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  World Statistics: What do they mean?  
  By Val Brain
Issue 4/2006


IGC Membership Chairman John Roake's report on gliding organizations around the world - which show a continuing decline in most countries - has already inspired an email from reader Arne Wangsholm in Norway.  He writes:

I  read John Roakes latest report with great interest as always.  There are a few things that I am wondering about.  Have you or somebody else looked into the figures related to how many members compare to junior members in the different nations?  How many join and how many leave each year? How many years have they been members? Is there any difference in these figures as they relate to motor gliders, winch launches, or aerotows?  Is there a discussion group on membership that I can join?

That's a good question.  A discussion group to share thoughts and experience of what works in membership promotion (and for the stout of heart, what doesn't) would be very helpful. But it's what the sociologists call "anecdotal evidence," always interesting, but not to be compared with survey statistics, which are hard to compile and take countless hours of planning and interpretation. As I wrote to John:

Thanks for doing a great job compiling all the worlds gliding statistics -- it must be like herding cats! You don't need any additional work, but it would be interesting to compare these figures with national populations to see how important gliding is in these countries. As they say "nothing succeeds like success," and if an activity is popular, it attracts media attention and new members, and if not, not. The cultivation of gliding in Germany by the government between the wars gave it a boost it has more or less sustained, a kind of critical mass that keeps the reaction going. It would also be interesting to compare these gliding figures with those for similar activities -  and some not so similar. How are parachuting and hang gliding doing? How about model airplanes, which introduced me to gliding? If modern youth is totally maxed out on video games, these activities should be suffering similar declines. The U.K. seems to be holding up, and I wonder why. What are they doing the decliners aren't? I'll see what I can find out and whether any readers are interested enough to do any research.

Each of the national gliding organizations surely has a membership chairman who keeps tab on what they are doing to promote membership, and what the individual clubs are doing - where the action is in membership recruitment.  In the U.S., commercial schools are also an important recruitment agency, and they have even more incentive to promote their operations than do most clubs. The financial structure of clubs can make a significant difference in membership recruitment and retention. How much do membership fees and launch charges influence recruitment? Do young or student members get a price break? And is the youth component as important as we seem to think? I'm more intrigued by the boomer generation, those with more expendable income and free time entering retirement.

The Gliding Survey I conducted a year ago in my own club was too small to be very significant, but it did illustrate how many other aviation interests fed into gliding: power flying, model airplanes, hang gliding, ATC and CAP membership. Those are the groups I'd target - and the FAI encompasses nearly all of them.  Maybe we can try some cross-pollination! What do you think? Val Brain brain@towson.