Membership Crisis?

What do religious institutions and Community Nets have in common? Give up? While the existence of both depends upon the financial contributions of the participants neither limits participation to those who contribute. I suppose this comparison could be pushed even further in terms of the desire of both to proselytize but I will resist the urge.

My role on the Board is Chair of the Membership Committee and I have a problem or more correctly all of us have a problem. Our problem has to do with the misunderstanding of the essential role membership in the Metro Community Access Network (CAN) Society plays in sustaining the Chebucto Community Net (CCN).

During the early days of our development when a group of some fifty to sixty people were laying the ground work for the community network there was no confusion about this distinction - in fact at that time there was neither a formal organization nor a network. The formal organization came first in order to satisfy the usual legal requirements and at that point automatically all of those who were involved in the planning became members and incidentally paid their dues. About three months later in June of 1994 Chebucto Community Net (then known as FreeNet) came into being and at that time all those who had previously become members became registered users. This all seemed very simple and straightforward.

Almost immediately following the 1994 June launch interest in CCN began a rapid climb. Unlike the first group of members the majority of new community netters did not have the opportunity to become familiar with the Society and its operation. Most saw themselves merely as users of a service not as members of a society which actually offers the service. In fact some thought of Chebucto simply as another Internet provider along with the existing commercial services.

The bald truth is Chebucto is the child of the Society and depends on the dues of the members of the Society for its existence.

Just over a year has passed since the first membership dues were collected and we are now working on the initial round of renewals. Our success to date is not encouraging. Following a notice of renewal and one reminder letter only about 35% of those whose membership was due, have paid the annual fee. This presents the Board with a serious predicament. The Society has monthly financial commitments which we anticipated we could cover with funds gained from a combination of new memberships and renewals. Without adequate funds the only alternative available to the Board is to decrease costs by reducing the number of modems and phone lines. In other words we will become what we are able to raise.

On the positive side we have been making progress in improving the ratio of members to users. At this point approximately 60% of those who register as users also take out a membership. In an effort to improve this further, in September we will be beginning a campaign to encourage those who have been users for at least one month and have not joined to take out membership. We are also hoping to improve the renewal situation as the Board has agreed to send a hard copy reminder to those who have not responded to their renewal notice after one month.

Earlier I suggested we all have a problem and I believe we can all do something it. It is up to each of us who is a member of the Society to encourage others to join, particularly those who are present users. The Membership Committee would welcome any suggestions about how we might improve our success rate. Please send your ideas to Bernie Hart.

Bernie Hart, Chair Membership Committee


Chebucto Connections FEATURE OF THE MONTH
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