# Tuesday, 22 November 2011

I have been President of the Great Lakes Area .NET User Group (GANG) for the past two years and Wednesday was the final meeting of 2011. At the beginning of 2011, the other officers and I sat down and defined some goals for the year. Here are those goals:

  • Cultivate Ownership In Group
  • Continue to Attract High-Quality Speakers
  • Support and Connect with other Area User Groups
  • Average 60 attendees per meeting
  • Increase supporting membership by 15%
  • Increase Monetary Sponsorship by 10%
  • Make it an event

I wrote about these goals early in the year and we displayed them at each 2011 GANG meeting. Today I'd like to review if and how we met each of these goals.

Cultivate Ownership In Group

This year, GANG had more volunteers helping out than ever before. In the future, I expect some of these volunteers will become officers of the group. In fact, Matt Ruma was elected the new Vice President this week.

Codeslingers - the monthly pair programming event that we started last year - has moved from a local coffee shop to The Epitec Group offices, giving them more space, more privacy, and more flexible hours.

Gerhard Weiss established the monthly DevLunch this year. Here members get together and socialize over a weekday lunch at the Troy TGIFriday.

The popularity of the post-user group social hour has also exploded. It's not uncommon for 30 people to come to Copper Canyon after a meeting.

Last year, we established Lightning Talks to give members experience at speaking and to share knowledge with the group. In 2011, the number of Lightning Talks more than doubled over last year.

The number of people with whom we are connecting has increased dramatically: In addition to the 625 people on our mailing list, our LinkedIn group membership has increased 84% and the number of our Twitter followers has increased 71% from a year ago.

Continue to Attract High-Quality Speakers

This is an area I'm particularly proud of because it's something GANG has always done very well, but we managed to take it to a new level in 2011. Below is a list of featured speakers at GANG in 2011.

Gary Short
Michael Eaton
Mike Amundsen
Charles Stacy Harris
Gus Issa
Jennifer Marsman
Brian Prince
Steve Bohlen
K Scott Allen
Richard Campbell
Leon Gersing
Josh Holmes,
Darrell Hawley
Bill Wagner
Richard Hale Shaw
Godfrey Nolan
Glenn Block

As you can see, there are many big names on this list. Speakers include Microsoft insiders, MVPs, Regional Directors, Book Authors, popular bloggers, and podcasters. We reached out beyond our geographic region this year and attracted speakers from 7 states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington) and 4 countries (US, Canada, Scotland, and Ireland). The presentations covered a wide range of topics from refactoring code, to the .NET Micro Framework to async features in the next version of C#.

Support and Connect with other Area User Groups

The first thing we did was to commit to attending other user groups. In 2011, GANG officers attended over 50 user group meetings this year, not included GANG meetings! I spoke at 12 different user group meetings in 2011.

This year, we came up with the idea of co-hosting meetings with other groups. The Greater Detroit Cloud Computing Group co-hosted the March GANG meeting, which featured Mike Amundsen speaking on RESTful Hypermedia. In January, we plan to co-host a meeting with the Ann Arbor .NET Developers Group.

This year, we offered our space and time to anyone looking to start a user group. We felt this would reduce the effort and risk involved in starting a group if it began as a Special Interest Group. The F# Special Interest Group and the .NET Micro Framework Special Interest Group both were hosted during our meetings in 2011. The F# Group has since moved to its own night and location.

Another way we collaborated with other user groups is by helping to organize user group tours for out-of-town presenters. Gary Short, Mike Amundsen, Richard Campbell, and Steve Bohlen all traveled to Michigan and spoke at more than one user group, including ours.

Average 60 attendees per meeting

In 2010, GANG averaged 54 attendees per meeting. We set a goal to modestly increase attendance this year. Our strategy included bringing in big-name speakers, promoting meetings via social media, and hosting a membership drive at which we gave away an Xbox 360 and Kinect.

Our strategy worked as we averaged over 82 attendees per meeting in 2011 - an increase of 52% from last year.

Increase supporting membership by 15%

We met and exceeded this goal, increasing supporting membership from 23 in November 2010 to 53 in November 2011. That's an increase of 130%!

Increase Monetary Sponsorship by 10%

This goal is difficult to measure because many sponsors pay for things without writing a check to GANNG. However, we received about $10,000 cash from corporate sponsors in 2011, an increase of far more than 10%. We are especially grateful to ComponentOne, New World Systems, TypeMock, The Epitec Group, Telerik, RedGate, and Plex Online, all of whom donated at our Platinum level.

Thanks to these donations (and those of our supporting members), GANG was able to upgrade the dinner served at every single meeting. Whether it was Chinese food, fried chicken, shawarma, barbecue, or a burrito bar, we didn't serve pizza at a single meeting this year.

Despite increasing the budget significantly, our end-of-year cash reserves were about double the level of a year ago.

In addition to cash, sponsors such as Telerik, DevExpress, ComponenentOne, and JetBrains paid the travel expenses of speakers, so they could afford to come speak at GANG. Most of these expense reimbursements were not included in the $10,000 mentioned above.

We also continued to receive books, software, and other prizes that we gave away at each meeting.

Make it an event

Last year, I heard someone describe GANG meetings as more of an event than a user group meeting. I took that to heart and we explicitly made this a 2011 goal.

It all started by bringing in some big-name speakers, such as Richard Campbell, K Scott Allen, Glenn Block and Gary Short.

It culminated with our October meeting - an all-day event featuring 6 presentations by those who built GANG.

We designated several special meetings: A membership drive; and a food drive. The food drive was so successful that we are probably going to hold one every year.

We also included some fun things for our members, such as creating music videos to show during meetings and trivia contests to give away some of the swag.

We have one or more volunteers at each meeting designated as greeters, making sure members feel welcome and get a name badge.

Finally, we recorded most of the 2011 presentation and made them available on our web site.

Declaring Success

Overall, 2011 was a very successful year for GANG. We exceeded all our goals for the year and feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. I often hear people pointing to GANG as a success story in growing a user group. I’m very proud of what my fellow officers and I were able to accomplish this year. I love that so many people got so much out of GANG; I love that people keep coming back; I love that they tell their friends and co-workers about GANG; and I love that other user groups draw on us for ideas and inspiration.

I'm looking forward to more success in 2012.