The SAWGG Story

(and what we are trying to create)

by Ted Coletti

“It’s all about being a part of something in the community, socializing with people who share interests and coming together to help improve the world we live in.” – Zach Braff

By April 2019 I had been involved with the aquarium hobby for over 35 years. This included various aquariums, fishrooms, and ponds for breeding fish, propgating plants, and aquascaping. Along the way I wrote two books and hundreds of magazine columns/articles, served on local, regional, and national society boards, created a few regional and online specialty organizations, and spoke at clubs across the USA and Canada. I got to work with many cool fish and plants, but the real payback were the friendships and fellowship I shared with fellow hobbyists around the world. But there was one thing left in my “water change bucket” list: a live local club for hobbyists right here in my beautiful but often forgotten northwest corner of the Garden State.

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 forward. I decided to finally create SAWGG, an aquarium club for us Skylanders. Four months later, after some local crowd sourcing and advertising, SAWGG began meeting. So here we are!

How SAWGG Operates

Aquarium clubs have been around since the late 1800’s and are in every State. The majority follow the Society Model, with elected Officers and Directors. Most are registered as 501(c)(3) charitable organizations with a mission statement on educating the public. Monthly meetings emphasize a Speaker Program with theatre-style seating, capped off by an auction of fish and plants. Indeed, the motivation for attending an aquarium society meeting is often the entertainment and marketplace value they add. Additional activities often include raffles, field trips, all-day auction fundraisers, and award programs for breeders and growers. Aquarium societies require logistics and many volunteers to function. Finances are a focus at the monthly Board meetings. The Society also has to navigate volunteer burnout, filling Board positions, member expectations, and internal politics (in-fighting and poor leadership choices plague societies). The payoff of the Society Model, however, is all it has to offer its members.

In contrast, the Group Model is often used in specialty clubs like the killifish and planted aquarium hobbies. More “social club” than “society”, members in these clubs 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, many meet in members’ homes. Less formal, Group style clubs essentially self-govern, often with just a perpetual Moderator and Treasurer. Surprisingly, this club format has a dedicated following: some members drive great distances, even crossing State lines, to attend meetings. They are often described by us veteran aquarists as the “low stress fish club.” The risk for clubs like this is they may get too too cliquey, too large, or too resistant to change.

I have been involved with and observed clubs in the USA and Canada for four decades. The clubs I admire and enjoy most promote fellowship over finances, socialization over speaker programs, and shun bureaucracy. These are easier to administer and a nice place to gather new friends, new ideas, and new stuff! SAWGG follows the Group Model, while adding the best practices from traditional aquarium societies. Our focus is on our Members and fellowship. Our 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. After some socializing, a Moderator leads a group chat, follwed by a program and then an auction. We add 21st century sensibilities like 30-minute programs, shorter meetings, and not getting together on traditional work/school nights. We are non-profit to a fault (501c7) and stay poor by design. SAWGG has a “Rule of 3 Fs” as a governing principle: everything we do must be Friendly, Fun, and Fairly Simple. Otherwise, we don’t do it.

We invite you to come along on our fish club journey, exchange some livestock, meet fellow hobbyists, and get your feet wet!

– Ted Coletti, Founder

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