Section 6.1.
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NSS Chapters Story - Part 2

This essay by Greg Allison offers a continuation of the NSS chapters story, starting at about the time that the National Space Institute took over the L5 Society's local chapters. Although Artemis Society International is not a part of or officially affiliated with the NSS, the story of its local chapters is the story of the origins of the moon movement.

We left the introductory paragraph below intact because this article is taken verbatim from an essay entitled "NSS Chapters and their Relationship to the NSS At Large." However, we should note that the L5 Society was actively seeking and encouraging chapters when it was first formed in 1976.

Please see the essay on Where the Local NSS Chapters Came From for an eyewitness account of the origins of the chapters. Also please see the NSS Chapters Story - Part 1.

The chapter system is a result of spontaneous combustion. In the earliest years of the L5 Society local enthusiasm for the goals of the society caused community groups of enthusiasts to form chapters and petition the L5 Society for recognition as such. This grass-roots movement to organize locally caught L5 headquarters pleasantly off guard. The L5 Society in keeping with the old '70's adage "thinking globally, acting locally" agreed to adopt the grass-root upstarts as Chapters of the L5 Society. Thus the chapter network was born.

In early 1982 the L5 Chapters Rules and Rebates program was born. This program established formal rules for chapters and offered a cash incentive to recruit members into the L5 Society. It got off to a rough start but the kinks were largely worked out over time. The Rules and Rebates program also established the position of Chapters Coordinator. The position of the Regional Chapters Organizer was originated in 1991 by Larry Ahearn. These volunteers have the role of communicating with chapters and collecting their annual reports.

The chapters created the Chapter's Assembly in the 1980's to make sure their voice would be heard on the national level. There were issues at hand at that time which had them greatly concerned.

1.1.2 Chapters Today

The merger of the L5 Society and the National Space Institute carried the chapter system with its Rules and Rebates program over into the National Space Society. Little has changed since then.

The basic requirements are that at least three members and all officers of the Chapter be members of the National Space Society, annual reports have to be submitted and the Rules and Rebates Program be adhered to. With the exception to the seasonal grumbling about the annual report the rules are quite simple.

Essentially NSS gives little to the chapters (besides occasional flyers and handouts) and in return asks for little. Chapters only get from NSS (in terms of money) what they work for. So far that consists of rebates for new members recruited and an occasional surplus revenue for those chapters who have hosted an ISDC and come out well into the black. Generally ISDC host chapters have shared excess revenues with NSS. The Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5) presented NSS with a check of 11,000 dollars in 1994 as a result of the highly successful 1993 International Space Development Conference (ISDC).

1.1.3 What Chapters and the National Space Society Gain From Each Other The Good of Chapters

NSS gains a foot-hold in numerous local communities though the local chapter system. The "Special Interest" chapters provide a foot-hold into communities of interest, often scattered around the globe, such as the United Societies In Space (USIS). This broadens the exposure of the NSS and generates good will for the NSS through chapter projects.

Chapters provide a host of functions useful to the NSS. Several chapters hold regular public lectures, produce videos, appear on radio talk shows, pass out literature at science fiction movie lines, and make appearances before other groups to increase awareness of the benefits to be derived from exploring and developing space. The San Antonio chapter has had success hosting local "Race for Space" 5 kilometer foot races. Chapters have gathered thousands of signatures for various pro-space campaigns. The Orlando chapter has carved a strategic niche by counter-demonstrating against the environmentalist who opposed the launch of deep space probes with nuclear power sources. Chapters generally host the ISDC, the annual meeting of the NSS, and sometimes regional conferences. Many chapters have active educational projects reaching into the local school systems. A few chapters are into high powered rocketry. One Chapter, HAL5, flies student experiments to the edge of space aboard high altitude balloons and balloon launched rockets (rockoons). In fact HAL5 plans to take NSS directly into space with its High Altitude Lift-Off (HALO) Program of rockoon missions. The Oregon L5 Society is researching lava tubes for their merit in lunar colonization.

In short the chapters are like churches with missionaries and evangelists who roam their local communities spreading the message for space. Some chapters are active, trying to lay planks on our bridge to the space future.

The best thing of all about chapters is that they bring diversity to the society from the grass-roots and offer miniature laboratories wherein various concepts can be tried out. As such they breathe an entrepreneurial air into the society. If all chapters marched lock-step to a single drummer, our society would be boring, mundane, and be at loss for many new ideas.

There is no one single road into space. Chapters, by virtue of their autonomy, permit the society to explore many paths. Chapters take advantage of the unique skills of their membership and unique attributes of their communities to come up with unique approaches for serving our broader goals. In a similar fashion states in these United States of America try various new means of governance. Those which succeed are often copied in other states and at the national level. The Good of NSS at the National Level

NSS offers tangible benefits to chapters. The primary benefit is simply being able to associate with a national known and respected organization. It helps when you are a new club in town approaching community leaders to state that you are a chapter of the NSS. NSS has a broad network of contacts which can be helpful to chapters. NSS keeps a list of local membership which serves as a starting point for chapter membership.

1.2 National Versus Chapter Membership

This has historically been one of the most hottest issues between chapters and the national society. Chapter memberships are an additional fee tacked onto what ever one pays to be an NSS member. Chapters set their own dues to cover newsletter, administrative costs, and to do whatever they deem appropriate within the rules and laws they operate under.

Membership in chapters is not directly tied to membership in NSS. This has raised many issues in the past. Most NSS members are not members of local chapters. Many chapter members are not members of the NSS. Furthermore, for some strange reason rooted in the mysterious dark recesses of human nature, many just can't be compelled to cross the line and join both. NSS members at large forced to join a chapter might quit. Many chapter members, if forced to join NSS would likewise quit. Both sides would loose. Many of those chapter members who for strange indescribable reasons will not join NSS do a considerable amount of work for the chapters. Chapters could ill afford to loose them. Fortunately most chapters have a high percentage of NSS membership (70% of HAL5 members are members of NSS).

It has been proposed in the past, by Craig Ward and others, that NSS adopt a structure like that of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) wherein all members get assigned to a chapter and the national organization dole out money for each member to the chapters. While this works for a professional society it is unlikely to be successful in a popular membership society often comprised of enthusiasts who are typically broke. Members would be lost as described in the paragraph above. Moreover NSS is not well positioned financially to dole out that kind of money to the chapters. It would be a disaster for the headquarters office.

If people care enough to join a chapter they will. Likewise for NSS at the national level. Many chapters would be overburdened to serve a much larger membership of individuals who are unwilling to volunteer and get involved. Small chapters could be destroyed just trying to get out the regular mailings. Furthermore, elections would be typified by the sway of the uninvolved, and uninformed. Let people choose for themselves. Our nation was founded on the basis of the personal choice. I don't think it wise to monkey with such things. Let the status-quo stand in these regards.

1.3 The Communications Problem

As stated in paragraph 1.0 above, "the chief problem is rooted in poor communications." Today we have our chapters coordinators and regional coordinators who are expected to serve as the main communications links between the NSS Board of Directors, the NSS headquarters, and the chapters. This chapter coordinator system is burdened by having a few people who are obligated to deal with many chapters and make a lot of calls at their own expense. They do well each year just to get the annual reports in. A thin Christmas tree network of volunteers serving as the main conduits of information can be likened to trying to view a large wall chart through a soda straw. Two general things are needed, 1) some money to cover the coordinators expenses (not really all that much), and 2) much more interfacing between Members of the Board of Directors, the Board of Governors, the Board of Advisors, and NSS headquarters staff with the chapters. Local chapters also need more interface with each other at the regional level. We should apply out-of-the-box thinking and come up with unique ways to generate revenue to pay for full time regional directors and provide more money to headquarters to assist chapters.

The best way to provide this broad band interfacing between the various organs of the NSS and its chapters is to assist the current Christmas tree network of coordinators. I shall put forward a proposal to establish a regional network of conferences. This will provide new avenues for communications, regional projects, training, and build rapport among chapters. More on this topic later.

An NSS Chapter Volunteers Committee to assist the NSS Chapter Resources Committee, the Chapters Coordinators, and the NSS VP for Chapters could be another useful organ for communications. I have heard a name or two floated as individuals who could travel to various chapters to meet with them and raise their interest and concerns back to higher levels.

One other thing which can both improve communications and give chapters something useful to do is to recreate the NSS Phone Tree, letting chapters serve as the backbone. This new phone tree can serve both as an events alert roster, and as a means of activating political initiatives.

1.4 The Vision Thing

Chapters today are adrift as is the NSS at trying to establish their vision for tomorrow. Many members are leaving both chapters and the NSS in general to follow other pro-space groups which either seem to be doing more, or who have a more tightly focused vision for the future. NSS is starving for cash and the chapters are dying on the vine.

The best way to counter this exodus is to make accomplishments that people can identify with. In short the NSS and her chapters need to be doing more projects. Methods need to be found to provide direct funding to both the NSS headquarters and to NSS chapters to establish more meaningful projects.

NSS needs to be seen as the "in crowd", the society to be associated with, in short the fun guys with both the vision and ability to get things done which are readily measurable. Abstract things are important, but need to be balanced with things people can "put their hands on". More on this latter in the NSS Vision Projects section.

2.0 Solutions

NSS must take immediate steps if it is to survive in the new environment of competition from new space societies and less corporate funding due to corporate mergers. The best way to do this is to strengthen the chapter system and foster visionary projects. I propose the following steps:

  1. Foster a network of regional conferences
  2. Reimburse society level and regional coordinators for a reasonable amount of phone expenses
  3. Reestablish the NSS Phone Tree
  4. Establish an NSS Chapter Volunteers Committee to assist the NSS Chapter resources Committee, the Chapters Coordinators and the NSS VP for Chapters
  5. Make chapter activities a more regular feature of Ad Astra
  6. Establish NSS Vision Projects

2.1 Regional Conferences

Well planned NSS regional conferences can become the glue that binds us together. The ISDCs help in this regard but it is difficult for many members and chapter activists to travel to these each year. Regional conferences can provide a much larger bandwidth of communications between the various organs of the NSS at the national level and NSS chapters. Regional conferences would also provide an excellent opportunity for the Regional NSS Board member and Regional Chapters Organizer to better know the chapters of their region. It would be wise if these individuals were to take on leadership positions in organizing the event. The Regional NSS Board member could be responsible for getting participation from the NSS. The Regional Chapters Organizer could set up chapter leadership training workshops.

2.1.1 Historical Problems With Regional Conferences

Many chapters fear hosting regional conferences for a variety of reasons. Any conference is a challenge to organize. Most chapters simply don't have the resources to invent a new conference each year. Conferences are also financially risky. Ensuring sufficient attendance so that the room nights reserved at the conference hotel covers the function space charges is a real challenge for most regions.

2.1.2 Regional Conferences Made Easy Canned Programming

One key concept for making regional conference easy is to establish canned programming so that the local regional conference committee does not have to invent everything - or anything at all for that matter.

Canned programming should consist of the following tracks, sessions, and workshops:

  1. Tracks (optional): One (or less) day of speakers in a single track (Saturday) drawn from local and national contacts
  2. Special Sessions:
    1. Chapter Acquaintance - members of local chapters introduce themselves and describe their chapter, aspirations, goals and projects. Opportunities for cooperation should be explored.
    2. NSS Board Acquaintance - members of the NSS Board of Directors, Board of Governors, and Board of Advisors take the podium to explain what they are trying to do for the society (no - of course all board members cannot be expected to attend, but as many as are available should attempt the effort)
    3. NSS Headquarters Acquaintance - members of the headquarters staff, preferably the NSS Executive Director, presents what they are doing to accomplish the goals of the NSS
    4. Regional Chapters' Assembly Meeting - with a focus on chapter resource requirements and sharing of information.
    5. NSS Board of Directors Meeting - one meeting per year is totally inadequate to manage a society with the goal of developing communities in space. The ISDC would still be the main meeting.
    6. NSS Committee Meetings - NSS committees need more than just one coordination meeting per year (and many do not even meet at the ISDC). The more things get worked out in committee, the less time will be spent debating points in NSS Board of Directors meetings.
  3. Workshops:
    1. Chapter Management Workshop - training for chapter leaders
    2. NSS Strategic Planing - Workshop for NSS leadership
    3. The Foundry - chapter project incubator. Regional Foundry meetings would feed into the ISDC Foundry to promote NSS Vision Projects. (More on this latter)
  4. Awards Banquet: Provide recognition for the local chapters and their hard working members

Excerpt from "NSS Chapters
and their Relationship to the NSS At Large"
Revision A

Agenda for NSS Chapters
Let the Chapter Revolution Begin!"

by Gregory H. Allison, NSS VP for Chapters


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