The following concepts are presented here as food for thought in order to form a successful landowner coalition for natural gas leasing (or wind leasing!).
• START EARLY! If you think there is any possibility of natural gas exploration or wind development occurring in your area or if landmen have already started showing up in your community, then you need to start forming your landowner coalition as soon as possible and get the word out to your neighbors and community! One important note, while it is best to start early, it is never too late to start a coalition. You will still reap many of the benefits if you work smart and get your group organized!
Unless you are only getting your immediate neighbors together in a group, it will take some time to get everything in place to form a landowner coalition. The main point is to get the word out so landowners know they have a choice if they choose to sign a lease to develop natural gas – either signing a gas lease by themselves or signing a gas lease as part of a landowner coalition.
ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE - Will your coalition be formally organized with a Chairperson or President, a steering committee, and subcommittees…or will one or a few people be responsible for the bulk of the workload and making all the decisions? This is an important question to think about before you get too far along and things get complicated if you experience high growth. Getting a landowner coalition together is no different than getting any other group organized whether it be a charitable organization, professional organization, sports organization, or other community effort. Many of the same principles that apply to these organizations apply to creating a landowner coalition.
There should be some sort of formal structure in place to identify roles and responsibilities – like who is going to get the landowner coalition website up and running, who is going to handle membership, who is going to work with the attorney(s) to develop the lease, who is going to work to help get the word out, who is going to take phone calls…etc. If you think you will have a large landowner group, then you should really give some thought to these things before you get started. It will be much easier dealing with these situations before you start moving forward and your new members flood in!
Here are a few key points to remember:
Prepare a basic agenda for your meetings to help stay on track and make the meetings productive.
Have someone take minutes so decisions get recorded and work can be delegated.
Come up with a decision making process whether it be 2/3 majority needed or if the major votes need to go to the membership. What you decide on will really depend on what are the overall goals and direction for the group and what are the means used to achieve the goals. The process for decision making should be agreed upon early and documented. Transparency in the decision-making process is a must. Lack of transparency and unilateral decision-making by a few can lead to problems down the road and negatively affect your group. This applies to any formal organization as well.
Relying on your membership to vote on everything will be very time consuming and counterproductive. A better system for making decisions for the direction of the group include conducting member surveys. There are a number of free tools and pay services available (link). Decisions that could fall in this category includes things like what is the minimum signing bonus or royalty the membership would like to see.
For some of the bigger and more functional decisions on group operations, a vote by the steering committee (representing the membership) is appropriate. Such as what area the coalition will cover (there needs to be a defined area), how funding should be spent, how to organize and advertise group events, etc. Some people have discussed the idea of giving bigger landowners more votes for group decisions, however, this could have the adverse effect on alienating some of your members, while a larger landowner may have more acreage to contribute, the sum of numerous small acres owned by numerous landowners can add up very quickly. The best solution is one vote for each member – when those types of decisions are voted on - however, every group is different so use whatever method works best to get the mission of the group accomplished.
SURVEYS - Another way to get information from your membership is through the use of surveys or polls - either online or a paper version. The basic purpose of the survey to gather information from the general membership to determine the direction the group should take. Here is an example of a landowner membership survey (as a Word document) that you can modify for your own use. As with any group effort, you will not be able to give every member everything they want, so by using a survey of the membership, you will be able to gain valuable information as to the direction the majority of the membership would like to take.
There are a couple of big benefits to using an online membership form. First, an online membership form makes it very easy for people to join your group online (which can help your membership grow quickly), and the second is it can save a significant amount of time for your membership coordinator because the data can be easily collected in a spreadsheet or database.
You will also need to create a paper membership form that can be provided to people who do not have access to the internet and to hand out during public meetings or events. Here is an example of a simple membership form (as a Word document) that you can modify for your own use.
• MEMBERSHIP COMMUNICATION - It is incredibly important to keep your membership informed of what is happening with your Group and as a way to get volunteers to help out with the huge task at hand. The best way to communicate quickly and easily is through the use of an electronic mailing list or discussion group.
An electronic mailing list is essentially one way communication, while a discussion group (or chat rooms) facilitates ongoing discussion on a particular topic. Both serve different purposes and both are valuable.
There are both free services (such as Google Groups and Yahoo Groups) and paid services such as Constant Contact. However, be cautious about using free services because you may not have the control you need over the list, which could result in excess spam and/or security issues - such as your members names and email addresses being sent out to the list. Paid services will have controls in place to avoid this and give you better reporting and management functions for your list and avoids these issues.
One way to get around spam is by having a moderated list - one in which emails that are sent to the list need to get approved before being sent out to the list. Some of the free discussion groups have these features.
Keep in mind that not all of your members will have access to a computer or the internet, so it will be necessary to use paper mailings or newsletters for some communication to these members.
The best way to communicate with your members is, and always will be, in person - either individually, on the phone, or at events. However, this can be very time consuming so its best to use a combination of methods to communicate with your membership.
The real key to all of this is to keep you membership aware of what is going on and give them an opportunity to provide feedback. Whether it be through email, surveys, or personal calls, an informed membership is an active membership and everyone benefits.
• AREA COORDINATORS -The concept of “area coordinators” is simply assigning people within your coalition to specific areas within your landowner coalition geographic area. The purpose of area coordinators is to communicate (preferably in person) with neighbors and other landowners in the given area.
It is important to develop “talking points” for the area coordinators so a consistent message is delivered about why other landowners should join the landowner coalition. One way to try to create a consistent message is by holding a series of educational sessions for your area coordinators and providing them with information such as “talking points”, membership forms, information sheets, business cards, and tax maps of the areas they are covering so they can identify members and non-members.
• MAPPING YOUR ACREAGE - Mapping of the acreage within your coalition will be necessary to prepare a bid for leasing the coalition acreage. It is best to start tracking and mapping your membership acreage early on. There are a number of ways to map your membership: from the low tech version of simply using a highlighter and photocopies of tax maps > all the way to the high tech version of using GIS (Geographical Information Systems) software – which is readily available today.
Two of the most commonly used GIS software are ArcGIS and Manifold. The use of GIS mapping software greatly enhances the ease and flexibility of mapping your acreage as well as using the maps produced by the software to include as part of bid negotiations. The downside to using GIS mapping software is the cost and the fact it requires some technical knowledge, however, there are numerous resources available to learn how to use the software correctly and there is great flexibility and ease when it comes to making changes to the mapped acreage.
Many counties are adding tax maps online so you can search and print out parcels maps. Check with your local county office for real property or tax assessor and ask them if they have a cd available with property files (in GIS terms called “shapefiles”). These cds may cost a nominal fee or in some case may be free to landowner coalitions.
Additional resources on forming a coalition include: