A few developments about SBE tend to alarm those of us involved in the organization’s leadership:
- Chapter 36 SBE member count has reduced from 57 two years ago to 39 this year—a 30% drop.
- Last week’s Chapter 47 meeting in Los Angeles was canceled due to lack of reservations. Only four people from a chapter with 197 members bothered to RSVP for their dinner meeting.
- Chapters in Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Honolulu no longer hold meetings at all.
So what’s going on?
A Survey Ensues
I distributed a few days ago a survey to try to learn a few things about attendance, perceived value, and apathy among those of you who read our email-distributed newsletter. I emailed 100 surveys and received 19 responses. That alone tells us a bit about apathy (and spam filters, perhaps). I did some weeding of our email list to try to eliminate those residing outside San Diego County. I sent them to local newsletter subscribers, but not necessarily all local broadcast engineers since some have not revealed themselves to us. I recognized that not all recipients would warm up to an uninvited survey from a new email address.
The first question asked how frequently respondents attend meetings. Just more than half responded, “Only when I can get away from work.” 16% were regulars who come to the meetings as often as possible, regardless of the presentation. These are our loyal base. This is the contingency that makes up the majority of the successful chapters in Portland, San Francisco, and Sacramento. (Click on graphic to enlarge it in your browser.) Most responded, “Only when I can get away from work.”
The second, related question asked what would help to make respondents attend more meetings. The response was predictable: Many say they are running all day long and can’t dependably get away for a lunch and learn session, usually because engineering staff has been pruned to the levels where there aren’t enough at a given station or group to have one stay behind and another attend a meeting. If there’s a remote broadcast on a given day, there’s no one free to get away for a 90-minute lunch.
We had a perfect example recently of a meeting poorly attended that coincided with the first day of racing at Del Mar. Guess where the engineers were?
A couple wanted evening meetings, but we’ve tried that and it’s almost always worse for attendance. Once you get off work, you don’t want to commute somewhere, then drive home late at night. It could depend on whether you’re a night owl or a morning lark.
We asked whether respondents pay SBE dues. Dues go toward day-to-day operations, newsletters, certification administration, legal work like FCC Auxiliary band protection, and chapter rebates. While it’s easy to attend and “skate” on not participating in paying dues, it makes it more difficult to provide the very services our members want. 52% of respondents say they pay dues annually without interruption. Only 10% say they never pay, but our sample is heavily skewed toward regular members.
When we asked whether you considered meeting presentations to be sufficiently informative, 58% agreed wholeheartedly, 42% said we “sometimes” hosted informative presentations. No one disagreed that meetings were at least sometimes worthy.
Sometimes presenters have too much promotion in their mix. Sometimes they are talking about radio subjects when you want to hear about video. And sometimes presenters are simply not skilled at presenting.
Do we share enough news about the broadcast engineering community? Actually, only a couple of chapters like San Diego even bother with this. 79% say we do, though we could certainly always do better.
We asked if the chapter gives sufficient opportunities to network with other engineers. 58% agreed that we do. 42% agreed somewhat. No one said we need to have more social events like picnics, baseball games and such like they do in Portland and San Francisco. Yeah, we tried purely social events and, except for our holiday luncheon, they fall flat on their face.
We asked how the chapter could improve with a series of repsonses that could be checked off. 58% checked, “Actually, I’m pretty satisfied.” 37% would like presentations to be “more technical.” A third of respondents checked off “more presentations on video” and “more presentations on IT.” A quarter of all respondents checked off “better food.”
A sixth of respondents checked off “fresh leadership,” but when asked to include their names for volunteering, declined to do so. Another sixth wanted “more recognition of engineering achievement.”
What to Do?
Professional societies are having a tough time everywhere. Staffing is stretched to the point where professional development and networking take a back seat to just keeping a place on the air with too few technical employees.
Much of the information passed along in our presentations are available online, so it can seem less important to attend, even if you miss out on the networking part.
And the younger, more IT-oriented generation doesn’t seem accustomed to a professional society culture, so are tending not to carry on the torch.
Trying to prop up the chapter may seem hopeless, but I’m not willing to give up yet. Highly successful chapters still exist, and when we get 17 – 20 to show up for a presentation, that’s as good as any across the country. We had 42 tour the KNSD facility last year.
We’re going to try to infuse some new blood into chapter leadership. We need more members with “skin in the game.” If you would like to be a part of the new generation and have a say in the future direction of Chapter 36, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Elections will take place in November. This takes only a couple of hours of labor per month and you’ll get the benefits of practicing leadership, adding an officer role to your resume, and expanding your network of contacts.