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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

2017 - The Way Forward

Findings and Proposals of the Way Forward Working Group

1.  Scope

In February 2017 the World Lighthouse Society conducted an online survey called “The Way Forward Survey.” The survey asked, in part, if members were interested in keeping the Society “alive.” Ninety-seven percent of respondents stated they wanted the Society to continue its existence. The survey also asked for volunteers to serve on a “Way Forward Working Group” to help determine the future of the Society. The working group would be responsible for analyzing the data from the survey and discussing ways to help the Society move forward. The group would then make recommendations to the Society’s Executive Board with the goal of strengthening the Society and helping it to continue into the future.

Initially, nine members volunteered to be members of the Way Forward Working Group. Seven members were selected by a sub-group of the Executive Board to be contacted and asked to participate in the group. Six members responded affirmatively. However since its inception, two members have withdrawn. Currently the working group has four members who have been working very hard in the past few months discussing several topics important to the life of the Society.

2.  Mission, Vision, Goals

2.1 Current Situation

A Mission Statement explains why an organization is here and what it does to justify its existence. The WLS Mission Statement is defined in its constitution and states: 

The objectives of the WLS are: To promote, protect and preserve worldwide coastal and inland aids to navigation through the provision of information, co-operation and partnership between interested parties.

Many national lighthouse organizations have similar mission statements. Examples:

The United States Lighthouse Society is a nonprofit historical and educational organization dedicated to saving and sharing the rich maritime legacy of American lighthouses and supporting lighthouse preservation throughout the nation.

ALK, UK: The Charity's objects are the advancement of education of the general public in Pharology, defined for these purposes as study in the history and current practice of coastal and inland aids to navigation, through the provision of information, education activities and the maintenance of an archive.

The mission of the American Lighthouse Foundation is to save and preserve our nation’s historic light stations and their rich heritage

Lighthouses of Australia Inc. is a non-profit organisation which aims to create a higher profile for Australian lighthouses within Australia and overseas, and thereby preserve, protect and promote their place within our history.

The sentence “…To promote, protect and preserve worldwide coastal and inland aids to navigation …” can be misleading as it would also include radar, GPS, aviation beacons and even street and railroad signs. “Maritime, optical aids to navigation” or simply – “coastal and inland lighthouses and light vessels” would be more precise.

The WLS website provides a clearer definition:


Our challenge at national and international level is to actively encourage and promote the protection and preservation of historically significant aids to navigation, primarily Lighthouses and Light Vessels.
We aim to promote communication and co-operation amongst all Lighthouse Organisations and Enthusiasts, to share information, ideas and strategies and to offer support worldwide.
We provide a forum where needs and achievements can be made known to a global audience.

Since “preserve” and “protect” can be used interchangeably one of them can be deleted. We also believe that an international society like the WLS is inherently unable to protect/preserve or even maintain maritime structures on a global base. This remains a local task. Local organizations have more efficient networks, know the applicable law, rules and procedures and have much better access to influencers such as local press and TV. They speak the language and are able to negotiate with local authorities and owners. They know how to raise funds and get public subsidies for renovation and ongoing maintenance.

Local groups focus typically on one single object they want to protect and maintain. They have more interest in their heritage than foreigners and are highly motivated. They meet each other in person and build networks. A perfect example is the rescue of the German Roter Sand lighthouse that was scheduled to be blown up. The Support Association “Rescue the Roter Sand Lighthouse” grew from 64 founding members in 1983 to more than 700 within five years. Their only objective was and still is today the preservation of the “Roter Sand” lighthouse at its original location in the North Sea. There are similar successful initiatives in many other countries. They all have in common that they focus on one single object and mobilize a large number of local citizens and businesses to generate funds and exert pressure on local authorities and politicians. An international organization can only play a support role.

The WLS currently does not have a vision and the few goals (e.g. forming new working groups) are rather vague and not clearly defined. As a result, most of them haven’t been successful so far.

2.2  Way Forward
a.    Mission
The Way Forward Working Group recommends to redefine and clarify the Society's mission statement, focusing on the three pillars

Support – Promote – Educate

The WLS should never try to compete with local organizations but provide an international platform to enable national lighthouse groups to share their knowledge, experience and resources with other groups and learn from each other. Accordingly, one way forward for the WLS should be to focus on the acquisition of more lighthouse organizations that are willing to share their success stories with other groups around the world. We should offer them a communication forum on our website and a web based newsletter with their stories, questions and answers.

The best way to support local preservation/protection/rescue groups is to send them lots of tourists. This should be our second focus.  If local tourist boards, hotels, guest houses, restaurants and other businesses find out that the lighthouses in their area attract tourists, they become allies with a high interest in preserving and maintaining their treasure.

It is fair to assume that most of our members go on domestic and international lighthouse tours. The latter can be difficult in countries you are not familiar with or don’t speak the language. Trip reports from other members can help to overcome these issues and be a great help for planning individual itineraries. Perhaps we can even get local tourist boards to pay for advertising and/or publish promotional articles about their lighthouses and offer help to find accommodation and restaurants.

In some countries, lighthouses are supervised by military organizations and some or all of them are closed to the public. Sometimes a large area is fenced in and the lighthouse can’t even be seen from afar. In other cases, road signs are poor or non-existent or there is no street address you can type in your GPS to find a lighthouse. An increased number of interested tourists could help to get lighthouses/light ships opened to the public and thus generate income for better maintenance. A good example how things can be done is the Portsmouth Harbor Light in New Castle, NH. It is located on the premises of the Fort Constitution Coast Guard Station. The Coast Guard allowed a local support group of the American Lighthouse Foundation to mark a public walkway through their premises to enable access to the lighthouse.

Include education in our mission statement and we will have renewed interest and support. A new working group should be established with the objective of coming up with ideas.

b.    Vision

A Vison Statement defines what an organization wants to achieve over a longer period of time, e.g. within the next five or ten years. It describes the status achieved at the finish line, e.g. “We want to be the leading international lighthouse organization with 1,000 members in 2025.”
We think the WLS should have a Vision, defined by the Board and reviewed at defined intervals.

c.     Goals

The Board should set annual goals for the Society. These goals should be measurable, ambitious and audacious, but achievable. There should be a plan with action items and clear responsibilities assigned. The goals should be reviewed by the Board every six months and adjusted if necessary. Example: Administrator to perform mailings with the objective to increase the number of organizational memberships from X to Y within 12 months.

2.3  Actions

Action Item
Re-define and clarify the Society's Mission statement
Come up with a Vision for the WLS and decide on review intervals
Set annual goals, communicate them and review the results at reasonable intervals
Set up a Tourism Working Group
Set up an Education Working Group

3.  Membership

3.1  Current situation

a.    Claim and Reality

We claim on our website:

The membership is drawn from many countries, with representation across the world increasing at a steady rate. Members come from diverse backgrounds of expertise, including Lighthouse Professionals and skilled enthusiasts. Some have backgrounds in Technical Management, Navigation and Photography. All want to support the saving of the World’s Lighthouse Heritage.

The Society is governed by an International Executive Board voted in to office annually by the members. The Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer and other Officials as required, are appointed to ensure the effective and smooth operation of the Society.

Modern technology, in the form of email and the Internet, makes possible efficient running and effective communication within a Global Organisation. Meetings of members are regularly held in different countries.

This claim may describe a perfect world - our reality, however, looks different.
The actual number of members is unknown as there is no annual membership renewal in place.
·      We know little to nothing about our members, which talents they have and how they can contribute to the WLS goals.
·      There is almost no interaction between members as there is no member directory with contact information and the regular meetings as set out on our website don’t take place.
·      No one seems to accept responsibility for answering questions asked in our internet forum.
·      The communication lines between the Board and the members will be cut especially if the newsletter is discontinued.
·      The annual election or re-election of the Executive Board has not happened for some time.
·      There is no annual membership fee and - as a result - there are no funds to support external services, e.g. for improving and maintaining the website and issuing a quarterly newsletter.

b.    Member Demographics

The following demographical figures are based on old data and probably outdated. There is no actual data for the reasons mentioned above. However, percentages should be accurate enough for the purpose they serve.

Our individual members come from the following 27 countries:

This looks nice at first glance. However, Fig. 1 shows that two thirds of our members come from only two countries, the UK and the U.S.A. Almost 90 per cent come from only 9 countries whereas 10 per cent come from 18 different countries.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2 shows the percentage of native languages spoken by the WLS members. It stands out that 90 per cent of our members either come from English speaking countries or countries where English is taught as the first foreign language. 75 per cent thereof are native English speakers. Conclusion: Today the WLS is an Anglo-American Lighthouse Club with 25% foreign members rather than a World Lighthouse Society. Native Speakers of Romance, Slavonic or Asian languages are a tiny minority of only 24 members with hardly more than one member per country. It is likely that the language barrier is responsible for the current member distribution. There is definitely some growth potential if we decide to go multi-lingual.

Another possible way to acquire more non-English speaking lighthouse organizations could be to use those single members as “liaison officers” between local groups and the WLS.

Organization Memberships:
At present, the WLS has 24 organization memberships from the following countries:

Here is definitely a big growth potential. There are many countries with a large number of lighthouses such as Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Spain including the Balearics and Canary Islands, France, Portugal, Poland, Russia, China, Japan -  just to name a few. We don’t have any organization members in South America and Africa at all. This might be a language problem as mentioned before. But we need to address and solve this issue if we want to become a true international organization.

Ageing Membership:
We don’t know the average age of our members but we assume most of them are seniors. We see a high risk of the WLS becoming extinct if we fail to attract young people.

3.2   Way Forward

a.     Determine who our members are, what talents they can bring to the table and how these talents can be used to achieve our goals.
b.    Reinstall a General Meeting, at least biennially.
c.     Entice more national lighthouse organizations to join the WLS as a valuable asset.
d.   Entice younger members by education. This is crucial to building a future base for the WLS to survive or we will age and the organization will be lost.

3.3   Actions
Action Item
Come up with a questionnaire to identify the actual number of members, their expertise and willingness to pay an annual fee as well as play an educational role


Email the questionnaire to the members we currently know
Evaluate and analyze the returned questionnaires
WF Team
Decide on annual membership fee and allocation of the money
Consider biennial membership meetings
Establish an “Education Working Group” with space on our website
Find ways, e.g. mailing, to acquire more lighthouse organizations
1.  Tools

4.1  Current situation
After Donna resigned, several attempts to find a WLS member who can reliably do the job of the newsletter editor for a longer period of time have failed. At present we have no editor and no Newsletter and it is unlikely that we will find another Donna. If we can’t solve the newsletter issue internally then we have to consider external help. Of course, this will come with a price tag.
The Newsletter was placed on our website and could be downloaded. Older issues could be found in an archive. We had a total of 29 members who requested hard copies of Newsletters. Nineteen of those members chose not to pay the yearly printing fee and stopped receiving the Newsletter. Only 10 individuals/households continued to receive hard copies of the Newsletter.

As an internet based organization our website is the most important communication tool. Our current website, however, is at least as big a disaster as our newsletter. It is unattractive and ill maintained. The “latest” pictures in the Rogues Gallery date back to 2011, photographs of Hamburg 2005 and of a 2004 lighthouse tour are even older. Nobody answers the latest questions in the forum, and most of the links to member homepages (including to the one of our Chairman) are broken. If a website is like a business card and designed to make a first impression, then ours paints a very poor overall picture of the WLS and is a missed opportunity to promote us and lighthouses in general.

4.2  Way Forward
  • Remain an internet based organization. This was confirmed by 98% of the members who took the first 2017 survey.
  • As a consequence, we should drop the mail service for the newsletter.
  • Have the WLS website redesigned. It should serve as a platform for the latest information from the Board and (functional) working groups, attract prospective members with interesting information and attractive pictures (including high-definition pictures that are currently banned), provide forums for members and non-members and many more.
  • Establish a privacy policy that allows members to communicate internally but don’t share data externally without the consent of the members.
  • Provide an improved forum where members can contact each other.
  • Create a knowledge and education platform, also for website visitors. Assign the answering of questions to members who have the expertise in the respective discipline.
  • Outsource the editing of the Newsletter.

4.3   Actions
Action Item
Set up a temporary working group to work out a specification for a new website
Find an external editor of the Newsletter
Find a reliable and responsive web administrator and create a job description

2.  Final Words of Wisdom

Move forward or close shop!

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