Matt & I had the opportunity to facilitate a panel discussion at the 15th Annual At-Home Dads Convention over the weekend. Even though the attendance of our workshop was low, it was invigorating to share some stories, secrets, and best practices with a few dads who are currently in cities without a group, but looking for resources to create a group.
Below is the document we shared with the participants on how to achieve a successful dads group. The objective is to assist dads in starting, growing, and maintaining a dynamic community of caring and involved fathers. Disclaimer: There is no secret recipe, we are not experts, and we continually learn from the error of our ways to we can identify ways to improve. It takes patience!
Please enjoy & use this material. Feel free to email it to dads in other cities. Feel free to cross post-it onto your blogs. Basically, please share this with dads already in groups who may need some guidance as well as to the new dad that is isolated and wants to form his own small playgroup. This is an organic document….so please let us know if this was helpful or add some feedback in the comments section so it can be improved.
STARTING Your Local Group
1. Set up an Internet site for your group.
At a minimum, set up an email account so people can contact you. You can set up a free blog with WordPress or Blogger, or a website with Meetup.com for a small fee. You can also use Yahoo or Google groups to set up a group message board. You can design a more advanced website with your own domain name, but this is more time consuming. The objective of having a site is to offer dads a destination to connect, to provide contact information, to provide general information about your group, and to maintain a calendar of future group meetings/events. You need to decide whether to make the group private or public. The NYC Dads Group is public so potential members can get a true picture of the group before joining.
2. Establish a consistent meeting day and time (and place if possible).
Dads with kids live by schedules and structure so it will be easier for members to attend if they can plan ahead. NYC Dads Group meets every Wednesday at 10am. The locations change frequently based on the geography of the group – zoo, local parks/playground, museums, indoor playroom, or parent & me classes. One suggestion is to have different members hosting in their homes and rotating weekly. Remember to incorporate travel times, naps, school schedules, etc. Currently, the NYC Dads Group is planning more frequent and more localized events to bolster member participation.
3. Get your name out there!
• Contact local media organizations. A phone call or email notifying the media that you exist & organized a group with contact information is necessary. Type up a formal press release as well. There are the main broadcast stations, newspapers, and smaller community and parenting papers to contact.
• Make a simple flyer with contact info and meeting time/place. Post at playgrounds, library, children’s venues, pediatrician office, and mothers groups.
• Business cards can be made at a low cost. You can create these on your computer or at a local print shop. You can hand these out to dads you run into across town & encourage existing members to network as well.
• Link Love: Contact other dad websites or blogs with your website/group information. Also contact local mother’s groups so they can refer men who want to join to you. Register your site at www.rebeldad.com, www.athomedad.org, www.daddyshome.org., and www.drmoz.com.
• Social Media Networking: Utilize Facebook & Twitter so you can keep your group plugged in and offer another avenue for members to easily connect
4. Create membership criteria and upfront information
Will there be any criteria for entry? Will you charge a fee or suggest a donation? Also consider what you want to know about members providing information (name, age of kids, neighborhood, etc). Are Dads who work allowed to join? How about Moms? NYC Dads Group was originally created as an at-home dads social network. Now, our goal is to be inclusive of ALL involved fathers.
GROWING Your Local Group
1. Be confident, patient, and persistent.
Groups take time to build and dads are not always easy to organize. The first month was frustrating – only 2 or 3 dads at the first few events. Our group took over four months before we had a core group of members that participated weekly.
2. Empower your members and listen to them for ideas.
The organizer is the “heart” of a group, but they get their best ideas for future meetings and events from the other dads in the group. Everyone’s opinion counts! Dads are more likely to attend group events when they were responsible for planning it. Encourage dads to step up!
3. Plan interesting, fun, and meaningful outings.
• It is easy to hit the local playground or use someone’s home/playroom so the kids can play & interact while the dads socialize. These locations are easy to organize and should be a frequent group outing.
• Use your community: Contact the local parent & me companies, YMCA/Community Center, or play-spaces. It is amazing how the power of a unique group can get you a free trial class at a local children’s venue or inexpensive & affordable opportunities
• Dads Night Out: About once a month, it is important to schedule a fun night out without kids – sports bar, poker night, steak night, BBQ, etc. This forum truly enables you to get to know the guys better.
• Enrichment for adults: Aside from the usual social outings, it’s important to take some time to think about the bigger picture of fatherhood via author discussions and relevant parenting workshops (i.e. Limit Setting, Positive Discipline, Potty Training, Thinking about Preschool, Getting in to Preschool, etc). Authors with new releases are especially interested in meeting with local parents groups, especially if you provide the venue and audience.
• Volunteering: Look for a local family related non-profit that needs volunteers. Contact your local soup kitchen, Salvation Army collection center, or shelter. The NYC Dads Group works with an organization called Baby Buggy that provides gear, toys, and clothes to families in need.
MAINTAINING Your Local Group
1. Communicate with your group often.
Keeping in touch with your group as it grows is challenging. Send out a weekly email sharing upcoming events and other relevant news. Always give credit to dads that stepped up and planned a group event, assisted in their home, or helped in some other way. Make sure to send an email to the dad you haven’t seen in a while to see what he is up to.
2. Offer opportunities for your group to communicate with each other.
Set up an email list so people can stay in contact with one another. Create a message board so dads can share best practices, frustrations, or ask questions. Encourage the dads to make plans outside of the “scheduled” group outings so they build lasting friendships. Use social media networking like Twitter & Facebook to keep dads connected.
3. Don’t do it alone.
o An “organizer” is just a title. Ask for help from your group. Ask for meaningful feedback or constructive criticism after group meetings on ways the group can improve or be enhanced. Talk to other group organizers (including moms groups) for ideas or solutions to challenges in maintaining a vibrant group.
o Establish a Leadership Team (i.e. assistant organizer, community outreach liaison) within the group that meets frequently to discuss the future of the group. The goal is to empower more members, relieve the workload for the organizers, and develop best practices to create a more social, supportive, and enriching community of dads.
*Some information was borrowed from Phil Andrew & Mike Njus of the Lincoln/Omaha At-Home-Dads Group as well as Tony Peters & Bill Beagle of the Dayton Dads (information posted on Rebeldad website). My appreciation goes out to those dads for sharing the information that has made their group a success.