# Wednesday, 24 November 2010

We have just finished an amazing year at the Great Lakes Area .Net User Group (often abbreviated “GANG”).

As many of you know, I took over as president of GANG at the end of 2009 and I presided over my first GANG meeting in January of 2010. 28 people attended that meeting. Last week, 80 people attended our final meeting of the year.

When the year started, I sat down with the other newly-elected officers – Vice President John Hopkins; Treasurer Kent Fehribach; and Secretary Gerhard Weiss. Together we set 6 goals for the group:

  • Get members more engaged and involved
  • Increase meeting attendance by 50%
  • Increase supporting membership by 30%
  • Continue to attract high-quality speakers
  • Increase sponsorship by 100%
  • Finish year in the black financially

I wrote about these goals back in January. As I described, we set out a plan to meet these goals. Now that the year has ended, I’d like to review how we did against these goals.

Get members more engaged and involved

In addition to the elected officers, GANG recruited several volunteers - Chris Roland, Shelly Noll, and Kelly Brownsberger - to help with all the work that goes into each meeting.

In the past, the group was a venue for people to watch a technical presentation - but little else. The technical presentations are important, but we wanted members to get more out of it. So we designated the period before the meeting as networking time, when users can enjoy their dinner and talk to one another. We handed out name tags, which help to break the ice.
After the meeting, we invite everyone to a local pub, where we can enjoy some relaxed social time. It wasn't uncommon for us to go out after a meeting, but we made it more inclusive this year.

We introduced Lightning Talks this year. A Lightning Talk is a 10-minute presentation that any member may deliver on a topic of his or her choosing. In addition to providing more content for the audience, it gives members experience speaking in front of an audience in a low-risk environment.

This year, we started a monthly get-together that we called the Motor City Codeslingers. This is a chance for programmers to get together to do some pair programming and share some idea.
We held a Food Drive in November and almost 60% of the attendees donated. This was a huge success, collecting over 160 food items and over $600.

Increase meeting attendance by 50%

We began the year with a membership drive. People could enter into a raffle by attending a meeting and by bringing a guest to a meeting. Microsoft donated a Zune HD as a grand prize for this drive. We drew for the Zune at the June meeting.

Throughout the year, we encouraged members to spread the word among their friends and colleagues and we introduced first-time attendees at each meeting. Word of mouth remains the best way to attract new members.

We also advertised the group on the social networks Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

These tactics worked. Attendance increased from about 35 per meeting in 2009 to over 54 per meeting in 2010. More impressive was the steady increase in attendance throughout this year. We went from 28 attendees in January to 80 in November and the average attendance in the second half of the year was over 65.

Increase supporting membership by 30%

There is no charge to join GANG or to attend meetings, but we do offer a supporting membership for an annual fee. This goal was a partial success. The number of supporting members increased by only about 10%, but the dollar amount was more than double last year due to an increase in the amount of the fee we set.

Continue to attract high-quality speakers

For years, GANG has attracted outstanding speakers. This year was no different. We held twelve meetings in 2010 and our list of speakers reads like a Who’s Who of developers in the region. We had Microsoft program managers, evangelists, Technology Specialists, MVPs, book authors, and influencers. All our speakers also present at conferences.

Increase sponsorship by 100%

We blew away this goal. In 2009, Michigan was hit hard by the recession and our sponsors reflected this with reduced sponsorship. Our funds were so low last year that we did not provide dinner for our last few meetings.

This year, we pursued existing and new sponsors and raised several times the sponsorship that we did last year. Not only did we always provide dinner – several times this year, we could afford to upgrade from the typical pizza dinner to something more interesting, such as tacos, fried chicken and Chinese food.

In addition to raising more money, we reached out to vendors to donate software, books, and training that we can give away at a raffle at the end of each meeting. We give out thousands of dollars worth of merchandise at this raffle – more than many conferences.

Finish year in the black financially

We added this goal, because GANG owed about $300 at the end of 2009. This year, we increased sponsorship donations as described above. We also implemented some cost savings by doing things like buying soda and chips from the grocery store, instead of from the caterer.

We are finishing 2010 with a surplus of over $1500, which will be a good start for 2011.

Wrap-Up

In addition to the accomplishments listed above, GANG also did the following in 2011:

  • MessageBox.Show Newsletter
  • Monthly E-Mails
  • Upgraded web site
  • Signage during the meeting
  • PayPal

Overall, I’m really proud of what my team and I accomplished in 2010. It’s not like we took a group that was floundering and brought it up to acceptable. We took a stable, successful group and took it to the next level. Other user groups in the area often look to us now for ideas of how to be successful.

The only remaining question is: How do we top this in 2011?