Just about a month ago, I mentioned that I am now the chapter leader of the Triangle Area SQL Server User Group (TriPASS). I don’t plan to make any drastic changes to the way we do things at TriPASS, as I think we’ve got a pretty good thing going. We have a membership roster of about 450 people and average monthly attendance of 30-40 people, with bigger-name speakers drawing 50-60. Those numbers could be larger, but if we plateau at those levels for a while, I won’t be too sad.
Nevertheless, I want to talk about a few TriPASS plans. Thanks to SQL Saturday Raleigh, we have over $2000 to put into the organization. The combination of fiscal prudence and a good bit of luck has given us some seed money to implement a couple ideas. Here are my plans for the next couple of years:
Some of the larger PASS chapters incorporate as 501(c)(3)s. This helps institutionalize the chapter, so that if the chapter leader has to back out for any reason, there is a leadership team in place to keep things going. Otherwise, without a leader in place, the chapter could fall apart—I’ve seen this happen with a few Meetup groups in the area, and I don’t want that to happen here.
Incorporation means lots of paperwork and formal organization, which we’ve avoided to date. Fortunately, Tom Norman has done this for other groups, so he has a template that we can use. Even with that template and his knowledge, this is probably still a 12- to 18-month affair. Fortunately, thanks to SQL Saturday, we can set aside funds specifically for incorporation expenses, paperwork, and possibly hiring a professional to review our paperwork.
Speaker Scheduling and Breakdown
With some groups, it can be hard to find speakers and there’s a constant struggle to bring somebody in. I’m going to try to avoid that as much as possible. Fortunately, I have gotten to know some good speakers in the area, and I happen to work for a company with a half-dozen speakers, so I can gently prod some of them to speak.
My basic plan—which will survive until it completely breaks down—is to do the following: I want 3 or 4 regional to national names speaking each year. In the southeast, we have a number of great speakers in Richmond, Charlotte, South Carolina, and even in the Raleigh area. Most of these speakers will be scheduled between March and October, as I don’t want cancellation due to poor weather. If a big-name national speaker happens to be in the area and can speak to our chapter, I’ll definitely bring that person in. But I don’t want to have too many of these per year, because I really want to groom speakers here and have plenty of local sessions.
As far as local sessions go, I’d like to have 6-7 sessions from people in this area each year. The people presenting can be accomplished speakers or first-timers, but I want to build up the community of speakers in this area. One thing that has always impressed me about the Cleveland PASS chapter is just how many huge names have been involved with that group, and although I don’t think Raleigh will ever get to that point, I know that we have a lot of smart people who do interesting things, and hearing from those people makes the user group great.
Finally, I plan to present 1-2 sessions a year. This will give me a chance to experiment, and also let me take on a couple of the lower months like December, when user group attendance tends to drop and it’s harder to find speakers.
Out-of-Town Speaker Fund
This is something which the previous chapter leader informally started, and which I will formalize. If a person has to travel 2-3 hours or more to get here, I’d like to thank them for coming in to speak to our group. My default gift of choice will be a gift card of some non-trivial denomination. Thanks again to SQL Saturday running a surplus this year, I have enough money in the out-of-town speaker fund that we can cover speakers for at least two years. The idea here is not to have speakers make a profit from coming out this way, but more to defray some gasoline costs and give them a measure of appreciation for taking 6+ hours out of their schedules to help us learn.
As I mentioned above, I want to develop a community of speakers. But for some people, it can be intimidating to speak to a crowd for 60-90 minutes. For those people, I’d like to introduce microsessions. Before each chapter meeting, we’ll make a 15-minute block available for someone who wants to talk about something. At first, I’m going to make these planned sessions, where people contact me before the event and I put it on the schedule. As time goes on, they may become more spontaneous.
I also am thinking about allowing the microsession to be help solving a problem. Like I said, we tend to draw a crowd of smart people, and sometimes an outside perspective is all you need to solve a tricky business problem. The important thing here is that we cap these to 15 minutes; I don’t want to extend the amount of time we’re holding our sessions.
Our local chapter does not have much in the way of sponsorship. We have one sponsor who graciously provides us room and food, and we’re very appreciative of that. Otherwise, we’re pretty much on our own. Getting another sponsor or two wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially if it lets us raffle off prizes or make our events better. This is definitely more of a passive line item and not something I’ll actively pursue at this time, but if something falls into our laps, I’ll take it.
I’m excited to be taking over as chapter leader for TriPASS. None of the ideas above are radical departures from what we’re doing today, but I think these moves will help the organization. Like I said at the beginning, I’m not going to put any goals around membership numbers or increasing attendee counts; if they go up, fantastic, but the purpose of my actions is to improve the organization and I’ll let attendee counts be a lagging indicator.
I probably won’t have very many of these types of blog posts, at least until incorporation. I expect that once we incorporate, the extra paperwork requirements will be fodder for series follow-ups.