Our most recent focus call was on the topic "Strategies for Member Renewal and Reactivation." Participants on the call seemed to agree the collection of dues should start at least from October to March and continue throughout the year for those attending meetings later. Most affiliates need to have the dues received by a specific date to have them sent to ACB so the affiliate gets as many votes as possible at the annual ACB convention. State and special-interest affiliates also generally have a cut-off date for chapters to submit in order to certify members for conventions and have their votes count. We discussed various ways to make this happen more easily.
Some suggested having a dues payment option on convention registration forms for renewing dues for the coming year. Some affiliates would have a harder time doing this because of the number of chapters and special-interest groups in their state. Special-interest affiliates might find this easier to handle. It was thought it might be a way to get dues from additional people as they pay for convention registration, especially those who don't regularly attend local chapter meetings.
Discussion turned to the problem of reactivating members who haven't been coming for a while. Dues renewal time is an excellent time to contact past members, current members, and potential members -- those you have met at some time in the community. In order to contact members and past members, it is essential for someone to have a good database of members for your organization. The more information the affiliate has, the better off it will be. Each chapter and affiliate should collect the names, e-mail addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and alternate format for sending publications. Each year, the person in charge of the database needs to check the data when calls, e-mails, and mailing notices are sent. The database should keep past members' information as well as blind friends' contact information to have the capability of contacting them in case someone may now be interested in your chapter/affiliate. Members who do not renew should be coded with a note why they have dropped.
If you have a phone tree or phone committee that reminds each member about meetings and activities, add a reminder about their dues. A phone message instead of a mailed letter will likely get a better response. If you send a solicitation letter, you should offer to read it to members. As you call members, make sure they realize what is happening in the affiliate and in ACB. Thank members for paying their dues in the past and tell them as much about your upcoming activities as possible. Send an e-mail message or call to follow up with members who haven't paid dues. Check on those who have not attended meetings and express your concern. You might want to call your contact group a communication team instead of a membership committee.
Communication is generally the key to successful membership-building. You might call it member schmoozing, but it is just keeping in contact. An e-mail list for prospective and current members allows everyone to know what is happening within your group. You should be sending messages to anyone who wants to know of your activities or blindness-related information. When a new person attends, ask for dues and get them in as soon as possible.
We then compared different types of data collection and distribution of mail or e-mail to members and others on the database. Most Microsoft Office programs work. Word has a mail merge function. If you use Excel as your database, it also has mail merge. Access has mail merge and can also send e-mail messages. You can use e-mail programs to personalize each message you send. You can send a letter about what your chapter/affiliate has done and its plans for the future. Letters and e-mails are most effective if you have a solid database. Edsharp is a free program you can use to contact people and even more effective if you do it twice during the year.
Keep a blind friends list so you can apprise them of blindness activities. Some may attend classes, fundraisers, or special activities without paying dues. Sometimes, a clique of people will leave a chapter because there is a personality conflict. If there are other chapters in the city, you can introduce folks to other chapter presidents where these members might feel more comfortable.
We talked about other strategies to get dues from those you meet. Paying first-year dues for scholarship winners was discussed. Another mentioned their chapter paid dues for students after attending for the first time. Some on the call felt that giving a free membership might be a disincentive. A gift of a free membership for someone who needs it was another suggestion.
Other folks suggested some ideas for scholarship winners. One was paying for expenses of winners to come to convention. The Washington affiliate has a scholarship reception for them during the convention. Each affiliate should follow up with scholarship winners after they receive the scholarship. There should be an expectation of the winners that their contact info will be shared with the membership committee. Winners should be invited and expected to be at the convention to receive their scholarship. The membership committee gives scholarship winners a backpack full of information about the organization, including the affiliate's name and contact number.
Our next membership focus call will be held on Monday, April 30, 5:30 p.m. Pacific/8:30 p.m. Eastern. We will be discussing special-interest affiliates and how they can help attract members to ACB.
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