A Few Thoughts on the Unending Magic of Meetups
As many of you know, NetSquared has been host to a series Net Tuesday meetups throughout the country. The events, which are organized by folks in cities throughout North America, bring together people interested in the intersection of connective technology and the nonprofit world. For several years now, these events have been a great success by way of keeping NetSquared connected with the community it serves, and keeping the community it serves connected with it. Hopefully you are in some way involved with a Net Tuesday Meetup in your area, and if there isn't one, perhaps you would be interested in taking on a leadership role in that capacity.
You might also consider putting together your own meetup if you haven't done so already. I have been approached by many different people from different organizations who wonder how they can use the Internet to create a greater connection between them and potential members/supporters of their organization. I often explain that it would obviously be optimal for the organization to employ a community outreach coordinator of some sort, but since this is outside of the budget for many, I still suggest going with the now seemingly old standby of organizing a meetup.
While writing for The Point, I posted a three-part anecdotal study of Meetup organizers. I asked them questions about their overall organizational experiences. Each organizer had a series of great stories about how their experiences with these issues-driven meetings were continuously enriching. By bringing issues supporters into one place on a somewhat regular/consistent basis, they felt as though they were tangibly and authentically incubating action. People fed off of each other's energy, and their support for the particular issue went from rhetorical to passionately tangible by talking with other people in an energy-charged room. This really is the perfect paradigm for bringing organizational supporters, be they potential funders or volunteers, to the table for buy-in into the organization. In my experience, I find that people are more willing to give of themselves when they feel connected with someone in, or a community surrounding, an organization.
If your organization is focused on hunger and homelessness, host a meetup to get a conversation about those issues going and associated with your organization. If your focus is on conservation, host a meetup to discuss particular upcoming actions coming up in your local neighborhood.
With regard to how to set up your Meetup, the technology seems fairly obvious. Again, in a best-case scenario, your organization employs someone whose specialty is just this. In a much more likely scenario, you're faced with doing this yourself (or having an Intern take on the project, which I strongly suggest). Many stick with a simple Meetup group, which is accessible and functional in that members are connected to a mailing list. Setting up a Facebook event is another seemingly obvious choice (as is promoting it generally through any social network your member base is on). Setting up a network on Ning, so that group members can network online while they're not face-to-face is a fast-emerging approach (if it has not already emerged), but lately I have been hearing feedback about Ning, and all around TMFSN ("Too Many Flipping Social Networks") fatigue, so it's likely best to feel your group out to see what their interactive interest/capabilitires are before you put extra energy into augmenting the online element of your community
Set up your meetup group, have a conversation in mind to lead the group with, reach out, and stay in touch. Send emails to other groups that might have members interested in attending your event. Create incentive by offering food if it's in your budget, or you can even suggest a potluck (has anyone had any success with hosting a Meetup-style potluck? If so, holler in the comments section). I have had luck setting up a sponsorship-relationship with a local brew pub who makes their bottled beer available at our meetings. We've got enough going on in our days, and sometimes we need an extra reason to go to an event like this, even if the content is good for us.
Further, it is really, really smart to have a co-organizer. It is always smart to not put all of your eggs in one basket, and if for whatever reason you are unable to make it to the meeting, it is optimal to have someone who can lead in the event of your absence. Always have a Plan B.
Three years running and the NetSquared Meetup army continues to spread across the continent, creating a special relationship between the organization and the individuals - a sense of buy-in - a motivating factor to stay involved. You should consider whether or not using the online to organize a connective presence for your organization offline can equally benefit you.
Ps. If you haven't seen it, Jed did a great interview with Scott Heiferman, CEO of Meetup.
Pps. Has your group successfully worked with a meetup model? Have you participated in one that was apolitical and used to form discussion around an issue/organization? What was your experience? If you do use a meetup, how do you organize it online? Do you adhere strictly to using Meetup's model, or do you use a Ning network? Discuss!