by Steve Decker, NAR 9695
Many NAR Sections publish a newsletter — mostly now distributed by electronic means rather than paper — but why? What should be the purpose of a newsletter? Is it worth the time and effort? “Having a good newsletter on a regular schedule…was instrumental in keeping people interested in the section…Eventually I decided ‘why let these guys have all the fun?’ and got more involved.”
The basic purpose of a Section newsletter is communication. It provides a means by which essential information about your club’s activities can be communicated from the leadership to the members. When the club grows beyond the size which allows the President to easily telephone every member before each important club activity, it is time for at least a one-page newsletter or basic news bulletin e-mail. This “letter from the president” serves to notify the membership of upcoming events, and acts as a reminder to forgetful or only partially active members to come to meetings, launches, lectures, etc. Though designed primarily as a means of communication with the members of the Section, the newsletter can also serve the purpose of communicating your Section’s activities and accomplishments to other clubs if your distribution list is expanded to include other Sections. In addition, you can ask your local hobby shop to give out copies of the newsletter to his rocketry customers, and thus attract new members to your Section.
Your Section’s newsletter can serve to impress on the club members and on potential new members that the Section conducts a variety of interesting activities. Furthermore, by keeping members advised of the results of activities they were unable to attend, the newsletter can help to develop a spirit of unity among the membership.
In addition, a newsletter allows the club to attract new members whose principal interests are not strictly rocketry oriented, but who would like to participate in the writing, editing, or distribution of the newsletter. All successful rocket clubs will have many non-rocketry jobs (newsletter, publicity, planning, range operations, etc.) available for persons interested in developing their skills in these areas.
The most important item in any Section newsletter (and on any Section website) is the Calendar of Events, a listing of the meetings, launches, field trips, and other activities on the club’s schedule. In addition, it can include a listing of events sponsored by other area clubs which your members have been invited to attend.
As the club grows, and some of your members are unable to attend every event, you can add summaries of contest or launch results and reports of actions taken at business meetings, so these members can keep up with the club’s activities.
A listing of the club’s rocket performance records in all of the events your Section has flown will help to stimulate competition among the members. There is nothing like having an established record to beat, and knowing that some recognition will be attained by surpassing it, to keep your members interested in the Section’s launches and contests.
You can get a plan and design section started by printing the construction plans for each model holding a Section or NAR performance record. This will allow your other members to duplicate the model or exercise their own skills by trying to improve upon the design. More plans can be obtained by having a “Design of the Month” contest, in which all members are encouraged to submit designs of their favorite rockets for possible publication in the newsletter. The winners can be awarded a rocket kit, a gift certificate, or a free club membership.
Members engaged in development of new designs or technologies can use the newsletter to propose their new ideas and to report the results of their projects. If the newsletter is distributed outside your own Section (and it should be), this will allow members throughout the country to benefit from your member’s research.
Special feature articles can be written by knowledgeable members of your Section or by friends from other Sections who are particularly skilled in one or more aspects of the hobby. Other subjects which can be included as your newsletter expands are information about the outside activities of club members, news from other Sections, summaries of regionals, conventions, NARAM, puzzles, cartoons, NAR news, new product information, etc.
When your club is young you may only be able to produce a one- page bulletin for distribution to your members only. Don’t feel embarrassed about this, as the Section newsletter is probably the most valuable benefit you can provide to your members, especially to inactive or non-local members. As your club grows, you can increase the number of pages and try for a wider distribution.
One good way to increase your circulation, and gather material, is to set up a newsletter exchange program with as many other sections as possible. This is basically a win-win proposition, for you get news from other sections, including plans and construction articles, and all you need to do for it is to send out a few extra copies of your newsletter. Be sure to include the Rockwell Trophy judges on your distribution list, whether that distribution is done by paper or electronically.
Many Sections have turned to electronic distribution of Section news, either as an adjunct to, or a replacement for a printed newsletter. Almost every Section, manufacturer, and vendor have web pages as well. Online discussion forums are the best way to keep up-to-date with the hobbies of model and high-power rocketry. The NAR runs a Yahoo Group, a moderated online forum, for officers of NAR Sections and some sections run one of these as well. Another great source of industry news and views is Facebook, where most manufacturers and the NAR have pages that you can “like” and then receive in your own Facebook feed. Some sections also have Facebook pages.
As the newsletter grows beyond a single page calendar of events, the work required to write, edit, and distribute it will require a staff of more than one person. The editor’s task is to decide what material should be published in the newsletter, to encourage the members to write the necessary articles, and edit them into final form. A typist will then type the material in the required format. Most Sections have access to page layout and graphics software packages, which can really add to the appearance of a newsletter. The editor should proofread all material after it is entered on the computer, before the product is sent out electronically or sent to the printer for paper distribution.
Finally, for newsletters that are sent in paper form someone must take responsibility for distribution, which includes folding, stapling, affixing postage, addressing, and mailing. Distribution is very time-consuming, and errors can cost you plenty.
Costs and Financing
Sections photocopying their newsletters generally find that copies can be had for as little as 3 or 4 cents per page. Use of color will increase this cost exponentially. Any charges for layout, setup, or halftones will also increase the cost. Electronic distribution is, of course, free.
The most irksome cost of newsletter production will be postage. You can save some money by sending newsletters Third Class, although the delivery service is much slower than First Class, and this may well not make it worth the money saved. Check with your post office for Third Class rates and requirements.
Most Section newsletters are financed from the club treasury, but if there are still hobby shops selling rocketry supplies in your area you can approach them about advertising in the newsletter. The ad rate should only be enough to defray the printing and mailing costs. You’re not out to make a profit, you just want to keep costs down.
Frequency of Publication
The newsletter should be published frequently enough that it serves its purpose of communicating timely information to the club members. If it is published infrequently (less than bimonthly), the calendar of events will generally be inaccurate or incomplete towards the end of the time period unless your Section plans its activities well in advance. But don’t try to publish so frequently that the staff has too much work, or is unable to find enough good material to include. Most clubs have found that 6 to 12 issues per year adequately fulfill their needs.
Although a newsletter requires a good deal of work on the part of the Section, most clubs have found that the increased communication and the spirit of unity it produces make it worth the effort.
The LAC Newsletter Award and the Rockwell Trophy
The NAR long ago recognized the value that section newsletters provided to the membership. This value was acknowledged in the creation of a special annual award, the LAC Newsletter Award. L.A.C. stands for Leader Administrative Council, an organization for teenage NAR members formed within the NAR many years ago but which was later disbanded. The one remaining legacy of the LAC is the Rockwell Trophy (originally donated by North American Rockwell) for the best NAR Section newsletter. This trophy was first awarded in 1969 and is presented at NARAM every year to the Section publishing the winning newsletter.
The awarding of the Rockwell Trophy to a Section newsletter acknowledges it as the best. The trophy is a fitting and historical award. It is also big and heavy. Today it requires two people to carry it for any long distance. The reason for this also has to do with a tradition. The trophy is hollow inside with lots of room. The winning Section is permitted to open the trophy and place in it rocketry memorabilia. The contents of the trophy are not to be divulged outside of members of the winning section. This tradition has survived the years without being compromised.
This curiosity about the contents of the Rockwell Trophy has created situations where sections want to win the trophy just to find out what is inside it. Reliable sources do state that one of the items stored in the trophy is a Model Missiles, Inc. Rock-A-Chute rocket motor. The rest of the contents remain a mystery.
The LAC Newsletter Award is steeped in Glory, Honor, Tradition, and has a nice trophy too! Become part of the history, create a newsletter for your Section today! If you do this, someday you may be present at a NARAM when the announcement is made, “… The winner of this year’s LAC Newsletter Award and the coveted Rockwell Trophy for best newsletter is…”
by Trip Barber, NAR 4322
Websites have become the dominant means by which NAR Sections communicate to their members and to the public. A good website facilities timely communication with your members, and attracts people who do a web search for rocketry activity in your area to come check your Section out, then become members. They are a very effective membership-recruitment tool over the long term. Your goal in publicity is to get people to check out your website; the website then needs to convince them that your Section is a fun group that they want to come do activities with. If you have good and enjoyable activities when they do this, they will join. Good websites take work; they have to be set up, which is a significant one-time effort requiring a combination of software and artistry skills; but then they have to be kept current with accurate information about the Section’s scheduled activities and other programs, which is a day-to-day chore. Your webmaster needs to have both skillsets, or you need a division of labor (and multi-person access) that lets different people handle each feature. If the website is ugly and poorly structured it will not attract people. If its information is outdated it will not provide potential new members with the information necessary to find you, and it will leave those who have joined dissatisfied with the information flow that they were counting on as members.
Setting up a website requires renting a “domain name”, then finding a hosting service that will provide the digital space on which your website resides. There are many ways to get a domain name; the most straightforward is to rent one via a commercial service such as Dotster (http://www.dotster.com/). This is $15 or so per year. Getting a domain name that uses your section name in some easy to remember manner is desirable, but may be difficult depending on how many versions of this name have already been claimed by others. Hosting services can be provided for free if someone in your Section has a block of server space already that they are willing to let you use part of. Or you can rent space from a commercial service such as Dotster or the one the NAR uses, Blastzone (http://blastzonewebhosting.com/); Blastzone is $5/month. You want a reliable hosting service that does regular backups of the content and has backup power sources, which is not always the case for privately-owned server space. A person’s name and credit card is attached to the rental agreements for both domain name and server space and they have some sort of password-enabled access to these accounts; make sure that this access and password is held by more than one person.
The type of software, graphics, etc. that you use for your website can be a source of great debate among those in your Section who are familiar with website design. There is no single “best” solution. Regardless of which type you use, be sure that more than one person in the Section can use it so that updates are not at risk of single-point failure if the single key person departs or loses interest. And ensure that there is a means by which several Section officers can update at least the portion of the website that has the schedule and status of your current events.
The Website Excellence Awards
The NAR has a Website Award Program to recognize sections whose websites do things the right way. Information about the award as well as the judging criteria are provided on the Website Excellence Award webpage.
Even if you do not have in mind to compete for this recognition, any website needs certain minimum elements of content and structure in order to be useful at all. These are:
- Identification of the Section name and a statement of what the Section is all about, or the focus of its activities (youth outreach, high-power flying, etc.).
- Calendar of Section activities (meetings, launches, etc.) with date, time, and place — that must be kept up to date.
- Contact information for people who want to learn more or ask questions.
- Maps/directions to the locations of the Section’s activities (launch site, meeting room) and any special limitations on the launches (motor size limit, waiver altitude, launch fees, etc.).
- “News” bulletin space where people can go to check the night before a launch to see if weather or other factors have forced a cancellation or limitation of activity.
Expansion beyond these basic minimums is always desirable, if you have volunteers with the energy and skills to do it. Adding photo galleries from launches or other activities, lists of local hobby vendors, reference resources and links, member contact information, an ability to join online (with PayPal payment), a member online forum, and member e-mail addresses using your domain name, etc. are all good things to do. Four sections whose websites are routinely evaluated as the best are listed below; check out how the different ways in which each of these sections does things as an example to learn from when you are planning your own Section’s website.
- Central Massachusetts Spacemodeling Society (CMASS) #464
- Rocketry Organization of California (ROC) #538
- Northern Colorado Rocketry (NCR) #565
- Southern Colorado Rocketeers (SCORE) #632
If you have any questions Section Communication, please contact the Section Activities Chairman.