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Attracting And Retaining New Chapter Members

One of the best things that can happen to a Chapter is new members. They have new ideas, skills and experiences to share. They bring fresh energy to the group. They increase the capability of the Chapter to do things, which means more fun for everyone. So how do we assure a healthy flow of new members into our Chapters? And keep them there?

The Basics

The most fundamental element of attracting new members to a Chapter is demonstrating that belonging to the Chapter will provide value and enjoyment. The most fundamental element for retaining members is providing value and enjoyment. A Chapter must have an on-going calendar of events, programs, fly-ins, fly-outs and other activities to provide value to it's members or they will soon find other places to spend their time. Likewise, the atmosphere within the Chapter must be warm and friendly to all. If members don't feel welcome and a part of the Chapter, they'll soon depart.

With a friendly, active environment, a Chapter is well positioned to attract new members, and they will remain loyal. On the other hand, a Chapter dominated by a clique or one that does little beyond social gatherings, has little to offer new members - maybe even repels them - and the longevity of the Chapter itself may be at risk. The source of value and enjoyment comes from Chapter activities and it's social climate. So first, make certain your Chapter has something substantial and on-going to offer new members and a good atmosphere to enjoy them.

Organize

As with any Chapter activity, recruiting new Chapter members and retaining them requires an organized effort to assure success. Two elements in the Chapter structure that help manage this dimension are a Membership Coordinator and a Welcome Team. A committee may assist the Membership Coordinator if the Chapter size warrants it. This person's typical responsibilities are to:

  • Organize Chapter recruiting activities
  • Maintain recruiting tools and materials
  • Manage the tracking and follow-up of all prospective members until they join the Chapter or decline
  • Manage the formation and activities of a Chapter Welcome Team
  • Specific references to the Membership Coordinator's duties will follow.

Every Chapter should have a Welcome Team to provide hospitality to Chapter visitors and prospective new members. This team's duties will also be discussed more below.

Awareness

No one will join your Chapter if they don't know about it. Exposure of your Chapter to potential new members happens two ways: 1) through Chapter activities, and, 2) through active recruiting. An active Chapter will be doing things that automatically attract aviation enthusiast's attention - fly-ins, seminars, workshops, etc. Either through the promotion of these activities or word-of-mouth, potential new members will become aware of the Chapter and develop an interest in membership. An active, energetic Chapter will develop a reputation that spreads well beyond its direct membership. This reputation is a powerful, passive recruiting medium. The effect of a poor Chapter reputation does not need discussion.

Since Chapter activities are likely to attract potential new members, the Chapter needs to always be prepared to accept new members at these activities. If the activity is a major event (e.g., a fly-in or Young Eagles Rally), a special table display or booth with the classic EAA/Chapter banner is a must. The Chapter has it's best foot forward at these times - there is no better time to promote the Chapter to prospective new members. A full array of promotional materials is available to Chapters for setting up an effective display including an EAA banner, brochures, magazines and more! Simply send an e-mail to chapters@eaa.org to receive the order form.

The second channel for awareness is through specific recruiting activities. The easiest starting point in this arena is to target EAA members in the area the Chapter serves. Only about 30 percent of all EAA members belong to a local Chapter. This means there are many people in your area that already have two of the key requirements for Chapter membership - an EAA membership and a sport aviation interest. Mailing labels of EAA members sorted by zip code can be requested from the Chapter office:

Phone: 800-236-4800, ext. 4876
e-mail: chapters@eaa.org

These labels will support mailing invitations to local EAA members for a Chapter activity. While an invitation to a regular Chapter meeting is effective, a more productive approach is to hold a special "get acquainted" activity. If your Chapter has a hanger or clubhouse, an "open house" with a program of special interest will maximize the effort. This setting allows the Membership Coordinator to optimize the effort and focus on potential new members. The objective is to bring the unaffiliated EAA members into your Chapter environment where they can sample first hand the value and enjoyment of Chapter membership.

The timing of an EAA targeted recruiting event should be planned for maximum effect. Two or three months after AirVenture or a regional fly-in may be the optimal time to target these new members while their enthusiasm is still high. Other local events or seasonal conditions may also have a bearing on the "best" time to go after new members.

The above recruiting activity can also be expanded to include "civilian" aviation enthusiasts as well. Post notices at the local FBO(s) and other aviation groups in your area. An ad in the area newspaper may also be desirable. Once the effort has been made to plan and organize a recruiting event, more attendees just increase the odds of gaining new members.

Other active recruiting activities take the form of Chapter displays at Malls, museums and other public events. These will be "road shows" and can range from a table with brochures to full aircraft displays. While the technical content of these displays is important, the enthusiasm and knowledge level of the Chapter members that staff them is crucial. Your best ambassadors should always be on duty at any recruiting event.

Permanent notice boards at FBO offices in the Chapter's region that highlight the Chapter, it's activities and contacts will provide an on-going awareness of the Chapter to the local aviation community. A reciprocal posting for the FBO(s) on the Chapter bulletin board would probably be in good form also. Promotional notices to flying clubs in the area for their bulletin boards or newsletters is another channel to reach potential members.

Tools

The most effective selling tool for Chapter membership is a Chapter activity where the recruit can sample what Chapter life provides.

Another tool that will help the recruiter is a Recruiting Kit. This is a prepared package of materials that provides the following:

  • A simple statement outlining the overall purpose or mission of the Chapter. Keep it in layman's terms and easy for an outsider to understand what the Chapter is all about.
  • Summary of the Chapter's background - size, when organized, when acquired hanger, etc.
  • Overview of typical Chapter activities - bullet statements. If a formal, meaningful Chapter calendar of events is available, include it here.
  • Meeting information - times, locations
  • Follow-up contact information - names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses
  • Chapter membership application form
  • Recent copies of the Chapter newsletter
  • EAA membership form (for non-EAA members). Include EAA national brochures, back issues of Sport Aviation

This entire kit should be assembled in an envelope or folder that keeps it organized and easy for the recruit to carry home. With the availability of personal computers, it should be within the resources of most Chapters to assemble a kit as outlined above and make it very professional looking. The purpose of the kit is two-fold: it helps the recruiter talk about what the Chapter does (value) and how much fun it generates (enjoyment), and it gives the prospective member everything they need to apply for membership and keep their interest going. Keep a supply of kits on hand at all Chapter gatherings - you never know when the next potential Chapter member will taxi up.

Every Chapter member is a recruiter, but they will not always have access to a recruiting kit when they encounter someone interested in joining the Chapter. A useful tool in these circumstances is a Chapter "Business Card". The card should include:

  • Chapter name and logo
  • Chapter meeting times and places
  • Contact information.
  • Again, with a member's personal computer these can be produced at a nominal cost. Make a generous supply and ask every member to carry a few in their wallet. When a prospective member is encountered, this is a convenient "takeaway" and reminder that may help get the person to a Chapter meeting. Always get the name and phone number from any prospective member. This enables the Membership Coordinator to make a follow-up call.

First Impressions

Everyone probably remembers the first time they visited their Chapter. It's intimidating to walk into a room full of strangers and try to fit in. The Chapter Welcome Team should be on duty to make this a positive experience. Their assignment is to assure new arrivals feel welcome, comfortable and begin to enjoy themselves as soon as possible. This process can take many steps:

  • Introduce themself to the newcomer and determine their interests (why did they come to the meeting).
  • If they are interested in joining, review the recruiting kit.
  • If they are just exploring, explain what the Chapter program for the day will be.
  • Introduce them to the Chapter president.
  • If the Chapter has a hanger or shop, give them a tour. Reinforce their interests.
  • Introduce them to other Chapter members that have similar interests or backgrounds.
  • Make sure the person is engaged with other Chapter members.
  • During the Chapter meeting, introduce the new person: name, background, aviation interests. Recognize them as someone special.
  • When the Chapter activity is done, make sure the person's questions are answered. Give them a kit if it wasn't offered earlier - don't let them walk away empty-handed.
  • Give the person's name and information to the Newsletter Editor for publishing in the "guest box". The new person should receive a copy of the newsletter that recognizes them. Also give the name and information to the Membership Coordinator for follow-up.

This represents a lot of special handling for a potential new member, but it should be apparent that the objective is to help them quickly establish a comfort level with the Chapter members, gain a sense of the variety of activities they can expect to enjoy, and leave with a positive feeling about the Chapter.

Becoming A Chapter Member

Once a new member has joined the Chapter and paid his dues, the job is not done! Some people will develop a social relationship with other Chapter members very quickly. Others will take longer and, although they may enjoy the Chapter programs and activities, until they become a comfortable part of the group they are not fully matured as a Chapter member. A new member regularly sitting alone during Chapter activities is vulnerable. The Welcome Team should monitor these people and help nurture their engagement. Since we all share a common interest in aviation, there is always an easy starting point to engage a conversation. The Chapter leadership should also monitor the new members. Watch for opportunities to include them in Chapter activities and work sessions. The key is to involve them, but not overwork them.

After a few months, the Membership Coordinator should follow-up with each new member to see if their needs are being met and they are comfortable with the Chapter. This is a very subjective process, but if the Chapter leadership is in tune with the membership, they will "know" when new people have truly become part of the group. If they're not paying attention, they will eventually wonder what happened to "what's his name" that joined the Chapter last year?

Summary

Recruiting new members for a Chapter is an on-going activity. It takes organization and planning to make it work. The Chapter needs to prepare itself with the tools and an organization to recruit new members, demonstrate the value and enjoyment of Chapter membership and then nurture those new members into fully engaged Chapter members that are enjoying and contributing to the Chapter's vitality.

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