…and what we are trying to create

“In building a society it should always be remembered that a congenial membership is more important than numerical strength.”  – William T. Innes (1935)

By April 2019 I had been involved with the aquarium hobby for over 35 years. Besides all the tanks, fishrooms, and ponds, I wrote books and magazine columns and articles, served on several society boards, founded specialty organizations, and spoke at clubs around the USA and Canada. I got to work with many cool fish and plants, but the real payback were all friends I made around the world.

There was still one thing left in my “water change bucket” list, however: a local club for hobbyists right here in the Skylands. That month I learned of the passing of two hobby friends within days of each other, both from sudden rare diseases. Those tragedies pushed me to finally create SAWGG. Four months later in September 2019, SAWGG began meeting. So here we are!

Aquarium Clubs 101

Aquarium clubs have been around since the late 1800’s and are in every State. The majority follow a traditional Society Model, with elected Officers and Board Meetings. Most are registered as 501(c) 3 or 4 charitable organizations with a mission to educate or serve the public. Monthly meetings are open to the public with theatre-style seating and a guest speaker, capped off by an auction of attendee fish and plants. Door prizes, 50-50 and product raffles, and bowl shows are common at meetings. Field trips, all-day auction fundraisers, and award programs for breeders and growers take place throughout the season as well.

Traditional aquarium societies require logistics and many volunteers to function. They have to navigate volunteer burnout, filling Board positions, high member expectations and entertainment, and internal politics (in-fighting and poor leadership choices plague societies at some point). Finances are always a concern. Monthly board meetings are long and sometimes contentious. The payoff of the Society Model, however, is all the services, education, and large social network it offers to the public.

In contrast, the Group Model is followed by most smaller hobby clubs. Killifish and planted aquaria specialties come to mind. More “club” than “society”, members in these groups have lower expectations. Meetings offer little more than fellowship, roundtable discussions with occasional local speakers, and exchanging fish, plants, and live food cultures. Usually smaller in size, these clubs often meet in members’ homes or church space where they get to know each other. Less formal, they essentially self-govern, often with just a perpetual Moderator and Treasurer.

Surprisingly, the Group model has a dedicated following. Some members drive great distances, even crossing State lines, to attend meetings. We veteran aquarists often refer to them as the “low stress fish club.” The risk for clubs like this is they may get too too cliquey and shrink, too large, or too resistant to change.

How SAWGG Operates

I have been involved with and observed clubs in the USA and Canada for four decades. The clubs I admire and enjoy most have 3 things in common: they promote fellowship over finances, socialization over speakers, and shun bureaucracy. SAWGG follows this approach within the Group Model, while adding fun features from traditional aquarium societies. All with 21st century sensibilities.

SAWGG is incorporated as a New Jersey non-profit social club following Federal 501(c)7 guidelines. This means we must provide an opportunity for personal contact among Members, limit attendance to Members and their guests, and fund ourselves primarily through membership dues, donations, and assessments. We cannot host public events, but are here to serve our Members and their guests.

SAWGG’s guiding principle is to keep the Group fun, friendly, and simple (or we don’t do it). Our monthly live meetings are “in the round” with tables and chairs. Stations for auction items, refreshments, a library, door prizes, and free stuff are around the room to encourage mingling. After some meet and greet, a Moderator leads a group chat, maybe a show and tell, followed by a short program and then an auction of member livestock, plants, and dry goods. Later in the month we meet on Zoom to catch up. We never meet on traditional work/school nights. We only assess $1-$3 per auction item and our dues are $12 a year. Staying poor and simple by design keep us rich in fun and fellowship. As the Godfather of the Aquarium Hobby, Dr. William T. Innes. said over 80 years ago, “In building a society it should always be remembered that a congenial membership is more important than numerical strength.” 

If the keeping, cultivation, or conservation of aquatic life interests you, and you want to meet local hobbyists in a safe, social environment to learn new things, share ideas, and acquire new species, contact us here.

– Ted Coletti, Founder

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