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The Vancouver Photography Meetup Group Message Board Messages from the Organizer › Attendance problems - we need a solution

Attendance problems - we need a solution

Vancouver, BC
Post #: 472
Hi everyone,

There seems to be a problem with attendance and it's been going on for the past several Meetup events for this group. For example, today, we had the Steveston Safari -- booked as a rain date from January -- and moved to Feb 12. There were numerous emails sent out about the change in date, and further email reminders and comments reminding everyone to update their RSVP and show intention to come out.

I realize that sometimes it's difficult to update RSVPs because life takes over, and we forget or something happens and we have a sudden change in plans - and we can't update our RSVP. But when 73 people were marked as Attending at the time the Meetup happened, and I had gone to the trouble of making reservations at restaurants and making sure there are enough staff at the coffee shop for 9am rush of over 50 people... AND ONLY 19 people show up... well, that's just pathetic and it smacks of blatant disrespect.

We need to come up with a solution to this problem -- but maybe we should identify what the problem really is first. Is it because the meetup event was booked too far in advance? Was there not enough communication around what it's about and what to do? Or too much?

There has to be some changes in our guidelines for "no shows" -- and perhaps limits imposed on the number of people who can attend events so that they are more manageable and to ensure those who say they're going actually show up.

For example, I am a member of the Dim Sum Lovers Meetup and they have a Zero Tolerance policy for no shows. If you don't show up and you don't try to get in touch with the organizer then you are booted out of the group. No questions asked - just booted off. I really like this approach... do you?

Other ideas?

Russ K.
user 3929906
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 321
To be bald, in every unscreened-access community, there are always going to be people that are more trouble than they are worth. In the case of volunteer-run communities like this one, I see no reason to keep such people around - there simply has to be acknowledgment of the time and energy that goes into making these meetups happen, and respect for the need to keep operations as simple as possible for the organizers.

To that end, I'd put very simple message at the top of all actual events, in all caps, like: "THIS MEETUP REQUIRES RSVP. YOU ARE REQUIRED TO KEEP YOUR RSVP STATUS CURRENT. NO-SHOW WILL RESULT IN BANISHMENT FROM THIS GROUP."

I am also totally in favour of limiting group sizes (partly because I personally don't like big groups), but also because I think it keeps logistics much simpler for the organizer.

I also think a key value for all organizers to hold closely is: "No organizer needs to feel like a cat-herder." If it feels like herding cats, something is wrong and needs to be fixed. In any case, the no-show issue seems to be a problem across meetups, and needs to be fixed.

user 7534310
Wasaga Beach, ON
Post #: 1
Trish, is this a perennial problem or is this incident particularly bad? I ask because I changed my RSVP quite late because of the rainfall warning. I would be surprised if that were not the reason for many folks. Perhaps things were better in Steveston, but it was an absolutely filthy morning here in North Vancouver.

I do see the problem and I wonder if the heart of the solution is to limit the impact of no-shows. Perhaps set a meeting place that is outside with the expectation that people arrive already fed, coffeed up, and ready to shoot. Similarly, make it clear that people are on their own for lunch reservations and such. This leaves people free to arrange to meet for coffee and meals if they wish but takes the burden off the organizer.

I can see where a restaurant based group would need to work differently, but it's not clear to me that a photography meetup should require the same level of booking when the primary activity is not about the food. I also think limiting size is not an unreasonable thing to do. I would put booting folks as the least desirable alternative, but, I can appreciate the frustration that leads to such solutions. That said, the solution must be one that makes sense to the organizers of the group as meeting the presenting problem.

Thank you for your hard work. I apologize for my part in your frustration.

Grant Tomlinson
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 474
Thanks Russ and Grant for your input and acknowledgement.

Since we started this Meetup group, I have not been strict with attendance and generally people have been pretty good over the years with respect to keeping their RSVPs up to date. I have always accounted for about 20% no shows and whenever making reservations at restaurants, this has worked out pretty well. For example if 30 people say they are coming out, then I make a reservation for 25 people and make sure that if more come that it won't be a problem and I let the restaurant know the situation. I'm almost always bang-on with my estimates.

I also realize that when there's bad weather in the forecast, many people will wait until the last minute to make a decision and that's just fine. I monitor the site, and make adjustments -- and now with the new smartphone apps, I can look at the attendance while I'm at the event, and afterward. I saw that there were people were updating their RSVPs right up to the start time -- and that's totally appropriate for this particular situation.

But I don't think it's acceptable that people not bother to update their RSVP at all!

If I look at the trend for the last two Meetups, they were announced quite far in advance. Many people signed up right away but in the end there were many, many people who didn't follow up and let me know one way or the other. For the Freeman Patterson lecture, I continually sent emails and posted comments on the event page, and I even followed up with personal emails to those who had previously indicated they wanted tickets. In terms of trying to organize that one, it was a fiasco. It was indeed like trying to herd cats! It was extraordinarily frustrating and enormously time consuming -- and all I was trying to do was help others to get a good deal for a fabulous event.

Grant, while I like your thinking about this group's primary purpose is to get together to do photography, all of us who attend our Meetups really like getting together for a drink or meal afterward. We often just leave it loose and decide when we get there - but we did this before in Steveston and it was frustrating to get a place that would hold 15 or 20 people and I remember walking from restaurant to restaurant and I didn't want to have that happen again so I made reservations.

We have in the past and plan in the future to have "show and tell" Meetups where we book rooms or restaurants and bring along AV equipment and display our photos and talk about them -- and this takes a ton of preparation and work to get setup. So, booking space either at a restaurant or public library room (or whatever) will continue to be a special part of the Meetups for this group.

I don't want to make a strict rule about No Shows for this group, but I wonder what I should do to ensure that the scenario from yesterday (and many other times recently) doesn't continue to happen. Again, yesterday there were 92 people signed up, 20 people changed their RSVP before the meeting time, and 72 were marked as coming by the time the Meetup started. Only 19 people showed up. I made reservations at restaurants for only 45 people, but I had to cancel 30 seats only two hours before we were expected to show up at the restaurants and they were not happy because they would have ensured their kitchens were stocked and brought in extra staff! It all turned out well yesterday at Steveston for the 19 of us who came out, and we had a great time. But what happened to the 47 people who didn't bother to update their RSVP's? What are they thinking and how can we get them to understand that this can't happen again?

With respect to my own participation in the Dim Sum Lovers group, when I say I'm going to go to one of their lunches, I am very, very sure to keep my RSVP up to date because if I don't -- I know for a fact they will boot me off. For the way that it makes me respect the wishes of the group, I really like the rule -- and I like the resulting respect that it forces members of the group to uphold.

It really is about respect and nothing more. Whether or not we go to restaurants, or monitor people so that they have a carpool arrangement (which I actually do), or make sure that the places that we go can handle the number of people that we're bringing, or keeping track of who's coming and communicating changes appropriately -- I think that if 26% of people come out and 74% don't bother to update their RSVP's -- then we actually have a real problem and we need a solution.

1. Book events no longer than 2 weeks in advance because folks will know better whether or not they are actually available to come out
2. Limit the RSVP to 20 people for each event
3. Make it very clear that if you do not show up when you have RSVP'd that you are going, that you will be booted off the group.

More ideas?
A former member
Post #: 162
Hi Trish,

I'm an organizer too, and this does seem to be an issue not just in your group but in others, mine included. Don't take it personally.

Some thoughts/ideas:
1) Adopt a Code of Conduct,
2) Establish a three-strike rule,
3) Have an event charge.

Good luck and please feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss.

Ubuntu Vancouver LoCo­
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 21
Hi Trish,

I organize a couple of groups and have been frustrated by no shows as well. I also know that on at least one or two occasions I have been a no show myself. Usually it is for events for very popular groups where you are forced to book way in advance or you don't get a spot. That is the downside of limiting group size. People will RSVP yes just as placeholder because otherwise they won't get a spot and then decide later if they really can go. I am not in favour of a zero tolerance policy because even the best intentioned of us have off days. However, I would be in favour of a "three strikes you're out" policy. I belong to a group that posts "no show warning" by the person's name, so they are very aware of it. (maybe after a month or three of good behaviour it could be removed) Also, something I have found useful myself is using the calendar export function in Meetup. I try to remember to do that immediately and it has worked very well for Meetups that are way in advance. You should encourage people to make use of that. I agree that the socializing over food or drink aspect of the group is worth preserving.

In summary: don't book events too far in advance, don't limit # unless absolutely necessary, three strikes with warnings, encourage calendar export.

Shari Strubin W.
user 10093116
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 3
Kudos to you for all the work you do Trish. I have not been able to attend anything but the virtual challenge due to health reasons for the time being. I did not have any idea how much work the organizers must put in to make these meetups work. After reading your posts I respect what you say and I feel anyone else reading them will feel the same and not even think of being a no show! Why don't you wait and see how the next meetup goes. Maybe across the top of the Meetup information you could have a statement in large letters saying - It is disrespectful to both the organizers and the restaurants involved to be a no show. Please make sure you are able to come before responding yes.
Thanks again for your work.
Genevieve G.
user 5916615
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 1
To be honest, I'm new to this kind of thing and I didn't realize that this was an issue. I said I would come yesterday but didn't because I forgot about a bank appointment my husband had made. I didn't change my status and I apologize for the inconvenience this caused.

I would definitely not say I was coming to something that requires a reservation and then not show up. But for meeting at Steveston in general, I didn't realize it was important to know exactly who is coming. I will happily support and adjust to whatever you decide. What I would probably do is just not respond until closer to the date when I have a better idea of the weather and other family/work commitments that tend to get in the way of this kind of thing for me.

Good luck and thanks for asking the question!
user 7534310
Wasaga Beach, ON
Post #: 2
Trish, the issue may be that different events need different strategies. I think the Freeman Patterson event is a good example of one where some sort of accountability is needed. There is a high organizational burden and possibly even costs? It's an event where failing to respond has negative impacts for the organizer and well beyond (I had thought of attending but had the impression there were no more tickets left, for example). In such a case, a sanction is appropriate.

On the other hand, I think of the eagle shoot up in the Fraser Valley which extended over a large geographic area and long hours. It would be difficult to know who attended and the relatively unstructured nature of the event made for some wonderful photos away from the main gathering site. A more structured approach with sanctions would have detracted from this event, in my opinion.

Perhaps different policies for different types of events regarding sanctions.
I think a shorter time horizon helps as perhaps would size limits on events for which prebooking of meals or tickets happens. It seems to me that reducing the burden on the organizers so that it can be a pleasure rather than an unpaid job is one key thing to be accomplished here.

With that two cents, I think that is all I have to say.

Russ K.
user 3929906
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 322
I don't like 3 strike systems... Someone (obviously not the strikers!) has to keep track of the strikes, people will game the fact that there are strikes to take (so just about everyone will ultimately have two strikes) and the system sends the message that it's ok to screw up once in a while. With a giant size group like this, those "screw-up once in a whiles" add up to a mess of work for organizers.

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