Success of our first year overshadowed by poor time management
The first full year of association activities was a huge learning curve. We ended the year with a warm and reassuring feeling that we were doing something right. But it stopped us from doing a lot of other things.
All our members seemed to be happy with the experience. A few tears were shed at the final summer party when we were given a thank-you gift of a fully paid we break for two.
Now the school summer holidays had arrived, and our adult evening classes had stopped, we thought we’d finally have some time to ourselves. The association had taken up up much more of our time than we expected. Everything from updating this blog to the occasional walk on the beach took a back seat.
So much to do
Then we realised how much behind the scenes association work we’d pushed aside to keep our heads above water for for the classes.
We usually call LVA “the club” but in fact it’s a French “association loi de 1901”. This gives us both the benefits and the burdens of running a small business. As long as we don’t make a profit we can collect fees and do the fund-raising that keeps the club going, so we shouldn’t end up out of pocket. In return we have to submit accounts and other records to the local town hall.
Accounts shouldn’t have been a problem because we have a natural flair for keeping receipts. If you share it you’ll be thrilled to know that French shops and supermarkets will also provide proper, grown-up VAT “factures” (invoices) at the drop of a polite “s’il vous plait“.
For our first year we took what you could call the shoe-box approach to book-keeping. We diligently collected records of anything we bought for classes or events, from whiteboard pens to eggs (you can’t make a cake without breaking one). We dropped them into a beige cardboard folder, and once they’d been filed, they were magically stripped of any sense of urgency.
Because we had so much else to do…
As a result Jacqueline spent weeks of the summer break hunched over her desk and laptop to try and make sense of the mess.
The long August heatwave was almost a blessing in disguise. What else were we going to do while it was so hot outside? Waste our time at the beach?
So little time
Everything needed to be finished before “la rentrée”, the French back-to-school season that marks the end of summer. It wasn’t an official deadline, but if we didn’t sort things out by then we never would. The hectic whirlwind of a whole new year of activities was going to pull us back under its spell.
In the same shrinking block of time we also had to decide what we were going to do in our second year.
Our beginners and conversation groups told us they wanted to carry on exactly as they were. At least that only left the actual class preparation to worry about.
The future of our other, mid-level class wasn’t so clear. We knew we’d lost a couple of people. Despite calls and emails in the summer to everyone else, September arrived and we still had no clear idea how many of the others were still interested.
How could we plan ahead? Should we prepare another year for the mid-level group? Should we start a new beginners’ class? Or just give up and take back Wednesday nights?
The 2015 “matinée des associations” annual club membership recruitment fair was fast approaching. In 2014 we’d signed up over 30 people of all levels of ability on the day.
We decided to let the numbers new members determine what the class would be.
This put more pressure on us to prepare properly for the “mat des assocs”.
Our first year had been a triumph of luck over poor preparation. We’d bluffed our way with a bare minimum of information about the classes, no fixed tariff and no timetable.
Our one, great advantage in marketing terms had been huge local brand awareness. At the time of the 2014 recruitment fair we were running our very popular salon the thé on the village Promenade. The buzz and footfall at our table was terrific.
This year we were determined to be better prepared. We had two-thirds of our timetable set and were clear on the fine points of membership fees and charges for the classes. We prepared a simple, informative flyer with classes and contact details on one side and the poster for our second annual “vide grenier” or car boot sale on the other.
The original event in 2014 had been another successful début, and we hoped to give the village another busy and fun day out. It was due to take place four weeks later, so alongside everything else we also had four weeks to promote the event and pre-sell pitches to sellers.
Literally two days before the “mat des assocs”, therefore, we made a marathon effort to put this double-whammy flyer in all 1,000 mail-slots in the village. No-one could fail to know about either our classes or our impending fund-raising event.
Of course, this year the tea-shop had only been open in May and June. We still had a strong basic awareness of the club but actual interest was disappointingly low. All the old, familiar associations also had to deal with a parade of barnstorming performances from a collection of new song and dance clubs.
We had the clear, cold, realisation that last year’s headline had become this year’s chip wrapper.
You might not be surprised to learn we didn’t collect enough names to take the decision about the Wednesday night class out of our hands. After four hours, admittedly in the fresh air on a bright and glorious late summer morning, we had three names for classes and five people interested in the car boot sale.
Over the next week or so calls and emails trickled back from the club members we hadn’t seen all summer. A handful of returning members and a couple of new faces met the minimum we had set to run our mid-level class for a second year.
Now there were only days instead of the weeks to prepare the new class, and the demands of the car boot sale picked up momentum. As we always used to say on job applications, we like to rise to a challenge and we also enjoy the opportunity to learn a new skill. We were going to have to pick up the fine art of keeping a complete dinner set spinning in the air at least until mid-October.