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OPPORTUNITIES TO NETWORK, COMMUNICATE AND CONTACT
Keys to Commitment
Since we cannot judge the reasons as to why people join any organization, it is extremely important to provide several avenues of interest or focus in meetings and activities. Members join for many personal reasons. Even though more than a social outlet must be offered, social interaction is crucial and social events will keep people interested in organizational participation. Allocate time for conversation and sharing at meetings.
Networking with members allows leaders to listen to what they say. Listen to both the content of conversations as well as to the intent. Sometimes strong leaders do not ask for enough input. If the needs of members are known, it will be easier to excite them about the ongoing work of the organization.
Invite members and friends to social functions and they will be far more likely to participate in the issue driven work of the organization. A variety of activities and advocacy efforts based on member feedback will usually encourage everyone to stay involved. Give people tasks using their talents and abilities, remembering that not everyone has the same priorities. The organization must meet the needs of the majority of the membership.
Picture having a net to draw people in, seeing, however, that not all of them stay in the net. Throwing out this net must be an ongoing process. If it is current policy to invite potential members to complete an application, be sure that there is a section in which they can list areas in which they would like to serve. Give members some responsibility and an opportunity to volunteer. Call people and ask them specifically how they would like to serve, making sure that they understand that their service is crucial to the ongoing health of the organization. Members will feel more useful and comfortable with the group and will be more likely to contribute significantly to the organization. Of course, not everyone will be an active member even when given encouragement. Do not defeat the heart and initiative of members when the goals of the leadership are not immediately met. Compromise and communication are important tools. Consideration of each person, compromising on ideas, and ongoing communication give optimum results. If members feel comfortable with the leaders in the organization, they will be more willing to share issues and problems. Obviously, the leadership will not win everyone over to its ideas but failure makes leaders stronger and helps them understand how to become more effective.
Reach out to others by tapping into their gifts and that action will help everyone grow. Recognize the talents of all members. Consider issues such as ability, follow through and transportation needs before giving work assignments. Positive communication and feedback are necessary since negativity can damage a relationship or prevent one from forming.
Keep expectations reasonable when assigning tasks to new members and to those who begin to express an interest in working for the organization. For example, ask someone to phone members for a while before asking him/her to chair the phone committee. This will allow the member to feel comfortable with the assignment and will avoid the error of overwhelming him/her with responsibility before he/she is ready to take it on. As a result, moving on to more and more responsibility is a natural process built on the enabling power of positive experience.
Remember that "The best way to learn is to teach." There is always an opportunity to learn from the group. Consider the feelings and abilities of members. Use people that volunteer and call those that are to shy to volunteer. Work under the assumption that members may not be up to leadership expectations; but remember that time and experience are the keys to unlock talent, skill and leadership abilities. Never compromise on the principles on which the organization is built.
It is important to delegate jobs in order to involve members and "let go" of some of the details. Recognize the efforts of others in meetings and newsletters. It is important to make a note each time that someone offers to help. Follow through on the offer and give an assignment. Otherwise, the person may not volunteer again.
Mentor younger people and train them in leadership skills and in the organization's affairs.
Networking Communicating and Contacting Via Social Activities
Social activities, the organizational net or magnet, include: parties or get-togethers, fund-raisers, or advocacy or educational activities. Some examples of parties or get-togethers for fun are Christmas or other holiday parties, scavenger hunts, pot lucks, progressive dinners, banquets or restaurant dinners, picnics, pizza parties, and sporting events (bowling, beep ball, golf, swimming, hiking, miniature golf, skiing, shuffleboard, horseshoes, board or card games, or spectator sports). Some examples of fund-raisers are barbecues, box socials, pizza parties inviting the community, product driven parties, musical events, pancake breakfast, soup suppers, or comedy nights. Educational and advocacy related functions may provide awareness to the community. Examples include attending a DVD movie, an opera or play, a museum, an amusement park, or county or state fair.
When arranging an event at a public place, the social committee must communicate with the management explaining the needs of the group such as volunteer assistance or audio description. Choose a date and time wisely considering transportation needs. Cost must be considered since many people cannot afford high priced events. If the members are spread out in a large geographical area, plan events that cover that area so that each member can attend at least some of the planned activities. Arrange different types of events taking into consideration the varying interests of members.
Appoint several members to this social planning committee, members who are not usually otherwise involved in the organization. Be sure to include people of different ages and interests in the planning group. Remember to plan activities at socials in order to allow new people attending to meet the members and to feel included so that attendance at the next meeting will be an easy decision for them to make.
Working with Volunteers
Some events will need a larger number of volunteers. Have members recruit or advertise for them. Churches and Lions Clubs are good sources for volunteers. Actively recruit volunteers in order to insure a meaningful number since it is essential to do everything possible to avoid volunteer "burn out". Be sure to have enough volunteers at any function so none are overworked. Provide training in advance if the volunteers are not familiar with how best to assist blind people. If volunteers are needed for different purposes such as serving food, collecting tickets, escorting blind persons to seats or rest rooms, and cooking or cleaning up; make sure that each person understands how to carry out the task that he/she is being asked to fulfill in order to insure the necessary comfort level. Be sure that members understand the etiquette of working with a volunteer. Make it clear to members and volunteers alike that volunteers are present to assist everyone. If members want personal volunteers, they should be encouraged to provide their own. Be sure to thank volunteers and show appreciation in creative ways. Present a small gift or offer a free meal from time to time. If volunteers are asked to guide blind persons at tours or other events where a cost is involved, their costs should be paid in advance. Drivers should be reimbursed for gasoline and the cost of their meals should be covered by the organization. One way to cover some of these expenses is via the use of coupons.
Sponsor students to events such as legislative seminars and leadership seminars. Encourage young people and respect their ideas and they will be more likely to remain in your organization. Schools for the blind and disabled student services offices are good places to recruit students. Positive mentors are a great drawing card. Grants can be obtained to fund projects, particularly mentoring and youth activities (river rafting, skiing, and other special youth sports). Summer is a good time to have membership building activities. However, do not sacrifice older members by concentrating too much on reaching out to the young.
Support groups pose unique challenges for recruitment as well as interesting advocacy issues. Education and mentoring are important. Contact the president or leader of any support group and offer to share the history of ACB and its state and local affiliates, emphasizing how these organizations impact the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired. Support groups might prefer to join as a separate chapter. These members may not feel comfortable joining a chapter where they may assume that the membership will not understand their concerns. When recruiting any group to begin a new chapter of the organization, offer a small financial incentive (perhaps $200) for seed money. Working on issues that the group has already bought into can help draw them into the organization. Visit senior centers to see what the needs are. Inform them of what blind people can accomplish especially with the help of ACB and its state and local affiliates. Never be shy about touting the programs and services of the state affiliate and its local chapters.
Seniors will be very interested in demonstrations of the latest aids and technology for low vision such as CCTVs.
Newly blinded persons especially older ones may have more difficulty with adjusting to their blindness. Encourage these members to raise funds by saving items such as coupons, box tops, and bottles to be redeemed. This kind of fund raising helps the organization and gives the members a sense of their real value to it. The organization must accept these groups where they are while encouraging and allowing them to grow as individuals and as a chapter. If the membership chooses to stress social outlets with educational and inspirational speakers, accept that.
One way to encourage newly blind individuals to network with others and to share accomplishments is to attend a summer camp. There are some camps specifically for blind persons. These help individuals learn independence and share activities with others that are blind. The organization may choose to rent a facility like this for a summer activity that might inspire newly blinded or other nonmembers to take that first step toward membership. Using A Web Site and List Service
A website is a vehicle that allows for ease of distributing information and will lessen the expense of mass communication. Be sure to provide instructions on how to access the website. Major search engines are free and they can be used to look for information and programs and services.
It is relatively easy to create a web page and update it often if the organization has access to individuals with the right programs and computer skills. It is a simple task to put a word document onto the site by simply saving it as an HTML file and then transferring or saving it locally on a server or through a service provider. "Microsoft Front Page" displays accessible forms if they are needed in a web page. GWMicro and other companies have tutorials on html for blind computer users.
Any organizational information in print should be available on the web site, information such as welcome brochures, membership brochures, newsletters, by-laws, Board minutes and links to other resources. The organization must keep the website updated and use current information. Add a line listing the date of the last update and readers will know that the information is current. Provide links to the organization's affiliates and their chapters sites. Give direct access to board and committee members by Creating links to them. Contact links should be placed at the bottom of the page.
Check other affiliate websites to get ideas on how information is set up and what is included. Design the site by creating the text first and then adding links later. Register the site with search engines. Contact www,addme,com and it will add the website to search engines.
Register the domain name. www.networksolutions.com is the most well known domain registration service. A link can be created directly to the affiliate from ACB's website; contact Earlene Hughes, ACB's Webmaster to arrange this.
There are various ways to check websites for 508 accessibility guidelines and compliance such as
List servs are also useful tools for keeping members apprised of events and provides an opportunity for free and open discussion and exchange of ideas. Guidelines must be established by the list serv moderator and they should be posted to each subscriber when they join the list. A list serv is also a viable way to keep the board or specific committees informed on particular situations. Most list servs are easy to subscribe to by sending an email message to them. Private lists for board and committee members are also helpful and the list moderator can subscribe designated members. Two free list serv providers are Yahoogroups and topica. Search for appropriate and convenient providers. It should be noted that free service providers of list servs or web sites may contain advertisements or graphics which may hamper navigation for users of screen readers.
Working with a Phone Tree
A phone tree should be used to notify members of meetings, speakers, activities or legislative efforts. The affiliate can conduct business using a phone system with a voice message that goes out to a group of people using t-mail systems. These can also be expanded to a larger area to get out a more regional message. These systems can be used to recruit people to attend hearings, conferences or some other event where representation is crucial. Most local telephone companies offer telephone distribution lists and they can be contacted for information on specific systems and their cost. Some of these systems will actually place individual calls. Free telephone calling systems are available; but it is necessary to listen to advertisements when accessing them. Some telephone mail lists provide password protection as well as the option to program in the numbers to be called. The message is then sent to the programmed list. Be careful not to send out automatic messages in the middle of the night. Try to limit the number of messages sent to members as well. If too many are sent, they might be ignored.
Phone trees are helpful in keeping members in touch with the organization. If members are contacted each month before the meeting and reminded about interesting speakers and other important meeting details, they will be more likely to attend. If a person is chronically absent, suggest that he/she be contacted approximately five times or for as long as the person expresses any interest in organizational participation.
Some organizations use a member driven phone tree in which one member volunteers to call a small group of members. This option promotes friendship as well as direct outreach. The personal or phone contact will increase attendance. In the message, stress the option that the member can contact the president at any time to ask about a missed speaker or topic.
Networking, communication and contact comprise the net or magnet that draws members into the organization. They are essential to the growth of any organization, its affiliates and chapters.
Report of the ACB Membership Committee
It is with deep gratitude that I acknowledge the excellent work of the Networking, Communication and Contact Panel. Their contributions to the seminar make this report into a resource that will be used and valued for years to come. Thank you: Ardis Bazyn, Ed Bradley, Sam Gael, Richard Rueda, and Pat Sheehan.
Many thanks to the volunteer scribes: Ardis Bazyn, Kathy Brockman and Judi Cannon.
I gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the ACB Membership Committee: Ardis Bazyn, Alan Beatty, Ed Bradley, Judi Cannon, Paulette Monthi, Janis Stanger and Tom Tobin. I also wish to thank Brian Charlson, ACB First Vice President and Membership Committee Coordinator, and Terry Pacheco, ACB Coordinator of Affiliate and Membership Services, who have served the Membership Committee so well.
What can I say about Ardis Bazyn except that she has been an assistant extrordinaire.
Debbie Grubb, Chair
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