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Growing or Steady Chapter Membership

By Serena Kamps, Chapter Field Rep I, EAA Lifetime 1011028

July 2021 – Your overall paid membership number is the No. 1 indicator of your chapter’s health. You’ll frequently hear us say “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” It is important to always be focused on membership retention and growth. If you do nothing, the chapter will inevitably dwindle away. It may surprise you just how quickly a chapter can go from strong and vibrant to struggling to survive. An 80% member retention rate is the industry average for a typical non-profit. With that in mind, look at the following diagram which shows membership loss over a five-year period:

Year Start of Year Members Retention Rate End of Year Members
2017 100 80% 80
2018 80 80% 64
2019 64 80% 51
2020 51 80% 41
2021 41 80% 33

Sobering, isn’t it? What can your chapter do to avoid getting to this point? How can you maintain and grow your membership? It’s not as difficult as you might think.

Start by creating a specific goal. Whether it’s simply to maintain your current membership number, gain five new members, or 25, having a reasonable, measurable goal can make all the difference. It’s a lot easier to get somewhere when you know where you’re going!

A look at the number of EAA members and the number of chapter members shows that there is tremendous potential for growth in chapters. EAA currently has around 232,000 members. Out of this number, only about 15% are chapter members. The remaining 85% are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to recruiting new members to your chapter. Besides already meeting the requirement that chapter members be members of EAA, you know they already have some interest in aviation. All they need to do is pay your chapter dues and they are all set! It’s up to you to draw them in. (EAA can help with things like our ChapterBlast email blasts to help you advertise events.)

Based off of a survey of our members, there are two main reasons folks do not join chapters. First, they were either not aware there was a chapter nearby or they were never invited to join. Hopefully this is not the case with your chapter, but it is worth consideration. How visible is your chapter? Do people around the airport and in the community know you exist? What actions have you taken to spread the word about your chapter? Have you taken steps to actively prospect for new members and add them to your mailing list? Do you take opportunities to regularly invite folks to your chapter?

The second reason people do not join chapters is due to a lack of activity. Put another way, the chapter simply does not provide enough value to the prospective member to make it worth the time and effort for them to be a part. What is your chapter doing to provide value to your current members? Remember that membership retention is every bit as important as recruiting new members. However, providing value to your current members is often part of drawing new members. Satisfied members are more likely to help promote your chapter to their friends and acquaintances. Do you know what your members are interested in? Are you engaging in a variety of activities that cover a range of interests? It’s OK to find a niche that is your chapter’s “specialty” but be open to change and new ideas as your membership changes over time.

When it comes to chapters, remember that activity equals success. Don’t forget that EAA has many turn-key programs available to your chapter that reach different age groups and interests. You can check these out here. While these give you a solid starting point, you are encouraged to be creative and come up with your own events and programs that are unique to your chapter.

Perhaps you are part of a large chapter and feel that the threat of dwindling membership is not too much of a concern for you. Don’t be so comfortable that you are willing to rest on the laurels of those who went before you and put in the work to get the chapter to where it is today. Don’t squander the investment they put in. Be proactive and keep those membership numbers up! Maybe you’re part of a struggling chapter. You can begin taking the steps to turn the chapter around today! It will take hard work and dedication but success is possible and EAA stands ready to help!

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