Will Pandemic Be Tipping Point for Local RR Clubs?

Author Malcom Gladwell has written about what he terms a “tipping point,” which he defines as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

In this context tipping point refers to how an idea reaches enough widespread acceptance to then be implemented.

But tipping point can also refer to a point of no return when an organization or an effort tips into a downward spiral ultimately resulting in failure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a host of examples, most notably businesses losing enough customers and revenue that they descend into a death spiral from which they cannot recover.

In some instances, a business had been in trouble long before the pandemic began, but in other cases the forced closings and reopening at reduced capacity resulted in too much lose revenue for an owner to overcome.

Although tipping points might be obvious after the fact they are not necessarily recognizable when they occur.

It remains to be seen whether the pandemic proves to be a tipping point for local railfan clubs.

In Northeast Ohio, the Akron Railroad Club and Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts have not held a meeting since early spring.

The Miami Valley Railfans group in the Dayton had been shut down since then, too, and finally held a meeting this month by going to Richmond, Indiana.

The two Northeast Ohio groups have held railfan outings that drew a few participants but those events are not the same as what draws most members to meeting, which is seeing a slide show.

The longer members have not attended a meeting, the more likely they are to begin to think they don’t need to belong to that group.

I’ve written extensively about how interest in organized railfan groups is waning and that younger fans show little to no interest in joining.

The pandemic might not in and of itself doom the railfan groups in Northeast Ohio, but it seems likely to deal a death blow to some groups that were already struggling to survive.

Both the ARRC and RRE have been beset with declining membership and participation in recent years.

This is not to say those who are left are going to abandon these organizations once they can begin meeting again.

If anything there might be pent up demand to attend a meeting, see a slide show and socialize with the guys.

At the same time, the membership of these groups tends to be older and at higher risk of severe complications, including death, from COVID-19.

Some are going to decline to attend meetings until they feel it is safe to do so. That might be a long time coming, a very long time.

You have to be careful when looking at membership numbers. In its early years, the ARRC had around 20 members and was still a thriving organization.

The key is to have enough members who are committed to attending meetings and participating in keeping the group going.

In theory that could be a group of less than 10 if they are committed to meeting on a regular basis and have a place to do so.

Another key is having competent leadership. It may not be enough to merely send out a notice that the group is meeting this Friday.

Good leadership needs to work to make the members feel comfortable about attending and attracting quality programming that members will want to take the time to come see.

Lack of leadership may doom some organizations if meeting notices are not sent in a timely and effective manner and the administrative chores associated with governing an organization are not adequately addressed.

Of course it might also be the pandemic will turn out to be the tipping point that accelerates the decline that was already underway.

If you have ever had an elderly parent, relative or friend who had a life-threatening condition, such as cancer, you know that person’s decline might play out over a period of months or even years.

Those individuals will have moments when it appears their body is rallying and fending off the condition that threatens their life. But each time they wind up a little weaker until reaching the point of no return.

I would expect that once the ARRC and RRE are able to resume meeting that there will be enough attendance at meetings to make it feel like old times.

These organizations may well continue to meet and do what they’ve always done for several more years.

There may be someday an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 although some medical experts are warning that coronavirus will always be around.

There may not be a way to cure lack of interest, which has much to do with why membership and participation in these clubs is declining.

These groups may still have a lot of life left, yet it also might be that someday you will be able to trace the tipping point of irreversible decline to the pandemic.

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