Beautiful Delightful Smiling Meetup Has Gotten Huge, HELP!!!
March 22, 2013 8:24 AM   Subscribe

I host a group for a meetup style event that has exploded from being 20 people to 40 people and shows no sign of slowing growth. Help my manage things so that we scale well given that it is volunteer and there's no cash involved?

It's an alternative lifestyle meetup for a younger crew. It's trans/gay/queer positive, with a great vibe and energy. I would really like to allow us to scale up a bit without losing the joy.

We've exceeded the size of our free upstairs balcony of the bar we have our main event in right now. We've also managed to have more drama than the group should have- one of our most useful volunteers is banned from promotional efforts by someone who is not even involved in the group and everyone appears to get overly emotionally attached and decide that this is their baby- I'm the host because I get along with the most number of people- think of a lot of conversations running "I see what you mean, it is very stressful when you feel (s)he doesn't respect the effort you put in/listen to you, but we need to focus on actually making sure this event happens." That and growling "Everyone listen to me! NOBODY is in charge. Got that?" Yes, I'm aware of the irony of that last part.

This particular hobby also seems to attract more than its fair share of well meaning people with no social skills and people who are absolutely fucking crazy. Boundary issues are a big deal, so I have to wrangle that many people who want to help also need to be vetted to make sure that they won't make people really uncomfortable. This ranges from people who kiss hands to keeping my ears and eyes open to "(s)he is a predator!"

If we scale up, we may need to start renting a space. That means door fees, liabilities... oh god. We're all relatively broke. I dread trying to have any sort of committee structure with treasurers and everything I've seen that tried to go non-profit instantly exploded. Not everyone who is a member wants to admit this is their idea of a fun hobby and the non-youth version of this is mired in bullshit drama after drama, that is one part based on petty ego and one part based on very serious boundaries and people being jerks. Please hope me!?
posted by Phalene to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a nightmare. Get out now.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:33 AM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've had to reread your question three times to figure out what you're asking. I still can't figure out what this really means: "People who kiss hands." The whole thing is all over the place.

Am I right in identifying the following as your problems?
1. Space. Finding a new location.
2. Minimizing drama / managing personalities.
3. Formalizing management structures.

How much joy is really here to begin with? This does not sound like a "beautiful delightful smiling meetup" from your description.

I have seen some really huge groups organize on with a minimum of fuss. I'm not sure you need to go full president-secretary-treasurer route. Why can't you just find a bigger bar?

TL/DR: what are you asking?
posted by valeries at 8:45 AM on March 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

one of our most useful volunteers is banned from promotional efforts by someone who is not even involved in the group

I don't understand how this works since volunteering should be an activity outside of power play, but if it's happening anyway take it as a red flag and CANCEL THE EVENT.

I dread trying to have any sort of committee structure with treasurers and everything I've seen that tried to go non-profit instantly exploded.

You needn't worry about the possibility of going non-profit and instantly exploding because IT ALREADY IS EXPLODING.

It's flattering that there's a great demand for the event but that's because there's no pressure on anyone to organize or be responsible for it. Everyone wants to have a formal get-together YET:
- No one can/wants to pony up for cash for even renting out a space.
- No one can/wants to settle personal differences for the sake of putting this event together.
- No one can/wants to help ensure the event is free from unwanted attention/creepers.

There's no way anything can happen successfully.
posted by mlo at 8:47 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Right now, it's all on you. No one is going to step up as long as they think you are handling it all.

So. Have a meeting about these issues and make it clear that while you are overjoyed that it's going so well and so many love it, if a solution is not found, the whole thing is likely to implode. Tell them you are not going to plan any more meetings after X date unless you and some helpers are elected/designated as the people to do so. If money is an issue, charge admission or a fee to be a member on Meetup. It doesn't have to be expensive. Even 3.00/person can add up if all you need is to reserve a room at a restaurant. Though, there are many places (progressive or UU churches for example) where you might be able to meet for cheap/free that aren't restaurants.

Another option is to split people off into satellite groups and stop accepting RSVPs at your current space past X number. (you are using RSVPs on Meetup, right? You need to.)

Your crowd is getting a great thing. Now they need to contribute some time, effort, and/or money to keep it going. If they are not willing to do that, then they don't deserve to keep their nice group.
posted by emjaybee at 8:55 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If a lot of people think this is their baby then you have a graceful way to retire your leadership.

What you now is a cauldron of drama. From your description of the people involved, this is always going to be a high drama mess. You can't build an effective volunteer committee or event with people who there to perpetuate drama.

Also, there is no way one person can police the behaviors of 40 people who span the range of socially inept to predatory. Considering that this is at a bar, you have alcohol as a complicating factor in the behavior of guests. I'm not sure why you feel its your job to monitor behavior, but it's a very strange responsibility to have for 40 adults. What do you do when someone is inappropriate? Admonish them? Throw the out? How is that executed?

You built a party scene that you enjoy. That doesn't mean you need to own it forever. When you pull away it's likely that someone will pick up the leadership. If not, it was sort of doomed anyway.
posted by 26.2 at 9:05 AM on March 22, 2013

Our group is nice and doesn't go creepy- but a lot of other groups are creeper infested. I seem to be miraculously avoiding issues and most of my stress is built around the scale leading to eventually going putrid. Outside of my group, another group has a fairly high up member who is a serial woman groper.

>No one can/wants to pony up for cash for even renting out a space.

Nobody has the cash for large scale investment and I don't want the liability of trying to recoup $200 every month from a door troll. Right now we have a free reservation space and I tell people "buy a drink!" The bar seems to like us. There is an RVSP system in place (on a website based on our hobby) but people don't ever 100% confirm. 50% of the yes people show, usually. This is a Montreal thing.

I moved into hosting this because people were either too flaky or got mired in the sort of drama that kills events. Because I make things as simple as possible, it's been working out okay for a bit less than a year.

Unfortunately the main online group that helps me communicate with people was created by someone who was a previous event host. Their strategy to anyone else taking over the group hosting was to make them a moderator of the online group. They are not the easiest person to deal with, from personal experience. The other volunteer who was banned hosted an event, said he did not want moderation responsibility and was ban-hammered. I talked to the online group owner for safety reasons (if there was more to the story) and they didn't substantiate. However the volunteer is what I'd call textbook aspie, and his tendency to go super formal when stressed has caused other people to go splah. Now when he wants to post "This time I found a hat, a scarf and a blue glove" after an event he has to go through me.
posted by Phalene at 9:30 AM on March 22, 2013

I think you need to decide first how big a leadership role you want in the organization. Do you want to be the leader? Or do you just want to be a member? To be frank, the no leader thing you guys seem to have going on right now is what's going to cause the group to disintegrate as it grows. Someone has to organize the group effort and keep the peace, as you've found out.

As far as avoiding creepers, I'd say set up some policies and post them clearly. "X, Y, and Z will not be tolerated at our meetups. This group exists to create a safe, fun space for people to enjoy our hobby." The thing is, though, that the buck has to stop with someone, which is why I ask how much responsibility you want to take on. Someone has to create the policies (or organize their creation), enforce them, and adjudicate disputes. It doesn't have to be formal, but someone with some authority (ideally several people in the group) has to be willing to step up and say, "Hey, it's not cool to grope the women in the group. You need to leave and you're not welcome back."

I'd also suggest moving the organization to The person organizing the forum sounds extremely unhelpful, and Meetup will actually facilitate gathering dues and door fees from members if that's the route you decide to go.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 9:45 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're outgrowing the space, a short term solution is to enforce a limit on the RSVP and let people know that they can't come if they don't RSVP. Maybe for the first 2 events, print out the attending list and check off people as they come in. If there are too many that RSVP but don't show, send out a group email asking people not to RSVP unless they are committed to coming.

Once you're consistently hitting the RSVP limits, ask the community to help find you a bigger free space.

On preview, this isn't on meetup? Yeah move it to meetup because it is a) much more visible and b) you will be in charge.
posted by zug at 9:48 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree with zug, if this isn't already on Meetup, move it there. You'll have to pay organizer fees, but that means you'll have the tools to:

1. set up RSVP limits on events
2. Make it private if you want to screen members first
3. Charge members nominal amounts for events that go for cost of food or renting space
4. Take advantage of Meetup's venue database to find out where other groups in your area of your size meet at, so you can expand your venue options
5. Get sponsors to offset your costs

And someone is going to have to be a leader to get stuff done and move the group in a positive direction. On Meetup, you can allow members to host events, should the drama die down.
posted by vivzan at 10:24 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why don't you just make the RSVP system into one where people pay. Enough to cover the costs of a large event? No. But enough to increase the likelihood that people who RSVP actually plan to come? Sure. Right now, the possibility looms of 40 people showing up, but you're not actually sure. I have seen payitsquare used for stuff I have signed up for. Charge between $5 and $20 or something. Maybe if it's not about making money, you can set it up so $20 entitles the purchaser to a drink ticket so they are getting their money back or something.

As for creepy people, there's not much of a way to vet this other than to set up a way where you know people before allowing them into events. The first thought that comes to mind is regular meetings for members. Or some sort of initial meeting for newbies. Maybe you can have events where all are welcome including newcomers and then other events that are just for "members" that you know and are invitation only?
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:18 AM on March 22, 2013

The first thought that comes to mind is regular meetings for members. Or some sort of initial meeting for newbies. Maybe you can have events where all are welcome including newcomers and then other events that are just for "members" that you know and are invitation only?

Yeah, this. OP, I know what you're talking about, and this is how they usually do it where I am. Gateway meeting for new people to get on the list and meet organizers, then you can come to invite-only stuff.
posted by clavicle at 1:27 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need at least a leadership cohort. You don't have to be super democratic about it, as it sounds like you have a ton of followers happy to follow. But you need 3-5 people who will organize. And you should try passing the hat to see what kind of kitty you can build up.

MEeting and event space is the single biggest issue I can think of for any and every grassroots group I know of or have been part of. Once you hit a certain size, and you have certain requirements (like wanting to drink), your options narrow dramatically. This is the major issue you need to get control of. YOu think you're all broke, but it may be that you have an 'angel' in the crowd who can underwrite a function room rental fee. Check out the possibilities before you bag on it.

And it's true, you have to decide if you're going to step up to leadership or not. Leading means you take these issues on. Not leading means you don't. You say:

dread trying to have any sort of committee structure with treasurers and everything I've seen that tried to go non-profit instantly exploded.

And I say, you haven't seen every nonpfrofit. First, you don't have to incoporate right away. Second, you don't have to have an officer structure. But any healthy and sustainable organization needs:

1. Governance: who makes decisions, and how.
2. Financials: enough fundraising, gifts, or self-funding to achieve your goals; and
3. Planning: someone looking far ahead enough to predict growth and change and adapt before there's pressure.

If you want to lead, get moving on those things. Governance and planning can be as simple as pulling the 3-4 most motivated people and planning to sit down with them a few times to make a plan for going forward. Appropriate power to yourselves if need be, your followers won't care. Financials: sell some shirts, do a raffle, do a contest.

If you just want to stay an informal network, that's cool too, but it sounds like it's going to continue just being sort of the same slack mess you're dealing with now. Those things can go on for years like that. And really, I see more would-be organizations eventually splinter, wither, and die at this stage than at a more organized stage. So think about it. If you want to build instead of tread water, find a few dedicated people you can trust and sit down to start brainstorming.
posted by Miko at 7:40 PM on March 22, 2013

Also, a lot of restaurants/bars will negotiate - like, they'll give you a free function room rental on a low-demand weeknight if you can guarantee them a certain total in drink purchases. See what you can work out.
posted by Miko at 7:47 PM on March 22, 2013

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