I am President of my local pro chapter, SPJ Louisville Pro, a role I’ve held on and off for a few years. I’ve always sought to build membership, but some years, it’s been tougher than others. Media layoffs took some members from us as they changed professions or simply didn’t have the funds to continue their membership. It was hard watching folks go, but equally as difficult to figure out what to DO about it.
This year, though, I discovered a trick that’s changed things for our chapter, and I want to share it with you in hopes that it will help your chapter, too. We eliminated local dues.
This is how it came about.
I have fairly regular conversations with Linda Hall, who is the membership coordinator at SPJ headquarters. Linda is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. She mentioned in the fall of 2014 that we could get a list of all members in Kentucky and see who is in our area that we might be able to entice to join our chapter. As you probably know, you can join national SPJ without joining a chapter. Sometimes people move here and transfer into our membership area or sometimes they don’t know we exist.
I read through the list and found a number of folks who are here in Louisville but aren’t members. I asked them to join, and while many said they would, they never paid the $10 local chapter dues to join officially. It was discouraging, but understandable. We do not have a separate way to pay us electronically, and no one mails checks anymore, which is what I was asking them to do.
Linda volunteered that if we did away with chapter dues, all someone would have to do is say they wanted to join our chapter, and they’re in. Several chapters, including Cincinnati and SPJ Rio Grande (New Mexico), she said, had done away with local dues and it has helped them build membership. Many more either never had dues or did away with them years ago.
So, if I e-mailed someone and asked if they wanted to join our chapter, and they e-mailed back a yes, I could forward that to Linda, she puts it in SPJ database, and they’re in.
I took it to our chapter board for a vote. We were sitting at about 54 members as of September 2014, and our dues were $10 per person per year. (Local dues are on top of national dues.) That’s about $540 per year we’re collecting if they’re all pro members and not students. Student dues are $5 per person per year. The board very easily and quickly voted to eliminate local dues.
I looked through the Kentucky list, looking specifically for folks in the Louisville area. There is also a Bluegrass Pro chapter in Kentucky, which covers Lexington, so I’m only looking for folks in my area. I began e-mailing folks, and the responses were quick and happy. Yes! Of course, they’d love to be a part of our chapter. I picked up about 8 members just through these e-mails. As of December 2014, we were up to 62, and seeing more interest in our chapter as our events picked up speed and our contest time approached.
We also did something else that brought us more membership in conjunction with hosting the spring Region 5 conference, which was March 27 and 28. I’ll post about that in my next blog post.
Does your chapter charge dues? I’d love to hear from our members about how you draw members to your chapter.