November 18th, 2007
The Gardeners Convene
By John Ensslin
SPJ is fortunate to have so many smart, talented people who are willing to devote time and energy to helping our organization grow and flourish.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the SPJ membership committee, a group of 13 people representing every region who were picked because of their interest and previous success in membership development.
At our first meeting, I asked panel members to share some of the recruitment and retention strategies that have worked for them and some that didn’t. Here is a sampling of their responses.
Tactics that worked:
And the winner is…
San Diego, Minnesota and New York all report good success using their awards banquets as a bridge to new members.
Bill Bleyer in New York and Sarah Bauer in Minnesota said their chapters offer discounts to award winners who attend their banquets.
Bill said New York also has gained members through a satirical show they stage during the holidays which draws the local politicians. San Diego also does something called a Media Payback event, where newsmakers get a chance to critique how the media did.
Lori Weisberg in San Diego said her chapter obtained permission for a one-time only discount on the national membership dues for award winners who joined SPJ at the banquet.
Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the Dues…
Cincinnati and New York, have recently done away with the local chapter dues, at least for the time being. Hagit Limor in Cincinnati reports this move had the added benefit of immediately enabling her chapter to annex all the unaffiliated SPJ members in the area.
Recruiting Outside the Box…
Hagit also took a non-traditional approach to seeking new members that has paid off. Previously, her chapter had been mostly print journalists. A reporter for WCPO, she personally recruited several of her broadcast colleagues as well as a few lawyers in town who specialize in media law and First Amendment cases.
Tell your success stories…
John Hopkins in Miami cited the importance of telling people about specific SPJ success stories in recruiting new members.
For example, rather than just describe our Legal Defense Fund in general terms, he cited a specific case where a $1,000 grant from the LDF helped a local photographer fend off trespassing charges for simply doing his job.
Both Hopkins and John Becker from Tennessee cited the value of having a respected member of local journalism community, a strong persuasive character (a la Al Pacino) who goes person-to-person to get people involved.
Hopkins said several SPJ members told him they joined because a respected professor told them to. He recalled his own decision to join after a colleague at a reception gave a First Amendment pitch that was sort of like Rabbi Hillel’s “if not me, who? If not now, when?”
With student chapter, having a strong president, one who has strong belief in SPJ, can make all the difference, said Ellen Mrja, from Minnesota. Again, peer relationships and personal contact seem to be key.
Tactics that didn’t work:
Chapter Killer: The Pontificator…
Ellen Mrja, vice-chair and at-large member of the committee, remembers hearing the death rattle of a southern Minnesota chapter at a 1978 meeting where a local journalism professor used a chapter meeting to lecture journalists on all the things they were doing wrong.
Lights are on, but no one’s there….
Greg Cancelada in St. Louis, said what doesn’t work is drumming up membership without much evidence of any chapter activity. “I believe that a reactivated chapter shouldn’t be pushing membership until they’ve gotten some publicized events under their belt,” he said.
Don’t put all your eggs in one newsroom…
Cancelada also talked about the importance of diversifying chapter membership and not just seeking members from one organization.
Save a tree, don’t waste paper…
Membership brochures, while helpful, don’t seem to attract new members on their own without a lot of membership activity, Bill Bleyer said. Better to get people to attend an event and then convince them to join.
Cold Calls, Chilly Responses…
Lori Weisberg recalled how board members tried making phone calls to prospective new members, without much success. Face-to-face pleas work better, she said, particularly at mixers.
Here is a list of who is serving on the SPJ Membership Committee:
Region 1 Bill Bleyer
Region 2 Jason Goodman
Region 3 John Hopkins
Region 4 Hagit Limor
Region 5 Suzanne McBride
Region 6 Sarah Bauer
Region 7 Greg Candelada
Region 8 Angie Summers
Region 9 John Ensslin (chair)
Region 10 Tom Henderson
Region 11 Lori Weisberg
Region 12 John Huotari
At Large Ellen Mrja (vice chair)
SPJ by the numbers…
Membership this week 9,209
Membership one month ago 9,199
Membership one year ago 9,139