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A How-To Guide to Creating an Aquatic Plant Club

by John Glaeser, Madison Aquarium Gardeners Club Leader

This article originally appeared in The Aquatic Gardener Volume 19 Number 2. | The AGA Can Help Your Club

Getting a local club started, keeping it going and growing, takes a bit of strategy. If you are considering starting a local plant club in your area, here are some ideas to help you along. First, let's start with some basic questions.

What is your goal in creating a club?

Fellowship, education, communications, plant exchange, experimentation? Brainstorm with interested aquatic plant colleagues. Visioning a purpose and understanding the process of realizing the goal is the first order of business. Write down your ideas and share them with others to critique.

How will you tell others about your new club?

Announce an initial organizational meeting. Friends tell friends. Place meeting announcement posters in aquarium stores. Post online on the major aquatic plant forums, newsgroups, and mailing lists. Present vision and execution ideas at the meeting. Encourage healthy exchange of ideas and develop a plan for the next meeting, the prototype format for the future.

How will you sustain growth and achieve your goal? Once you have the answers to these questions, you'll need to address the practicalities of sustaining growth—meeting location, new members, money, and leadership.

The Practicalities

Meeting Sites

One option is to have the meeting in members' homes. As membership increases, consider other available sites such as a school, library, zoo, or botanical garden facilities.

Increasing Membership

This can be challenging. Word of mouth and posters in aquarium stores work. Send an article idea and photos to your local newspaper. Get a big-name speaker to draw attention to the club. Potentially the most effective strategy is a web site. While surfing through the web, aquarium hobbyists will bump into your site.

Financial Support

Always a tough one. Having annual dues to buy pizza and reference materials makes sense. For new guests wanting to try out the club, it might be reasonable to have the first two meetings be free. Once they are comfortable about the culture and want to continue, they'll be willing to support with dues. If money becomes an issue, sometimes folks with means might pitch in with a little extra, for a good cause. Or they could sponsor a money-making event such as an auction or speaker.

Leadership Options

An organization needs a catalyst, someone to "lead the band." A facilitator can work with people to optimize participation and ensure that each member is regarded as important for the continuing vitality and harmony of the association. Other leadership opportunities within the club include keeper of the money bag, refreshments coordinator, library administrator and web site manager.

The Vision

Finally, here are some suggestions for creating a sustainable group dynamic.

Collegial Exchange

Share aquatic plant aquarium experiences. Care routines and design aesthetics vary. When members exchange ideas, they broaden their awareness of rich diversity existing in planted aquarium realms.

Support Your Local Fish Store

Make arrangements for the club to set up a planted aquarium in a local fish store. Be sure also to arrange for folks to maintain it periodically. The store will surely allow you to post flyers about your club near the display.

Library Availability

Assure members have access to excellent books, articles and CD/DVD items. Consider ways of sharing personal resources of this type, something like an inter-group loan program. Collect money to purchase current, high-quality reference books to be shared by all.

AGA Resources

Convention DVDs and Aquascaping CD-ROMs contain treasures, sure to awaken the enthusiasm of the beginning hobbyist and the more experienced as well. A laptop/projector combination is a great tool.

Editor's Note: Due to legal agreements with the convention speakers, the AGA is not allowed to distribute convention DVDs outside of its membership. An AGA member must buy the DVD, or the club must participate in the AGA's Premium Club Program. This is one of the best membership perks!

TAG Subscription

Get a multiple TAG subscription. Group Discounts are available. It's a nice touch, giving a copy to new members.

Plant Exchange

Invite folks to bring their surplus plants for the free exchange plant table. Specimens not picked up can be donated or sold to an aquarium store.

Club Culture

Experiment with what makes folks comfortable and eager to participate. There's nothing like pizza to get things going! Share stories about your aquariums. Bring pictures. Amuse with anecdotes. Do a Power Point or cut a CD illustrating the latest changes occurring in your aquaria. Ask good questions. Have discussions about solving recurring aquaria problems. If issues elude clear understanding, have someone volunteer to do a google and report back at the next meeting.

Test Kits

Providing quality loaner kits could be a real asset for members. Being aware of hardness, alkalinity, nitrate, total iron, phosphate, oxygen and pH levels can help in understanding planted aquarium dynamic processes and identify potential limiting growth factors. Of course, anyone who borrows a club test kit must report the findings so all can learn.

Newsletter Updates

Send periodic e-mail newsletters announcing meeting dates. Include reviews of previous meetings. Raise issues needing investigation. Pass on nifty anecdotes. Include photos of member aquariums. Though it may be difficult to get folks to prepare newsletter items, give it a try.

The Web Site

Big issue. If you have a tech-savvy volunteer, great! After some history of how your club is functioning, perhaps it's time to try an outreach on the web. Include a brief description of club goals. Highlight the dates and place for upcoming meetings. Embellish the site with pictures and associated narratives of members' tanks.

Finally, Expect Changes

Group sociology is dynamic. Membership changes over time, with some folks moving out of town and some becoming too busy to attend each meeting. Other members stay with the club only as long as their basic questions are answered. Vicissitudes will exist. Flexibility and adaptability help to maintain momentum.