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Bead Societies: Starting, Supporting and Sustaining

The inspiration for this page came from two sources. I had just read of yet another bead institution that seems to be going by the wayside. The two people who had sustained it for years are frustrated and burned out. You hear it all the time. A few days later someone on the Chat Line was asking how to start a new Bead Society. Life goes on.

The first Bead Societies were founded in the mid 1970s. I was an enthusiastic supporter of them (Ornament 5(2):112-3, 1981), after having first visited them in late 1979.

I have helped five get started (plus a few others by remote). One has died, two are doing well and two are among the largest and most influential of societies.

I have also watched many of them split, die, resurrect or transform themselves. I have dealt with dozens of Bead Societies in many ways and maintain a large archive of their Newsletters, which I actually read as they come in.

Starting a Bead Society

Bead Societies get started in one of two ways. In the first, a single person decides for her (more rarely his) own reasons that she would like to have a Bead Society. The reasons may be social, out of curiosity or perhaps because she is in the bead business. If she is charismatic and hard working she can gather people around her and a society comes into being.

In the second model, a group of people with similar interests (the history and romance of beads, beadmaking, beadworking, for example) coalesce into a Bead Society or Guild.

There are no rules (except Robert's). There is no national Bead Society, though some, myself included, think that would be a good idea. There are national bead guilds. The usual way of setting up any group applies to setting up a Bead Society. Getting non-profit status is something to be reserved at a later stage, as it is a complex process.

I would stress that from the beginning you do two things. One, you decide why you are starting a Bead Society. Think about your goals. People come to beads from many different directions. All have something to contribute. Is your group going to specialize or be a general group? Are you interested in doing something or learning about beads or both? Incorporate you goals into your constitution or by-laws. These documents should be well thought out and honored, though it can always be amended.

The second thing is to get everyone involved. You will need a President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer. You will also need a Program Chair, and maybe both a Recording and Correspondence Secretary. What about a Librarian? Newspaper Editor? Internet Coordinator? Research Chair? Grants Committee? Parliamentarian? Refreshment Committee? Bazaar Coordinator?

There are lots of things to do. Spread the work around, get everyone involved. When you spot the deadbeats, give them the less crucial jobs. Under no circumstances is all the work to fall into one or two members' laps.

Supporting a Bead Society

O.K. You are off and running. Maybe in the first six months volunteers fill in the Board, with elections a half year away. You have arraigned for a place to meet and have had your first business meeting. Now panic strikes. What do we do for the rest of the year?

Start with your own resources. Members have taken trips. Some are skilled artisans. Some have rich, specialized collections. Lift your head a bit. Local colleges may have anthropology teachers, art instructors or historians.

Rock and mineral clubs, jewelers, glass workers, librarians, antique collectors, journalists, travel agents, and rendezvous people, to name just a few, are potential speakers or suppliers of materials to enrich a program. They may profess to know nothing about beads, but your interest can be expanded by understanding more about their fields. For example, a pottery instructor can tell you how clay beads were made. A botanist can tell you something about seeds used as beads. Keep in touch with nearby societies so that you can share costs of outside speakers.

Not every program should be a lecture. Demonstrations, videos and films, a tour of beads on the Web and more lend spice to your meetings. Members' show-and-tell, bead identification with a panel of "experts," a swap meet, a picnic, a special activity for the holidays, and other programs help make the society fun.

Now that you're started, a word of advice. Run your society as professionally as possible. That means many things to different people, but here I am speaking of someone who adheres to the rules of a particular profession. Make sure the Parliamentarian knows Robert's Rules of Order. That may be a no-brainer, but you must also think about some key posts.

One is the Editor. If you are going to have a newsletter, let the information in it be accurate. Too many newsletters are done on the fly. Facts are not checked. Articles are reprinted from other newsletters and errors multiply. Facts about beads, facts about the bead world, facts about bead materials have often been distorted.

There are plenty of resources, including the Center and The Bead Site, to track things down. Let's get it right. When someone submits an article, check out its sources. You do not need to publish an exhaustive bibliography, but the origins of information should be trustworthy. That job ultimately falls to the editor.

The other is the Program Chair. Maybe it is just because I deal with this post a lot, but the position seems to be especially tentative and fluid. It is hard work, but the turnover is excessive. Programs must be arranged far in advance. Commitments made to outside speakers must be honored. Frankly, these problems help explain why there are so few professional academics willing to do programs for Bead Societies.

Sustaining a Bead Society

Aside from its birth, the critical juncture of a society is a few years down the line. After four or five years, resentment arises. The founders get tired of having to do everything. Or members resent everything being controlled by one person or a small clique. If you followed my advice above about including everyone, this is less likely to happen. But it does happen and I would suggest the following as a partial remedy.

  • Make your Board large and make it obligatory to attend Board meetings (maybe every other month, always rotating the venue).
  • Have annual elections, but elect only half the Board each year (continuity -- just knowing where files are, for example -- is very important).
  • Elect new Board members two or more months before they actually serve. Have future members get together with retiring members of the same post. Also have the future members attend a Board meeting or two before they actually serve. Again, this promotes continuity.
  • See also the paper on the dynamics of bead societies.

And what about Term Limitations? Perhaps a bad idea at the Federal level, but not bad for Bead Societies. At least consecutive terms could be limited. There may be minor posts that could be exempted, especially if only one person can really do the job (Internet Coordinator and, of course, Parliamentarian, are examples).


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