September 1999 Magazine
Starting a bird club in your area can be a very rewarding project. Making new friends, learning about birds and sharing experiences are just a few of the benefits a club can provide. I was a founding member of my bird club, the Parrot Fanciers Club, which now has over 100 members. I had been involved in another bird club for many years, so had many friends and acquaintances in the "bird world." It was easier for us to start a new club since we had a core of people who were very supportive.
For those of you thinking of starting one too, here are some of the things we had to do and some of the ways we went about handling them.
It was a cold October 3rd evening when I got home and made a call to now VP, Carol Kaminski, and said, "I'll be right over. We're starting our own club." So it was in Carol's living room that everything began.
First of all we had to pick out a name. I was adamant about it starting with the word parrot, for no other reason than when you're looking for a listing of birds, you ask the operator for Parrot Clubs. We finally decided on the "Parrot Fanciers' Club" for our name and we were on our way.
Setting the Club's Meeting Date
This was the easy part. At the place which we selected to hold our meetings, Thursdays was the only day available, so our decision was made. Some other considerations to keep in mind are the days of other activities in your town or commitments of the potential club members.
Now the point was, which Thursday of the month? There are two other bird clubs in our area, one on a Wednesday and one on a Friday. We didn't want to have the meeting in the same week, since I knew that members of other clubs might wish to attend and with everyone's busy schedules, it's hard to attend two meetings in a week.
Finding and Setting Up A Meeting Place
It was easy for us to find a place to hold meetings. I reunited with the renter of the hall where I had meetings with my previous club and was told I was more than welcome to rent there again.
We did not want to start off having meetings in a home, library or pizza place and we needed a place where people would be able to bring their birds, where vendors could sell their wares and with a spot to offer grooming and sexing.
When I had looked previously for halls for another club, I had contacted every VFW, American Legion, Rec Center within a 20 mile radius. Rents ranged from free, without being able to bring any birds, to $600 a month. Then I had to visit each hall, because the person who was the representative did not have the square feet of each hall. Plus I needed to see that the areas were decent and the hall was neat and well kept.
Obtaining a hall was important because when we printed out flyers, an address and a phone number were needed. Eventually, one of the local police officers directed me to our present meeting at the Masonic Temple in Amityville. I had lived in Amityville 10 years and didn't even know the temple existed. It was a narrow, but deep building, set on a side street. Ask your town officials if any such site might exist in your area. I actually scoped about 50 places before finding this spot.
With only 7 members, we were told that we could rent the hall for $75 a month, and the rent would increase as we grew, if we grew. I was scared to make the commitment. What if we failed? What if we couldn't raise that $75 each month?
Our group of 7 went down, looked over the hall and gave a commitment. Since I had dealt with the rental agent previously, and had proven myself trustworthy, I was given the key to the hall so that I could set up each month, if the agent ran late. I had sent out about 50 invites and with word of mouth, there were about 100 attendees at our 1st meeting/Christmas party. My rent was immediately raised to $125. This was a party and the agent usually got $100 an hour for a "party." I had no idea that I would get such a turnout.
Eventually, we secured several vendors, willing to sell bird related items, at discounted prices. They needed set up time and so did I. Initially, the rental was for 2 hours, but has now grown to 5 hours.
I had contacted the signmaker from the other club. We had become friends over the years and Kristin Pizzuto of New Wave Signs was more than happy to make up any signs that I needed. A decision about club colors was determined. They would be blue and yellow. So Kristin made yellow signs with blue print. Membership, adoption, no smoking, refreshment and raffle signs.
This hall also doesn't have a custodian, so it is up to the members to set up the tables and chairs. I get there at 5:15PM, since I have the key. I set up the hospitality tables and as the vendors arrive, we help each other with the 8 ft. tables. I leave it up to the membership to set up the chairs.
The raffles are drawn after the guest speaker has finished. I also make an announcement that the raffles are not drawn until the kitchen is cleaned up and the signs are collected and chairs put away. It's a bribe, but it works. Otherwise I would be there until midnight cleaning up.
Since birds are allowed at the meeting., but not in the kitchen, everyone has to chip in and clean up poops. Then the floor has to be swept, the garbage emptied and the cigarette butts picked up. I also have to make sure that tables are not dragged, so that the wooden floors are not scratched. I then make a sweep of the place.
I also give the agent a $20 tip each night for allowing us to set up early. Remember, the rental fee goes to the hall affiliation and a tip is always appreciated. Tips are a necessity in my book as they promote good will. Since I found it, I take responsibility of keeping the hall. I take this position seriously since I am also one of the founders.
The newsletter is the backbone of the club. Our editor was a master with the computer. I realized we needed ads, so I made a few contacts, received donations and had ads made up. Requests were made for personal bird experience stories to be written. A membership application was made up for the back page. Then an address was needed. Since I have had my own personal PO Box for the past 17 years, I volunteered that address. Using a street address is risky since you don't want to risk publicizing your address and putting your birds at risk for theft.
Printing and mailing costs for a newsletter are usually a significant expense. Be sure to include it's cost when calculating the club's budget.
Funding the Club
Unfortunately, the $25 that is charged for membership barely covers the hall rental, postage and phone bill, yet we do not want to raise the annual membership fee, since it is in comparison with the cost of other club memberships.
We have several vendors selling at our meetings and the cost for them to set up, besides their membership fee is that they have to make a donation of their wares. One table requires a $25 retail donation, 2 tables is a $35 retail donation. In turn, these donations are raffled off. With our present membership, of 131, PFC takes in about $125 a month on raffles. I count on the raffles to pay the rent.
Officers and Board of Directors
It did take a few private meetings to decide who would be the officers. Since I had already been a secretary for another club, I took that position. The treasurer is an accountant in her personal life, so her choice was easy. Being president was the difficult choice. It takes a serious commitment to head an organization. There were two good candidates, one took the presidency and the other took the VP position.
Then we needed board members. Each organization needs to be run by a board of directors which must have an annual meeting. PFC chose June as the date to hold its elections. By postponing this election, it gave the membership time to see if anyone would want to run for this position. PFC chose to have 7 board members. A large board was wanted because it is felt that the more positions available, the more the responsibility of running the club is shared. Members were asked, via the Newsletter to submit themselves or others as nominees. Then biographies and pictures were printed in the Newsletter. Since there were 7 positions and seven nominees, the vote was easy. PFC decided on staggering terms. The three with the least votes, would be in office for a year, while the 4 with the most votes would hold a 2 year term. Terms need to be staggered so that key people, who know all the runnings of the club, would not be out of office all at the same time.
Speakers at Meetings
Obtaining speakers can be difficult. We were fortunate enough to be able to pull from the membership. The first speaker was a cockatiel breeder and a friend that had been a member of another club. Everyone has a specialty and when we made requests, we received a lot of volunteers.
I had also done a mass mailing of posters & business cards to the avian vets. Yes, business cards was a first priority. 2000 were printed up. A poster with the club meetings, date, times, directions, phone number and services that the club offers was also printed up. These posters & business cards along with a cover letter was sent to all the avian vets on the Island. Several vets, in turn contacted me requesting to be guest speakers. I wanted to use these vets, when the membership had grown a little. I know how valuable their time is and wanted to make sure that there would be a healthy amount of people in the audience.
Eventually, we would like to have some big name speakers, such as Liz Wilson, but at this time, our budget will not allow it. One of the members suggested that the membership be asked if they would be willing to chip in $5, for example, to obtain a well known guest speaker. PFC does offer its speakers a free years membership and a t-shirt as payment for the evening.
T-shirts were only ordered after members committed themselves financially and prepaid for them. One of the members is an artist and she allowed us to use her design. Thanks to Pat Laws of the Hawaiian Parrot Association for her contribution of a comic variation of a hyacinth macaw. PFC recently had a vote to name the drawing. Several names were submitted and Parrotrooper won. This involvement of the membership makes the members feel akin to each other. PFC has chosen to name our newsletter the Paratrooper News.
Advertising and Promoting the Club
We had a 3'x4' sign made with our club name, number and services listed on it. I place this outside our meeting hall each month so that passersby know what's going on inside. These signs are also used at events, such as street fairs, pet expos, health fairs, on TV shoots, etc. Kristin, our signmaker, was very generous. She gets a free lifetime membership and business card ad in exchange for the signs. Eventually, when the club had some money, we made a token payment to cover the cost of materials, which Kristin even refused, but I was insistent. We were so happy that she pitched right in to help us out.
A friend of mine, who just happens to own 3 local newspapers, promised me that if we started our own club he'd give us publicity in his papers every month, and he has been true to his word.
Another friend runs a printing business and made up thousands of flyers. Each piece of educational information that was distributed had the club name, address and phone number imprinted on it. I know from previous experience that when people collect information, that it may sit on a shelf for months and when they finally go to read it, they forget where it came from. So identification is definitely a priority.
Don't be afraid to barter goods and services. I also realized that our club needed a website. I had never used a computer before, but I know the importance of the internet. I was talking to my friend Richard King, of King's Cages, who agreed to donate a cage to our club in exchange for advertising each month. Rich and his son, Andrew, were showing me their web page and suggested that I contact Carol Highfill of Birds n Ways for information. I worried about cost, but knew having a site was a must. After speaking with Carol, she offered me a complimentary site in exchange for some articles. Again the barter system is working out. She produced a great website and I am eternally grateful to her for her generosity.
I then needed someone to update the site, so I advertised in our newsletter and it just so happened that one of our members has a boyfriend who makes websites for a living. How perfect. Dennis Cashton is more than happy to assist our little group. Especially after we rescued his girlfriend's pionus after it had escaped - but that's another story.
Starting a club is a serious undertaking and must not be taken lightly. I never could have done this alone. Much credit must be given to President Diana Baker, VP Carol Kaminski, and Treasurer Susan Ruiz. The club could not have gotten off to such a great start without their assistance. I also never would have met them if I had not been part of another bird club. So we had key people to begin with. We were fortunate.
Next month I will cover other areas and projects which the PFC is involved in.
Winged Wisdom Note: Lisa Umstead has been breeding birds for many years and is an officer and founding member of the Parrot Fanciers Bird Club.
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Cockatoo Parrot picture courtesy of Glasgow Enterprises