Compiled by Ardis Bazyn
Our fall membership focus call was again a success. Sue Ammeter had all callers introduce themselves and then asked for all ideas for membership development and retention. Over 30 callers participated in the animated discussion.
When asked about the ways chapters publicized their monthly chapter meetings, most used phone trees, e-mail lists, and the state affiliate's web site to give the chapter meeting places, time and dates for meetings, and program or particular activities. Lists of chapters on the affiliate web site helped to draw new participants. Some used radio reading services, radio announcements, and newspapers to publicize their meetings. State libraries are usually willing to send out information about your events to everyone on their user mailing list.
Some networking in community disability groups and senior centers also brought new members. Using opportunities to entertain and educate seniors at retirement centers and senior centers made some interested in joining chapters. Involvement in the mayor's committee for disabilities or county disability departments also may bring more visibility for the chapter.
Visibility and publicity seemed to be keys in finding new members. Giving accessibility awards to restaurants and stores that made extra effort to be accessible gave local groups more publicity. Some chapters focused on blindness-related access while others worked with other disability groups to focus on total access for all people with disabilities. One chapter developed an accessibility rating system for restaurants and stores.
Some chapters develop newsletters with timely information to share with members. Most chapters also distribute rosters of members so they could more easily get in touch with one another. Members could choose which personal contact information they wished to share with others. Birth dates were also distributed by some. Some find these are incentives for members to pay dues early.
Chapters use various methods of finding accessible meeting facilities. Church fellowship halls, libraries, restaurants, and hotel meeting rooms are all choices. Most found it important to locate places with ramps instead of stairs and to purchase microphones or assistive listening devices for those with hearing difficulties. Transportation seemed to be the factor which caused the most problems with regular attendance by members. Some chapters contact service clubs, such as Lions, Rotary, or Kiwanis, to find willing drivers. Some found they could get a grant for transportation costs easier than drivers. Other chapters made sure the meeting facilities were close to bus stops for those without a ride.
Encouraging those as young as 16 to attend meetings was also a way to boost membership. During state conventions, some chapters host separate hospitality rooms for young people, with non-alcoholic drinks. Also, some break-out activities especially for students could help draw them in. Having your convention taped for archiving on your web site or streaming sessions on the Internet during the actual event might draw members.
Many felt that inviting family members, friends, and members from service clubs or churches where members attend was another avenue for building membership. Some may be interested in blindness-related issues and ways to help other members. Volunteering for specific events makes some sighted participants feel needed. Inviting young families with kids and planning programs of interest for people of all ages is necessary.
Some smaller communities may be able to have members participate on local talk shows or interviews. Some chapters have purchased time on the radio for interviews or sound prints. It may cost $150 per week but you may be able to find sponsors to cover the cost. Some studios charge $40 an hour. You could produce your own video for local TV shows or make tapes for local radio shows. You can also tape a live broadcast and use it over and over for public events. You could also use ACB radio spots and modify them for local use.
Sometimes members don't renew on time. You should try to send renewal letters and include an addressed envelope for an easy response. Creating an incentive for early dues payments is helpful. For example, all members paying by the 15th of January might be entered into a drawing.
We appreciated all participants' ideas and hope to have many more on the next membership focus call.
Note: The membership committee will hold its next call on January 23 at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Everyone is invited to attend this call, since the exchange of ideas is what makes them so great. To join the call, dial (866) 633-8638. The ID code will be 12306. The topic for this quarter is "what would you like to see programatically on the agenda at the national convention." See you then!