Let’s start with a confession. I generally don’t like people. 🙂
Okay, that’s not really true, but I am an analytical introvert and extensive social interactions tend to exhaust me, not energize me. So a lot of volunteer options tend to be limited because, you know, they often want you to engage with people. 🙂 Financial books, website stuff though? I can handle that. Especially if I can do it in my track pants and t-shirt while sitting in front of my computer on a Sunday morning. And if I can submit/provide any views on strategic direction, if desired, by email? Count me in!
And I’ve said yes to three volunteer gigs.
My friend, Stephan, is organizing an astronomy park in Luskville, Quebec and I agreed to be on the board because (a) he asked and (b) I like the initiative. He is the one who introduced me to astronomy a few years back with a conjunction viewing (Mars and Venus, maybe?) and eventually helped me choose my scope much later. My role is not extensive or taxing. I’m on the Board, agree/propose motions, review proposals, and because he and I work in the same building, can easily sign documents when they’re being submitted to various entities or cheques are being issued. Pretty minimal, but useful to the Initiative. I also attend events when I can (hmm, not sure, I might be the only other Board member with their own scope, not sure).
But my “big” contribution is that I manage the website and handle the domain registration/renewals. It is not a particularly sophisticated website, more a simple page that says where it is and lists the events. When there is an observation night, I also post the “Go / No go” message to the site, once Stephan decides (he tweets it and updates on FB). The only quirk to the site is that it is bilingual. There are a few plugins in WordPress to help with that, but either I’m an idiot, or they’re finicky. I tried the most popular one but couldn’t get it to handle the menus properly. Instead, I’ve manually coded the pages using buttons and bypassed the menu option entirely. I tried bilingual pages, and the layout challenges were just too painful (often French text is longer than the same English text, which causes different lengths to side-by-side paragraphs). Eventually, when the site is bigger and in more regular operation, we’ll likely need a content creator and possibly a re-design, but it meets the needs and I can handle the ops for now.
My wife is on the School Council for my son’s school, and they needed a webmaster-type person to be able to post documents, link things, etc. It is an extremely minimal role. I moved a few docs around when I started, just to put them all together in good order, created an “old page” for previous years and kept the current ones there. I often feel like I should be doing more, tweaking it more, but the load/need is pretty minimal. Most of the people accessing things are the members themselves. And for the other content, i.e. notices of bake sales or book sales or foodstuff, there is a content creator who directly posts all that themselves. I just have to watch the website and tweak it if something goes wonky. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Last year, the Star Party Coordinator was looking for a replacement so he could focus on other activities in the club, and so I took it over. The star parties are monthly free public stargazing events held in the darkened parking lot of the Carp Public Library, next to the Diefenbunker.
For my role, as the interim SPC, I was basically sending out a series of emails a week before to say “Star Party next week”, sending out the same series the day of the event to say “Yes it’s on” or “Postponed to the rain date”, and making sure there were Marshals at the site (to turn the lights off at the start, turn the lights back on at the end, and handle basic safety during the meeting). If I have Marshals attending, I don’t even have to GO to the star party. I do go, but the pressure is off if I want to leave early or arrive late, etc. We can share the on-site duties a bit.
So, with low-intensity involvement, I was happy to fill in as the interim SPC for last year. I also liked the idea of trying it out for a few months to see if I was willing to take it on longer-term. Turns out, I was indeed willing. So I became the SPC for 2018 too.
Now, I’m anal. And a planner. So the first thing I wanted to do was survey the members who go to the Star Parties to see what “else” they were looking for if anything. Not surprisingly, on-site washrooms popped to the head of the list. Second on the list was a light barrier to block car lights at the site, but really, that’s almost a parking issue. Washrooms and parking, the two biggies for any public event. Not surprising. But I asked a bunch of other questions too for interest and got some good results. (Survey results for RASC Star Parties in Ottawa for 2018)
However, I wanted to go a bit further. I wanted to know if other Centres were doing things that we weren’t. There are 26 RASC Centres in Canada, and I reached out to all of them to see if they were interested in a quick survey. A bunch were, some sent me some comments on questions, and about half filled out the overall survey. I found some really interesting results, and it helped build my confidence we were in the right ballpark with our approach. Some key takeaways for me were cross-promotion and pushing for more members-only observing, not just public events.
Did I have to do either survey? No, the process is relatively well-established, so I could have just done the same as last year and been perfectly fine. But it helped with some internal capacity-building.
This year, as full SPC, I also had to arrange a few other things that were already done last year:
- Propose and confirm dates for the star parties (not as easy as that sounds!);
- Approval from the library and Diefenbunker to use the space;
- Insurance certificate from the national organization for our dates;
- Contract with the city for formal consent to use the space on specified dates;
- Put all the dates on social media, website, etc.;
- Find field marshals for the year.
I will also be looking into portable toilet rental, and possibly a large tarp to block light. And, just for fun, I’ll be trying to figure out how to promote other viewing activities across the city and at other locations.
Is it more work? Sure. But I get a lot out of membership, including just maintaining my interest in the hobby for the first five years of alignment problems, attending the Star Parties myself and with my family, and last but not least, actually having members solve the problems with the scope (Solving alignment problems with the Celestron NexStar 8SE).
In the past, I admit I have felt somewhat disconnected from the club. It is surprisingly hard to bond with people when (a) you don’t generally like people hehehe and (b) the events take place in the dark where all you have are voices, no faces to remember for next time or at the monthly meeting.
As the official SPC for 2018 (can you tell I like the acronym SPC? Space / Star Party Coordinator, get it?), I was invited to attend the Council meeting this past month. And I *loved* it. I liked seeing the discussions on the direction of the club, finances, other events going on, etc. I could see myself getting more involved over time. But baby steps. I don’t need to take over the Galactic Senate for many years to come, and I have to develop my evil voice in the meantime anyway.
Adding in some money
Now here’s a bit of a question I don’t have my head wrapped around yet. Back when I was a bit younger with work, I was using the internal donation system to handle any charitable giving. But after doing a bit of investigating on United Way, overhead rates, etc., I realized I wasn’t comfortable with their approach. They have good comms people doing up bullet points to respond to these types of questions, but in the end, I decided the fund-raising costs were unconscionable on the front-end and mildly extortionate on the back-end. As such, I’ve tended to default to two other types of giving.
First, I let Andrea do the bulk of it since she manages most of the finances. Various societies, memberships, associations, etc., almost all funded directly.
Second, if a friend is raising money for x or y, and they need a sponsor, I’m often a soft touch. Even for United Way events at work — I may not want to support them directly, but if other people are putting their time and energy into it, heck, I’m willing to honour that commitment and initiative. Just don’t ask me to run the relay with you. What’s that saying? You need people to stand along the parade route too and clap? That’s me. As long as I don’t actually have to come out and stand there or clap. But, “good on ya”, I say.
So I wonder. I’m putting time and energy into the two astronomy efforts, why don’t I sponsor myself too? Something to think about. I confess I am a bad donor though. I like the idea of paying for specific things where I can think, “Hey, I paid for *that*” and to see what I got for my money rather than doing the proper thing which is to contribute to general revenue and trust the organization to put the money to the highest priority use. None of the ones involved have any salaries to worry about or real overhead, so why target my funds? Hmmm…
But that’s next year’s problem. This year, I just wanted to volunteer a bit more of my time.