Membership Focus: Creative Ways to Meet, Especially in Rural Areas, compiled by Ardis Bazyn

January's "Membership Focus" call topic was "Creative ways to meet, especially in rural areas." Participants on the call gave suggestions relating to methods of communication as well as positive benefits of rural areas. Members were asked to share communication for both computer and non-computer users.
 
The first suggestion was using teleconference calling. There are several free conference calling systems, including freeconference.com, freeconferencecall.com, and freeconferencepro.com. Freeconferencepro.com can give you a personalized message for your call, with whatever wording you want. While it is free to the organization, individual callers are charged for the long-distance charges if they do not have unlimited calling plans. One way to assist those without unlimited plans is to have those with three-way calling in their plan to call a person who cannot afford to pay the charges.
 
Using Skype for group calls is another alternative. It can be used for group calls or as an add-on for a meeting where some members are too far away to attend in person. However, Skype limits the number of callers who can participate. One person would have to be on a computer.
 
For an in-person meeting wanting to incorporate outside members, you can teleconference using a speaker phone. However, most facilities charge for the use of a speaker phone. You can sometimes find another organization to assist with the cost. Perhaps a Lighthouse for the Blind might donate the use of a phone line. One downside of using a speaker phone is the extra time taken to make sure all can be heard and all have time to speak. Some with hearing difficulties may find it harder as well. Also, not all locations will support a speaker phone. Wireless connections may not always work. If you plan to use one, check the location for a broadband connection or wireless capability. Occasionally, an iPhone with a Bluetooth speaker and headphones will give a better connection, especially for someone using hearing aids. If you need an outlet for a computer, bring extra extension cords and duct tape to tape them down so no one trips on them.
 
Any kind of conference calling system can be an issue, so you should send participants a conference call etiquette message ahead of time. If you do, mention that any distractions can make it hard for others to hear: heavy breathing, sneezing, coughing, dogs barking, using the restroom, dishes clattering, etc. Mention muting instructions at the beginning of the call. If both spouses will be on the call, one should come on the call first and mute the call before the other comes online. Otherwise, both should just use a headset rather than speaker phones.
 
Sometimes, it might help members who can't regularly attend a meeting to have a gabfest with just a few members rather than a meeting so they can get to know other members. Newsletters are more important when you hold fewer meetings. E-mail discussion lists are another way to communicate between meetings. If members do not have a computer, you can subscribe to e-mail by phone. However, you have to pay for the long-distance charges, and it can be time-consuming.
 
Rural areas do have positives. Many rural communities have a weekly paper. It is easier to get them to publish an article about an event or meeting. Most papers have a calendar of events. Local radio shows may interview a member with a good story.
 
If your affiliate has members in several towns, you can try satellite meetings in various places. Rotate your meetings in these towns. Transportation may be an issue, so you may have to offer to pay for gas for drivers who pick up people or rent a van. You might be able to get a grant from a local company or organization. If you do this, ramp up publicity in the town where you'll be meeting. You can meet at a local senior center, library, or other central location. Place posters on bulletin boards and leave notices at eye doctors' offices and independent living centers.
 
ACB Radio has chat rooms. Go to www.acbradio.org and then to ACB lounge and download the software to use. There is no limitation for the number of people participating. Use calling for socializing as well as business meetings.
 
You have to determine what you want. Do you want a speaker or discussion topic of interest to members and friends? If you meet in person or have some join by conference call, make sure you use a microphone or two to make sure all can hear. A roving microphone and main microphone will help everyone.
 
WCB holds various forums on the phone: one on technology, one for job seekers, and more. Small groups help build a team. A book club meeting might also be of interest.
 
The next ACB Membership Focus call will be held on Monday, April 21 at 5 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Eastern. Our topic will be "What leadership training does your affiliate have?" The call-in number is (712) 775-7000 and the pass code is 640009.