Strategies for Membership Growth: Hear It from Those Who Have Done It

compiled by Ardis Bazyn

 
The latest ACB membership focus call outlined strategies for membership growth. We heard tips from affiliate leaders who won the Affiliate Growth Awards this year and the runner-up. Mary Lou Stip, vice president and membership chair of the North Dakota Association of the Blind, worked with their membership committee to build the NDAB membership. She said word of mouth is the best way to grow membership.
 
Some of the strategies North Dakota used were to man booths at county fairs, visit nursing homes, and work tables at a Sleep Inn, Red Cross, and an independent living center. They also sent invitations to blind people for annual summer camps, spoke at family seminars and the school for the blind week-long training, and sent convention invitations to support groups. They helped with the Lions Clubs’ Dining in the Dark events, too. NDAB has no chapters, but the state has 8 regions.
 
When speaking, they tell about NDAB and its activities. A welcome is given to first-timers at each convention. Follow-up phone calls are made to all contacts. NDAB phones members on their birthdays and calls first-timers to invite them to events and conventions. They created a document with questions and answers, and a brochure with NDAB info. They also wrote “Ten tips on what to do when you meet a blind person.” For more information, contact Mary Lou Stip at (701) 720-0738, or email mstip@srt.com.
 
Leslie Gertsch from Utah Council of the Blind wrote a brochure asking the question, “Do you have problems with transportation, reading books, or living independently?”  It has check boxes for the questions. UCB sends letters telling about their services, with return envelopes, via the state library service for the blind. Any affiliate can contact their state library for the blind and request mail-outs to their list. The affiliate would purchase envelopes and print the letters as well as insert the documents into the envelopes.
 
Transportation scrip is available to non-members. Members get more in scrip by paying UCB $.15 per mile to get $.50. UCB gets grants for transportation from state foundations. They have 650 members. The state has over 30,000 blind or visually impaired people.
 
Typically, 150 participants attend UCB conventions. Utah has a toll-free number for outgoing messages and leaving messages. Grants pay for teacher trainers to teach people losing their sight different independent living skills. Besides mileage reimbursement, they are paid for each visit. They provide basic independent living training for seniors and simple technology training on computers or iPhone. UCB tells seniors about the property tax exemption for elderly and disabled. The teacher training requirements include 18 basic blindness skills. They try to hire blind or visually impaired people for the training jobs.
 
For advertising, they give away items with their name on them, such as magnifiers, signature guides, pens, etc. Members call members to invite them to attend events. Moran Eye Center and the veterans center give patients materials explaining the transportation scrip. UCB writes grant proposals. Many foundations now call them. Each grant ranges from $5,000 to $6,000.
 
Chapters get contact info from members and those they meet and ask what their strengths are, making them feel valued. Members communicate by phone, email, and Facebook. Calling cards with contact info are given to new people, too. For more information about what Utah does, contact Leslie Gertsch at (801) 292-1156, or email her, lgertsch@comcast.net.
 
David Dowland shared some of the strategies he used for promoting the Visually Impaired Veterans of America. He contacted local Blinded Veterans of America (BVA) blindness coordinators about the VIVA group. He got a good response from the Washington state BVA. He shared VIVA’s information with affiliate presidents and got an especially good response from the Minnesota president. He received a mix of positive and negative responses from affiliates. He made a lot of phone calls and emails to promote the organization. If you would like to talk with him about possible ways to reach veterans, call him at (918) 744-4208, or email d.l.dowland@sbcglobal.net.
 
BITS used past rosters to reach past members. Affiliates must give a reason for members to stay. A lack of continuity in the message and services hurts your efforts. John McCann suggested ACB have an award for three years of sustained growth, since membership efforts aren’t always repeated. Affiliates should decide what message to give prospective members.
 
Watch for announcements for quarterly membership focus calls to learn more about ideas to improve your affiliate and get more members. Contact the membership committee if your affiliate needs assistance with membership. If your affiliate membership chair changes, please send the new person’s name and email address to Ardis Bazyn, abazyn@bazyncommunications.com, for the ACB membership email discussion list.