As one of the great lyricists of all time wrote
"He's not busy being born is busy dying."
-- Bob Dylan, "Its Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"
I am hip-deep in this business, and see it from every angle and have for decades. It is obvious that the average age of conference attendees, readers, and so forth is getting older. At least some of this is our own fault.
My approach to life, regardless of the issue, is to try and find the route to success over a blockage, around it, through it, or under it. There is always a way.
And WE (all of us) hold the solution in our hands, sort of like Dorothy not knowing she has all this power, and only has to click her heels together. Let's all do it together.
How many of you reading this have know folks younger than you? Answer: All of you.
How many of you have given some of the best prospects a book to read and strong encouragement to do so? The number of hands just fell to nearly zero.
We created and published Mark Hughes' Civil War Handbook to make the study of the war easier and more accessible than beginning with a more expensive and difficult to understand study like, say David Powell's 796-page battle studies on Chickamauga.
Hughes' "Civil War Handbook" is heavily illustrated, and the short sections and photos include detailed captions and various galleries, lists, charts, tables, etc. to explore many areas of the war (infantry, navy, the various theaters, civilians, hospitals, artillery, battles, etc.) Most of the war, in some fashion, is covered, albeit lightly, but it invites readers to wade shoe top-deep into the subject, discover what triggers a special interest, and then start digging from there. And boy has it been successful.
The books in the Emerging Civil War series are more focused (Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Wilderness, etc.), inexpensively priced, jammed with photos and maps, well-written, and include a simple touring section at the back. Each is a PERFECT entry point for younger or less experienced readers of any age. They are a couple levels deeper than Hughes' handbook, but still very accessible, with enough meat and heft to satisfy even experienced readers of the Civil War (as we hear all the time).
They grow the Civil War, which essentially is no longer taught in American schools. That, in and of itself is a crime, especially given all the crap they teach today instead. But I digress.
What do we do?
I strongly encourage you to give these titles as gifts to nephews, nieces, grand kids, neighbors, employees, their kids, etc. If you don't want to buy another copy, that's okay--read yours and pass it along and encourage someone else to get the virus.
If you want to buy in bulk to give as gifts, give us a call and we will work something out with you to make it as affordable as possible.
If you have a business, it is also likely a tax write-off.
This strategy works!
We have many new customers who began their journey with the Civil War Handbook or an ECW title picked up at a battlefield bookstore or received as a gift. These new readers are now on our mailing list, and they are adding new titles to their library and visiting more battlefields.
Isn't that what we all want?
I always have several copies of Hughes' Civil War Handbook with me at home and office, and I hand them out like candy. I have even done that with Shaara's Killer Angels (a novel on Gettysburg) for some adults.
Do you? Can you? Will you?
Recently, my newly retired and very well educated step brother admitted he knew almost nothing about the Civil War, and that he wanted one book to get a feeling for "the whole thing." I recommended Shelby Foote's massive, but very readable The Civil War, A Narrative trilogy. Tom is now finishing vol. 2---and LOVING IT. He found that he has a deep interest in the Western Theater, wants to visit Shiloh and Vicksburg. He also wants to know what to read next. Without my encouragement and suggestions, none of this would have happened. He is now HOOKED.
I am at heart a marketing guy. It drives me nuts to watch RTs wring their collective hands about the age of their membership. When I ask what they are doing to bring in new members--all I usually hear is crickets.
No one is going to FIND YOU if you don't have a Black Box sending out signals that say "COME JOIN US!" You have to find them or make it a lot easier to find you.
Today, the best and easiest and most cost-effective way is to useMeetup. Click here: MEETUP:
Get on there and get a Round Table page, make it exciting, etc. Announce your meetings. People will find you and you will get new members.
It. Is. Easy.
BE FUN: Now . . . are your meetings even remotely interesting? I have attended groups around the country, and some of them are so boring I would rather have my eyes scratched out by an irate cat than suffer through another 90 minutes of time I will never get back.
WHERE DO YOU MEET? Do you meet in a bright, cheery place with food and drink, or a dark dingy small room in the back of NoOneGoesHere Grill that smells like an old man's coat you found in an ally?
RAISE MONEY: Make sure you have raffles to raise money for a cause. Do something important to be important. (The San Jose Group I founded with Dave Woodbury in my living room has probably raised about $10,000 over the years for battlefield preservation.)
WHO IS YOUR BOOK REVIEWER? Do you have a book reviewer on staff? What? No?! Why the heck not? That reviewer (credible, articulate, and knowledgeable--not an old person with a stained shirt who mumbles through his false teeth), should bring in 2-3 NEW titles each meeting, hold them up, and talk about each book for a minute or two, and then pass them around so others can see them. Touch and a connection to the ongoing CW world is important.
GIVE BOOKS AWAY TO BRING YOUNGER PEOPLE IN: If you want to buy in bulk (Say 6 or more) to give as gifts, give us a call and we will work something out with you to make it as affordable as possible.
LIBRARY INSERTS: Go to local libraries and slip pieces of paper inside the popular Civil War books with your name, meeting times, and contact info! Don't ask permission. Just do it. We got several members this way.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO: Stop using boring speakers as "placeholders" at your meetings because you can't find someone else. That is a lazy excuse and I don't like excuses. I like results. A boring speaker who reads his talk and cannot relate and engage an audience is the fastest way to drive new folks away.
Work hard to bring in good speakers! Share them and the costs with other RTs, hit the local colleges and ask history profs to come and speak.
PANEL DISCUSSIONS: When you have months you can't fill with a decent presenter, organize a panel discussion--but put your BEST folks on it and then pick a good topic. Show a clip of a movie (Glory, Gettysburg, etc.) and open that up to debate at another meeting. Have the attendees read a relatively short book and two month later make that the subject of the panel discussion.
As you can see, you don't have to do the same old, same old, every meeting because you always have.
Those who stand in the way of making an organization better are the kiss of death. I guarantee you folks in your RT will throw up roadblocks. Ignore these naysayers. I deal with the every day. I have dealt with them all my life (you can't play classical piano; you can't play in a rock band; you can't go to law school; you will never get published; you can't start a publishing company on the Civil War from California, etc.) Smile and push on past and get it done. Work with the "get it done" folks.
If you are not growing, you are dying. But you are CHOOSING to die. I choose to live and thrive.
Be active, be encouraging, be creative, and PLAY A ROLE. Look at everyone you meet as a new Civil War reader and enthusiast.
GROW THE CIVIL WAR.