Ideas for Affiliates and Chapters

I wrote this article after talking to many affiliate leaders as a member of the membership committee. Feel free to contact me for more details on these suggestions.

Affiliates use different ways of inviting new members and other interested persons to attend meetings. If your affiliate has not tried some of these methods, perhaps some will work for your group. Publicity helps to promote your group to a wider audience. Even if blind persons may not read the newspaper, friends and family may see items in the local paper. Most newspapers have columns of weekly or monthly events, Radio stations will often allow spot service announcements that give meeting times, places, dates, and other information. Some stations have a weekly or monthly calendar of events. Some cable networks also have a scrolling screen covering coming events. (your affiliate could also use this opportunity to tell them that visually impaired persons need to rely on others to get this information and that it would be beneficial to have these calendars spoken aloud.) Radio reading services and telephone reading services should be contacted to see if announcements of events are allowed. Chapter or state newsletters should give dates, times, and places of regular chapter meetings. Phone trees are useful in calling members and other interested persons. Electronic phone tree programs are available that allow lists of phone numbers to be called with specific messages. These programs also allow members to respond to specific questions. These are helpful when many leaders have busy schedules and people are hard to reach when called. However, most members do originally come to a meeting because of personal contact. Inviting a friend or new acquaintance to come is still the best way to get new members.

Special events sponsored by chapters or state affiliates are a good way to encourage new persons to come. Your group will want to get publicity. Publicity needs to be planned ahead of time.

Most media companies need two weeks to a month advance notice of an event. Radio news releases or interviews are a way to get the event publicized. TV interviews or news items generated by calling them about your special event work especially in smaller communities. Newspaper news releases and news coverage of special events are also possible if you plan for them. Articles about special coming events should also be included in affiliate and chapter newsletters. Notifying schools or other interested persons about special contests, awards, or scholarships is a good way to promote these special activities. Inviting college students to participate in your affiliate and chapter meetings after they apply for a scholarship is a good way to show interest in younger persons. Of course, inviting them before they apply is even better but sometimes members are not aware of some blind students until they do apply for a scholarship. Contests for younger children can create awareness in the community about your group. These can range from coloring and writing contests for classes in public schools or contests specifically for blind students.

Affiliate and chapter members need to know what resources are available from your affiliate office and the national office for their use. Some items would include: ABC’s of ACB, national and affiliate brochures, policies and procedures, Constitution and by-laws, chapter or state newsletters, web sites, list servs, and other documents. If your affiliate does not currently have a brochure, consider writing one. Even chapters sometimes use simple flyers so they have information to hand out when they have bake sales and other fund-raising projects. These can be simple with just the most basic information about your group.

Your affiliate and local chapters should learn what advocacy services are available for members. These could include national and state organizations or agencies that advocate in different areas. These might be different depending on whether your group is a state or special interest affiliate. However, some are beneficial to all blind persons in areas such as housing, transportation, and health services.

Sharing convention planning ideas with other affiliates would be beneficial to all. Asking other affiliates for past program agendas or about what worked best for them might help your affiliate in planning an upcoming convention. Special interest affiliates could share programs that interest more than one group.

These shared programs could alleviate costs for both affiliates and encourage more attendance overall.

Transportation is a problem at times in most affiliates and chapters. Contacting area Lions Clubs, AARP chapters, and church groups works in many areas. Offering to pay spouses of members and paying partial cab fares for those not able to afford them may work. Having meetings and activities on bus routes can be very helpful. Some cities and towns have van services available for disabled and elderly persons for a modest fee.

Support mechanisms in chapters are a way to encourage newly blinded individuals to come. Having periodic social functions keep some members interested rather than other advantages of the group.

Another support area would be to give local information to members concerning what AARP, Green Thumb, and other local service organizations or agencies could provide for members in the way of readers, drivers, and other specific health care needs. Meetings could include a time for sharing specific known services that members would find helpful.

Contacting doctors, opthamologists, and hospitals and leaving cards or brochures for them to pass on to patients could get others interested in your organization. Some may be reluctant unless your group makes it clear that persons with all levels of visual impairment could use assistance and support at times.

Having local list servs or chat rooms available would help members and friends keep in touch and would help the group communicate more effectively. Affiliates should have web sites for interested persons to find information. These can also be used to promote any coming events.

Some special activities and events that groups have use are having a potluck with each person bringing food to share along with the recipe for the food they brought, progressive dinners with each course at a different home (have different members or friends at each course too if transportation if numbers are adequate), progressive dinner with people just eating different courses with different mix of people, soup suppers, box socials, Christmas parties with caroling or games, game nights, sports events with adequate sighted help, picnics, banquets, and luncheons.

Sharing hobbies or collections with members, i.e. crafts, pottery, basket weaving, artificial flower arranging, knitting, crocheting, painting, sculpture, wood making, poetry, writing, collections of old radio shows, porcelain dolls, salt and pepper shakers, shot glasses, etc.

Showing audio described videos is another favorite. Some groups rent a described video or have members who own videos bring one to share. This has also been an activity at some conventions.

Sharing technology related information may be a bigger way to encourage attendance from younger members. However, many electronic and computer related devices are becoming easier for older blind persons to use also. Time could be used at some meetings for sharing new items members have used or seen at conferences they’ve attended.

Members should share what they do for their careers, hobbies, and recreation. A ten-minute share time at some meetings could help members know each other better. When members feel comfortable in a group, they will remain involved much longer.

Making a booklet of local services that are available in any given area might be helpful to members, i.e. local restaurants and groceries with delivery service, handy-man services, house-cleaning services, etc. A booklet could be made of different services members provide (volunteer or own businesses).

Members sharing little techniques for making life easier, new labeling techniques, gadgets that work well, etc. would provide interesting information for other members.

Awards should be given to those who promote the organization. For example, a certificate to the member bringing the most first-timers could be given. A certificate or life membership could be given to members who do extraordinary services for the organization. Awards for the best article in the chapter or affiliate newsletter or publication is another way of thanking those who support the affiliate. special promotions of these awards might encourage those not as much involved to participate more.

Fund-raisers such as Stanley or Tupperware parties also may encourage new persons to come to your group. Other companies may give a percentage of the sales to an affiliate. Sometimes fund-raisers are another social activity that members might enjoy.

Volunteering to talk to driver’s education classes in local high schools and community colleges as well as talking to special classes for reckless or frequently ticketed individuals can educate persons as well as making your community aware of your organization.

Celebrating Braille Literacy Day is another outreach mechanism. Observe White Cane Safety Day. Members can get the mayor, city council, county commissioners, or governor to sign proclamations and post them in prominent places. Sometimes newspapers are willing to publish news releases or copies of proclamations (especially in smaller communities). These are excellent opportunities to let more people know about your group.

Your affiliate or local chapter could Write to high schools and colleges about your organization and inform them speakers are available as a resource for them. You can offer to be of assistance to blind or visually impaired students as well as being available to speak to classes about the capabilities of blind or visually impaired persons.

Hopefully, some of these ideas can be used by one of your affiliates or local chapters. Don’t forget, though, inviting someone is still the easiest and best way to get that person interested.

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Ardis Bazyn
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