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How to Start a Successful BDSM Club

1999 by Lady MJ. All rights reserved.
From the now defunct LeatherQuest site
Reposted with the author's permission.

Please don't repost this ANYwhere or make it publicly accessible by such means as (but not limited to) FTP, mail server, Web or archive site without author's explicit permission.

Through my short tenure of being what I call "out" in the leather scene I have been apart of leather groups that were wildly popular, some that went defunct and others that were just getting off the ground. Each of them had the best intentions but the ones that succeeded had a few things in common. A need, a purpose and clearly stated goals can help a club get off the ground and keep on track.

Perhaps it's my background in marketing that has me constantly assessing the needs and wants of people in the scene. Using your everyday work skills will help you evaluate the need for your club. First and foremost you need to know if there is a club, organization, group or munch that already exists. Usually these members will not be quiet about how their own organization could be better or what areas of BDSM is not being met. Many of the concerns will be on structure of the club and inclusion. You will find some of the groups already started are for couples only, are not open to single men, gay men, gay women, hetero people etc. Or maybe that's what's missing in your community. Getting out and interviewing people or asking their opinion will give you a good gauge of what your BDSM community is willing to support or not support.

Remember it's easy to get caught up in everyone else's needs and wants and suddenly the idea for the group or club is lost in making everyone happy. It's great when a group or club can make everyone happy, but sometimes by bending backwards you forget the people standing in front of you.

There are many types of BDSM groups and assessing the needs of the community will also help you decide what type of group your community is missing. A club can be what you want it to be. Generally it is has a formal structure or hierarchy such as a president, chairperson etc. Members are either voted on by the charter group that started the group, a membership committee, or just by attendance. There are often dues to the club, which requires a bank account, and treasurer to let everyone know how much is in the clubs coffers. There is usually some kind of membership list that makes many people nervous in the scene, but necessary if you are keeping track of dues and meetings attended. There are voting rights, votes on new and old business etc. the best way to run a club of this nature is using Robert's Rules of Order, yes just like the Senate runs its meetings.

Munches or Sloshes as one is affectionately called here in Chicago work off of a different dynamic. These highly social groupings bring people together to dine or drink together. The emphasis is on the fellowship not the structure. Many times people find cozy settings for the munches and if possible include demos or discussions. Some people will open up their homes to a potluck kind of event once a month, others meet at a local restaurant or diner. Remember if you are holding your munch at a public eating establishment be wise to either get a private dining area, or set limits to the subjects and dress. Recently groups have been banned from various restaurants, bars and gathering places because of inappropriate behavior.

Discussion Groups are another way to gather BDSM people monthly. Discussion groups differ from clubs in that there are no members, no dues, and no lists of names. Discussion groups don't exist formally so it is more difficult for agents of the government to cause anyone any problems. Discussion groups work by holding topics or demos with various community members volunteering to facilitate discussion or lead a demo. The key to a discussion group is making sure that everyone gets a chance to talk or voice their opinion. Often times the facilitator is really a traffic cop making sure that no one person dominates the discussion. This is a wonderful way to organize a group as long as the supportive environment can be maintained. The minute someone dominates the discussion, belittles someone's opinion, or keeps someone from talking the group will fall apart. Discussion groups work well because they generally have limited rules of engagement, are social and can run without leaders after everyone understands the rules. Discussion groups can also find that they never know how many people will attend from one month to another due to topic choices. Discussion groups can also grow tired and boring if new people are not cycled through to lead discussions, demos or just talk. After a while people feel they know what everyone is going to say and they stop coming.

Understanding what the purpose of your group is will help you find the framework that suits it. If your purpose is to have an elite organization of BDSM players with five years or more experience in the scene, then a club with strict rules and definitions may work better than a munch. If socializing and meeting new play partners is your primary purpose then a munch might be better suited. Should your vanilla community be uptight about perverts in their midst, but you still see the need to educate and socialize, a discussion group might be the solution.

Make sure your purpose is stated and is also allowed to evolve. Many times clubs start and slowly the community at large changes and the club is out of step with the memberships needs. Constantly reevaluate so that the club grows with the membership. Be sure to get many sources for input. Often minority groups get the leaders ears, put together the vote and make decisions for a club that closes it to the community it was most trying to help. People will always have opinions of how the club can improve or change. The key is to poll as many of the group to see if that's the direction best suited for the organization and not just one persons vision.

The purpose for a BDSM organization should never be about ego. I have witnessed many groups started with the sole purpose of feeding the leader's ego. Leather people, like those in the vanilla world, can be ego-driven, starting a group, becoming president gives them something to place their leather hat on. Always be wary if the group starting does not have a purpose in mind other than to be a showcase for the leader's friends and groupies. Many people that start clubs like this never understand why their groups never gain momentum and are summarily dismissed in the leather community. Starting a club because you were not selected president, grand pooba or supreme leader of one club also is not a good enough reason to start a breakaway club. Much can be written about organizations started solely due to this reason.

Each community has a need for various kinds of organizations. Purposes for starting these groups include educating, socializing, and supporting people in the scene. Subgroups to the Leather World at large often provide purpose, such as leather for people of color, leather organizations that are gender restrictive or even sexual orientation restrictive. Pansexual organizations that bring together people of all sexual orientations, colors and genders are often needed in todays leather communities.

With a need and a purpose comes the goal of the group. It doesn't have to be lofty in nature, it can be as simple as offering people a time to come together once a month to socialize. Goals include educating or not educating, support or just play. Part of defining the goals is understanding the targeted membership. Besides goals for the club to work towards you must also understand the realism of the venture. It will take months for your group to catch on, especially if there is plenty of things competing with people's time, this could mean other BDSM groups, summer vacations, kids, and other life distractions. Be realistic in your expectations for attendance. New BDSM ventures take a bit to get off the ground, to get known and to be trusted.

If you want to be successful promote your club as best you can, make up flyers, post to the web on various newsgroups and discussion boards. Have a point person to field questions through email. If you have the resources get a voicemail for the club. Be sure to give the pertinent info on the voicemail so people can call it and get all the info they need without having to leave a message. Kinksters read many alternative newspapers. These papers offer free meeting info ads, and will take news releases on the forming of your club. Take the time to come up with a short paragraph about the purpose of your club, the goals, and the times and place it meets. Be sure to see that the newspapers stay updated on your club times and dates.

Trying to locate a place to hold you meetings requires some creativity. Pick nights that are not popular, and restaurants that could use the business. If you are not having demos your choices improve. If you are trying to host demonstrations you will need to have privacy. Be aware of liquor laws. If you choose a place that does serve liquor make sure you don't endanger the liquor licenses of the establishment by having naked people with clothespins parading around.

Many times the local BDSM businesses may help you with your organization. Some are large enough to let you hold your meetings in parts of their bars, clubs, or stores. Get them to help pick up the tab if you need to rent a room by allowing them to hang a banner, provide door prizes or leave flyers with their names on the tables. If your community is small but trustworthy, find someone that will have the meetings at their home.

Organizing is one thing, holding the meetings another. Do have an agenda for the meeting, set the tone by keeping to the time constraints and the rules of order as established. Nothing irritates people more and sets a bad example than starting things late, being disorganized or running over time. Try to keep within a one hour window for the topic or demo and leave time to socialize after. Anything more than one hour and fifteen minutes is too long by any standard, whether it's a college class, a corporate meeting or a BDSM discussion.

Besides making sure the initial meetings are well organized and stay to their time schedule recognize that people coming out into the leather world may be shy, confused and scared. Try to find people that are social and welcoming to man the door. Set up buddies for new folk so that their fears might be eased by more "out" leather people. The key to a successful group is how welcoming it is to new members, how it avoids cliques and keeps on track with its stated goals and purpose.

If you are considering taking on an endeavor like starting a new BDSM club you can find help on the web or by attending various leather leadership conferences, like the one held yearly like the Leather Leadership Conference. It is a lot of work, it is thankless, and you will always find out how you could have done it better. The reward comes from the people you help educate, support or help find that play partner of their dreams. To them your work was beyond measure.

As always the author takes no responsibility for actions mentioned or scenes attempted from this review.