Highlights of the 2015 ACB Membership Seminar

compiled by Ardis Bazyn

The theme of the 2015 ACB membership seminar was “How to use your convention as a tool for membership.” Notes in this article came from the summer panel members and from participants on the membership focus call in August. The first panel topic was “Best Practices for Successful Conventions.” Speakers were: Peggy Garrett, ACB of Texas; Allan Peterson, North Dakota Association of the Blind; and Donna Seliger, Iowa Council of the United Blind. How do you get the best hotel contract and negotiate fees? Site accessibility was deemed most important by many participants. The size of the facility, getting several bids for comparison shopping, getting contract specifics, and making sure all agreed-upon accommodations were written — either in the contract or in follow-up e-mail, not just verbally, were highlighted suggestions. The more hotels that meet the needs of your members, the easier it is to get decent rates. In arranging for the best guide dog experience, participants recommended that you have a plan written in the contract.
Offering a good variety of programs for all age groups isn’t easy but necessary. Suggestions included holding sessions on technology, transportation, animals, authors, and the history of the area where the conference is being held. If the committee ran out of ideas, its members could ask the chapter members for additional suggestions.
What committees do you have for planning your conference? Most had several committees or committee members, including local members, which assisted in various aspects of the conference. The conference coordinator needs to share all the relevant information with other committee members in case of emergency. More than one member can fix issues or concerns of those attending or from the hotel. Members with unique skills are important: keeping experienced members on the committee is necessary, but also being open-minded to new committee members so you get new ideas is essential. Ask members with varied interests to participate in the planning.
When conventions have more than one meeting area or venue, whether it is a picnic or outside activity or a convention center, it will likely take more volunteers to assist those attending, and may require transportation to move folks from one venue to another. If a restaurant isn’t on the hotel premises, more planning may be necessary to facilitate food events and meals in general.
The second panel discussed “Building attendance through outreach and communication.” Panel members were: Dan Sippl, Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America; George Holliday, Pennsylvania Council of the Blind; and Brian Charlson, Library Users of America.
How do you promote your conference? For state conferences, you can ask if your NLS library will send letters to their recipients about your conference. You may have to provide the letters, envelopes, and funding for the labels. Not all libraries will have the capacity to facilitate your request. You can also send your information to your newsletter editor to print in the calendar of events, as well as to the local newspaper and online calendars of events. (Be sure to check your local newspaper’s policy for accepting events and get it in before the deadline.) Social media may help you get the word out, especially to younger blind people. You can ask special-interest affiliate members in your state to share information about your state conference. Your state affiliate should also reciprocate by sharing information about special-interest affiliate offerings, i.e., conference calls, special functions, and summer conferences during the national convention.
Do you use both print and online communication? Most affiliates use both types and as many sources as they find. How do you reach visually impaired people who haven’t previously attended your conference? Orientation centers, rehabilitation counselors, and senior centers all are good resources to check. Have blind people speak to them or drop off large print or braille materials about your conference. Also, you should send information to e-mail lists and ask members to spread the word to others they know.
Have you used TV or radio to announce your conference? Many radio shows interview people on a wide variety of topics, and many sessions of interest might attract one of the show hosts. If you have a TV personality or best-selling author attending, you might get an interview as well. Have you attended other events in your community to publicize your conference? If your members approach groups in your community, you might get additional publicity. Newly blinded individuals might be involved in local service or community groups.
How do you find exhibitors and sponsors? Many companies selling specialty products for visually impaired would be interested. You can also go to local businesses where you purchase goods; they may be willing to donate gift cards or be sponsors. Check Google for information on company representatives near the conference facility. Also contact national companies and tell them about the advertising option in your program or newsletter.
The ACB Affiliate Growth Award winners were recognized at the membership seminar. The affiliate with the largest growth by the highest percentage was the Blind Information Technology Specialists; the award for the highest number of new members was Guide Dog Users, Inc. To listen to the audio recording of the membership seminar, visit http://acbradio.org/acbconvention2015 and scroll down to Thursday, July 9, then select “download the 2015 membership seminar.”  If you have questions for the membership committee, contact Ardis Bazyn via e-mail, abazyn@bazyncommunications.com. The next membership focus call will be held on Jan. 25th, 2016.