Focus On Membership Recruitment and Retention

Several questions were posed to participants in the recent Membership Recruitment and Retention Seminar, sponsored by the ACB Membership Committee, at the mid-year Presidents’ Meetings in February, 2003. This article is an attempt to summarize all the information and good ideas which emerged from those discussions. Perhaps your affiliate is concerned about recruiting new members or retaining those members who sometimes fade away after the summer picnic or December holiday party. You will find that others share your concerns, and you will also find that many affiliates have developed some very transferable strategies for recruiting new members and hanging onto existing ones.

As the meeting room in Pittsburgh came alive with shared concerns and excitement about strategies that seem to have worked for many affiliates, I was gratified to hear more positives being expressed than negatives! I hope that this compilation of the many discussions which took place all over our meeting room will be helpful to all ACB affiliates as we endeavor to grow. After all, our members are our most valuable asset.

Identifying Problems

What are your affiliate’s greatest challenges in membership building and retention? When this question was posed, answers like these were forthcoming from every corner of the room:

Many of our members are older and dying, leaving fewer members in the chapters. Retaining younger members is difficult when affiliates contain predominantly older members because of the inter-generational conflicts that can arise.

For many affiliates, competition with local NFB chapters is a struggle. Many older adults who are blind don’t want to admit they are blind, so it can be tricky to try to recruit them into an organization which identifies itself – proudly ‐ as “blind.”

The fact that only about twenty percent of our members are actually active–while the other 80 percent reap the benefits of the work of few–can lead to resentment.

Dissention between chapters about who should do what and which projects have priority can discourage people from attending regularly.

Finding the right people to do all the necessary jobs in the chapter and/or affiliate can be difficult.

Motivating members to participate and promoting cooperation between members on projects can make progress toward achieving goals seem slow.

Transportation and geography constitute big challenges. Special interest affiliates can have a harder time recruiting members because of the long distances over which people may be spread out. A feeling of isolation in rural areas can create a lack of interest, and it can be difficult even for the most interested members to travel to state or national ACB conventions.

Sometimes new members don’t understand the real purpose of the organization. More people need to be exposed to the national organization to truly understand our broad focus. Finding members, interesting them in the group, getting them to meetings, and then keeping them coming are all necessary aspects of membership recruitment and retention.

What Works?

What have your greatest successes as an affiliate been? Providing various incentives seems to be an effective way to build membership. One chapter conducted a membership drive during which they collected free dinner coupons or certificates as rewards for members based on a point system. They kept a record of visitors and the member who invited them. Extra points were added if a visitor became a new member.

Several states dispense “opportunity grants” and scholarships. Instead of sending a check to the individuals who are awarded grants or win scholarships, one affiliate explained that they send out gift certificates so that a grant or scholarship recipient will know where the money actually came from. Some affiliates provide grants for new chapters to spur more growth.

One affiliate allows members to have first choice to ride free on an activity bus. Other affiliates give discounts to members for specific activities or products. Some affiliates offer discounts to members who join for multiple years; this strategy offers the bonus of encouraging members to remain actively involved.

A suggestion to encourage timely dues payments is to offer a discount for renewing early in a new year.

What strategies work for recruiting students? Offering a variety of recreational activities draws new and younger members. Relevant programs might be designed for each age group particularly students. A mentoring program can keep students involved with the group as well. Grant funding might be sought for funding such a mentoring program.

Some affiliates encourage students to join by giving a free initial membership. Inviting students to participate at state conventions and giving discounts or free tickets to particularly appealing events works as well.

Better Public Relations

All of these suggestions were offered as tried and true techniques for raising an affiliates profile and visibility in the community: Improve your image by becoming more involved in community activities, political networks, advisory boards, and other membership or business organizations. Go to malls and fairs to distribute information about your organization. Supply press releases about successful vendors, special events, or other items of interest to your local news media. Highlighting affiliate successes by Using local tag lines in press releases can focus more attention on your group. Send names of members to local speakers bureaus. Conduct interesting seminars in your local area that can attract new people.

Send brochures to all rehab centers and independent living centers in the state. One chapter talked to a local para transit company about how their group, could help blind and visually impaired people to cope with blindness, and now the agency is actively sending possible members their way.

Invite parents of blind children to your monthly meetings. Families of blind members should be encouraged to participate in a chapter’s activities.

Older adults may be recruited through senior centers, optometrist and ophthalmologist offices, and blind support groups which affiliates can sponsor and help to run.

Many chapters invite local lions clubs to send a representative to their meetings. Blind lions can distribute a chapter’s brochures or other materials at their Lions’ Club meetings, and sometimes, Lions’ Clubs help by funding or providing materials in alternate formats. Lions also drive for some groups in rural areas and are a good organization for members to join for possible networking with other members of their community.

E-Squared: Educate and Entertain!

Eat and meet meetings allow more networking opportunities while allowing enough time for programs and necessary business to be accomplished. Programs, social events, and services should be arranged to keep the maximum amount of people involved. Chapter meetings present the perfect opportunity to educate members about community resources, as well as special-interest affiliates. Some chapters invite vendors that sell aids, appliances, and the technologies that blind people use. One chapter has purchased a cabinet to sell blindness related products and distributes brochures to those interested in learning more about them.

One state affiliate offered this advice: “Be frisky and energetic about your group. Offer more services: 800 numbers, DVS movie rentals, or a dial-in news service, and a directory of resources”.

Starting state chapters of special interest affiliates is a good way to attract and involve new members. Help people feel welcome at your monthly meetings and social activities. It is important to break the closed circle. Help each person feel valuable.

Letting people share their personal experiences with various health-related treatments or therapies can give them an improved sense of worth. And, those

50/50 drawings at monthly meetings are fun and an easy way to spark excitement, and accumulate funding for further outreach and growth.

Each past president should mentor a newly elected president through the initial process. This will improve the comfort level of the whole chapter.

More communication keeps chapters together. Newsletters, list services, chat-lines, and websites are helpful for those who use computers. Phone calls to members who don’t attend regularly might encourage more attendance. Members as well as nonmembers should be included on regular call or phone-tree lists until they ask to be taken off of them. Send out reminder letters. Call friends of friends. Member get a member campaigns can be very successful because of the personalized contacts. Newsletters in alternate format and phone trees are positive ways to keep members, and friendly personal contact is even more effective.

What About Your Chapter?

What Can ACB do to Help You Become More Successful? There was lots of advice for the national organization, including: State presidents find it helpful when they are sent names of people from their state who sign up for a membership on the ACB web site. Any membership application online needs to state what the affiliate membership dues are. Also, there should be a way to accumulate the names of people who call their state affiliate or the national office to ask for specific information.

All presidents appreciate as much information about legislative issues as possible. The paper written about the 13 principles should be more widely distributed.

More communication about all the resources which are available from ACB, Including what is available online for downloading, should be repeated regularly for new officers and members.

Disseminating more local press releases throughout all the state affiliates would be beneficial. More distribution of these releases to local papers would be appreciated as well.

It was suggested that the national office should communicate yearly membership comparison data to affiliates–after the membership lists have been processed. Then affiliate and chapter presidents or membership chairs can call people who have not rejoined. Some asked if lists of members might be sent earlier, or whether it might be possible for an affiliate representative to work, over the phone, with an ACB staff person in regard to the membership lists.

It was suggested that ACB keep in contact with both the president and the secretary (or other membership-related designee). A state president may not always have the time or technology to communicate necessary data to an affiliate in a timely manner.

State conventions offer wonderful opportunities for members who live in the same region of the country to get together and share information. It might help if all the affiliates could send notices about their conventions to the ACB leadership listserv far enough in advance to allow members from nearby states to attend.

It would be helpful for the national office to collect all the brochures from ACB affiliates; in addition, affiliates should share recorded public service announcements and local news coverage with one another. Perhaps the ACB web site could facilitate sharing of these kinds of communications media.

Leadership seminars should be encouraged. Joint seminars can attract members from an entire region, just as easily as from only one state.

The Presidents’ meeting should always provide how-to documents and checklists for all the affiliates, and the packets of information that are used during the meeting should be mailed to any affiliate presidents who cannot attend. Some training seminars could be extended or expanded for presentation at the summer convention.

The Presidents’ Meeting Membership Recruitment and Retention seminar lasted for about ninety minutes. Everyone who participated or attended left the meeting in an exhilarated frame of mind. I hope this re-cap of many of the ideas shared on that snowy Sunday morning will generate a similar let’s-go-out-and-expand-our-family attitude among all our affiliate leaders.

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