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Astronomy Clubs as Non Profit 501-C Organizations

Posted by Ronald Abraham   08/05/2009 12:00AM

As a former member of a astronomy club, I found that the active membership talked a good game as far as community service goes - and even put on decent events, but never allowed that role to rise above paying lip service to the club charter's commitment to real service.

During my years as a member, little was done to improve facilities, projects never got off the ground due to no planning and no volunteers. Those who spoke out were chastised as trying to make a "fun club" into a "job". Sorry - I always felt like helping others reach their goals was a labor of love.

The club's charter, member list, and ledger have been closely and zealously kept within a select group of individuals. Getting documents to which members were entitled - even required to have -was virtually impossible.

Events for the public were focused on recruiting, but seldom did members take the time or have the patience to work with new members and their telescopes one on one. Year after year I saw the member roles shrink as people grew old, moved away, or lost interest. They are replaced by people who pay their $30.00 membership fee and then sink or swim. The club's officers were willing to aim their telescopes and let the new members look through them, but they seldom devoted time away from their expensive rigs to spend an hour demonstrating the essentials to a new people with basic scopes, and make that the biggest part of star party events.

My belief is that it is only in the spirit of service that we can actually develop a deeper and more successful desire to serve - and in doing so accomplish hard won, intangible, worthwhile, personal victories - enriching others because we care.

My experience is that clubs that stray from following their own rules gravitate toward becoming cliques so absorbed in maintaining the same old familiar mode of operation, that they are virtually unwilling - perhaps incapable - of fulfilling the cultural and educational roles.

I heard an officer from the club tell a new member who was trying to set up an 80mm refractor "talk to me later and I'll tell you some good books to read". I went over to the guy and asked "do you need help?" - He said "just to get started". I pulled out "Nightwatch" and went to the Summer star charts and showed him how to use his outstretched hand, etc to find objects. After an hour he was set.

Later that evening, he came over to return my book and told me he had found another fifteen or so objects - a few of which were not listed in "Nightwatch". He was excited.

Jesus said that you can feed a man or you can teach him how to feed himself. I see the role of an astronomy club as sharing the view through a big telescope AND teaching people how become genuine amateur astronomers. Often, the latter does not happen, and beginners become disoriented and give up.

I am in a new area now. I have recently started a new type of organization that is not a club, but rather an educational program. It's purpose will be to train everyone who is interested how to competently navigate the sky and enjopy astronomy. If they do join a local club, at least they will hit the ground running. Hopefully they will take with them a proactive attitude toward service to others who can appreciate selfless mentorship.