Starting A Bird Club

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. For those of you thinking of starting a bird club, here are some of the things we had to do and some of the ways we went about handling them.

Some of the basics were explained in my previous article Starting A Bird Club – Part I. This article covers setting up a hotline telephone, bank accounts, non-profit status, avoiding strife and other things which can destroy a club, negotiating discounts, joining organizations and more on advertising and promoting the club. The next article will address adoptions, rescues, bird shows and other club events.

Telephone Hotline

We decided to start off with a Parrot Hotline. You just need one set number for all calls to be directed to. I thought I could use my home number, but Bell Atlantic wouldn’t let me use it as a business listing. Also the cost of returning calls would be prohibitive. So we decided to install the phone and everyone involved switched over to regional calling. This way we would receive calls on the “Hotline” and use our personal phones to return calls.

When a free caller ID hook up came through, we had that installed. Many people don’t talk distinctly or are emotional when a bird has escaped or died, and forget to leave their number. With caller ID I had a chance to call them back, if they didn’t have a private number. Our average bill is $53 a month. It took about two months to pay off the installation, but was definitely worth the investment.

To share the burden, we enlisted a different operator for each night of the week to pick up messages and return calls. Each operator was given a day and the code. I screen the calls for emergencies and keep track of all calls. We refer sitters and vets, and send out educational pamphlets and our newsletter. My outgoing recorded message is long, but it contains the name of the next guest speaker and topic, directions and a little promo about our club. (You should call it one day. 516-956-0015.)

Each operator is given each other’s number, a list of breeders, vets, poisionhotline, names and numbers of the officers and head of each committee, the various animal shelters in our area and a list of poisonous plants. We send out reuested information. For calls asking about the club, we send out, an avian vet list, map, an introduction to our club, do’s and don’ts. A lot of callers ask for adoption info, so we send out that packet. Our phone message also tells each caller that all operators work full time and that this is an all volunteer organization, so that if the call isn’t returned immediately, to please be patient. I pick up messages about 4 times a day just to screen for emergency calls.

Setting Up a Bank Account

I deal with a credit union and pay no monthly maintenance fees, so I was shocked to learn that opening a business account could be so expensive. Before PFC obtained its nonprofit status, the president and I opened a joint checking account with our credit union. There was no cost for the printing of checks or for each check written. Since this credit union couldn’t open a business account, our personal names were imprinted on the checks.

As soon as we received our nonprofit status, we opened a business account, (nonprofit organizations are entitled to discount checking). PFC retained the original account and uses those funds for the Injured Bird Fund, such as vet bills, or food for the birds in the Parrot Haven. The PFC account is used to pay regular expenses such as rent, phone bills, postage and newsletter costs.

We shopped around to get the best rates. The cost of the checks were more than we anticipated, but there is a carbon copy, which is helpful for record keeping. Our bank is open until 7PM which was a main key factor in choosing it. Also, the 4 officers have access to an ATM card to make deposits and recieve the account balances. There is no need for anyone else to be able to withdraw funds.

Any member can recieve a monthly statement upon request. We feel that its the membership’s monies and that the membership is entiltled to know how the funds are spent. For those of us who work bankers hours, a bank that is open nights and Saturdays is a plus.

Non-Profit Status

Our club obtained its nonprofit status within 3 weeks of its inception. It is a process that was done by an individual or it would have cost us $450 if the paperwork was filed by an attorney. We were lucky that we found an attorney to file for us pro bono. Your club can advertise in their newsletter for an attorney who might be willing to help out in the name of the birds. We also obtained liability insurance immediately. With PFC bringing birds to so many events, we had to be prepared in case someone was bitten. Insurance runs about $300-$500 a year, depending on the membership and number of special events.

What Can Destroy a Club

I think the main thing that will destroy a club are people’s need for power. When one person tries to do a good thing by taking on lots of responsibility, (s)he is also obtaining too much control. For example, by being on the Board of Directors, President, Show Manager, Operator, Editor, etc, it puts one in too much power. When we started this club, I held a lot of positions, but gladly gave them up as the membership grew and more people accepted responsibility.

I also believe that if someone accepts a position, then you should let them run it. They can keep the board informed, but if you put your trust in someone, then let them do the job to the best of their ability, with some firm guidance from the board, if need be. Remember, we’re all volunteers that have a willingness to want to help.

Don’t cause any hurt feelings. Just remember when you treat someone rudely, put yourself in their position. Would you like it done to you? I firmly believe in getting both sides of a story. Don’t let rumors fly around. If something doesn’t sound right, check out the source. Speak to the person involved. Don’t take it for granted that the person you have known for years is suddenly irresponsible. Get all the facts before making a decision that could end up hurting a lot of people.

PFC originally had 7 board members, with the intent that the more people involved, the more the responsibility is shared. It is incorporated into our bylaws that there be 2 board member positions added for each additional 50 members. Notes should be taken at each board meeting or should be recorded. Meetings should be open to all members, so as avoid the idea that secrets are being kept. When a non board member attends a meeting, they should be made to feel welcome, even if the topic is a controversial one.

There are ways to work things out without backstabbing. If you have a gripe, keep it in a personal conversation, not in a public forum such as a newsletter or as a speaker. You can open yourself up to a lawsuit. Stick to the facts, not gossip. You will be more respected and the club will remain a friendly and non-stressful for its members.

Joining Organizations

I feel that the more organizations joined, the more you can keep your membership informed and the more the club can do to support and help aviculture and conservation. Still, there are costs involved, and there should be a membership or board vote as to how the clubs’ money is spent. There are so many bird related organizations out there and costs must be conserved. PFC belongs to SPBE and exchanges newsletters with many other clubs, to keep current. As we grow and become more financially solvent, we will join other organizations.

Negotiating Discounts

Since I had many previous connections, it was easy to approach owners of pet stores and ask if they were willing to give discounts. When you make your presentation to a proprietor, have information about your club, including a business card, newsletter, and a pamphlet, introducing your club.

Be ready to explain how offering the discount can help the pet store. You can offer to write an article featuring the local pet store. Most people like to see their name and business glorified. Most owners hopefully will want to participate by helping you out. It’s a good will gesture to help out needy birds by helping out the club. You can offer a free ad in your newsletter to a pet store in exchange for a donation.

Ask each member to contact their local pet store and initiate a conversation with the owner, asking to place a poster or set business cards on the counter. It never hurts to ask. You won’t always be successful, but at least you tried. I have has tremendous success with offers of help for our Parrot Haven (Our bird rescue project). You just have to take the first step and ask. Some people are more aggressive than others. If you’re the shy type, then maybe you can help your club in other ways.

Many catalog companies will ask for membership lists in return for giving discounts, but be careful. There is a confidentiality issue involved here. You can have a form available which members can sign. Some individuals might want to be made part of a mailing list, to have the newest products made available to them, while others might think of catalogs as junk mail.

Group purchases can also get greater discounts from vendors. Getting together to purchase multiple copies of a book, or large quanties of food or toys or other items, or even one large combined order can result in discounts for all.

More on Advertising and Promoting the Club

This is a very important aspect of the club. Most newspapers have a calendar of events which will list your club meetings, space permitting.

Offering to bring birds to scout meetings, nursing homes and special events will give you exposure. When you see a crafts fair or street festival, call and ask about getting a complimentary booth. Most will ask for a vendor fee, but I have been successful in stressing the attraction of the birds and the nonprofit status of our club and have been given many a complimentary booth. Each town usually has a street fair, so you can also contact the local Chamber of Commerce or the town’s mayor.

Contact the local adult or nursing homes. Most seniors live a drab life and would welcome a pet day. This must be approved by the recreation director in most cases.

Contact any local TV stations and ask if they have a need for birds to appear on a pet related show. Sometimes they might request a bird that talks or performs tricks, but other times you might just get a producer that wants the general aspects of bird care discussed. I faxed letters to a local TV show and was immediately contacted to appear on a local News station, which included 2 minute live spots, every half hour, during a three hour show, from a location of my choice with about 20 members and their birds.

When I contacted an area newspaper about our 1st annual picnic, I was happy to receive a call from one of the reporters, who gave us a half page article with a picture of all my macaws. When my guys appeared in the newspaper several years ago, I received many invitations.

I appeared on the Gordon Elliott Show, where Gordon was a witness to signing my will which left money to my birds. ( Yes, as of 1996, it is a law that you can leave money directly to your pets.) I also met Warren Eckstein, pet expert and radio host,at a local “Blessing of the Animals” and have been invited on the Weekend Today show several times. Kathy Lee & Regis also had a fat pet segment. My guys didn’t appear because they weren’t overweight, but at least they were invited to the set and had pictures taken with the hosts. My birds have appeared on several editions of “The Family Pet” covering such topics as our new club or what happened when several of my birds died from the fumes of a self cleaning oven.

You just have to venture forth. You never know who is in an audience who might be willing to help your organization. Your club will not grow by sitting at home. Get involved. Volunteer.

I already mentioned that having a website is a must in this day and age. Our website is at Birds n Ways, who generously donated space for us and created our starting website. There are many companies who will assist you with setting up a web page or you can set up a page through your ISP. You might not have an easily accessible address, but it’s a start.Birds n Ways, and bird magazines, such as Bird Talk, which list bird clubs and ask to be included. It will make your club easier to find.

I also contacted many bird clubs listed in Bird Talk, and asked about doing exchange newsletters. I received a good response. It’s good to exchange ideas and formats.

Next month I will cover other areas and projects which the PFC is involved in.

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