Hot! One Bad Apple: How to Avoid Having a New Member Spoil Your Unit

[Today’s post is a guest post by Sean Lothar]

Recruiting is difficult.  Some units struggle for years with a just a few members and often fizzle out because the work becomes too much for so few.   So when an enthusiastic prospect comes around, it is hard to turn them away.  But it is also important to make sure that the prospect is right for your group.  Otherwise, you may find that they become a liability.  They may make the work harder.  Or they may drive away other members.  Or they may bring drama.  Having the wrong members is worse than not having enough members.  My own group had a difficult experience with a new member last year.   I would like to share my experience in order to help others avoid some unnecessary drama.  Here’s some advice to help you vet new members for your unit.

Offer a provisional membership.

Let them know that they only become a full member after attending a certain number of events and meetings or being approved by the rest of the group.  This gives the other members time to get to know them and see how they interact with the public.  After just two events the rest of my unit had decided that they hated the new guy.  If full membership comes with voting rights or some influence in a group’s decisions, it is easier to let someone go when they have not yet achieved that status.

Create a group philosophy.

By clearly stating what the purpose and tone of your group is, you give prospective members a heads up about whether this is the right group for them.   Our new member argued repeatedly with me about our purpose and what we were supposed to be accomplishing with the unit.  I should have explained up front that our group expects everyone to respect each other and maintain a positive attitude, and gave him a clear idea of what my vision of the group was.  Then he would have had no grounds on which to argue because he would have had to accept that before joining.

Create group standards.

Of course group equipments standards are important.  But group behavior standards are even more important.  Clearly state up front how members of your group are expected to behave while representing your group.  If they can’t meet these standards, they cannot be in the group.  Our new member made no attempt to refrain from expressing his racist and homophobic opinions while in camp.  Certainly not the impression I want to give the public about our otherwise respectful and welcoming unit.

Have loaner gear available for their use.

This will ensure they don’t invest much money in the impression until both the group and the new member know they are right for each other.  Last year my new member dropped a couple hundred dollars on new gear for the impression.  This showed he was committed to be in the group.  But when he started showing signs of trouble, I was reluctant to show him the door because he had spent so much money.  By having loaner gear available, you discourage them from spending too much on the impression.  That way neither party will feel bad about the new member wasting their money if you decide to part ways.

Also watch out for these sure signs of trouble:

Attitude.  Do they have a poor attitude?  Do they make a lot of negative comments?

Oppositional.  Do they argue a lot?

Forceful.  Do they try to push ideas on the group that nobody wants?

Lazy.  Do they avoid work?  Do they make excuses?  Do they try to get others to do things for them without offering something in return?

Know it all.  Do they think they are the expert on everything?  Do they say things are right or wrong without providing documentation?

Drama.  Do they talk about others behind their backs?  Do they start or spread rumors?  Do they get involved in power struggles?

If you answer yes to any of those questions, you may want to reconsider this person as a member.  If you answer yes to all of them, don’t let this person in your group!

Any other suggestions or advice on weeding out potential problem reenactors from your unit?  Let’s hear them.


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  1. Great article. I think the best way to have new members come into the group is through a year-long probationary period, where they have to attend at least three events, then get voted in (or not) after one year of making their desire to join the group known. That way, you have a good amount of time for everyone in the group to get to know them and see how they are, how they reenact, their personalities, how they deal with other people, etc.

    I am a member of one group who’s new member policy used to be that a new person only had to attend two events, then get voted in on their third. If your group has a busy event schedule, but you can’t make a couple events in a row, you may find yourself coming to an event and discovering new members who have been voted in, but you know nothing about them! This happened in our group once; We had one family approach for membership (the kids were nice, but the parents were raging jerks!!) and were voted in with the majority of the membership not really having a lot of experience with them yet, while some of the membership didn’t know them at all! The parents brought in so much drama, it turned out to be a major disaster and the group almost collapsed because of it; after one year, the commander had to just simply tell them to leave or no one else was going to come out anymore. Our group now has a one-year probation/three event attendance policy in order to be considered for membership.

    Another red flag: If the person just seems creepy. If he likes to wear a “Viagra” hat or t-shirt, forget it!

    More on the group’s philosophy: What you put on your group’s website is very important. In the mind of someone browsing you for the first time, it forms a mental image of what your group is like. For example, if you show a lot of pictures of your group drilling and marching, you’re going to attract those who take that aspect very seriously. If you show a lot of pictures of your group having parties (even though you may be very serious about your drilling/marching), you’re going to attract people whose primary desire is to party. When someone is first looking at joining your group, be sure to lay out exactly what is expected. During an event, will you be on a schedule most of the day? Or are members pretty much free to do whatever they want?

    It’s important to keep in mind, this is a 2-way process. They are screening your group as much as you are screening them. If you yourself are looking at joining a group, and in your first initial meetings, get-togethers or events, if you see/experience any of the following, it’s a red flag and you should probably consider looking elsewhere:

    1) Group photos that are a couple years old, yet barely anyone in the room is in the photos. This is a sign of a high rate of joining/quitting for whatever reason.
    2) If the group’s leader (and others) are talking badly about any group members who aren’t present. This is a sign of backstabbing.
    3) If they spend a lot of time bashing other groups or people within the hobby. This is a sign that they like to create drama.
    4) If they get angry or irritated if you decide that you want to check out other groups first, instead of joining their group right away. This is a sign that they are overly self-important and narcissistic.
    5) If you see the group’s leader laying guilt trips on members who didn’t attend the last event. This is a sign of a control freak.

    One last thing: Loaner gear. With new recruits going through your probationary period, make sure you get all the loaner gear back at the end of an event. Keep a written list, so there’s no mistake. If you let this slip and let them keep it too long, they may just try to suck it into their own world and never show up again…..especially if you get some notion that they may not actually be the good, upstanding person they make themselves out to be. If your gut tells you that you’d better get your stuff back before they leave, then make sure you do whatever it takes to accomplish this. If not, they will have a death-grip on your stuff and it becomes very hard to get it back. Even if you were nice and loaned your spare regimental, weskit and breeches to “Mr.-New-Guy-who-you’re-not-sure-you-really-want-in-the-group,” when the event is done and he’s standing by his van, smirking and saying he can’t give you your stuff back because he’s packed it away already (yes, this has happened to me), force him to dig it out anyway. He may get miffed. He may make the excuse that he wants to wash the stuff for you. He may claim that he has to leave. Don’t accept any of those excuses. It won’t take that long for him to dig out, and it’s very easy for you to throw your cotton-canvas breeches and weskit into the washing machine yourself……not to mention having the peace of mind that your stuff isn’t being held hostage.

    That’s pretty much my experience.

    • Very good suggestions. And an excellent point about it being a two-way street. A group can definitely make a bad impression on potential recruits.

    • Great points, Joe! Would you be at all interested in writing a piece for this blog about how to attract recruits or how to find a unit that fits you well?

  2. My Roman group has an extensive inventory of loaner kit – enough to outfit between 10 and twenty soldiers in armour (depending on things like shoe size) and really pushed the ‘try before you buy’ approach to make sure a new guy (or girl) was a good fit with the unit (and vice-versa). This eliminated a LOT of trouble before we had a lot of time invested – it also helped that we have a clear group vision, and group goals that are written out and included in our prospective member packet.

    Another thing that helps is that since so much of our armour and other kit is made in-house, we have a lot of shop time to get to know the new folks. Starting with a basic tunic (hand-sewn) and the caligae (army boots/sandals) we got a good idea of whether the NG has ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ as part of their personality – if you can’t manage to make a tunic and a pair of shoes *with help*, then you may not be a good fit – and we definitely weeded out a few folks with those projects.

    Project and shop nights were always a social affair (and often included a pasta dinner, since it’s easy to feed a bunch of people cheaply) and increase bonding with both new and old members and provide another good source of passing on the group ideals to the new folks.

  3. Our group has actually taken some of these suggestions in the (extreme) opposite direction and gotten good results too.

    1) No membership requirements – After looking at other groups it appears that there is a whole sub-section of members that stick around (despite being disgruntled and negative) only because they spent a lot of time and energy becoming a member. With no membership requirements it means that people who aren’t a decent fit can leave without the stigma of “failing to get in” or “I got kicked out” and not feeling like they wasted their time & energy trying.

    2) No minimum attendance – Similar to #1 we don’t require a specific number of meetings/events. This means those that REALLY want to (can) be involved are and those that aren’t a good fit because of their laxidasical attitude are never seen again. It’s amazing how quickly the undedicated disappear if you don’t require they show up in the first place.

    3) No rules – Well, we do have have rules but only five. This extremely limited rule base means we have no “rules lawyer” type members. When they find out they don’t have the tools (rules) to annoy people with they don’t show up again.

    4) No loaner gear – We are a skills based group and we’re very willing to teach and assist members to get them started. In fact, this is almost a litmus test for us since those who will be a good fit in our group will have no problem making their gear.

  4. As for loaner gear, remember, books and other forms of documentation count as “loaner gear.” Don’t forget to get those things back too. I’m missing several patterns and books because someone who joined and quit within a couple events, never thought to give them back or even send them to me.