How to Maintain a River Organiztion



A. Community-Wide Appeal

To maintain and increase membership, the watershed association needs a broad base of support. By demonstrating that it is open to and serves the entire town by preserving the river and surrounding land and by providing educational, scientific, and passive recreational opportunities, the river organization can project a favorable image. Ways to inform people of the river group's work and to increase membership and funds include:

  1. Printing and distributing an information brochure describing the organization and its activities;
  2. Running extensive membership campaigns periodically;
  3. Sponsoring cooperative programs and activities with other local organizations;
  4. Including on the board of directors representatives of different groups who can serve as ambassadors for the river organization;
  5. Hosting a wide range of public events and activities (including outings, cleanups, etc.); and
  6. Maintaining good press and media coverage.


1. Membership categories and dues. -In setting the dues rates, the river group should attempt to balance the need for money and for members. By having numerous categories of membership, the organization can encourage persons of all ages and all income levels, as well as business and other organizations, to join. Categories, and the qualifications and rights or each, should be specified in the association's bylaws. Several possible categories are mentioned below.

Many river organization have found a charter membership useful. This category, with dues set anywhere from $25 to $200, is a good way to obtain needed initial dollars and commitment.

The association should include an institutional or organizational membership for other nonprofit groups. Garden clubs and some service organizations have provided river groups with financial and volunteer support. A few national organizations such as Rotary have conservation as one of their stated purposes. The river group should encourage local chapters of these groups to support its activities.

Some associations set dues for basic individual membership at five dollars. This low fare is one method of demonstrating that the organization is not elitist, and helps the group meet the IRS requirement of public support. In more affluent communities, however, the basic individual fee is usually somewhat higher.

Other obvious membership categories to consider are student, with dues set slightly below the fee for individual membership, and family, with dues slightly higher than the individual fee. Many associations offer life memberships for individuals wishing to make one large contribution to the organization. The money thus raised is frequently invested, with the river group using the resulting income. A problem with this category is that theoretically the organization should not approach life members for further contributions. Another category is honorary membership, for persons the group wishes to honor publicly.

In recent years, river associations have begun to approach local businesses and corporations for support. Businesses are becoming increasingly aware that they have a role to play in the well-being of their communities. Businesses have been more active in supporting local education, health, or welfare, but a concerted effort by the association, effectively demonstrating its purpose and its long-term benefit to the community, might encourage business participation in conservation as well. Some associations might wish to establish different membership categories for local businesses and larger corporations headquartered in the area.

2. Board of directors The board of directors is crucial to the river association's success, since the board makes the association decisions and directs its activities. Specific duties and authority of the board are established in the bylaws. The composition of the board is important; it should contain representatives from a wide cross-section of the community, and its members and officers should rotate on a regular basis to allow for new blood. Including a cross section of interests such as community leaders, experts, and public officials on the board will help the organization qualify for federal tax purposes as a public charity. Directors should be able to assist in carrying out the goals of the association.

3. Committees. Though smaller, less active river groups may assign necessary tasks to specific individuals, many groups establish committees to manage specific activities. Committees might be set up to handle:


1. Meetings. The river association must hold an annual meeting to elect its board and to inform the membership of association activities during the past year. In addition, it should host more frequent regular meetings to encourage member and public participation. Many associations find attendance at meetings improves if there is a special feature, such as a speaker, conservation film, slide presentation of the river areas involved, or a walk along the river.

2. Association activities. The association may sponsor a variety of activities for its members and the general public. The association can use its members, well known local figures, or scientists to conduct the events, which should be scheduled so as not to conflict with other local events or popular pastimes.

The association might organize a walk that will show off a particular aspect of the river. The walk could focus on the variety of trees, plant life, or signs of animals; the geological aspects; human effects such as erosion or pollution; or historical aspects of the rivers and its landscapes. seasonal walks are popular.

Many river groups establish a series of canoe trips or hikes for specific groups, such as schoolchildren, scouting groups, garden clubs, or handicapped or elderly persons.

The association may wish to provide the opportunity for scientific study on a variety of levels. A biologist obtaining an advanced degree, a school or college group, and a local scientist wishing to study the river are all likely candidates for conducting research.

Many river groups sponsor community events that do not focus directly on their rivers or purposes, but that do increase awareness of conservation issues. A river group can offer lectures, film or slide presentations, a photo contest, a school science competition, or an energy fair.

3. Membership benefits. While the main purpose of the river association is to preserve the river, members like to feel they benefit by belonging to the association. Besides an annual report and annual meeting, the association might send members a periodic newsletter and inform them of the wide variety of activities offered to the general public.

Taken from The Connecticut Land Trust Handbook, 1982; by Suzanne Wilkins & Roger Koontz

American Rivers
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