On this quarter's membership focus call, Sue Ammeter kicked off the discussion by asking, "What kinds of incentives do you recommend to other affiliates to get more members to attend their conventions?" Keeping the cost of attendance low seemed to be the primary focus. Of course, for the national convention, there is a special fund for first-timers, the Durward McDaniel Fund, which allows two people to attend the convention with airfare and room paid. For the national convention, members looking for roommates can give a note to their president to post on the ACB leadership list. Include such details as whether you have a guide dog and want to room with a guide dog user, whether you smoke or want to room with a smoker, and which days you wish to attend. For state conventions, members can let the chapter president know about their need for a roommate. If there is a statewide e- mail list, this request can be posted there.
Smaller states may be able to house members and hold their meetings at local schools for the blind, churches, or colleges. They can possibly bus the members to a church for a free or inexpensive dinner. Of course, most of these facilities will not allow alcoholic beverages on the premises, so members appreciate knowing about local restaurants if they choose to go elsewhere in the evening. If a facility is only available in one city, having a state convention coordinating committee make most of the arrangements would alleviate the burden on the local chapter. The Kentucky Council uses the school for the blind and offers a hotel as an alternative for those who don't feel comfortable staying there. Transportation is provided back and forth between the two facilities.
Camps are also an alternative place to have a convention. Chapters can ask that the camp's kitchen staff cook the meals for your conference. Boxed lunches are also handy. You might be able to find local businesses to sponsor a specific lunch. They would have relatively inexpensive advertising while supporting a good cause because you would acknowledge their donation in your program and convention announcements.
Smaller hotels without a restaurant might be another option, provided they have conference rooms. You could then get lunches brought in or have members bring in food. Local blind vendors might be willing to donate supplies or sell them at cost to your group.
Some states have planned one-day conventions where no housing is required unless members come from a greater distance. If you plan to do this, you might consider doing more than one a year in different areas of the state to allow more participation. Here again, if you can get a facility for free and bring in low-cost lunches, you can encourage more local participation.
Bus transportation between cities is becoming harder to find, so consider having your affiliate charter buses to conventions. Charging a small fee for each rider or covering the cost for participants might be a way to encourage more attendance. Check out various bus rental companies to get the cheapest rates. They charge much less for drop-off and pick-up service than for being available the whole weekend. For people outside of the more populated areas, you could give members an option to be brought to a central point or pay them a stipend to get to convention.
Or chapters could arrange for a van or bus to bring their members to the convention. Whether you opt for a charter bus or rent a van, members will need to commit to attending a convention farther ahead of time. Lead time is required to rent or charter vehicles in advance. If you rent them, you will need to find your own drivers. Your chapters could hold fund- raisers in their local communities for this purpose.
Your affiliate could consider a subsidy for some convention expenses. The Washington Council gives a major discount to members who pre-register by a specific date. For example, the cost for all meals would be $40 instead of $100. California Council pays all hotel costs for rooms above $80 a night the last few conventions and has paid costs above $15 for luncheons and $30 for the banquet. Mississippi Council charges $40 for four meal functions and registration.
You may want to choose a convention hotel where you can bring food and snacks into a hospitality room. A catering company may be able to do a banquet cheaper if you have a hotel suite large enough. If you can't do this, you might ask if smaller portions could be made to lower the costs of lunches or dinners. Ask if the restaurant would be willing to offer a couple of specials for a discounted price. Tell them that most members stay in the hotel and that doing this might alleviate congestion in the restaurant.
Chapters could also hold a 50/50 drawing at each convention, with the fund going to room subsidy. The fund could be divided so each participant would get a cheaper rate. You could choose not to use the fund until it reached a specific amount. And don't forget the idea of holding an annual auction, with the funds being targeted toward convention expenses. You could host an employment fair in conjunction with your convention, charging a fee to employers or asking them for a grant toward expenses. This fair might elicit more attendance and allow you to give cheaper rates. You could apply for grants from local or statewide organizations, or go to stores and ask for donations or gift certificates, and acknowledge their donations on your programs and pre-convention announcements.
Outreach is often a difficult thing. Many members attend a variety of other meetings, such as book clubs, supper clubs, or support groups. This can be an excellent way to meet possible convention or chapter meeting speakers. Senior centers, doctors' offices, ophthalmologists' offices, hospitals, libraries, churches, and other public facilities are also good places to leave your brochures and information about local chapters. If you find bulletin boards at these facilities or your local market, you could hang a postcard or flyer about upcoming meetings or events.
Simple flyers work well as long as you give a list of benefits and include a way for readers to request more information, such as a local phone number, state organization, and web site. Business cards can be printed out to hand to new people. Sending simple newsletters to everyone you meet or know might also help attendance. Send them on tape, e-mail, or print to non- members. Radio stations or newspapers will allow you to put meetings on their calendar of events, particularly in smaller communities. If you have a local radio reading service, it might also publicize your meetings and other events. Have a "friend day" and encourage members to bring at least one friend.
We look forward to seeing many of you at our membership seminar at the upcoming ACB convention on Thursday afternoon. We would like to have at least one member from each affiliate attend the seminar. We would also like to invite you to attend our next membership focus call, to be held Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. Pacific. The call-in number is 1-866-633-8638 and the passcode is the date, 082106.
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