Chapter 11: Small Wins
11:34 AM. It’s a balmy summer day in Boulder, CO, and the children are exploring and playing in the creek. Along most stretches of this section of the creek the water is shallow, sliding across tumbled stones and along a gentle bank. This allows the children to make their way upstream and down, like explorers discovering new lands. They come upon small pools and eddies where water spiders skip across the surface of the water. Every now and then, gaggles of ducks are startled and take to the air, flapping their wings to lift off the creek and into the warm air. Leafs and twigs make excellent boat-building materials. Longer sticks are foraged and become walking poles to steady the children as they wade, splash, and march into the wilds.
Around a bend, the bank grows steeper, the creek narrower, and the water deeper. A newly fallen tree catches the children’s attention. By now, Nyla and Silas have shed much of their clothes, save for their bathing suits and water shoes that allow them to enter and move in the rocky creek bed with ease. Nyla moves closer to the log and submerges to shoulder depth. Then, with amazingly great zest, she plunges into the current. Just as she’s about to come to the log, she ducks underwater. She zips beneath the log and then her head lifts to see that she’s made it! Only two other families are here today, but it’s enough to make for an incredibly engaging and inspiring nature experience. The children spend hours mucking about, and I take the time to document the adventure.
As discussed in the last chapter, building anything from scratch can make your ego take a beating. You can expect that you’ll have disappointments along the way, but if you become well practiced at emphasizing and celebrating the small wins, you’ll find that you are able to achieve big results—strengthening the interest in your club by your children, your family, and your potential members. In a lot of ways, this comes down to marketing.
How to Market Your Family Nature Club
In the last chapter, you learned about the value of taking notes and photographs of your event as a way to produce marketing materials. These marketing materials are an excellent way to share the experiences you’ve had in past events to inspire families to join future events. You can see examples of how stories and images are used in all kinds of marketing materials, from travel companies to educational organizations and programs to summer camps and recreation companies, and even family nature clubs. By spending a little time preparing your materials and then posting and sharing these materials, stories, and tips, you will be able to raise engagement and attendance, and strengthen the bonds of your community.
The five steps to market your club include:
Researching how others are marketing their efforts will give you a great sense of what works and what doesn’t work. For example, you’ll see a wide range of photography, from group shots to candid action shots to focusing on documenting specific educational activities and artifacts from nature like the flora and fauna of the region. Similarly, how people share general tips, upcoming events, and stories of their adventures—the style and aesthetic—will vary greatly from simple captions to short-form stories to longer blog posts and articles. You will also see a range of tone, from commercial-looking productions to casual sharing. Find what resonates with you from other groups that you appreciate, and that will inspire your efforts.
Design your content with care. It takes practice, persistence, and commitment. While taking notes and shooting photographs was discussed in the last chapter, the additional step that is required is the post-production of these materials. Specifically, you should write up stories and process your photographs. How you write the stories will depend greatly on what inspired you in your research, and the strategy you select for posting and sharing your content. It may be that you want to share just photos. Or, maybe you want to write short stories for specific photographs and share those one at a time over a period of time. Or, perhaps you’re interested in writing blog posts or articles that incorporate all the details from your experience. You can also do a combination of these. What’s important is to take some time to think about what you can manage, and then to stay consistent with your approach so that your members know what to expect and grow to appreciate it. If you create print materials, you’ll need to prepare those now as well. This sounds like a lot of work, but you will find it is really enjoyable, and you can start simply with small efforts. Small efforts build up and begin to snowball over time!
Publish your content in a way that attendees of the event, those who missed it, and potential future guests will be able to view. The approach here will vary based on how you communicate with your group, and can include your website, social media channels, or newsletters. In some cases, you may want to post your content immediately after you’ve created it. If you manage your group by Facebook or Meetup, perhaps you will want to share some images of the day’s event as soon as possible. Alternately, you can plan to share your content over a period of time, such as the week following the event. This can be made easier if you use a content publishing tool to automate the process of scheduling and posting the content.
For print materials, you will need to print them out either on your home printer or at a print shop.
Share your content once it has been published. In some cases, you may not need to do anything here. If you run a blog or social media platform, those tools often will automatically send a notice to your members or subscribers letting them know that something new has been published. In other cases, you may need to send some kind of notification to your members by email or some other method. If you send out weekly event reminders and newsletters, you can include links to your published content to increase how many people are aware of your content.
For print materials, you’ll need to distribute them. For example, you can place stacks of standard 8.5” x 11” fliers or colorful postcard-like fliers in local libraries, nature centers, schools, recreation centers, etc. People are used to finding community programs through these types of materials, and you will find that many people will discover your club that way.
Interact with members who find your content interesting. For example, many of the platforms you can choose from including commenting and liking features. While these may seem silly, they foster community and encourage people to stay engaged and connected even when they are not at an event. To make your job easier here, you can batch your interactions by setting a specific time each day to review what members have said something about your content.
I’ve been amazed at the value designing, publishing, and sharing content brings to our family nature club. My small group interacts a great deal with the content, and reflecting and remembering the shared experience brings joy to me, my children, my family, and my community. I’ve started to see that other members are starting to participate in taking photos, sharing stories, and contributing to the marketing materials—all without any encouragement from me. I’ve also been really excited to see how the content touches those who did not attend the event. I’ve had families who couldn’t make the specific date/time of an event be inspired by our photographs and stories, and independently visited the location to have the same experience. I’ve also had people voice complaints when I didn’t share photo memories of the event—they love seeing the photos!
My practice for creating marketing materials has evolved over time, and today consists of the following approach:
- I make sure that anyone who comes to an event has filled out the photo release, and if they do not agree to allow me to photograph them, I respect that.
- Prior to events, I review marketing materials of other organizations that seem successful. I look at their websites, brochures, and social media channels to see what content gets the highest interaction and most resonates with me.
- During events, I spend some time taking notes and photographs of our experience. I try not to be like the paparazzi (shooting photos non-stop), because I also want to be engaged during the events, and participate. This means I do miss some amazing moments, but it’s an important balance to maintain, I believe.
- After events, I will post all of the photos from the event in a photo album on Facebook and share in our general discussion thread. Posting in the general discussion thread makes it easy to see the photos without going into a specific event, both instantly and in the future. I also tag anyone who was at the event, as well as their significant other if they did not attend to ensure they get a notice from Facebook. When I post here on Facebook, I am sure to include a brief note about how I felt about the event. What did we do? What were the favorite activities for the children? I am also very careful to include a note of gratitude thanking everyone for coming. They don’t have to spend their free time with me and my family and the club, and I am very thankful for their presence, as it enriches my children’s experience.
- Throughout the week following the event, I schedule short stories and images to post on Instagram. I use the free version of Hootsuite to manage scheduling, and post to both Instagram and my personal Facebook. Using Hootsuite allows me to batch process the work, which I usually do on Monday night, the day after our event.
- Each week, I send out an email newsletter to my group using MailChimp announcing the upcoming event on the weekend. In addition, I send out infrequent general announcement emails to my whole group. In these emails, I include links to where I posted the photos from the experience.
I don’t do much in the way of print materials because I’m leading a small group that is easily reached electronically.
Note: I always try to balance out my digital work on my family nature club to be at night after the children have already gone to sleep. This allows me to spend my free time playing and interacting with my children, and being outside as much as possible, versus taking time during the day to work on these tasks.
What You’ve Learned
In this chapter, you’ve learned how to emphasize small wins for big results for your family nature club events.