Growing your Chapter’s membership
A Chapter’s membership is, without question, its most valuable asset. Some Chapters thrive by recruiting large numbers of members; others work better with a smaller, more focused group.
As a Chapter leader, you and your board should think carefully about how the Chapter’s charter will determine what type of members you will need to recruit and how to go about recruiting them. It is important that your Chapter always be attracting new members. Remember, though, that while having a few hundred members may seem ideal, managing that many members will require additional resources. Similarly, too few members might make it too easy for your Chapter to lose momentum.
One strategy for attracting members is looking around for organizations that might have an obvious pool of potential members. Institutions of higher education are great resources. When the Internet Society Greater Washington DC Chapter began rejuvenating, they elected Mike Nelson to hold the position of president for six months to help them get organized. As a professor of Internet-related courses, Mike is often in front of students who are interested in the Internet. In that position, he was able to promote the Chapter to students, which helped the Chapter bring in a substantial number of young people. Once you have individuals who are affiliated with these and other types of institutions and organizations as members, you have much better access to valuable resources at those institutions.
Similarly, if Chapter leaders are affiliated with businesses that provide technology services, technologists at those businesses are worth pursuing. If a Chapter is interested in becoming a go-to resource for Internet policy issues, reach out to government (and relevant nongovernmental organizations) to engage staff members who would benefit from getting involved with an Internet Society Chapter.
While growing membership is one important sign of a Chapter’s health and vitality, merely having a long list of people who have expressed interest after attending one or more meetings will not necessarily help you achieve your goals. In fact, as many Chapter leaders have reported, you should expect to lose some members along the way as you get new ones.
For a Chapter to be successful in its mission, it is important to have members who are active and engaged in the Chapter’s activities. In addition to attending meetings, activities can include:
- developing content (such as topical brochures or special websites)
- creating special interest groups,
- building sponsorship programmes
- contributing to mailing lists, and
- many other forms of support.
Your Chapter’s ability to accomplish its goals, and your leadership team’s ability to bring its vision to life, will be largely determined by the abilities and energy level of your membership. Although it does not surprise most people to learn that their Chapter’s greatest resource is their members, it might surprise you to learn what really connects and motivates members. Research conducted by a management-consulting firm found that among volunteer organization chapters similar to th Internet Society, the keys to successful chapter development are determined by success in four areas:
1. Leadership – Successful organizations have a core group of volunteers with both an identifiable leader in place AND new leaders ready to step up into leadership positions. Chapters with a small number of leaders who circulate among the same positions without replacement are often the least successful. In fact, according to PICISOC’s Franck Martin, burn-out for Chapter leaders is high, so making sure new leadership is on the horizon will make current leaders more effective.
2. Administrative structure – The researchers found that organizations with the clearest administrative structure in place for establishing and implementing policies and procedures are the most successful. The administrative structure can represent a positive difference when it comes to ensuring the Chapter’s identity and assuring continuity through changes in leadership over time.
3. Membership involvement – While the researchers found that there is no magical minimum number of members for an organization to be successful, they did find that having a culture that attracts and encourages members to participate is often the difference between success and ongoing struggle. Member involvement occurs both informally as well as on a formal basis—with informal involvement often helping to create and solidify relationships that are important to membership consistency. Member involvement includes roles as presenters, facilitators, and committee assignments, among many other tasks.
4. Member services – It may come as a surprise to some Chapter leaders to learn that the number of services that members need to stay active is actually quite low. Only three, or fewer, services are typically necessary for members to feel that they are receiving enough value to maintain their affiliation. Members often consider networking, training, and government affairs (or advocacy) to be valuable services worthy of their time and membership dues.
Increasing member involvement
How do you get members interested, engaged, and involved? Start by creating a list of the talents and skills your members already possess and ask them how they would like to use those talents and skills to help. For example, can you identify members (or potential members) who are talented or experienced writers? Do they have connections in the media? Are they professional or amateur website developers? Do you have (or can you find) members who have experience planning events? There are a variety of ways to engage members but one of the easiest is to draw on their particular skills. Right from the start, gather information about your members, including their job titles, affiliations, interests, and talents.
Looking for inspiration? According to the Internet Society New York Chapter president David Solomonoff, the Chapter operates with almost no money. Instead, the Chapter’s impressive list of projects and activities is possible because of its volunteers. Chapter secretary, Joly MacFie, videotapes the Chapter’s events, edits them, and makes them available online free of charge (and on DVD for a small donation). He also handles the Chapter’s Web development and produces its biweekly Internet Society New York programme on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) public access television. Another New York Chapter member, Hannah Kopelman, serves as executive producer for the MNN programme and is compiling a list of contacts for the Chapter’s wiki and for publicizing its events. Chapter member Evan Korth, a professor of computer science at New York University, has arranged for the Chapter to use lecture halls free of charge. “He teaches a class on Computers and Society,” David explained, “and he has made the sessions with prominent cyber-pundits open to the public with ISOC New York co-sponsorship.” The Chapter regularly cosponsors events with other local organizations, creating powerful synergies.
Another way to get members involved is by using social media.