For our membership focus call on Jan. 21, 2007, we had a great turnout. It was wonderful to hear all the ideas on "new strategies for a new year." Some states suggested strategies that they had tried which had been successful.
Several members told how some of the current issues should be used to encourage people to join ACB and your affiliate, both renewing and new members. For example, the new momentum around the paper currency issue is a way to tell others what ACB is doing. Our work on audio description, both for emergency information and television in general, is another issue that should draw interest. Transportation is always a problem for many blind and visually impaired people. Many other issues like Social Security, health coverage, and the Randolph-Sheppard and JWOD issues and concerns would be of interest to others.
Ron Milliman just recently wrote an article about Skype in the Forum. Your chapters can get more members to participate by allowing members to attend meetings using that system. You can download version 3.1 free at www.skype.com. SkypeOut is a cheap way to call from Skype to land lines and mobile phones. You can use a computer with a wireless connection, wireless microphones (about $5 each), and a mixer (about $40). The total cost would likely be under $180. Using Skype with a phone costs $30 a year; it is free to those using a computer.
A nearby Lions Club or local Wal-Mart may be willing to cover the costs of setting up Skype for your chapter or affiliate, particularly if you have 501(c)(3) status. Sometimes, grant-providing organizations only need to know if you have articles of association or incorporation. It may be less expensive to have articles of association rather than incorporation. Many visually impaired people are older and have other disabilities. Skype would give your chapters a way to include those individuals who are unable to attend meetings.
Sometimes, members quit attending meetings if speakers aren't interesting, or if the surroundings are noisy. The president should have a gavel to use when background conversations interfere with meeting proceedings. Speakers should use microphones so everyone can hear what is happening. Assistive listening devices may also help older members feel comfortable attending a meeting. A typical system would include one transmitter and four receivers, and cost about $2,000. Some state affiliates may have grants for local chapters for these systems. Grants from Lions Club or Wal-Mart might also work here. Government grants may be available for some groups.
Social activities may draw newcomers as well. You could hold an old- time radio show in a senior center or home for the blind in your community. DVS movie nights, book clubs, or "meet and greet" activities in senior centers might attract older people. New devices -- low-, high- and no-tech - - would interest a wide segment of the community.
Fund-raising events can be fun and attract newcomers. Be sure to advertise these events on radio, cable, radio reading services, newspapers, and listservs.
Does your chapter need drivers to get people to special events and/or regular meetings? Try approaching local non-profits, asking for volunteer drivers.
Invite students of all ages by contacting your local colleges and high schools, state agencies, employment places like Lighthouses, senior centers, braille or talking book libraries, transportation agencies, and other places where blind and visually impaired people attend regularly. Distribute packets of information about your local chapter(s) to any agency, library, or transportation facility so you can collaborate with them on a variety of projects. You could offer to train employees about blindness, offer to give or show an audio-described movie, or offer to make a presentation at a senior center or college/high school. You can tell them about your affiliate scholarships, awards, meetings, conventions, newsletters, and other sources of information and support. Offer to speak to local service clubs about your chapter or affiliate.
Members should keep brochures and/or business cards with your chapter/affiliate contact information on them. You can tell those you meet about your chapter or affiliate. If you meet those that may be more interested in a special-interest group, offer to get the contact information for them or give them the ACB web site information or toll-free number.
Are you looking to reach out to newly blinded individuals? Talk with your ophthalmologist or optometrist about the support your affiliate gives to those losing their vision. Help them to understand that there is hope. Let them know about the type of speakers your group has to offer. Ask them to attend a meeting to offer suggestions on sight-saving techniques. It might get them to refer others losing vision to your group.
You can also leave brochures, flyers, and other information at different medical facilities and offer your chapter's expertise for those they know losing their sight. Or plan to set up an information booth at community fairs, resource fairs, health fairs, malls, non-profit days, disability fairs, and other local events. State legislators sometimes have non-profit days where booths can be set up. Many cities have expos of all types. Most cities have web sites where you can look for possibilities. You may need to check whether such activities require fees to set up booths, though.
Plan activities around holidays and other special days. For example, January is Louis Braille week and October has White Cane Safety Day. Make sure you start planning early for any special events. You could talk to a local Barnes and Noble store about setting up a display showing blind people reading braille. They could display "Dots for Tots" braille/print books, books written by blind people, books about Louis Braille, or books about vision loss that customers may want to purchase.
Each affiliate should have a web site. You should have the contact information for chapter presidents or another designated person so Internet users can contact them. Web site developers can create e-mail addresses so that spammers would be less likely to pick them up. If you meet at the same place each time, be sure to include the meeting date, time, and address of the meeting place.
If your local Chamber of Commerce has a resource directory, ask if they will add your chapter president's contact information. Your library may have a resource guide as well. A listing in the phone directory or blue pages might elicit messages as well. Some cities have information lines and 211 directories. Some listings are free; others have small fees.
Local newsletters or newspapers are ways to get the word out about your chapter events. Some newspapers have web sites where you can list events for non-profits for free. Most media companies will give coverage for events you inform them about in advance, particularly if it has good participation or noteworthy attendees. Your state blindness agency or state talking book library will send out your materials about conventions or services if you provide it in the various formats. They will not share their client or patron list or print labels for you. Local independent living centers will accept articles on blindness-related topics for their newsletters.
To ensure that newcomers enjoy your conventions, provide buddies for them. Buddies can tell the newcomers about the different events and even attend a couple with them. The buddy should also contact the newcomer later to find out how they enjoyed the convention and suggest ways to get involved at a local chapter if possible.
If your state or special-interest affiliate gives scholarships of any type (education or convention stipend), make sure you save the contact information from each scholarship application. You can send a letter to each applicant including information about your convention, the schedule of events, your committees and their functions, your membership benefits, and local chapters near them. You may also want to include local chapter contact information, or assign a person to invite the applicants to the local chapter meeting. It is sometimes difficult to get students involved, but this added information may attract them.
Finally, we talked about future membership focus calls. Possible topics included team-building, internal communication, leadership development, 501(c)(3) status, state and national convention program ideas, and student involvement. The next quarterly call will focus on state and national convention program ideas. The date will be April 15, 2007 at 5 p.m. Pacific time/8 p.m. Eastern time. The passcode will be 041507. We look forward to seeing you all on the call!
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