by Ardis Bazyn

Our last focus call was on a topic that is of interest to chapters in all affiliates: “How can we reactivate past members and 'wow' our current members to retain them?” We first discussed how to reactivate past members. Participants on the call suggested that the best way to reactivate past members is to make personal contact with members who haven't been attending meetings recently. Ask them why they haven't been attending. Perhaps they've been extremely busy and didn't think the meetings were addressing their needs. You could then find out what would entice them into coming back again.

Another reason suggested was a lack of camaraderie between members. As you are building chapters, you should be building friendships. If members continue to talk only with their closest friends, others may feel like no one cares if they keep attending. A monthly greeter may help each participant feel welcome.

You may find that transportation is a barrier. Several people suggested talking about this difficulty and offering possible options. Members could contact local service clubs, suggest applying for paratransit, find out the closest bus lines, or arrange to use Skype or a speaker phone. If your meeting is in a restaurant, you'd need to use a cell phone with speaker capability.

Communicating regularly with members may help keep them in the loop. Many participants on the call said their chapters had phone trees which routinely called members to remind them of chapter meetings and social events. They would also call if important legislation needed to be acted on immediately. Other chapters and affiliates had e-mail lists for members to keep in touch; others had announce-only e-mail lists where an officer sent out notices of relevant information for members.

When the discussion turned to "wowing" current members, there were lots of suggestions. Ask members what they want the chapter or affiliate to do. For example, find out what programs would be of interest for members. Some said their members liked giving ideas for chapter speakers, events, and extra activities. Ideas included having audio-described movie nights and going out every few months and bowling, riding bumper cars, or visiting museums and other local attractions. In this way, others see members integrating into the community. One chapter negotiated for significant discounts in bowling and theater tickets.

Other suggestions included holding a book club once a month, supper club get-together in other parts of town, sports outings, retreats or summer camps, and a picnic each year. Some suggested involving more members in committees or in mentoring newer members.

Another participant mentioned looking at fun things in other areas. Trips could be fund-raisers or just social events. Buses and vans could drive members and friends to new places like casinos, ski resorts, or boat rides or cruises. Charter buses could be arranged; you'd need to make reservations in advance and get participants' payments ahead of time too. Advertisements and news releases could be used to get more participants.

Other events that might attract visitors to your chapter would be diabetes seminars, workshops on special issues like employment or technology, a workshop for parents of blind children, and student/parent forums with guest speakers. Activities that might get publicity for your chapter or affiliate include a white cane walk, a visit from a local legislator, or getting the mayor to participate. Other ways to get known in your community include speaking to service groups, speaking to retirement centers, joining transportation assistance program boards, county transportation advisory boards, and advisory boards relating to accessibility, voting, or emergency preparedness. Outreach with professional groups is another way to get known.

The discussion also focused on getting new members to attend. One suggestion was to contact colleges and disabled student services offices and offer our chapters as resources for students with visual impairments. If your chapter meets in a restaurant, you could offer to pay for the first meal. You could also offer free one-year membership to students.

It was suggested that chapters conduct a membership project involving the whole chapter, with a prize given to the member who brought the most visitors. You could involve other chapters in your state or special-interest affiliate by having a contest between chapters. Some chapters have a problem with members leaving early. You could offer incentives to those who stay for the whole meeting, perhaps a raffle of a free Christmas dinner or other monetary gift at the end of the year.

We also discussed publicity as a means for finding new members. Most felt that chapters and affiliates should have a good web site with chapter information, including contact information, for those looking for peer support, resources, and other relevant information. The site should also have links to local sites of interest to people with visual impairments. If you need help building your web site, try contacting local colleges and ask about students taking courses in web site design.

For good photos of your officers, convention, etc., try contacting art schools, or the photography department of local colleges or universities. They could have a byline on your web site ("photos by …"). You can also show links to local TV or radio news web sites. Profiles of members could be highlighted as well. You could also include articles on issues of interest, such as guide dog issues. Other publicity could be handled through PSAs and local news releases. You could also use the NFB Newsline to share about your meetings and when they occur.

Please plan to attend the next membership focus call, to be held Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010. The topic will be “How can we complete our business during meetings and committee meetings more efficiently?” The call-in number will be (218) 339-2699 and the access code is 757720. If you have membership concerns, contact me by phone, (818) 238-9321, or by e-mail,

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