Manual for Internal Organizations

This document is not a substitute for the constitution and bylaws of your grotto, region, section, or survey. How to charter an IO is not included in this manual; for that, please see Starting a New Internal Organization. See also the NSS Members Manual and the NSS web site.

Table of Contents

Internal Organizations and Affinity Groups

Much of the real work of the National Speleological Society is carried out by members working in small, local groups. The groups which are given permanent status by the NSS are of four types called internal organizations (IOs): chapters (or grottos), regions, surveys, and sections. Each IO is chartered by the society to help carry out the society's purposes on a local level. The privileges and responsibilities of IOs, the criteria by which they are chartered, and the rules they are expected to follow are set out in the Policy for Internal Organizations.

The IOs exist to make society membership more meaningful. Each society member should try to become a member of at least one IO and take part in its activities. The society places no limit on the number of IOs to which a member may belong. An NSS member may be an officer in multiple IOs.

A group of members who wish to form one of the IOs described below must first obtain a charter from the NSS. The authority to charter IOs has been delegated to the Internal Organizations Committee.

Chapter (Grotto)
A Chapter (Grotto or Student Grotto) is an internal organization made up of individuals who reside in the same general locality or who cave together and maintain community by means of electronic or other communications. Most chapters are known as grottos. The two words mean the same thing within the society. Grottos generally hold regular meetings, take field trips, organize projects, train new members, publish newsletters, and provide social functions for their members. A student grotto can be organized at an educational institution to serve the needs of students, staff, and faculty at that institution. For sorting purposes only, grottos are placed in separate categories in the NSS Members Manual; by State of the Union, International, and Traveling.

Regional Association (Region)
Regions are IOs made up of grottos, sections, surveys, and individuals in a general geographical area. The purpose of a region is to maintain communication among IOs and isolated members whose speleological interests cover the same general area. Most regions organize at least one annual project, meeting, or get-together. Some regions also publish a newsletter. Each region must have as members a minimum of two IOs (grotto, section, survey).

Speleological Surveys (Survey)
Surveys are IOs made up of other IOs engaged in gathering speleological data in a general geographical area. The primary purpose of a survey is to maintain a centralized file for the cave area and to prevent duplication of work among members. Copies of maps and information compiled by the surveys should be sent to the NSS Cave Files Committee.

Special Section (Section)
Sections are IOs made up of individuals with a specific common interest related to caves. Sections are generally nationwide in scope and serve to maintain communication among the members. Each Section must have as members a minimum of ten NSS members.

Affinity Group
Affinity groups are organizations of at least ten NSS members which will foster the NSS goal of fellowship among those interested in caves, but, unlike Sections, with common interests of their members not directly related to speleology. Affinity groups are not IOs and do not have the privileges and obligations of IOs. They may be listed in the NSS Members Manual and on the NSS web page. The purpose of an affinity group must be compatible with the purposes and policies of the NSS. The IO Committee will contact the group annually to verify its current status.

Obligations and Benefits of Being an NSS IO



  • Grottos
    Your membership must include at least five members of the NSS who have designated your grotto as their primary affiliation.

  • Regions
    Your membership must include at least two active IOs of the NSS.

  • Sections
    Your membership must include at least ten members of the NSS.

  • Surveys
    Your membership must include at least one other active IO of the NSS.

You must submit two copies of each IO publication to the NSS Library and to the NSS Cave Files Committee. You are encouraged to send copies of your IO publication to others. See Newsletter Distribution.

All your members in leadership positions (as defined by your constitution and bylaws) must be NSS members.

You must submit an annual report to the IO Committee, at a time and place designated by the committee.

You must cooperate with the NSS in establishing sound conservation and safety practices, and assist in or carry out other activities which further the purposes of the NSS.

You may not engage in any activity which is detrimental to speleology, conservation, safety, or the best interests of the NSS.

IO status:
You may be classified as active or inactive. You are active if you have fulfilled the obligations listed above. Only then are you entitled to the benefits listed below.


  • Your IO may receive one complimentary copy of each issue of the NSS News and the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies.

  • Your IO may lease web space from the NSS to host your IO web pages. Go here to check on details.

  • Your IO is entitled to representation in the Congress of Grottos which is held at the annual NSS Convention.

  • Your IO is entitled to send a non-voting representative to any meeting of the NSS Board of Governors for the purpose of presenting or discussing matters relating to the organization.

  • Your IO is entitled to receive the monthly notice of member changes on paper or by e-mail.

  • Your IO may receive monetary grants to aid in various activities of the organization, for example, cave exploration and expeditions.

  • Your grotto may receive assistance from the NSS such as legal information and help from the Legal Committee, cave information from the NSS Cave Files Committee, audio-visual programs, library materials, safety and techniques advice from the Safety and Techniques Committee, and exhibition materials to aid in the activities of your organization.

Policy for Internal Organizations

1. The Purpose of Internal Organizations of the National Speleological Society shall be to promote interest in and to advance in any and all ways the study of Speleology and to promote fellowship among those interested in it.

2. Internal Organizations may be chartered upon submitting the following documents to the Internal Organizations Committee:

A. An acceptable Constitution and Bylaws showing the date of adoption and signed by an officer of the new organization.

B. An application in duplicate bearing the signatures of the charter members indicating which are members of the NSS. In the case of regions and surveys this will include the names of charter member organizations.

C. A brief history of the organization.

D. Other information requested by the Internal Organizations Committee.

3. Every Internal Organization shall have complete freedom of action in its organization and fiscal policies, except that no Internal Organization shall engage in any activity which is detrimental to speleology, conservation, safety, or the best interests of the National Speleological Society. Such activity is sufficient cause for revocation of the organization's charter by the Board of Governors.

4. The membership of Internal Organizations should conform to the following requirements:

A. Membership in grottos or chapters shall consist of at least five members of the Society. Membership in regions shall consist of at least two active Internal Organizations. Membership in sections shall consist of at least ten members of the Society. To maintain active status a grotto must include at least five active NSS members with primary affiliation with that grotto.

B. Full membership in Internal Organizations shall be open only to members of the National Speleological Society.

C. Internal Organizations may, at their option, have members who are not members of the Society and who are limited to a year or less on this status. Non-NSS members of Internal Organizations may not hold office or serve on a governing body in the organization or count toward representation in the Congress of Grottos.

D. "Student Grottos" and "College Outing Clubs", exempt from requirement B above, may be chartered at a recognized college or university. In addition to all other requirements and benefits in this policy, the following special requirements shall apply to Student Grottos and College Outing Clubs:

(1) Membership in either shall be open to Society members and non-Society members provided the latter are students, faculty, or staff members at the college or university with which the Student Grotto or College Outing Club is affiliated.

(2) At least five members of a Student Grotto or College Outing Club must be members of the Society. In the Student Grotto, all officers or members of a governing body of the Student Grotto must be members of the Society. In a College Outing Club, the caving chairman must be a member of the Society and will be responsible for communication with the Society.

(3) The formal name of a Student Grotto shall indicate that such organization is a Student Grotto (or Chapter).

(4) The formal name of a College Outing Club meeting the requirements set forth herein may indicate that such organization is an Internal Organization of the National Speleological Society.

5. Regions and Surveys shall accept and retain as member organizations only Internal Organizations of the National Speleological Society or groups which intend to become Internal Organizations within a reasonable length of time. Regions and Surveys may include "cooperating organizations," organizations not associated with the Society, which are not full members of the Region or Survey but which may take part in all its acitvities.

6. Each Internal Organization shall have the following responsibilities to the Society:

A. They shall submit an annual report to the Internal Organizations Committee, containing a list of the members of the organization which notes who is an NSS member and claims this organization as their IO, a list of the organization's officers with their respective NSS numbers and mailing addresses, identify two organization members who are to be listed in the NSS Members Manual as contacts, the mailing address, meeting date and location of the organization, and whether copies of the organization's publications are being submitted per Section C of this Paragraph. The committee may request additional information, but the completion of it must be labeled as optional. Reports must be submitted prior to a date set by the Committee.

B. In formal usage and in the event of incorporation, append to its name the words "... a Chapter (Regional Association, Speleological Survey, Special Section) of the National Speleological. Society." In the event that one of the above terms is used in the name, only the words "...of the National Speleological Society" need be used.

C. Two copies of each publication (if any) shall be submitted to the Society Library. At least one copy and preferably two copies shall be furnished to the Society Cave File Committee and it is recommended that one copy be furnished to the U.S. Geological Survey.

D. Each Internal Organization shall cooperate with the Society in establishing sound conservation and safety practices, and assist in or carry out other activities which further the purposes of the Society.

7. All Internal Organizations which comply with the provisions of this policy shall have the following privileges accorded to them:

A. Each Internal Organization shall, upon request, receive one copy of each issue of the NSS News and the Journal.

B. Internal Organizations shall be entitled to representation at the Congress of Grottos in accordance with established rules of that organization.

C. Any Internal Organization will be permitted a non-voting representative at any meeting of the Board of Governors for the propose of presenting or discussing matters relating to the organization.

D. Each Internal Organization shall receive the monthly administrative mailing.

E. Each Internal Organization may receive assistance from the Society such as cave location data, slide shows, library materials, and exhibition materials to aid in the activities of the organization.

8. Each Internal Organization shall be classified by the Internal Organizations Committee as being active or inactive. Active organizations will be those organizations which have fulfilled the requirements of paragraph 6. Only active organizations may receive the benefits listed in paragraph 7.

9. Occasionally a group may request a grotto or chapter charter in an area where a chapter already exists. The Society does not encourage the formation of additional chapters in an area where one already exists, so these applications will be handled according to the following guidelines:

Unless it is obvious that the new group has been in contact with the existing grotto(s), they will be referred to the existing grotto(s), and the existing grotto(s) will be informed of the inquiry from the new group. The new group will be informed of our reluctance to charter another grotto in the same area, and the existing grotto(s) will be asked to contact the new group and invite them to participate in their activities.

If, after a reasonable time, the Internal Organizations Committee feels that the grotto chartering is justified, the chartering may proceed. Footnote to 4-1): A College Outing Club is defined as any organization which regularly engages in more than one outdoor activity and which is recognized as a student activity by a college or university.

Contents and Format of a Typical Annual Report

Editor's note...

The purpose of this section is to give you an idea of the types of information which you are expected to provide in your annual report to the NSS. The actual format of the report may take several forms.

Additional instructions may be found here.

IO Address: The official mailing address of the IO, and its e-mail address.

Leadership: A list of each member on the decision making body as defined by your constitution and bylaws. The list should include the person's name, position held, and NSS number. (Persons on the decision making body must be NSS members.)

Meeting Information (Grottos): The day of the month, time, and place where the grotto meets. (If meetings are held on an irregular basis, you may enter "Check with contact"). A Region, Section, or Survey need not supply this information.

Contacts: Two persons (living in separate households) whom other cavers can contact to find out information concerning the IO. Include name, address, home phone number, work phone number, and e-mail address.

Publication: The title of any regular IO publication, and the the number of issues published during the past year.

We also need to know that you have complied with the NSS publication policy which reads as follows: Two copies of each publication (if any) shall be submitted to the Society Library. At least one copy and preferably two copies shall be furnished to the Society Cave File Committee and it is recommended that one copy be furnished to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Constitution & By-Laws: If your IO has made a change to its constitution or bylaws since your last report to us, please send a copy of the amended document(s) to the IO Committee at your earliest convenience. If it's a minor change, you may send just the change.

Library Address: The mailing address of the IO to which NSS publications should be sent.

WebMaster Information: Information about the IO webmaster.

NSS Publications: Your IO is entitled to receive one complimentary copy of each issue of the NSS News and one copy of each issue of the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies. Please let us know if you want the News and if you want the Journal.

URL: If your IO has a web page, enter the URL.

Submitter: We ask you to include the name of the person submitting the report and a means of getting back to that person in case questions arise.

Webmaster Information: The NSS Information Technology Committee has requested this information be supplied.

The IO Committee may ask for additional items from time to time. They will be labeled "Optional".

How, Where and When to Submit The Report:
The report is due during the month of January for the previous calendar year. NOTE: The information requested may change from year to year depending upon the needs of the NSS.

Newsletter Distribution - Policy & Suggestions

NSS Policy...

Two copies of each publication (if any) shall be submitted to the society's library. At least one copy and preferably two copies shall be furnished to the society Cave Files Committee and it is recommended that one copy be furnished to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The applicable addresses are shown at the end of this section.

Suggestion for paper copies:
Some IOs include the addresses in the file that is used to produce mailing labels for their newsletter. For the NSS Library you can include two addresses. One may be called NSS Library 1 and the other NSS Library 2.

NSS Library and Cave Files Committee
The newsletters to these two offices must be submitted on paper. If you currently produce your newsletter in digital format, please print two copies for each office. They may be submitted upon publication or held and sent in bulk at the end of the year.

SpeleoDigest Committee
You are encouraged to send a copy to the SpeleoDigest Committee. Selected articles from your newsletter will be reprinted in the Digest.

The newsletters should be sent as paper copies when they are published. This allows the committee to process the newsletters and publish the SpeleoDigest in a timely manner.

NSS News Column
You are encouraged to submit a copy of each grotto publication to the person who reviews those publications and writes the column for the NSS News.

American Caving Accidents
If your newsletter contains information about a caving accident, you are encouraged to send a copy to the editor of American Caving Accidents. See also Reporting Caving Accidents.

U. S. Geological Survey Newsletter Exchange
There is an arrangement with the library at the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) whereby they receive grotto and regional newsletters that contain some material of permanent reference value and, in return, the grotto or region is entitled to receive free topographic quadrangle maps for use in their projects. As a rough guide it is reasonable to request as many maps as you publish issues. In any case, please request maps several at a time, rather than singly. Requests should make reference to this exchange agreement and must be signed by a grotto officer. All maps are to be considered grotto property, and should not end up in the permanent possession of an individual who was in charge of the project.

Because of a critical shortage of shelf space, the USGS may have to deny the exchange agreement with some newsletters that contain material such as cartoons, jokes, and puzzles, which are of little permanent value.

All exchange newsletters, requests for maps, and other correspondence should be sent to the address given below.

Requests should always be reasonable. As an example, a group that regularly publishes a bi-monthly newsletter might request a half dozen maps a year.

Exchange Policy with Other IOs
Many IOs will agree to swap newsletters. Send them your newsletter and they will send you theirs. Before doing so, check with them to find out about their exchange policy. This applies globally.

ISSN for Publications
There is a global program to facilitate the identification of serial publications by assigning to them a unique identification number. This number is called the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). An IO that publishes a regular serial publication may have a number assigned by the Library of Congress. The assignment is free and there is no charge for its use.

If the name of the newsletter is changed after the assignment of the number, a new number must be obtained.

Addresses for Newsletter Distribution   (download CSV file)

  • National Speleological Society
    2813 Cave Avenue
    Huntsville, AL 35810-4431

  • NSS Cave Files Committee
    Richard Blenz
    8070 W Eller Rd
    Bloomington, IN 47403-2917

  • SpeleoDigest Committee
    George Jaegers
    3144 Ironwood Lane
    Allentown, PA 18103-7714
  • NSS News Column
    Kim Gentry
    110 Beechwood Ln
    Mt Washington KY 40047-7027

  • American Caving Accidents
    2813 Cave Avenue
    Huntsville AL 35810-4431

  • U.S.G.S. Library National Center
    MAIL STOP 950
    12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
    Reston VA 20191-5603

Use of Society Logo and Letterhead

Symbolic devices of the Society shall be sold only to society members and internal organizations by the NSS office or by a delegated representative of the society and may not otherwise be purchased for resale.

The use of the NSS name, initials, and/or logo is subject to the control of the executive committee.

Internal Organizations in good standing may use the NSS name, initials, and/or logo on letterheads or newsletters, when it is incorporated as part of a broader design identifying the internal organization, without the approval of the Executive Committee.


The logo shown here is the official logo of the NSS and will be used by the society for official purposes. Members and NSS groups may continue to use any of the earlier traditional versions of the original for ceremonial and non-official purposes if they wish.


The Society office maintains a supply of official NSS letterhead stationery which may be used by directors, officers, society employees, and committee and commission chairmen. Internal organizations, projects, study groups, and conservation task forces may use NSS letterhead for specific purposes if authorized by the relevant NSS officer, committee, or commission. These latter groups should ordinarily, however, use their own letterhead, which may prominently display their association with the society as provided by our standing policies on those groups.

The NSS letterhead is provided to these people solely because of the society position they hold. It is to be used only to further the goals and activities of that position. It is not intended for personal use.

The actual society group using the letterhead should be identified prominently at the top of the paper (not just as part of the writer's signature). This can be done by typing the name of the committee or whatever centered just below the society name. It an also be done by typing the group name as the first line of the return address.

Any letter written on NSS letterhead should clearly state who is responsible for the contents. It should be clear whether or not the letter is an official statement of the group or a personal statement of the writer. "The Board of Governors has directed me to inform you of..." "I would like to complement your grotto for the good work you have ... "

An official statement does not, of course, have to have been formally approved by the group. Often the writer will understand perfectly well what the NSS position is on an issue is and can write a letter without making it look like a personal opinion.

"The NSS Library thanks you for the donation of..." Anyone using NSS letterhead is responsible to the society for things that are not clearly identified as personal opinions, however.

Society letterhead should be used for all correspondence with people or organizations outside the society. It should be used for all non-routine correspondence with society members or internal organizations, when that correspondence is conducted to further the goals and activities of the position the writer holds. In order to save money, the letterhead should not be used for routine correspondence among society officers, directors, or committee chairmen.

Board members and chairmen of committees and commissions pursuant to this policy may write to the office for a supply of letterhead stationery. A member of a committee or commission should request a supply of stationery through his chairman. A group with a large need for stationery may receive permission from its Society officer to print its own supply, including an identifying line. A copy of this policy should accompany any distribution of official letterhead.

It is not appropriate to use photocopied letterhead. Important official correspondence, especially that going outside the Society, should be the real thing.

Recipients of correspondence who belong to organizations that are rule-bound and bureaucratic, such as government agencies and large businesses, may interpret anything on letterhead stationery as an official statement, no matter how clearly the writer states that it is a personal opinion. Writers should take this into account when stating personal opinions, especially those that may conflict with some society goals or policies. While a writer may want to state his position in the society to help establish his qualifications to comment on the subject of the letter, it is not necessary to use society letterhead to do that.

Reporting Cave Accidents

Members of the NSS can assist in the ongoing collection of information about accidents incurred in caving, whether or not society members are involved. This information is regularly summarized statistically and many of the incidents are narrated in an NSS publication, American Caving Accidents, with critical analyses, in the hope that through knowledge and greater care the number of serious accidents can be reduced. The information should be sent to the editor of American Caving Accidents, (See Newsletter Distribution addresses). Save and submit accounts of incidents that appear in newspapers, magazines, and newsletters, as well as providing a general account. Eyewitness stories are useful.

Download the style guide for incident reports.

Cave Registers

The Contemporary Cave Use Study (CCUS) is established as a permanent committee in the department of the Administrative Vice President. The committee shall have the following mission and responsibilities:

To gather information by using cave registers and other means to advance the knowledge and understanding of cave use in North America. The committee shall provide leadership, advice, and cave register devices to NSS committees, NSS internal organizations, NSS members, and researchers involving the distribution, maintenance, and retrieval of information. It shall make available data and its findings to the NSS, its members, and researchers in order to facilitate cave management, cave conservation, cave safety, and the management of the Society.

The project of placing cave registers in caves, and collecting, analyzing, and disseminating the resulting information has as its official name, the Contemporary Cave Use Study (CCUS).

The "register project," as it is often called, is currently an official NSS study committee reporting to the NSS Administrative Vice-President. The chairman is currently Garrett Czmor (pronounced See More).

If your internal organization would like to participate in the CCUS, contact the chair of the committee. Ask the chair for descriptive material about CCUS and what types of help the committee can use and what commitment of time and energy are expected. Chances are that there are caves in your caving area that need registers. Take into consideration this quote. "Not every cave in the U.S.A. should have a register, only unique ones where the register will have some practical use."

Audio-Visual Library

The NSS AV Library contains numerous caving related slide and video programs which are available for rental by local grottos or individuals. The library contains a wide range of materials including educational programs, slide and video programs on conservation, biology, geology, plus many shows about specific caves and caving areas. There are selections of fiction and music videos.

The library is also used to provide an outlet for video productions on caving made by cavers. Thus you will see productions in the full range from amateur shows to videos that are of broadcast quality (mostly videos).

You can improve the audiovisual library by volunteering to contribute new material.

NSS Awards and Grants

Awards are announced and presented during the annual NSS Convention. The nomination process starts in the fall; watch the NSS News for announcements. Please note that you must make the nominations. If your members wish to recommend someone who deserves recognition, it is never too early to research the person's qualifications and prepare a nomination.

Internal organizations may also wish to establish their own internal program of recognition.

(Note: The NSS Members Manual identifies NSS awards received by members. Find their name and look at the codes following their NSS number.)

Additional information:
Awards information. (pdf)
Grants information.

The NSS Web Page Award is a quarterly award presented to no more than two NSS Internal Organization web sites. Any internal organization web site linked to the NSS home page is eligible for consideration and only IO sites may be nominated. Pages can only win once in a calendar year. Pages not selected can be re-nominated the next quarter.

Please refer elsewhere on the NSS web page for the latest special funds.

Cave Vandalism Deterrence Reward

A. The National Speleological Society will pay a reward of from $250 to $1,000 for information leading to the conviction of any person (or persons) who:

  • Was convicted of breaking, breaking off, cracking, carving upon, writing on, burning, or otherwise marking upon, removing or in any manner destroying, disturbing, defacing, marring, or harming the surfaces of any cave or any natural material which may be found therein, whether attached or broken, including speleothems, speleogens, and sedimentary deposits.

  • Was convicted of breaking, forcing, tampering with, or otherwise disturbing a lock, gate, door, or other obstruction designed to control or prevent access to any cave.

  • Was convicted of dumping, littering, disposing of or otherwise placing any refuse, garbage, dead animals, sewage, toxic substances harmful to cave life or humans in any cave or sinkhole.

  • Was convicted of removing, killing, harming or otherwise disturbing any naturally occurring organisms within any cave.

  • Was convicted of excavating, removing, destroying, injuring, defacing, or in any manner disturbing any burial grounds, historic or prehistoric resources, archeological or paleontological site or any part thereof, including relics, inscriptions, saltpetre workings, fossils, bones, remains of historical human activity, or any other such features which may be found in any cave.

Application for this reward must be made within three months of such conviction to the National Speleological Society, Cave Avenue, Huntsville, Alabama 35810. The NSS Vandalism Deterrence Reward Commission may elect to provide one reward when several individuals are convicted for the same offense or when convictions for a series of offenses could reasonably be considered as a single crime.

B. The NSS offers this reward to anyone providing information that leads to the conviction under any law, of anyone vandalizing a cave anywhere in the United States, providing that the conviction obtained was directly related to cave vandalism as described under Item A.

Conviction under cave laws will justify paying the reward to a person who supplied information that led to a conviction. Convictions under other laws such as property laws might justify a reward provided the conviction was for activities described under Item A. Out of court settlements may also justify a reward provided the offenders were formally charged for activities described under Item A and the settlement promotes cave conservation.

The NSS Vandalism Deterrence Reward Commission will make final determination as to whether a particular set of information qualifies for the reward.

The NSS Vandalism Deterrence Reward Commission shall determine the size of the reward based upon the seriousness of the offense and the success of the prosecution. In the event the prosecution is settled out-of-court, the size of the reward will be based upon how much the settlement promotes cave conservation including such factors as the deterrence of future cave vandalism, the restoration of a specific cave, and the fostering of a cave conservation ethic in the community.

C. The NSS Vandalism Deterrence Reward Commission will not grant a reward in the event of fraud, conspiracy, entrapment, etc. For example, when the informant has deliberately encouraged cave vandalism so that he could later become an informant to get the reward.

D. If several people supply information leading to a conviction of a person (or persons) for the same act of vandalism, then the reward will be split equally among them.

E. All awards will be reviewed by the NSS Administrative Vice President and are subject to AVP approval.

Definitions and Policies for NSS Activities

Certain activities by groups of society members that promote the purposes of the society may be designated as official society functions. The activities described in this policy, while they consist of society members, are not internal organizations of the society by this designation. They will be known collectively as "NSS Activities." The names of some of these activities are widely used generic terms. It is to be understood that this policy refers only to such activities specifically recognized by the society. These activities and the policies relevant to them are as follows:

A trip to a remote area with the goal of substantial original exploration or discovery may be designated a National Speleological Society Expedition. The trip purposes, plans, and leaders must all be approved by the Board of Governors of the Society in advance.

A group of members or an existing internal organization of the society may be designated a Project of the National Speleological Society if its scientific, technical, research, or project goals would be advanced by such a designation.

A group of society members, or an existing internal organization of the society may be designated a Conservation Task Force of the NSS. The basic objectives of a conservation task force are the investigation of one or more cave conservation problems, the reporting and publicizing of their findings and conclusions, the development of recommendations for local or national action, and implementing suitable action to resolve the problem. A conservation task force is organized to address a specific defined problem. The task force is expected to be dissolved when the problem disappears, is resolved, or becomes moot.

A group of individuals or organizations dedicated to cave conservation and having as one of its goals the acquisition, lease, and management of caves and karst properties may be designated a Conservancy of the National Speleological Society.


The following policies may apply to NSS Activities:

1. Each NSS Activity may identify itself as "The (chosen name) . . . ( Conservation Task Force, etc.) . . . of the National Speleological Society" or as "The (chosen name), a (Conservation Task Force, etc.) of the National Speleological Society." It may incorporate at its own discretion.

2. Except for conservancies, all members of the organizing body of such NSS Activities (committee, board, officers, etc) must be members of the Society. All officers of a conservancy must be members of the Society.

3. Any group seeking an official designation as a Society Activity should bring its request to the Board through the appropriate committee of the Society. The authority to make certain designations has been delegated by the Board to committee discretion as noted below.

ActivityArrangements Made ByDesignation Conferred By
Expedition (US)US Exploration CommitteeBoard of Governors
Expedition (Int'l)International Exploration CommitteeBoard of Governors
ProjectResearch Advisory CommitteeResearch Advisory Committee
Task ForceConservation CommitteeConservation Committee
ConservancyCave Conservancies CommitteeBoard of Governors

Other committees will be consulted as necessary. The committee having responsibility for each type of NSS Activity will establish suitable procedures and determine the format and content of an application.

4. Any NSS Activity may raise funds in any manner consistent with the purpose and practices of the Society, but normally through voluntary contributions, group membership dues, equitable distribution of expenses associated with the Activity, fees for goods and services, etc. The Society cannot acknowledge or otherwise verify donations made to NSS Activities unless the donations are received by the Society office or treasurer and recorded in the Society books.

5. The Society shall have no legal or financial obligation to such NSS Activities unless established by contract. Likewise no NSS Activity shall have legal or financial obligation to the Society other than that established by this policy. The Society may, through its regular procedures, be the recipient of contributions designated for use by any of the above Activities and may make awards and grants to these groups.

6. Each NSS Activity will report frequently (at least annually) or at the completion of an expedition, or project, to the Society membership through the sponsoring committee. Interim reports to the committee or the Board may be requested. Significant accomplishments or results by an Acitvity should be submitted to the editor for possible publication in the News or Bulletin.

7. The designation of the above NSS Activities shall terminate upon the submission of a final report, the completion of the group's purposes, dissolution of the group, petition by the group for termination, or determination by the Board of actions contrary to Society policy. The entity which conferred the designation (Board or committee) may terminate it upon evidence of inactivity.

8. Policies and plans of NSS Activities will be established by cooperation between the group and the officers of the Society. The separate and independent nature of conservancies is recognized, although those groups may bring problems to the Board for arbitration if they wish.

9. The Board of Governors may elect to review the official status of any NSS Activity at any time.

10. The designation of NSS Activity shall not confer upon the Society any right of control over, or responsibility for, the equipment, methods, or techniques employed by the group, or the acts, omissions, or decisions of any of the participants.

Tax-Exempt or Non-Profit Status

The NSS is a tax-exempt corporation under the provisions of IRS 501(c)(3).

Internal organizations of the NSS are not tax-exempt just because of their affiliation with the NSS.

If an IO is considering a major project which may require funding beyond what it reasonably expects to raise, it may petition the NSS to approve the project as an NSS Activity. (See Definitions and Policies for NSS Activities elsewhere in this manual.) All funds would flow through the NSS into the project. Tax-free donations would be made to the NSS which, in turn, would reimburse the project. All such funds must be accounted for and documented in a financial report that must be submitted to the NSS.

An internal organization may independently be classified as tax-exempt by the IRS and still remain an internal organization within the NSS.

The application could reasonably point out that the IO has the same purposes under its constitution and by-laws as the NSS which was granted the tax-free status. The application should select the classification of "educational" or "scientific" depending upon the overall goals of the IO.

There is a non-refundable fee to file the application.

Before attempting to file, you may want to check with other IOs that have gone through the process.

NSS Conservation Policy

The National Speleological Society believes:

  • Caves have unique scientific, recreational, and scenic values
  • These values are endangered by both carelessness and intentional vandalism
  • These values, once gone, cannot be recovered
  • The responsibility for protecting caves must be formed by those who study and enjoy them.

Accordingly, the intention of the society is to work for the preservation of caves with a realistic policy supported by effective programs for: the encouragement of self-discipline among cavers; education and research concerning the causes and prevention of cave damage; and special projects, including cooperation with other groups similarly dedicated to the conservation of natural areas. Specifically:

All contents of a cave -- formations, life, and loose deposits -- are significant for their enjoyment and interpretation. Therefore, caving parties should leave a cave as they find it. They should provide means for the removal of waste; limit marking to a few, small, and removable signs as are needed for surveys; and, especially, exercise extreme care not to accidentally break or soil formations, disturb life forms or unnecessarily increase the number of disfiguring paths through an area.

Scientific collection is professional, selective, and minimal. The collecting of mineral or biological material for display purposes, including previously broken or dead specimens, is never justified, as it encourages others to collect and destroy the interest of the cave.

The Society encourages projects such as:

  • Establishing cave preserves
  • Placing entrance gates where appropriate
  • Opposing the sale of speleothems
  • Supporting effective protective measures
  • Cleaning and restoring over-used caves
  • Cooperating with private cave owners by providing them knowledge about their cave and assisting them in protecting their cave and property from damage during cave visits.
  • Encouraging commercial cave owners to make use of their opportunity to aid the public in understanding caves and the importance of their conservation.

Where there is reason to believe that publication of cave locations will lead to vandalism before adequate protection can be established, the society will oppose such publication.

It is the duty of every society member to:
Take personal responsibility for spreading a consciousness of the cave conservation problem to each potential user of caves. Without this, the beauty and value of our caves will not long remain with us.

For more information on cave conservation, see also
  The NSS Conservation Committee pages
  The NSS Cave Conservancies pages
  The NSS Cave Conservation and Management Section pages

Congress of Grottos, Rules of Procedure

This is a brief description of the Congress of Grottos from NSS Bylaws
There shall be a congress held at least once a year for the purpose of affording the membership an opportunity to present their views on all problems relative to the operation of the society.

  1. The Congress shall provide for representation of both internal organizations and individual members and shall be conducted in such a manner prescribed by the Board of Governors until formal rules for governing are adopted by the Congress itself. (Such rules were adopted in 1969.)
  2. The Congress shall have the power to pass resolutions; which resolutions must be considered by the Board of Governors at its next regular meeting.
  3. The Congress shall meet at the annual convention and at such other time as its rules may provide.

Your IO is entitled to a certain number of votes depending upon how many current NSS members have designated your IO as their Primary Affiliation. See the Rules of Procedure for the COG to see the formula.

Landowner Relations

Here are some suggestions for fostering good landowner relations. Remember that visiting caves on private property is a privilege, not a right.

Personal contact is most important. Don't call or write if you can stop by in person and speak to the owner. Always be professional. Don't do anything on his property that you wouldn't want done on your own property. And always get permission.

Offer to take the owner caving if that is at all feasible.

Give copies of cave photos to the owner. The owner will appreciate being able to see the cave even if they have never been inside.

Offer to survey the cave if it has not been surveyed. Give the owner a copy of the map or other material related to the cave.

Offer to do an overland survey or use a GPS to plot the cave location. The owner might appreciate knowing where the cave is in relation to other buildings, wells, or dumping areas.

If the owner needs karst-related work done on his property, offer to work with your grotto, conservancy, or other group to sponsor a work day. You might offer to do a cleanup around the cave or along access roads. The owner might appreciate a fence or gate repair, a new gate, gravel in a parking lot, or other work done in areas where cavers may have caused damage.

Offer to present a slide show for the landowner and his family. The show could be about his cave or nearby caves, an educational presentation about how caves are formed, on bats, sinkhole dumping, or groundwater pollution, or on any topic that concerns the landowner.

A survey or poll of cave owners might be useful to determine their most pressing needs or desires.

Send complimentary copies of your newsletter to landowners.

Send a holiday greeting card.

If your state or area has cave protection laws or laws which limit liability for cave exploration, you may want to consider providing copies to the landowner.

Guidelines for Public Relations

The NSS shall actively encourage the public information media to educate the public on the scientific aspects of caves and karst, foster a respect for the cave environment, and inform the public of human activities that may degrade caves or harm cave inhabitants. The NSS shall also encourage public information which recognizes the accomplishments of the society and its members. The society shall not seek exposure in public media whose purpose is to promote caving as a sport. The NSS shall respond to media inquiries so as to portray the activity in a manner that does not encourage the general public to enter wild caves, but instead fosters respect for the cave environment, promotes safe caving practices, and directs those interested in caves to contact the society. In our relations with the media the NSS shall encourage them to work with us to assure reliable, correct, and appropriate information.

The NSS will supply free factual data and news releases about the society's normal activities as an information service.

For more information on public relations, see also
  The NSS Public Relations Guide

Working with Boy Scout Troops and Youth Groups

Grottos who are contacted by scout groups and other youth groups should give serious consideration to their requests, not necessarily in doing just what they ask, but in some way meeting their needs because these groups are going to be caving, with or without the NSS. Grottos contacted should offer to train Scoutmasters so that they will become competent cavers. Cave exploring, other than simple novice activity, should be limited to those 14 years and older. Safety, conservation, and courtesy to cave owners should be practiced. Read the Guide to Safe Scouting pertaining to caving published by Boy Scouts of America.

For more information on public relations, see also
  Cave Exploring by Scout and Explorer Groups
  NSS Youth Group Caving

NSS Web Page

The NSS maintains a web page at

There is a dropdown box where a viewer may enter a state and click Find. All grottos in or near that state will be displayed.

Regions, Sections, and Surveys:
On the NSS website there is a section for organizations. There is a general description for each active IO. There is a link to the IO website where detailed information is displayed for these IOs.

You can have a link added which will direct viewers to a web site that you may have for your own IO. This is done by updating your IO information and providing your web site URL to the IO Committee. You may also want to provide a link to the NSS web site from your site.

Information concerning IOs which appears on the NSS and IO web sites is provided by the IO Committee. Therefore each IO should update their records with the IO Committee. The IO Committee will make the changes to the NSS and IO web sites.

The NSS will host web sites for IOs for a small fee.

IO E-mail List

The IO Committee has set up an e-mail list in order to send messages of interest to IOs. Only the IO committee chair can send messages to the names on the list. This is to insure that IOs get only messages that may be useful for conducting their business.

Each internal organization is responsible for the e-mail addresses on the list since the e-mail list is derived directly from the online records maintained by IOs.

The following e-mail addresses for your IO are on the list (providing they exist)

  1. IO home e-mail address

  2. Contact-1 e-mail address

  3. Contact-2 e-mail address

  4. Supplemental (person(s) who want to receive messages for your IO)

To make changes to items 1-3, update your IO records online at

To be added to (or deleted from) the supplemental list, contact me.

If you have a message that should go to all persons on the IO e-mail list - or a subset of the list, contact me.

Paul Winter,
IO Committee Chair

NSS Memberships Types and Fees

For more information on NSS membership programs, please visit;
  NSS Membership Categories & Fees

Events Sponsored by the NSS

NSS Convention
Each year, the NSS sponsors the NSS Convention which is attended by cavers from all over the world.

An annual convention is held during the summer months at the convenience of the hosting organizations.

A typical convention consists of a combination of learning opportunities and entertainment. Several planned parties and many spontaneous ones are mixed with a number of formal sessions where papers on many subjects are presented. Sporting contests are held and publications are sold. Some people camp; others stay in dorms or motels. Almost every caver can find something interesting to do at the week long convention.

National Cave and Karst Management Symposium
The society also sponsors the National Cave and Karst Management Symposium. The symposium is a gathering of cavers, cave owners, property managers, and public officials involved or interested in cave and karst resource management, and the premier event of its type in the world. Proceedings from past symposia are available from the NSS Bookstore.

Dissolving an Internal Organization

When an IO decides to disband, dissolve, or otherwise cease to exist, it must follow certain procedures, document those procedures, and provide a written report to the IO Committee. Many IOs already have this in their constitution or bylaws. For help, please contact a member of the IO Committee.

Any assets remaining must be disposed of in the proper fashion. The legalese states it this way. No benefits resulting from the operation of the Internal Organization shall inure to the benefit of or be distributed to its members, trustees, officers, or other private persons. Your constitution and or bylaws probably contain a provision covering your non-profit status, and procedures to be followed in the event of dissolution. If those provisions are not there, it is not too late to have them included.

Liabilities and Agreements:
Determine and document liabilities. Liabilities may include rent, printing, postage, and other outstanding bills. These outstanding debts should be similar to ones that have occurred in the past. The disbandment should not be an occasion to pay someone for a favor. Be sure to include, however, costs associated with disbandment, for example, shipping costs.

If there has been some commitment with some other person or group to perform certain duties, the other party should be informed that the IO has been dissolved and will no longer be performing those duties. This might include screening applications to enter a cave and issue gate keys in behalf of the cave owner, or an agreement with a federal or state agency to inventory and survey caves on their property. If permission to use a building for a field house is documented, arrangements might be made for another IO to take over that building.

Determine and document all assets of the IO.

  • Money in checking account, savings or certificates of deposit etc., or cash on hand.

  • Real estate such as a field house or cave entrance if owned by the IO.

  • Library of caving magazines, cave-related books, maps, survey data, etc.

  • Gear and equipment. (not real estate), such as caving equipment (Rope, vertical gear, party tarp, surveying equipment, rescue cache, vehicle or trailer, printing equipment, etc.)

  • Archives, i.e., the accumulated correspondence, reports, receipted bills, etc. including the initial NSS approval and charter, bylaws, memorandum covering arrangements etc. to manage cave access, keys, to inventory caves on a property.

Distribution of Assets:
Many IO constitutions have a section on dissolution. If there is no section or it is unclear, here are some guidelines.

Check the files to see if some strings were attached to disposition of real estate or other assets; perhaps the original owner specified that the asset be returned in the event of dissolution.

Archives. These should be bundled up and sent to the IO Committee or sent directly to the NSS Library.

Real estate and tangible assets could be sold or auctioned off, and the proceeds added to the monetary assets. They may be donated to another non-profit agency. For instance, rope and rescue equipment might be given to a rescue squad. An active college student outing club might receive vertical gear. Printing equipment could be advertised within the caving community.

Maps and survey data should be given to whatever NSS survey is active for that region or, for lack of such a destination, to the NSS Cave Files Committee. If there is reluctance to do this, perhaps there is a state geological survey that would be preferable.

Books and newsletters could be auctioned at a regional or national auction, sold at a local auction, or donated to another library.

Final disposition:
Dispose of the money by donating it to the NSS or one of the several conservancies established to buy and/or manage caves, or to some other non-profit cave-related agency.

Send a detailed written report of how assets were disposed of to the NSS IO Committee.

NSS Guidelines for Naming Caves and Karst Features

A new cave name will affect many people for a long time. Thus, it must be acceptable to local citizens, cavers, other users, and even in some cases government agencies. It is the responsibility of the caver to evaluate each name proposal as to its appropriateness, acceptability, and need (relative to the feature, its location, and the user community) before it is adopted. It is general policy to avoid excessive or needless naming of features.

Most of these guidelines apply only to features that have never been named. Names for features already established in spoken or written form by local citizens are given priority. A person who wishes to propose a name for an unnamed feature is expected to determine, to the best of his or her ability, whether a feature is actually named. When considering a new name proposal, the namer should be guided by the following criteria:

1. Recommended Kinds of New Names
Imaginative names that are relatively unique or distinctive are preferred, provided they are not incompatible with forms of other names existing in the areas in which they will be used. Names descriptive of topographical form, suggested by local history, folklore, incident, or by associated natural life or other phenomena are preferred. This includes Indian and other ethnic names appropriate to the area in which the features are located.

2. Duplication of Names
A proposed name should not duplicate another name in the state or a nearby adjoining state (There are already too many of these duplicated cave names.) The use of numbers in cave names is not recommended (eg. Big Cave #1, Big Cave #2, etc.).

3. Recommended Name Form
Proposed new names are expected to perform useful service as proper names. They normally should be as short as possible and easily pronounced. Preferably the pronunciation should be apparent from the spelling. Complex and difficult-to-pronounce names often are not accepted by users.

4. Qualifying Words in Names
Use of qualifying or relational words (middle, upper, north, big, etc.) in the naming of caves and related karst features should be avoided unless the name is associated with a relational name already in use. Whenever possible, new names should be distinctive.

5. Generic Names
When a generic term (cave, pot, pit, cueva, sotano, system, etc.) is used, it must be appropriate to the feature and generally conform to those already in use in the area.

6. Personal Names
A personal name should not be adopted unless it is determined to be in the public and caving community's interest to honor the person or family for historical or commemorative reasons. The person or family being honored should have been directly associated with the feature being named or have made a significant contribution to the area of the cave. A cave should not be named for a landowner unless the landowner requests it. The following is also recommended:

a. Names that commemorate, or can be construed to commemorate, living persons should not be used.
b. A person should be deceased at least one year before a commemorative name should be considered.

7. Names in Wilderness Areas, National Parks, and Natural Areas
In these areas, the managing agency prefers to restirct the number and types of names. The agency should be consulted before naming.

8. Lands Administered by State and Local Jurisdictions
If a cave lies in lands administered by state or local jurisdiction, the name proposal should be coordinated with the responsible agency.

9. Derogatory Names
Names that imply discrimination or are derogatory to a particular person, race, or religion should not be used. This also applies to names considered obscene or blasphemous in a present-day cultural context.

10. Recommended Order of Naming

a. Names used by local residents
b. Name based on geographic locality or feature
c. Name derived from a particular feature of the cave
d. Name derived from an incident or folklore, etc.
e. Name of landowner

11. Name Changes
Names should only be changed if absolutely necessary (i.e. duplication, derogatory, or obscene names). Commercial Caves are often renamed for the purpose of attracting more customers. While this is condoned, all efforts should be made to retain the original name in parenthesis. [e.g., Cumberland Caverns (Higgenbotham and Henshaw Caves)].

New names should be circulated as soon as possible to all interested parties, including the Cave Names Committee of the NSS Section of Cave Geology and Geography, to avoid possible duplication and extra names.

NSS Cave Files Policy

For more information on the society's cave files policy, please visit;
  NSS Cave Files Policy & Fees