|Upkeep of a Land
The single greatest problem facing each land in Amtgard is growth and maintenance of a land’s population. While this can be an extremely difficult task, membership loss and stagnation of growth can be turned around. A major step is combating the view that membership only needs to be worked on when it becomes a problem. Recruitment must be an ongoing process, even for lands that have high membership.
The first resource any park needs is to know where its membership is going to come from. Major sources of membership include universities and colleges, gaming stores, and other boffer organizations. A group also needs to find the alternative avenues of recruitment such as bookstores and new age retailers. This will help you maximize the effect of flyers and other recruitment materials in those areas. Also, know what other LARP and medieval period organization exist in your town. Build as many positive relations as you can with groups like the SCA, St. Andrew’s Society, Civil War Re-enactments, and VLARP groups. These groups will often have members that will join Amtgard.
The next vital resource is flyers. Flyers need to include a contact, the meeting time and location, and a hook. The hook should give the reader an idea of what Amtgard is. Flyers should also be customized to the place they are being displayed. What is appropriate for a game store may not be appropriate in a chain bookstore. Game store flyers should play up role-play, while a flyer in the Arts department of a university should play up the Arts and Sciences. Design a few different flyers that advertise regular meetings and alternate them with flyers designed for specific events and recruitment days. When people see new flyers, it will get their attention.
Design a brochure that includes a hook, meeting time and location, contact information, and valuable resources such as the land’s email list and the Amtgard website. These can be given to curious spectators so they can do some research about Amtgard. Keep a handful of waivers on hand so that those who want to give the game a try can. Another helpful resource is either a sheet with the websites of various how-to pages, or a few basic how-tos to hand out to those who seem optimistic about joining.
The most important resource a group can have is a few dedicated members who are willing to talk to spectators. They should be friendly, have your brochure on hand, and just explain what Amtgard is. Granted, many spectators are just there to watch, but they will at least have a little bit of knowledge about Amtgard, and a positive experience to tell their friends about. This word of mouth is often what will lead to new members coming out.
The most common type of demo is the movie demo. Set up a good rapport with a local movie theater. Any movie that draws from sword and sorcery fantasy, medieval and renaissance history, or classic fairy tales is good. Bring along your handout resources and your best garb and weapons. You can normally negotiate sparring either indoors or outdoors. Bring some arts and sciences project to display to show that Amtgard is a multi-faceted organization. Another thing to consider is the subject of the movie and attempt to play to it. For example, if it is based on a fable or legend, have some storytellers tell tales to those waiting in line. Most of these people have some interest in the genre or they wouldn’t be at the movie.
Renaissance Faires are also great places to hold demos. Contact the organizers and try to arrange a time when you are in the spotlight. In this time frame, do a quick explanation and history of Amtgard, explain how combat works, and run a few mock battles. Renaissance Faire demos are a great opportunity because this avenue gives the spectator a chance to join in the combat. Bring your extra waivers and let people give it a try. Like with movie demos, you want to bring your handouts and arts and sciences display.
Grade schools, universities, craft shows and county fairs are other great places to do demos. Just be sure to tailor your presentation to your audience. For example, young children may not be able to play for a year or two, so give them information on age requirements, while craft shows will be more interested in the arts.
Community involvement is an often-overlooked avenue to recruitment. Now, in truth, community involvement rarely brings direct membership increases. This may be why it has been left to the wayside in so many places, but the reason you want your land to be active in the community is to build a good reputation. Often, you will get a fluff article on your group’s efforts in the newspaper or on the nightly news. Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:
Little Johnny went to see King Arthur. Your land held a demo and he seemed excited. He is 15, so he asks his mom to take him out to the park and let him join. Now, mom just happens to be reading the paper and stumbles across an article about your park running a canned food drive by holding a large tournament where three cans of food were the entry fee. Mom agrees, and your park picks up a new member.
Johnny’s mom was more than likely more receptive to the idea of him joining this group knowing that they do what they can to give back to the community. The small article would also reach members who are not active in other parallel activities. I cannot emphasize the importance of community involvement enough. No matter how trivial it seems, it will be noticed.
Unlike many organizations, Amtgard does not have the luxury of being a household name. Anytime that you have the opportunity to create a positive reputation, be sure to take full advantage of it. As Amtgard becomes better known, your land's membership will increase.
Keeping the Members You Have
Recruiting is often less of a problem than keeping the members you currently have. There are times when you will loose veterans and what seemed to be optimistic newbies to mundane life. While it sucks, it is unavoidable. However, sometimes you will lose members due to other factors. These factors include politics, burnout, and dull meetings. One of the best methods of keeping these evils from affecting your park is finding out why someone no longer attends your park’s meetings. Have your Prime Minister make it a policy to contact those members who are about to be put into the Book of the Dead and keep track of what feedback you are getting.
One major cause of losing members in your land is people reach a point where they feel they are not being recognized for anything. A shire usually is only capable of given up to the second of third order in a given award. If you have a member who excelled quickly, but seems to start becoming disappointed when nothing else comes from repeated efforts, reach out and support them. Let them know about large groups nearby and when their events are. If they really excel, let your Kingdom know about it. If necessary, use your right to create your own awards to given them recognition they might not get otherwise.
Another common downfall of many lands is failure to get new members active in leadership. It is hard for many veteran members to let go as they are so accustomed to things being done their way. Allowing new members to hold office will bring fresh ideas to your land, and help prevent burnout by your group’s veterans. While it is never a good idea to allow someone who has been to Amtgard once to run for office, encourage those who have stuck around for a year or so to become dues-paid and active in the decisions and leadership of your land. The results just might surprise you.
While recruiting and upkeep of a land’s membership is the biggest problem a land can face, it is not an impossible foe. With the dedication and energy of a land’s members, any park can reach staggering numbers, and possibly even achieve the status of Kingdom. The simple fact of the matter is that as more people become involved in Amtgard, the more fun and prosperity your group will receive. And the last time I checked, fun is what it’s all about.
I would like to thank Countess Sir Galen Silverthorne of the Celestial Kingdom for her helping in composing this article.
[ discuss on forums ]