Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Association Meeting Ideas for Local Chapters

Many of us belong to local chapters of national associations.  These area groups are often the life-line between the large national headquarters and the local members.  The annual meeting might be a great event to network and be seen, but not everyone can attend. 

Time, travel and money can keep some members from getting to the big events, and thus the local monthly gatherings are how many stay connected to the organizations they support.

However, the success of the local meetings can be hit or miss.  Some fall short of expectations for many in the membership.  Too often local chapters get stale and have the same format month in and month out.  It is not uncommon for the much of the target audience to develop a pre-conceived idea of what to expect from every local gathering.  When this happens it can taint the expectations and key members simply stop attending.

Local chapters of any national organizations can spark-up the meetings that local members attend, but only if those in charge are willing to think beyond the status quo.  It takes an investment of time (and sometimes money), but the end result will be a better educational and networking experience for everyone involved. Creating awesome local chapter meetings will drive membership and participation numbers and people will spread the word about the entire organization.

Three Tips For Better Local Chapter Meetings

1.  Change the format.  A luncheon with a speaker is the standard for a chapter meeting.  The format is often 30 minutes of networking with an hour for announcements and a talk by someone who is willing to speak without being paid.  Little attention is focused on how good the speaker is at presenting.  Instead the idea is on their title, company or topic.  

Too often little at these meetings serve the needs of the members.  The same agenda at the same location every time with a cookie cutter approach to speakers and your group is doomed to being dull.

Try exchanging lunch for some evening or morning events and host a special social reception at least once per year.  Additionally, create an advisory board of your most important members and have a dinner for them twice a year so that they can share best practices they see in other groups they participate in around your city.  This VIP dinner will also be the opportunity for you to discover what they would like to see in the future. The more ideas you hear, the better chance you will have of discovering new concepts that will work for your organization.

2.  Get great speakers.  This does NOT mean getting a list of local executives who have done cool things and inviting them to speak.  Instead, find people who not only have good experience, but that also are seasoned speakers. Speaking is a skill, and not everyone belongs on your stage.  

At least twice a year get special sponsors and bring in a speaker from out of town (and pay their fee).  Try to hire someone who will provide information and entertainment, and use the meeting as a recruitment tool.  I regularly hear from groups who say it is not possible to raise money for a special speaker, but I see other groups do this successfully year after year.  It takes effort to find the perfect speaker and to raise the money, but when done right it will have a lasting impact.

If you usually have industry specialists speak, try getting someone from a different field of expertise once a year.  Make one or more of your meetings a panel discussion.  Do not be afraid of getting an author or professional speaker from outside your industry, as their point of view might be just what your audience needs.  

It is also a good idea to have one meeting without a speaker, and let the audience share their thoughts.  Your members are experts, give them the chance to be heard.  But this will require a good facilitator who can keep the meeting running smoothly and limit any one person from dominating the conversation.  These types of town hall conversations can make more people feel included and the power of the information will surprise you.

3.  Host an event in someones home.  Many groups meet in hotel ballrooms or restaurant private dining areas.  While these are the best options for most regular meetings, hosting a special holiday reception or other VIP event at the home of a member can create a unique experience.  Parties in a private home have a more intimate feel than those in traditional venues, and this allows people to bond in a different and more casual manner.

If someone on your board is willing to host a special event, the organization can take care of the catering and hiring servers to help with clean up, etc....  You may want to limit such an event to members only or otherwise have a VIP event where it is invite only, but this type of special meeting can create a one of a kind evening.

Trying new things is the only way to keep your local chapter fresh.  If your organization is always following the same calendar, your members might find your agenda boring.  Boring meetings are never remembered.  If all your events are quickly forgotten, you members might forget to renew when it is time for their dues to be paid.

Trying new meeting formats involves some risk.  But risk is part of success.  If you are willing to shake things up, in the long run you will have a better organization that will attract new members.  If you are stale, you know what happens (and it is not good).

Have A Great Day

thom singer

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