Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why
Welcoming Newcomers

Introduction
Ælflæd of Duckford

Most places have an office or event-to-event task which is referred to as "gold key," "hospitaller," or some other name. This is the person responsible for welcoming newcomers, directing visitors to people and places of interest, lending costumes and feast gear, and perhaps following up after a person's first contact.

I think I can safely say without offending any person or group that things in this office don't always run smoothly. For whatever combination of reasons, it sometimes happens that people don't want the job. When it falls to newcomers it sometimes becomes the blind leading the blind. When a person does do a wonderful job in the office, the immediate response from the group is usually to jerk him or her out to fill another office.

If you find yourself in the position of having this unpredictable assignment, what can you do? Be flexible. Don't define the job as "taking costumes to events" and decide you've been a great officer if you meet your own definition. Taking the costumes does no good if you have no way to distribute them. Putting a costume on a newcomer doesn't do much good all by itself. Maybe that definition's bad anyway, and maybe costuming people is not the main goal.

Different events have different needs. Even if you carefully calculate the needs of an event, it won't work. If you think there'll be 10 naked newcomers, there might be two. If you think there will be none whatsoever, there could be a dozen.

I recommend taking a philosophical position. You want to provide interested newcomers with what they need to get involved. Better than any speeches or costumes would be to give them newcomer information, on paper, with the corporate address and a membership form, a recent copy of the local newsletter with a subscription form, etc. A packet of clear, factual, useful information is so much more useful than a rambling speech about "the Dream." You can suggest that if they have questions they come back to you and you can direct them to a person knowledgeable in their area of interest. Don't say "just talk to anybody" unless you've envisioned the worst possible scenario, and unless you're willing for these people to go away and never come back because they talked with someone really offensive. Shepherd them through the first few hours of contact and they won't need much help after that. Let them be influenced by crazed sub-groups and they could be ruined forever.

The finest piece of printed information you can give people (as of this writing, anyway) is Forward Into the Past. These are available from the corporate office at these rates:

  • 1 copy $1.00
  • 25+ $0.75 (ea)
  • 40+ $0.60 (ea)

The booklet is clear, fun and beautiful. It's on heavy paper. [1] You can order these from SCA, Inc.

Stock Clerk,
P.O. Box 360743 all outdated now
Milpitas CA 95036-0743
Make checks payable to SCA, Inc.

In addition to this book, you might want to have a handout about groups in your area. If you give a phone number, it should be the number of someone who plans to stay in that house and at that phone for many years. It's irritating for people to finally get brave enough to call and for the phone to be disconnected. If you give more than one number that will help. I recommend that you consider listing homeowning peers rather than college students who joined last year. (I will admit that there are reliable individuals at all levels of the hierarchy, and there are unreliable peers with clear titles to their houses.) Try to have these people be the sort who would be willing to look up the number of the seneschal in another town, or to answer someone's questions for ten minutes or more.

Once you publish a flyer, it will get out to people besides those you handed it to, so in addition to a phone number, you might tell when fighter practices are, or dance practice, or some other regular activity newcomers could come to.. It's easier to come and meet some people and learn some names in an informal atmosphere than to blast into some big Twelfth Night feast without knowing a soul.

There are dangers in publicity which you may not have thought of. If you don't nip certain kinds of bad information in the bud, it can come back and hurt you. If a newspaper reporter or a friend in a large club makes a comment to you like "Oh, it's sort of like a Renaissance fair?" don't say "yeah sort of" or "Uh huh." What seems like harmless agreement can turn into publicity to non-SCA folk that the SCA is holding a Renaissance fair at such-and-such a place, and people might show up in costume expecting to pay some money and be entertained. When they're unhappy, they'll be unhappy with the Society, not with the people who told them this.

If someone is asking you to describe what we're doing, you need to clarify that it's not a spectator activity, and that everyone present must be in costume and be participating. Our events are open only to members, prospective members, and guests. That's much kinder than to mislead someone by saying in an agreeable but cowardly way that it's sort of like a Renaissance fair and anyone who wants to can come.

If you're not really aware of all the problems relating to too much publicity of an event, you should let the seneschal handle questions from outside groups. In many kingdoms it's a hard-and-fast rule that only seneschals deal with the press or outside agencies. Don't let this hurt your feelings. If you have good ideas about such dealings and you prove to be good at them, you'll probably become the seneschal.


Footnote:

[1] If you have printers in your area or someone who has access to good photocopying and nice paper, you might reproduce your own. The booklet specifically gives permission to do that. If you can't do as good a job for much less than 60 cents, though, it's better just to buy them from the SCA.
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Considerations · Etiquette · Royalty · Being an Officer · Seneschal · Heraldry and Heralding · Tournaments Arts and Sciences · Chronicler · Treasurer · Chirurgeons · Autocrat · Welcoming Newcomers · Peerage · Language Use · Last-But-Not-Least Ideas

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Copyright Sandra Dodd, 1991 Original site design by Marie de Blois
Revision, AElflaed