By John Ensslin | October 30th, 2007
Welcome to the SPJ Garden Center, the place where chapters grow.
My name is John Ensslin. I’m the president of Colorado SPJ and SPJ
national chairman for membership. I’m also a general assignment
reporter for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.
My hope is to use this blog as a means to foster a national
conversation on how we can best go about growing SPJ’s membership.
Let’s talk about best practices. Tell me what has worked for your
chapter and what hasn’t worked. I want your best ideas on how to sign
up new members and retain the ones we have.
I’m convinced organizations grow from the bottom up. Thus, this blog
will be a place where we can celebrate our successes, analyze our
failures and suggest new ways to convince people to join and stay with
Feel free to contact me with your thoughts and ideas. I can be reached
at email@example.com or call me at 303-954-5291.
Clearing the Field
There’s no better teacher than failure.
In Colorado, I was fortunate to inherit a fairly healthy chapter that
had grown to about 110 members. We had a healthy mix of activities
ranging from our monthly mixers to a great series of speakers.
I made growing our chapter a priority in my first year as president. At
an August retreat, our board of directors mapped out several
initiatives aimed at meeting that goal.
Just about every one of those ideas sputtered to an inconclusive end.
Our mixers, once popular, had grown stale. Attendance was down to about
A letter writing campaign to 100 good “prospects” identified by the
board netted 1-2 new members.
The most ambitious measure was a “Tour de Colorado.” My plan was to
travel the state, visiting newsrooms in places like Vail, Greeley and
I’m a pretty good SPJ salesman. I believe in the mission and I can
deliver a pretty convincing pitch for why journalist should join. I can
talk the talk.
But these 10-minute newsroom chats with reporters were just awful. My
passionate pitch on ethics, training, networking and legal defense was
met with blank stares, desultory comments and the inevitable killer
question: “OK, but what do I get for my money?”
Suffice it to say, I put a lot of mileage on my car, handed out a lot
of literature and free doughnuts and failed to sign up a single member.
But these sessions taught me a valuable lesson. Unless I could answer
that last question in a way that was both concise and convincing, our
membership drive was going nowhere.
That’s when several members of our chapter helped develop a different
We crafted something called “Spring Training.” Our target audience was
young journalists, either still in college or working at their first
This half-day seminar was held on a Saturday afternoon at Colorado
State University in Fort Collins. We used a baseball motif for the
programs and coaxed veteran journalists from Denver and northern
Colorado to serve as speakers, mostly for free.
Our costs were minimal: a free room, free speakers, coffee and a box
We pegged the price to the cost of a one-year membership. Thus,
professionals paid $89, students $53 and existing SPJ members $30.
The result was a home run that brought in 19 new members, some from as
far away as Wyoming. And we managed to break even on our costs.
Since then we’ve tried this technique, now dubbed “Fall Classic,” in
Pueblo and Boulder, where we experienced similar results.
This is a simple, straightforward approach that can work for your
chapter as well. If you would like to try it, contact me. I’ll be glad
to provide you with some of our publicity materials and suggest ways
you can host your own “Spring Training” or “Fall Classic.”
SPJ by the numbers
Membership today: 9,012
Membership one year ago: 8,971
Garden Tip of the Week
Here’s an idea for celebrating long-time members and welcoming new ones:
Find out who in your chapter has been a member the longest.
Find out who is the newest member.
Ask the newest member to write a profile on the oldest member.
Share the story and a photograph with all the chapter members