February 10th, 2008
Think Regionally, Act Locally
By John Ensslin
Today, I’d like to talk with you about an issue that affects how SPJ chapters govern themselves and how they reach out to their membership.
It’s an issue that has a tremendous influence over how professional chapters gain members and then hold onto them.
Many of our chapters represent entire states with members spread out over vast geographic areas.
This is particularly true here in the Rocky Mountain west, but I’ve heard from other SPJ officers on either coast who have struggled with the same problem.
The problem is this: how do you make all members feel like they are equal parts of a chapter when so much distance separates them?
Here are some suggestions I’d like to pass along based on our experience in Colorado where we literally have members in all four corners of the state, from Durango to Grand Junction on the west to Fort Collins and Colorado Springs to the east.
When I became chapter president nearly two years ago, I was surprised to discover that nearly half of our members lived and worked outside of the Denver metro area.
Yet, much of the chapter’s activities: our mixers, programs and meetings, took place in Denver. In many ways, we were a Denver-centric chapter in a way that was not terribly relevant to about half our members.
That has changed.
It started with our board. We have made a conscious attempt to include SPJ members from the outlying areas on our 12-member board.
When we meet once a month, we use a telephone conference system that has enabled board members in Greeley, Breckenridge, Fort Collins and Pueblo to take part.
We also created a regional advisory committee composed of SPJ members from all parts of the state. This group acted as a sounding board to our decisions and provided valuable input. It also provided us with candidates for the board as vacancies fell open.
And finally, we made a concerted effort to move our programs outside the Denver city limits. Thus we held mixers in Pueblo. We held training seminars in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. We brought speakers to Boulder and Greeley.
This strategy paid off. As a result, we were able to move many SPJ members who were not affiliated with the pro chapter into our ranks. In fact, much of the growth our chapter has experienced in the last two years came from outside of Denver.
Take a close look at your membership rolls. If you are in a state where members are scattered over large distances, you might want to adopt a similar approach of thinking regionally while acting locally.
SPJ by the numbers
Membership this week 9,065
Membership one month ago 8,926
Membership one year ago 8,912