Our last ACB membership focus call dealt with the issue of engaging new members in your chapter. We had a lively discussion. Some of the ideas concerned the welcoming attitude of the group, communication between the chapter and members, as well as options for becoming involved in a number of activities.
Greeting new members or guests was felt to be very important to having members connect with the group. Members who did join continued to attend if someone had ongoing communication with them regarding activities and events in the area. It was suggested that chapters have an official greeter at each meeting to welcome participants. Another suggestion was to recommend a partner or buddy for each new member, particularly if not invited by a friend. It was also expressed that if transportation was provided, it helped attract regular participants. Helpful transportation information also was conducive to getting newer members to attend.
Since many new members in a local community are those recently losing their sight, it was suggested that topics for speakers could highlight low vision products, services, and other resources for them to use. Sometimes members who have been blind for a long time don’t understand the needs of those more recently losing their sight. Older members could be of great assistance by sharing techniques and accepting those visiting or joining your chapter who have recently lost some vision. Many members belong to chapters because of the great networking opportunities available. Also, those speaking during the meeting should give full names of organizations and other non-profits instead of using abbreviations or acronyms.
A variety of activities in a chapter might be a way for all to feel accommodated. Having a separate support group, apart from your regular meeting, might be one way to address the issue of people recently losing their sight. Any additional meeting between a few members or those interested in your group might help them feel comfortable. Seniors or young people are two groups who might at times feel the regular chapter meetings don’t appeal to them. Some may need more attention due to the new sight loss situation and college students may be busy and only want to attend a meeting that would benefit them in the short run.
Another meeting could be a book club. Your chapter could choose a book of the month and those interested in participating would read that particular book. A reading contest using your local library for the blind might be an excellent way to interest some members.
You could also start a card club for those that enjoy games. A game night might be of interest to some members. Some women in your group might want to start a Red Hat Society group. The men might want a monthly meeting to chat about sports, woodworking, or other topics of interest. Lots of suggestions were given about possible outings for members, encouraging folks to get together.
Events could be held at a coffee house, local museum, movie theater for audio described movie, a theater with audio description. These might double as advocacy, showing visually impaired people in your local community. Many chapters have holiday parties, picnics, and other social events. All of these allow your chapter to reach out to others in your community. Many suggested getting your family involved in your chapter. They might enjoy some of your social events and assist you in some advocacy in the future.
An excellent way to involve newer members is to invite them to join a committee for your chapter. A responsibility may give someone a purpose for belonging to your group. Give them a simple task at first. Later, they may want to take on a greater responsibility. A committee that could make a difference in your chapter might be the sunshine committee. This committee sends out cards or makes calls for birthdays or other events in the lives of members.
There is a wide range of options for members or friends of members to get together besides communicating in person. Skype or Internet/phone conferencing is a way for members to talk with one another without bothering with transportation. Social networking possibilities through Facebook, LinkedIn, or e-mail groups are just a few more options. You can form groups of online “friends” through these Internet web sites.
Some special-interest affiliates and chapters have conference calls on a regular basis to discuss issues of interest to that group. The Human Service Professionals affiliate has monthly conference calls, as well as an e-mail list where they can share information. Friends-in-Art invites members in the local area to art shows. They also host events at national convention like the Showcase. Diabetics in Action also hosts monthly calls and an e-mail list. Any special-interest affiliate that has conference calls or e-mail lists for members should send out announcements to the ACB Leadership and ACB Membership lists so more people are aware of their activities.
The focus call also addressed ways to get involved in your community. This might also help your members feel your group is more relevant today and encourage long-time participation. Sponsoring or partnering with other groups, hospitals, or clinics to have a low vision symposium or fair could generate much attention in your community. There are outreach opportunities on Craig's List, calendar of events in newspapers, local Internet sites, or cable companies, etc. Attend your state transition council, state rehab council, and other groups that might give your group more status and outreach. You can get cheap or free business cards to hand out when you attend functions. You can make your own using Word and card stock from Office Depot or Staples or purchase free or cheap ones from web sites such as www.vistaprint.com. Business cards will allow people to contact you when they meet newly blinded people.
As always, we appreciate all those who participated and shared their great ideas. Our next focus call will be in August. Please watch for an announcement about that call. Thank you.
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