Monday, April 9, 2012

SociaBulls: Managing a Growing Group

Back when we started our dog-walking group in August, Miss M and Mr B were the only members.Since then, we've grown immensely and we've met so many amazing pooches and like-minded owners. While we've been documenting how to start and structure your own group and  how to create a group in a densely populated city,  now we'll talk about how to safely manage a growing group. Here are some things that we've been doing to maintain a safe structure while we grow::
Creating Teams:
While the walks may looks seamless, behind-the-scenes lot of work goes into the creation of each walk. Each week we need to plan where the walk is going to be held (we love changing our venues to explore different parts of the city) and doublecheck that there isn't already a big event being held there or an event elsewhere in the city that can impact traffic. Before scheduling a walk in these locations we walk the area and plan the walking route to create a continuous walk for a 1-1/2 hour span.We need to monitor the RSVPs and create a pack order prior to the walk. We answer new member inquiries (the other week alone we had 20 new inquires!) and schedule new members for the walks. On the walks we need a certain amount of dogless people: people to guide the walks, observe the dogs to see if they would be more successful in a different pack order, talk to any on-lookers who are curious about the group, and intercept any off-leash dogs. Plus managing our SociaBulls member website.
Since we all do this for fun in addition to our full-time jobs, this can become very time-consuming. So it's been so great having so many people step up to help out.We created teams which tackle a lot of the weekly behind-the-scenes work that is so essential to these walks. Lola and Izzy's people do an amazing job Event Coordinating, Zoe and Nabi & Willie's people are New Member Coordinators (tackling the oh so many new member requests), and Maize's mom works the puzzle of Pack Coordination knowing about each dog and working to create a successful experience for each pooch.We are also have so many great members who have stepped up interested in working on design, community outreach, and neighborhood exploration. It's great to see so much ownership of the group.

Managing Many New Member Requests:
It's been great having so many people interested in joining the group, and especially after this article in the Chicago Tribune, we had a huge surge in requests. It's important to us to keep our structure and limit the number of dogs per walk because we are usually walking in the middle of a busy city and we want this to be a positive experience for all the dogs at their different socialization levels. We ask each member to complete an application just so we can learn a bit more about everyone, and we include our structure directly on the application so everyone reads and initials that they understand the rules.The group is open to anyone who applies. We have a waiting list and people are contacted in the order applications are received. We ask all members to come to their first walk without their dog.

Adding New Members:

We know how exciting it can be for the dogs on their first walk, so we ask that new members attend their first walk without their dogs. This lets them understand more about the rules recognize how the group might work for their dogs. After they attend a walk without their dog, they are given access to our website and they can sign up for upcoming events. We only have 4 'first-time dogs' on each walk to help each dog be successful. It's helpful that most of the dogs are accustomed to being on the walks so this helps the new dogs and owners integrate more easily.
We also use a private website to allow members to sign up for events, message one another and manage the RSVPs. E built our website, but a Meet-up page would function similarly. Once new members have attended a walk dogless, they are granted access to the site to sign up for events. We keep our walking locations private and we never announce our walking locations online, or on our Facebook page prior to each week's walk.

Ownership of the Group:
It has been so great meeting so many like-minded people who are taking ownership and helping the group be successful. Our members recognize the amount of work it takes to coordinate each walk, grow, and be able to accommodate new members and it's great seeing so many people step up.
Since our dogless leaders are fundamental to the success of our group, and allowing us to add more walks, we've had many people step up to volunteer to lead the group (even if it means leaving their own dogs behind). We have event RSVP sign up Monday through Wednesday to allow us to organize pack order prior to the walk. We take members on a first-come first-serve sign-up basis, until reaching capacity, and we also consider the pack balance to make it successful for all dogs. We confirm walk entry on Thursdays.We ask that members give us advance notice of cancellations knowing this will impact pack order and since space can be limited we want to give everyone a fair chance to participate. Members understand last-minute cancellations mean a spot was taken that someone else could have used so members willingly come dogless on the next walk to help out. And we love how this has really grown into a community.
Since we are a new group, things have come up that we've never anticipated, so everything is still a work-in-progress. We know several people have started walking groups as well, and we would love to hear how things are working and the best ways you've found to accommodate growth.


Claudia said...

And huge thanks and credit go to A&E who do a ton of facilitating, coordinating, prioritizing and tech support.

And take fantastic photos. This post has especially good ones. What amazingly cute dogs!

Two French Bulldogs said...

We love to see the success of the group and variety of dogs. What a great idea.
Benny & Lily

Bobby said...

Hi It is great what you guys have started. People will socialise as well as the dogs.
Licks Bobby

Kate said...

Wow. That's so interesting to read the "behind the scenes" work that you guys do to make the walks so successful. It sounds like you have a really great plan and organization for maintaining the group. Awesome work!

MLaFayette said...

I would like to read the Chicago Tribune article, but it's been archived - any idea what the title of the article was? I looked under Sociabulls, Dog, Dog Walk, Pit bull - and I couldn't find anything. Thanks!!

Two Pitties in the City said...

Here is a link to the article:

Natalie said...

U guys and the sociabulls are great. I cant wait till I can attend my next walk. Sadly due to finals coming up and a change in my work schedule it might have to wait until the end of the semester. But I think what this group does for owners, dogs of all personalities and the pittie breed is amaIng. So many dogs likemy guinness have no other socilization options,but.desperately need the.exposure. U guys rock!

Twin Cities Pack Walk said...

Fantastic article! You guys are so awesome and our growing group has learned so much from you!

Anonymous said...

This is just such a fabulous thing y'all do. I'd like to link in your SociaBulls posts on my site. Would that be okay? :)

Waggin at ya,

Sara Grace said...

They're all so handsome! Jacksonville, FL needs a group! Thanks for providing the resources to help us start our own!

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