Start a New Society

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Forming an AIA Local Society

A. What is a Society?

Local Societies are created by AIA members to promote and advance the Institute’s mission in their local communities, promote the outreach and educational goals of the organization, and maintain national programs like lectures and International Archaeology Day. The first Local Society was established in Boston in 1884. Today the AIA has 110 chartered Local Societies and several more in formation. Societies reflect the Institute’s unique character as an organization that welcomes both professionals and interested avocational members. A majority of society members are not archaeological professionals. For these members, participation in society programs is an important aspect of their involvement with archaeology.

The Archaeological Institute of America and its Local Societies exist to support and promote archaeology, its practitioners, and their work. The Institute’s outreach in this effort is national and international whereas the outreach done by societies tends to be local. Although the AIA and Local Societies are independent entities—none exercising control over the others—the contents of this guide illustrate how the entities work together to promote the Institute’s mission.

The Regulations of the AIA provide for Local Societies as follows:

“In order to facilitate the conduct of the affairs of the Institute, and to accomplish the purpose of its creation, the Council may permit the members in a particular geographical region to form themselves into an affiliated society of the Institute upon such terms and conditions as the Council may prescribe. Such affiliated societies shall have only those powers conferred by the Council, and no affiliated society shall have the power to create any obligation against the Institute or the property of the Institute.” (Article III, Section 1.)

Only society-level members can affiliate themselves with a Local Society. Membership in a society is generally assigned when a person joins the AIA at the society-level and is based on geographical proximity. Subscribing members do not belong to societies. Societies enable AIA members to participate directly in the programs of the Institute and to communicate with the national organization, as well as with other like-minded people in their communities.

Although the AIA offers guidelines for electing officers and maintaining various aspects of society operations, each society eventually develops its own character and its own methods. In some societies, the majority of the members are avocational, while in others, professional members are the larger part; both are equally successful. While each society is different, the information in this guide should be useful to all and we encourage society officers to contact the AIA office in Boston with any questions.

B. The Operation of Societies

1. Start-up

The following was originally submitted by AIA member and society officer Eric H. Cline and has since been updated by AIA trustees and staff. Dr. Cline was instrumental in setting up the San Joaquin Valley Society, which received its official charter in December 1994.

So, you want to start your own AIA Local Society, but have no idea how to go about it? Here are the steps to forming a society:

  1. Contact the AIA office in Boston and inform the Director of Programs of your intention to form a society and provide the location (city) for your proposed society.
  1. Request membership brochures that you can distribute or mail to potential members. You can download an electronic version of the brochure from the AIA website.
  1. You can also request the following from the AIA office:
    1. Mailing addresses for all ARCHAEOLOGY magazine subscribers within your desired geographical boundaries. Over 200,000 people subscribe to ARCHAEOLOGY, and the list of subscribers in your geographical area is an excellent way to find members. Please provide the AIA office in Boston with the postal codes for the areas in which you are interested.
    2. Mailing addresses for all “at-large” AIA members (i.e. those who belong to the organization but are not already affiliated with a society) in your locale.
  1. Using the mailing addresses, send out a letter announcing the formation of a new local AIA society and invite the addressee to join (NB: mailings will probably be at your own expense, since you have no treasury yet). You should send out two different versions of the letter, as follows:
    1. One version to all ARCHAEOLOGY magazine Subscribing Members who are not yet members of an AIA Local Society; a membership brochure or at least a printout of the AIA Membership Form should be included with each letter. An electronic version of the brochure is available from the membership section of the AIA website.
    2. One version to all the “at-large” AIA members in your locale, asking if they will agree to affiliate with your new society rather than remaining at-large; a tear-off form or separate sheet which they can fill out and send to Boston on their own will be extremely helpful.
  1. As you receive positive responses to the above letters, or as you receive notice of new members from the AIA office in Boston (which are sent once a month), send each new member an individual letter of welcome and thanks!

Despite these efforts, you may still need to recruit a few more people to reach the threshold of 50 members. There are several things that could help with this:

  1. Organize an event and invite your new members and others from the general public to attend. Encourage non-members to join the AIA and your society.
  2. Ask current members to spread the word and recruit new members.
  3. Raise funds to provide gift memberships to potential members
  4. Create a website for your society and use it as a way to publicize your efforts and activities.
  5. Consider the use of social media to help with the recruitment process. Create a Facebook page for your society.
  6. Contact the AIA office in Boston for advice and assistance.

Arrange a consistent meeting/lecture place—at a university or college, museum, church or synagogue, or other large hall—which can hold at least 100 people and to which people will become accustomed. The venue should be ADA accessible and have audio-visual equipment. At the meetings, have plenty of membership brochures on hand and have someone ready to explain membership benefits, etc. As noted above, brochures can be obtained from the AIA office in Boston.

Write yet one more version of the “invitation letter,” to be sent out to any interested parties who may hear about the new society after the initial formation is already in progress.

Once you have members and/or prospective members, we suggest collecting email addresses and sending information electronically whenever possible. This will save time and money and is a great way to build a network of society members.

2. Founding a New Society

The following policies were adopted by the Executive Committee at its April 26, 1980 meeting and approved by the Council at its December 28, 1980 meeting (Bulletin, vol. 72).

a. The prospective society will:

  1. Submit to the AIA office in Boston 25 or more society level memberships; also include any Lifetime memberships. Members transferring to the prospective society from another affiliated society may be listed in the rolls of the prospective society but cannot be counted at this stage. Members transferring from the At-Large category will be counted.
  2. Select a name for the new society according to the formula: Archaeological Institute of America—XYZ (local area) Society. The AIA office in Boston must approve the selected name.

b. When the above requirements are met, the AIA office in Boston will:

  1. Send the prospective society a $100 starter fund and a single lecturer; it will also provide help and advice for attracting more members to the society and for raising funds locally. Headquarters will also request a specific accounting of the expenditure of the starter fund.
  2. Enter all submitted memberships into the system as affiliates of the prospective society and begin sending the prospective society all membership printouts and other materials regularly produced for the societies.

c. The prospective society is now considered to be in formation. To receive a charter, the prospective society will need to:

  1. Show an active membership of 50 or more members.
  2. Formulate and present to the AIA office in Boston local regulations or bylaws which include provisions for election of local officers and the conditions for holding those posts. See document on bylaws for more information and guidance.

d. If a prospective society meets all the requirements, the AIA Executive Director will petition the Executive Committee on behalf of the society for its recommendation that the AIA Council charter the society. Upon approval of the Council, the society will be granted its charter and become an affiliated society of the AIA in good standing.

3. Maintaining Active Status

Upon becoming an affiliated society of the AIA, a society should try to maintain at least 50 members to ensure continued viability. We realize that membership numbers fluctuate over time, and therefore accept 35 as the minimum necessary to maintain active status, with the idea that the society is working on rebuilding membership levels back to 50. Societies will be urged to maintain an active membership of no less than 35 in order to remain in good standing. Societies below 35 can work with the AIA office in Boston to find ways to increase their membership.

An active membership shall have the following rights, privileges, and obligations:

  1. An active society is subject to all terms and conditions prescribed by the Regulations, the Council, the Governing Board, the Officers, and AIA office in Boston.
  2. An active society is entitled to fully participate in all programs established for the affiliated societies, including the Lecture Program and any programs that shall in the future be created for the benefit of the societies.
  3. An active society shall be able to name representatives to the Council.
  4. An active society shall receive an annual rebate based on its membership count of June 30 each year. The membership count shall be determined by the Institute’s membership computer system.

Society officers will be notified if the society’s membership level drops below 25 and will be encouraged to work with the AIA office and/or the Societies Committee to increase membership.

If a society’s membership falls to 10 or below and remains at that level for 12 consecutive months, the society will be considered INACTIVE.

An INACTIVE society will not be eligible to participate in any AIA programs established for the affiliated societies.

An INACTIVE society will continue to receive the annual rebate for one year after being declared INACTIVE. After one year, if the society has not been reinstated in good standing, the annual rebate will be terminated.

4. Reinstatement of Active Status

In order to be reinstated as an affiliated society of the AIA in good standing, an INACTIVE society must meet the following requirements:

  1. Show an active membership of at least 35 for three consecutive months while aiming for a goal of 50.
  2. Present bylaws providing for the election of officers and other local regulations, if not done in the past.
  3. Submit a request to the Executive Director to petition the Governing Board for reinstatement to ACTIVE status.

If an INACTIVE society meets all the requirements for reinstatement, the Executive Director will petition the Governing Board to consider its case and upon approval, the society will be reinstated to ACTIVE status.

5. Successful Societies

The AIA defines active societies as ones that have 35 or more members but “successful societies” are not simply determined by money in the bank, by the number of programs sponsored, by the attendance at these programs, nor by the size of membership. Success is dependent upon individuals who are willing to take on leadership roles, who are willing to work together and share responsibilities, who are willing and able to cultivate interest in archaeology and the AIA, who have a love of archaeology, and most importantly, who embrace the mission of the AIA. Leaders for the local societies need to have ideas and need to lead; they do not need to create a new “vision” for the local society. Successful leaders empower others, delegate, see and assess the big picture, and are creative. Their leadership team needs diverse opinions, talents, abilities, and skill sets. In addition, successful societies are able to integrate professional members and members of the general public as well as sustain an interest in archaeology in order to build an engaged audience over time. Where it can do so, the Societies Committee will support societies with programs such as a mentoring program to encourage and aid the societies in being increasingly effective in furthering the AIA’s mission.

“Unsuccessful societies” often have a dysfunctional organizational structure: one or two people tend to do everything; the people in the leadership positions may not get along; money may be squandered and/or lost; there is no vision for the society; and there are few if any programs. In addition, leadership can become stale with little or no effort made to encourage others to be officers. Further, while there may be a sizable membership, attendance at events is minimal.

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