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The Saints Come Marching In And Bring in the Chicago Literary Club

The Auditorium Theatre wanted a new accessible door because the current one required those who needed accessibility to follow a fairly difficult route. The Saints provided a grant to the theatre.

The Saints began in 1980, as what they believe is the first and only citywide volunteer support group for performing arts organizations in the country. The Saints provide volunteer ushers and direct financial grants to not-for-profit organizations to support the performing arts, like the Auditorium Theatre’s accessible door, said Frank Lackner, current Publisher and past President.

Members—more than 2,300—volunteer to usher among hundreds of performances across the Chicago area each year. They are able to see a huge variety of shows free of charge in return for their services, and their membership dues enable the organization not just to communicate the opportunities, but also to fund grants to support the performing arts community, Frank said.

The grants provide funds for expenses the organization otherwise couldn’t afford, such as Equity actors for non-Equity organizations, lighting, a dance floor, or drapes.

“It’s the kind of thing that not a lot of people think about, but that they need to be successful,” Frank said. “And, like the Auditorium Theatre door, not the kind of thing they would go to a large funding source for.”

Volunteer coordinators work to connect the performing arts organizations that need ushering support and the members who want to volunteer. The Saints put out a monthly newsletter to let members know what’s available. Another publication goes out twice a week to help fill any last-minute ushering spots that are needed.

Until The Saints started working with ClubExpress in 2004, the logistics were old-school: telephone and paper & pencil, Frank said.

“People are a little hazy now as how we got started with ClubExpress,” he said. “We’ve sort of grown with you and you helped us grow.”

And with ClubExpress support, online membership renewals have gotten easier, he said. “It has helped with retention.”

He said the organization is particularly excited about a new function ClubExpress is creating: the Ushering Module. The new module will let members know about available shows and make it easier to sign up for them entirely online. Instead of the newsletter that currently has 40-70 pages of listings with internal links, members will search for shows by name, venue, date, area, time and type, then just click a box to request an assignment to a specific performance.
Frank, who is also Webmaster (and past President and Secretary, etc.) of the Chicago Literary Club, thought the successes of The Saints with ClubExpress could also help the Chicago Literary Club.
Members will have a personal calendar of events, and coordinators—now managing the assignments manually—will be able to focus more on coordinating than paperwork, Frank said. “It makes the whole process simpler.”

Frank, who is also Webmaster (and past President and Secretary, etc.) of the Chicago Literary Club, thought the successes of The Saints with ClubExpress could also help the Chicago Literary Club. The Club, founded in 1874, is one of Chicago’s oldest surviving literary clubs. The approximately 175 members, mostly not professional writers, read their manuscripts at meetings.

Frank said the Club had been storing manuscripts on a simple website, but suddenly documents would disappear, and the ISP weren’t able to fix the problem.

“After that happened, I thought ‘enough, I’ve had it; if you can’t be dependable I’m out of here. Then, OK, now what do we do?’ I started looking to see what was available and knew about ClubExpress.”

The Chicago Literary Club joined ClubExpress in 2014. Like The Saints, many of its members haven’t been particularly computer savvy, so ClubExpress’s ease of use was key for both current and future users. Frank tells a story about the beginnings of the group’s efforts to use the Internet in the mid 1990s.

At one of the group’s meetings in the mid-1990s, the scheduled presenter wasn’t able to attend, so Frank read a manuscript from the early 1940s by a Federal prosecutor and Club member who helped British authorities catch a 1930s-era Chicago mobster, originally from Britain, named Jake “The Barber” Factor. After the event, the Club Secretary decided to try posting the then-paper newsletter online. It included a description of the manuscript.

Not long after, a relative of Jake Factor reached out for a copy of the article because he had been the “black sheep” uncle of their family, the family of Max Factor, the cosmetic company founder. This was in the early days of the Internet and provided a wake-up call to the members about the reach and power of the now-ubiquitous Internet.

“We found a way to get it to them,” Frank said.

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