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Lessons from the Annals of Club Management

My parents were both heavily involved in civic culture. My mother was in three or four civic groups. My father was a volunteer firefighter pretty much my entire life, which for those not familiar with how those run in Pennsylvania, are effectively social clubs that fight fires. They are not unlike gun clubs, except they shoot water rather than lead. And their shoot houses are a bit…. hotter. As a kid I always got dragged to those meeting and hated it. But the end result is that kind of organization was never something foreign to me, so when I joined my local gun club, my first instinct was to start attending meetings. Then matches. One thing leads to another and then somehow I agree to serve as an officer. Thanks mom and dad. See what you did? It’s been a learning experience, though. For those of you involved with clubs, here are some things I’ve learned:

  • If your Board takes an action you know will be controversial, it will probably be twice as controversial as you think. Prepare for that. During a period of controversy, everything the Board does, even things that shouldn’t necessarily be controversial will become controversial.
  • I am not a rules person. I hate rules and procedure. One reason I stay at the job I have is we have a very unstructured workplace, and I like that. I work best in that. While Henry Martyn Robert can still kiss my ass, for now, having some basic ground rules for meetings is beneficial for making sure everyone gets a say and meetings don’t descend into chaos.
  • Having professional advice is important. Any shooting club should have an attorney they can consult with regularly. Seek professional advice on your ranges. NRA provides range consulting that is practically free. They are very up on current practices, and while they can’t set you up all the professionals you need, since they don’t make recommendations, they can tell you at least what kind of professionals you need. I’m a computer engineer. That’s my area of expertise. Running a firing range is not. Stay in your lane, and use professionals for what you’re not an expert on.
  • Don’t push too fast. Don’t become a slave to imagined timelines: “We have to get X done, and then Y. Because X and Y need to be done before Z starts.” Plan things out. Think about your timeline of events as a whole in the entire context of what you’re doing. Tasks that might not seem connected, you may suddenly find they will become connected.
  • Communicate. My role is secretary, which puts me in charge of most of the communications, even to communicate decisions I might not agree with personally. If I had to pick the one area to work on the most it’s that. There’s no workplace I’ve ever worked that had a really solid communication culture. Communication is much harder in deliberative organizations, where you have to get a group of people to agree on a plan.
  • Don’t bring problems to a deliberative body, bring solutions. It’s much easier to get a deliberative body to agree on solutions than it is to get a deliberative body to solve a problem. The latter is difficult. Even if the body can arrive at a solution, it will often be very suboptimal. I’ve had members get indignant when asked to submit a proposal for something they want to do. Seriously, if a board member at a club ever asks you this, there’s a reason: you don’t want a deliberative body trying to implement your idea. It doesn’t work well that way. Bring solutions, not problems.
  • Don’t assume your membership knows how the club operates. There’s a handful of members at any club that are always around. These are the people you will get to know and have the most communication with. These people generally know what the Board is doing, what’s going on at the club, and how the club generally works. It’s very easy to forget that most members are not all that engaged. This goes back to communication: you might have to explain how things work. I’m surprised that a number of people I’ve encountered that believe the Board at my club is a professional, paid Board. We have no paid employees. We’re all volunteers.
  • Speaking of volunteers, you can’t be too picky with volunteers. They aren’t your employees and you can’t and shouldn’t direct them like they were employees. This can be particularly tricky if a lot of your Board are used to running businesses. Volunteers are a different beast. You appreciate what they do, and tell them that, even if you’re not happy with the actual work. Volunteer driven organizations are very much “If you aren’t happy with how someone else is doing the work, do it yourself.”

There are definitely times, and a lot more recently, when I think the for-profit Guntry Club Model of providing shooting facilities is far better than the Social Club Model. But I think civil society is important, because it teaches people to cooperate, fosters stronger community, and is better, overall, for the health of the gun rights movement. The religious right is successful because they have the church as a locus of organization. Clubs are much like churches, in that regard.

13 Responses to “Lessons from the Annals of Club Management”

  1. Bill Twist says:

    You picked the wrong Roberts to model your rules:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Rogers%27_28_%22Rules_of_Ranging%22

  2. SPQR says:

    The maturity level of the club members is always half their age, and peaks at age 34….

  3. Peter Schiavo says:

    I belonged to CJRPC for years before I left Jersey and tried to make it to a fair amount of the monthly meetings. The five officers of the club were saints for putting up with the piney cranks and the permanently indignant old dudes who showed up on a regular basis.

    • Sebastian says:

      As a Board, we’re probably less than saints. I try not to take it all personally, and for the most part I don’t. You have to accept that as an elected officer of any kind you’re going to put up with some degree of shit, and you ought to have the temperament to do so. Not everyone does.

  4. Jeremiah Weed says:

    Your final point above cannot be overstated. You don’t have to kiss volunteers’ butts, but treat them like you’d like them to come back.

  5. National Observer says:

    “The religious right is successful because they have the church as a locus of organization.”

    A corollary to that is that churches have the ability to inundate entire families and make the church the center of their culture. I’ve observed that the harder a sect works at that the more successful it will be.

    Gun clubs, or even the gun rights movement, in general does not have the ability to do that. We frequently lament the need to get more women involved with shooting but to date shooting has just not become a “women’s thing.” Every club of every kind will have its core of supportive spouses and girlfriends, but with most gun clubs of any size, women are poorly represented and spouses and girlfriends just don’t want to “get involved.” Therefor for most gun club members, the club does not become a center of the family “culture.”

    I’ll apologize for the negative connotation, but “cults” strive to inundate members to the extent of almost isolating them from the external world. That doesn’t necessarily need to be coercive. It can be voluntary on the members’ part, involving them in so many activities and getting them so preoccupied with them that they shut out almost everything else.

    Since gun clubs can’t usually accomplish that – while churches often can – they can never achieve the same level of “organization” as churches.

    • Andy B. says:

      ‘ women are poorly represented and spouses and girlfriends just don’t want to “get involved.” ‘

      I was at the club meeting that inspired Sebastian’s comments. Turnout was probably three or four times what is normal for a club meeting. I saw one woman present in the crowd. If there was a second, I missed her.

  6. Patrick Henry, the 2nd says:

    While Henry Martyn Robert can still kiss my ass, for now, having some basic ground rules for meetings is beneficial for making sure everyone gets a say and meetings don’t descend into chaos.

    As a Parliamentarian, I can’t disagree more. Robert’s Rules of Order ARE the basic ground rules for meetings. They’ve been developed over 150+ years via hundreds of thousands of meetings, and the lessons learned from them.

    RONR does provide ways to reduce the amount of “overhead” for clubs- its literally designed to be adaptable for all clubs. I know some of the rules seem annoying, but when you have a small group of people who want to argue but understand the need for the rules (and make best efforts to follow them), a meeting can really flow efficiently- especially for contentious topics!

    At my old club, who decided to Bloomberg up with silly rules, I tried my hardest to overturn them. Having the group follow RONR would have helped, but its not enough. But when its the same 30 grumpy old people who don’t want to change, and you can’t rally up enough support from the 2500 other members, it can be tiresome.

    You have a lot of great points, though. It really depends on the members who are committed.

    • Bitter says:

      I agree with both of you on Robert & his rules. Oh, what a pain at times, but at the same time, such a saving grace. I’d like to visit his grave at Arlington the next time that I’m there. One of my favorite things to get updates on with the DAR website is a monthly “parliamentary point” from our National Parliamentarian. I usually find it interesting and useful.

    • Ian Argent says:

      Rules of Parliamentary Order in general and Robert’s Rules in specific, like democracy, are the worst thing, except for everything else tried.

      • Alpheus says:

        I find the same can be said for LaTeX for mathematical typesetting. I really hate it! I wish something better would come along!

        Every so often I try an equation “editor” as provided by OpenOffice or Microsoft Word, and I always cringe after a few seconds of use.

        Ironically, I actually like LaTeX for writing letters, producing my resume, and creating slides for presentations. It’s the mathematics typesetting that annoys me (and for that, it’s the worst thing out there, excepting everything else).

  7. Andy B. says:

    “Having professional advice is important. Any shooting club should have an attorney they can consult with regularly.”

    First let me introduce myself as having once sat in the same seat at the subject club that Sebastian sits in now; and as having attended the same fractious meeting last night that inspired Sebastian’s comments.

    The advice about having an attorney is good, but having a good attorney I now think is much easier said than done.

    This is solely my personal opinion, but a prior attorney for the club saw his bread as being buttered on the side of always telling the long-term club president what he wanted to hear. I once sent that attorney a package of materials outlining what I believed to be a threat to the club’s welfare, and in a subsequent meeting on the issue he demonstrated that he had not even looked at the materials (some of which were from the NSSF) that I had sent. Meanwhile he did a song and dance routine on the issue that would have embarrassed any layman with minimal reading comprehension and access to Wikipedia. But its bottom line was, what the club president had indicated he wanted to hear.

    Something else I learned at the same time was, no one in the position of attorney or consultant ever got rich by telling a potential client they didn’t have a problem. I’m not saying every attorney will seek to make unnecessary work; I’m only saying economics suggests the pressure is acting in that direction, and most of us as laymen don’t have the ability to gauge when that is the motive underlying an attorney’s opinion. Every courtroom in the country has at least two attorneys present with polar-opposite legal opinions; and those opinions are both bought and paid for. So right there is proof that legal opinions often spring from economic motivations.

  8. Publius says:

    You just outlined all of the reasons why young people aren’t interested in this sort of thing.

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