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Chris G. Williams Beware: I mix tech and personal interests here.
While at the MVP Summit, I interviewed for an INETA Board Position. Specifically, the VP of Membership. I have no idea if I'll get it, though I hope I do. If I do get it, there's going to be some ch-ch-ch-changes.

If I don't get it, I hope whoever they do pick takes these suggestions to heart.

#1 The membership committee needs some SERIOUS house cleaning.
As a User Group leader, I can count on one hand (actually one finger, with room to spare) the number of unsolicited emails I have received from my Membership Manager. I define unsolicited emails as "Hey, how are you doing?",  "Do you need anything?", "I've got some ideas for your group/area/state." So yeah, none of those emails so far in the entire history of our group.

I can also count on one hand the number of solicited emails (as in those written in response to emails I've sent) I have received. It's damn near the same amount... It took me 4 emails last time to get a response.

So, you have to infer that these guys are either: A) ridiculously busy (and should therefore step down so someone else can take the reins) or B) apathetic resume padders (who should also step down, for obvious reasons.)

Now I'm not saying they are ALL that way, because having served as one, I know they aren't. But the ones who are need to go BYE-BYE and fast.  The role of INETA Membership Manager is currently the easiest job in all of INETA. It should, in all honesty, be the hardest. I contacted my groups (across 2 states) regularly, checking on them, making sure they didn't need anything and I ALWAYS responded to every email I received.  If you can't be bothered to do this, then please leave... there's the door.

#2 New groups (technically all groups, but especially the new ones) need more guidance and resources.
This goes back to issue #1. When I started my first group, I never even heard from my Membership Mentor. The only person I ever heard from was the wonderful Nancy Mesquita who was my contact with the Speakers Bureau. For over a year I thought SHE was my membership contact. My colleague who took over that group after I moved hasn't heard from her membership mentor in YEARS. The last time we spoke, neither of us even knew if he was still with INETA.

Also, INETA used to offer something called a User Group in a Box. That needs to come back.

#3 INETA is struggling with relevance in an era that sees a lot more than just .NET user groups.
As more and more niche groups (such as XNA, Silverlight, Sharepoint, etc) start up, INETAs offerings become less and less relevant. The speaker's bureau has shrunk in the face of reduced funding to only 2 speakers per year with a 6 month lead time on requests.

The last speaker I requested was the only one capable of presenting on a relevant topic to our group, and he had to cancel at the last minute. (I understand these things happen, but nobody else even came close to filling the bill.) There are currently at least 4 XNA groups in North America, with likely more that I am unaware of.  Now we're seeing Silverlight groups popping up...  INETA needs to broaden their scope or choose not to support fringe groups at all. Better to do your core objective well than to spread yourself too thin and do nothing right.

#4 INETA needs to reach beyond User Group Leaders.
Currently INETA feels more like the International .NET User Group Leader Association. I guess INETUGLA just didn't sound right. If INETA wants to continue growing, it needs to offer value to the constituent members of the user groups. INETA should be a professional organization. They constantly struggle with funding, but name one single Professional Organization that doesn't charge even modest dues to it's members. If INETA extended membership beyond the UG Leaders, and charged moderate ($25) dues per year, a lot of that funding crisis would abate. 

And with this extra money, great things could be accomplished... things like expanding the speakers bureau back to its original size, or granting tech-ed (and other conference) scholarships to members, providing means for intra-group communication and collaboration.

These are just examples, but if INETA needs money and Microsoft isn't pony'ing up what they used to then we need to find new sources. If INETA provided something of value to me, I would happily pay dues. Honestly, I think a lot of people would.

Let's look at the numbers.  We have HUNDREDS of active groups in North America alone. If ONE person from each group paid $25 dues, that would be close to $5000 which may not sound like much, but managed properly can accomplish a hell of a lot. If one person and every UG Leader paid dues, well... that's double. $10,000 goes a long damn way.

#5 INETA needs to find a better way of promoting new and existing groups.
I think a couple pages in various relevant magazines would go a LONG way to increasing awareness of user groups.  This could be accomplished several ways: a) a listing of dates and locations where INETA speakers are going to be. b) a listing of user groups, by state for people to find or c) an INETA ad pointing people to a user group locator.

I can't speak for any of the magazines I read personally, but I'm willing to bet that something could be worked out. You just have to try. See #4 if it's a money issue.
Posted on Monday, April 21, 2008 4:21 PM General Interest | Back to top


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