SIG Policies & Guidelines

SIG Policies & Guidelines

edited by
Mike Davison - SIG Program Coordinator
Version 1.3, Febuary 1, 1995


This document defines the policies of the NMRA Special Interest Group (SIG) Program and provides guidelines to assist persons interested in creating or managing a SIG. The policies defined here are intended to clarify the goals of the NMRA SIG Program and define the relationship between a SIG and the NMRA.


The NMRA SIG Program is managed by the SIG Program Coordinator, who is appointed by the Services Department General Chair. The SIG Program Coordinator is responsible for maintaining a list of active SIGs, publicizing active SIGs in the Bulletin, and enforcing the policies outlined in this document.

Each SIG has a SIG Coordinator who is responsible for ensuring that his SIG complies with the NMRA SIG policies. The SIG Coordinator of a model railroad SIG must also be its leader.

Since one of the policies defined in this document requires SIG Coordinators to provide proof of SIG activity to the SIG Program Coordinator, the definition of an active SIG is simply one which has complied with the NMRA SIG Program policies.

An NMRA Special Interest Group (SIG) is a independent, non-profit, membership group organized to provide a forum for the exchange of prototype or model railroad information. The NMRA recognizes three kinds of SIGs:

  • NMRA-only model railroad groups - To promote solidarity and community of interests in the hobby, the NMRA suggests that model railroad groups follow an NMRA-only policy. The NMRA-only group may however permit institutions such as libraries and manufacturers to subscribe to their newsletters.
  • Open model railroad groups - A SIG may adopt a membership policy which permits anyone to join regardless of NMRA membership status. The SIG Coordinator for an open-membership group must be the leader of the SIG and an NMRA member.
  • Prototype railroad groups - Prototype railroad historical, technical, and restoration societies may associate with with the NMRA SIG Program. Members of prototype railroad groups are not required to to be members of the NMRA, however the SIG Coordinator must be an NMRA member. Finally, the leader of a prototype railroad group is not required to be the SIG Coordinator nor an NMRA member.


Since each SIG is an independent group the NMRA does not evaluate decisions concerning the operation of a given SIG. The NMRA does not seek to determine what interests should be presented by a SIG, who should run them, or in what manner they serve the interests of their members. It is the policy of the NMRA SIG Program that persons actively engaged in a specialized interest area are the best qualified to decide how best to pursue that interest.

Any NMRA member may apply to the SIG Program Coordinator for recognition of a new group as long as that group has a defined interest area related to prototype or model railroading. The NMRA does not make judgments as to whether the idea is a good one or not.

There is one area where the NMRA does have to make a value judgment concerning SIGs. This is whether the NMRA is comfortable with recommending a group to its members. There are some long-standing polices governing circumstances in which the NMRA may conclude that it would rather not be in the position of appearing to sponsor a group or to be recommending that group to its members. If one or more of these circumstances is evident, the NMRA may decline to recognize or withdraw recognition from the group. These circumstances are:

  • Lack of Reciprocity The NMRA will promote each active SIG at least once per year in the Bulletin and provide a summary of all active SIGs to all new members and existing members as requested. In turn, each SIG, with an open-membership policy, is required to, at least once per year, place a notice in its newsletter recommending to its members that they consider NMRA membership.
  • Inactivity - The NMRA cannot recommend to its members that they send dues to a group that shows no evidence of activity. If the group publishes a newsletter, it must send a copy of each newsletter produced to the SIG Program Coordinator as evidence that it is active. The SIG Program Coordinator will forward newsletters to the NMRA Kalmbach Memorial Library six to twelve months after receiving them. Groups that go more than 12 months without publishing and/or sending a copy of their newsletter, or failing to write a letter of explanation to the SIG Program Coordinator, will be considered inactive and will not be promoted.
  • Closed Membership - Any NMRA member must be allowed to join any SIG recognized by the NMRA. Therefore we do not recognize a group that will not admit a class of persons, or that limit their total membership. It should be noted however that some SIGs require participation in SIG activities. This requirement is acceptable as long as it is clearly stated to potential SIG members and that the level of participation required does not exceed the capabilities of the individual. For example, a SIG may require literate members to write material for the SIG newsletter periodically but may not require SIG members to travel to specific locations or to construct specific models. Common sense should prevail - many NMRA members are young or inexperienced and they must be allowed to participate in any recognized SIG.
  • Lack of Accessibility - The NMRA only recognizes groups that are available to all persons regardless of geographic location.
  • Hostility - The NMRA may withdraw recognition of any group that makes a practice of using their publication for gratuitously hostile comments towards the NMRA and/or including invective or sustained personalized criticism of the efforts or views of other people, groups, or organization.
  • For-Profit Organizations - The NMRA SIG program only recognizes non-profit groups. It does not provide free advertising to businesses such as those engaged in routine selling of merchandise, travel services, or so called "buyers clubs." The NMRA accommodates them via a the commercial advertising service offered in the bulletin.

    SIGs may sell fund-raising items such as painted cars, tee shirts, hats, etc., so long as it is incidental to the purpose of the group.

Standard Newsletter Disclaimer

In order to clearly define, to readers of SIG newsletters, the relationship of each SIG to the NMRA, each issue of a group's newsletter must contain one of the following notices:

The {GROUP NAME} and NMRA are independent, not-for-profit organizations who have chosen to affilliate for the mutual benefit of our membership, and are not responsible for the publications and/or actions of the other group.

The {GROUP NAME} is an independent, not-for-profit group affiliated with the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA). The NMRA is not responsible for the actions or publications of the {GROUP NAME}.

A group may use an alternate disclaimer if written-permission from the SIG Program Coordinator is obtained.

Financial Rules

Funds collected on behalf of a SIG belong to the members of that group. The NMRA assumes no responsibility for SIG financial matters.

In order to ensure that the NMRA is not promoting for-profit groups each SIG is required to demonstrate that it is a not-for-profit group. Acceptable documentation includes government documentation of not-for-profit status or an informal profit and loss statement. Such documentation must be provided when a group associates with the NMRA and when requested by the SIG Program Coordinator.

Benefits of the NMRA SIG Program

While the primary goal of the NMRA SIG program is to provide a useful service for NMRA members, several more immediate benefits arise from this goal. The NMRA benefits SIGs by providing meeting and display space at NMRA conventions and by publicizing SIGs in the Bulletin. In turn, the SIGs benefits the NMRA by encouraging NMRA membership and by providing specialized groups to NMRA members.

Use of NMRA Trademarks

An NMRA-only group may apply to the board of trustees for permission to use specific NMRA trademarks. For example, an NMRA-only SIG may apply for permission to use the NMRA name as part of their group name. Groups which have an open-membership policy may not use any NMRA trademarks.

Convention Participation

All SIGs are encouraged to participate in NMRA convention activities. Suggested areas of participation include displays, clinics, and tours. NMRA-only SIGs will receive preferential treatment at conventions for space assignments at the discretion of the convention chairman for that convention.

In order to ensure that display space is available for your SIG you must contact the convention chairman two years prior to the convention date. The NMRA cannot guarantee display space for your group if this requirement is not met.


The NMRA insures meetings held at a NMRA convention and attended solely by persons registered at that convention. Your members do not have to be NMRA members to register as attendees. If you sponsor a visit to or upon a railway facility for example, then you are responsible to insure that event.

How to Get Started

Consult the list of active SIGs. If there is not a group already formed that is of your interest, you are willing to lead a group, and can publish a newsletter on a regular basis send the following information to the SIG Program Coordinator:

  • Application - Must be filled-out completely and truthfully.
  • Your most recent newsletter - This will provide an overview of your group for the SIG Program Coordinator's announcement in the Bulletin. If a newsletter is not available then an outline of the group's purpose is required.
  • New member letter - Provide a copy of the letter that you will mail to member applicants.
  • Registration fee - ($10.00 US) This fee helps to cover the costs incurred by the SIG Program Coordinator and no further fees will be required.

Suggestions for a Successful SIG

Leading a SIG an important task and can be difficult. The past experience of numerous SIG Program Coordinators and SIG Coordinators has been collected in this section in an effort to reduce the difficulty often encountered when creating or managing a SIG. A few important suggestions include:

  • Carefully design an application form. An application form provides a concise way to define the purpose of your group and to gather information about an applicant. Your application to form a SIG is a good guide to what information you may wish to have from prospective members.
  • Answer all mail promptly. This is one of the most important, and difficult, aspects of leading a SIG. Failure to answer mail in a timely manner will lead people to believe that the group is inactive.
  • Keep your newsletter on schedule. Nothing will lose interest in your SIG like tardy or late newsletters. Stay on schedule!
  • Solicit material from your membership. Most of your material will come from your membership, so solicit material. Some groups have been successful in requiring a minimal level of participation. For example, some groups require that members write to the SIG Coordinator annually, or contribute material for the newsletter.
  • Publish a membership List. An annual list of members is important, as it encourages members to correspond with each other, thus building fellowship.


In many cases the SIG's periodical is the single most most important element of a successful SIG. It must: document the knowledge being sought, be readable, and be published on schedule. It does not need to be fancy, nor does it need to be printed in color or on slick paper. Suggestions for newsletter editors include:

  • Pick a dedicated editor. Editing a newsletter is a time-consuming task so choose an editor that can, and will, devote the time required.
  • Use computer technology. The editor should have access to a computer with appropriate document processing tools. Encourage SIG members to submit material electronically as this will significantly reduce the work-load placed on the editor.
  • Seek assistants for the editor. The editor does not have to be a good writer. Past experience has shown that a hard-working editor with several proof-readers helping can produce a good-quality newsletter.
  • Plan for editor burn-out. It has been found in the past that editors burn-out after about five years. Plan for this event by training a new editor after four years.

Membership Recruitment

The best way to recruit members is to provide services that model railroaders want. A good newsletter is probably the most important element.

Publicity for your SIG can be achieved by word-of-mouth, the NMRA SIG report in the Bulletin, and commercial hobby magazines. Displays at NMRA conventions are also useful and space for displays is normally provided to SIG at little or no cost.


There are two popular methods of funding:

  • Annual Dues. The book keeping in this case is quite simple however it places significant pressure on the newsletter editor to publish a given number of newsletters annually.
  • Pay-As-You-Go. May SIGs have established a per-issue cost and keep track of how many newsletter mailings one has remaining so that the SIG member can send in additional funds before his balance goes to zero. This allows the newsletter schedule to be more relaxed.


Your SIG will evolve to the point where members want to meet face-to-face and show off some models or research results. Conventions are great. They may be held independently for larger SIGs or combined with other NMRA conventions for the smaller SIGs. As was mentioned earlier in this document, the NMRA encourages SIGs to participate in NMRA conventions.


Maintaining good communications with SIG members is essential to a successful SIG. The main communications medium will be the SIG newsletter, but do not overlook other mediums such as individual letters, and telephone. Even less-used mediums, such as e-mail and ham-radio can be used to improve SIG communications.


The goal of this document was to concisely define the policies of the NMRA SIG Program and to provide helpful guidelines to assist persons interested in creating or managing a SIG. Hopefully this goal has been achieved but if you find errors contained in this document, or have suggestions for improvements please contact the SIG Program Coordinators.


This document evolved from on an earlier one titled NMRA Special Interest Groups Guidelines Manual. I would like to thank the past authors of that document who, unfortunately, are not recorded.

Doug Hughes, SIG Coordinator of the Frisco Modelers Information Group and author of a memo titled Some Practical Recommendations based on 19 years of Experience has been a tremendous help both through his recommendations and editorial review of this document.

Stan Knotts and Rene' Gourley, Coordinators for the Railroad Industries SIG and the Proto:87 SIG respectively, have provided invaluable editorial review and suggestions for this document.

The NMRA Kalmbach Memorial library director helped review this document and offered encouragement on numerous occasions. Both his literary skills and his devotion to helping others enjoy our hobby are appreciated.