welcome. (And believe me, the inclusion of a few kids in a cartooning group is a great conversation starter. Give the kids some paper and crayons and see how the cartoonists begin to compete trying to be the bigger kid).
• Take names. Get the names of everyone that comes to each meeting. Get their contact info as well. Email address if you don’t have it, phone, mailing address (if they’re willing) just in case you need to contact them when your computer is in the shop. Of course, get their permission to send them emails to remind them of the group’s next meeting.
• Follow up AGAIN, after the meeting. This is one that people seem to miss. That list of names you took during the meeting will come in handy. Give a roll call of all that were able to be there, and tell a little bit about what each person contributed (even if it’s just that they brought along a friend or a smile).
Don’t feel like you have to take copious notes, but if you hear something particularly interesting during the meeting, you may want to jot it down for your follow up report. If something particularly important to the group was discussed then be sure to include that for those on your mailing list that may not have made it (or for those who were there, but weren’t listening so closely).
At the end of your report remind everyone of the time and place of the next meeting.
• Continue to build your list. This is accomplished by keeping an eye open for other folks who might share your interests. Arrange for demonstrations of your group’s skills in public places (libraries, church groups, civic organizations, all like to host this sort of thing from time to time) and get the names and addresses of folks who come.
If some other organization has a similar bent to your own (or something that dovetails into your interest) visit one of their events. Perhaps the local college has invited a speaker on a similar subject to come to your town. Get a contingent of your own people to go to hear the presentation, maybe engage with the professor who invited the speaker–there are many possibilities for building your list of participants.
• Don’t stress over numbers. Understand that your group will find its own size. When we began the Asheville cartoonists group had a list of around 8 possible names. Since that time we’ve had dozens come and go. My email list now numbers around 35, the crowd varies from 10-20 each month– but we keep a good solid core of around 10 people I know will usually be there. (Many of which I’ve had the pleasure of working with on various projects since meeting them).
The important thing in this sort of informal gathering is to gather a group of qualified participants. People will come and go as they please, and that’s all right. The ones that stay and become involved will help many of those on the fringes to increase their own interest, skill levels, and create new opportunities for the whole group.