Building an online community of club members: Interview with Lisa Dernick

Membership June 07, 2007

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

Lisa Dernick is the Hospitality and Special Events Chairperson for The Gulf Coast JRT Network, an affiliate club of the Jack Russel Terrier Club of America that brings together Jack Russel terrier owners located in the southeast region of Texas.

In the following interview Lisa and I talked about how she set up a successful website, her effort to communicate effectively online and her hope to make the GCJRTN site a hub that brings the club together as a tight-knit community.

Can you begin by telling us a little bit about who you are, what is the Gulf Coast JRT Network and how did the club get started?

My name is Lisa Dernick and I am the current Hospitality & Special Events Chairperson for The Gulf Coast JRT Network.  I am in charge of recruiting, educating and working with potential new club members.  Our club, which is an affiliate club of the Jack Russell Terrier Club Of America; was founded in 1995, as a means to bring together Jack Russell Terrier owners located in the southeast region of Texas. 

Our club had a website, but it was never maintained or updated.  Our club competes with two other TX clubs, both of which are located in north TX, and are more accessible to the mid-west exhibitors.  With the rising cost of gas, the expense of attending a field trial, the driving time it takes to get to the Houston, TX area, I felt the need to step outside of my comfort zone, start a new website and try to draw in more participation for our club trials.  The only way I felt that I could do that was to create a new website and try to get our members/prospective members and friends more involved in club activities.  Everybody like to see their dogs picture on a website, they like to talk about their dogs achievements.  I needed to find a way to bring everyone together and to truly make them feel they were part of a “club”. I have been able to learn and build a site that suits our needs and has also really encouraged more club interest and participation.

What's working best so far amongst these tools, in terms of supporting your mission?

Our organization's website has been the best tool by far. The importance of being able to reach our members is very important. Email allows us to remind our members of upcoming events, and we can also alert them if a terrier is in need of being rescued. I am able to post links to various JRT friendly websites, create filmstrips and in general bring our club together as a tight-knit community. When we give them the link, or show them how to subscribe through email, then they get the info anyway because they treat it as just a website, which it is.

What role does the internet and a website play in the promotional activities of your club?

We would be lost without the ability to communicate via the internet!  The internet and having a website allows us the ability to get out an urgent message in a matter of minutes.  It allows us to inform members of up-coming events, this in turn, frees up a lot of time for our club, particularly me.  I could not “snail-mail” information as quickly as I can make good use of a solid web-hosting program.

What steps did you take to get your members comfortable with using your website?

Most of our members only have average computer skillls.  The website has afforded them the ability to feel comfortable sending to me their information/pictures, which I then post for them.  It took a little bit of time for our members to adjust, they were not used to actively participating, however, everyone is very happy now and we get hits on our site as far as Russia!

How do you encourage your members to use the web?

I encourage terrier owners to share their pictures, their stories and their brags on the website.  Many members travel all over the country, and overseas, to various other field trials.  It’s nice to be able to post their success stories and their dogs wins.

How did you go about bringing your club together as a tight-knit community and could you offer some advice on how to start and build a community?

Well….it takes time, patience and dedication to achieve your goals.  I feel that people are anxious to communicate with me now, send me their stories, inquire about the site, and are now more apt to participate in club playdays and field trials.  I have club members from out of state that want to advertise on our site just to get some exposure.  All of this reinforces to our own club members that we are now on the map.  I have club presidents from as far as NYC asking how I created our site.  Whether they follow through – is anyones guess.  I have had our founding club, the Jack Russell Terrier Club Of America, congratulate me on my efforts on behalf of our club.  It has been very rewarding.  Creating the website has just put a new enthusiasm in people, it has encouraged more people to pay attention to Russell Rescue, new folks with a Jack to attend a playday, it’s just been a win-win situation.

What kind of social events and activities do you organize for your members/club owners?

We enjoy several playdays throughout the year and practice racing our terriers as well as Go-To-Ground, lure coursing and agility.  Go-To-Ground is a series of tunnels buried beneath the earth that the terrier must travel through - it is to encourage the terrier to do what it was bred for – hunting groundhog, fox, rat, raccoons and badgers.  We also hold two annual JRTCA sanctioned, competitive field trials in the spring.  Our trials attract Judges and Exhibitors from all across the US, Canada and Europe, particularly the UK.  I am in charge of providing ribbons, gifts and prizes for our Exhibitors as well.


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