By John Ensslin | September 9th, 2008
Gardener’s note: The St. Louis Pro Chapter was one of three chapters honored at the SPJ National Convention for posting the greatest gains in membership. St. Louis won on the strength of a jump from 31 in June 2007 to 80 by May 2008.
Shera Dalin, a member of the SPJ membership committee, provided this story on how St. Louis achieved its rapid increase:
Word of the St. Louis Pro chapter’s whopping 158 percent membership growth over the past year took a few of us by surprise. Certainly we had noticed new faces and had seen some stellar turnout to our events, but we had no idea that we were tops in the nation in chapter growth and No. 2 in net gain of new members.
So how’d we do it? We had to think about that for a bit, but here’s what we attribute it to. The following comments are from Chapter President Rachel Melcer.
· The chapter had been dormant, so we had nowhere to go but up. Once we reactivated it, people seemed to welcome SPJ—pent-up demand, if you will.
· We’ve been very aggressive about programming, offering a monthly luncheon panel discussion and a purely social happy hour every month. The quality of our speakers has attracted good turnout, especially the launch of a competing Web-based St. Louis news site—STLBeacon.com. (We packed the lunch discussion when we had the founders come to speak.) We tried to balance our panels between practical journalism and issue-based topics.
· St. Louis also has a lot of retired journalists, and they were looking for programs like these as a way of staying involved. We’ll be marketing to more of them this year as, sadly, their numbers are growing.
· We’ve also held a couple of much more high-profile events that were very successful: a spring regional conference in 2007, and a journalism-themed trivia night last fall. Trivia nights are a St. Louis specialty – nearly every church, private school and charity seems to have one. But ours was the first that was tailored to journalists. Selling beer didn’t hurt either.
· Our board has very consciously worked to diversify itself. As members have stepped down, or new positions have been created, we recruit new board members from media that haven’t been represented. Our board includes journalists from radio, the Web, academia, the freelance world and print publications ranging from the big daily to a small, free-distribution weekly. We are each able to reach out to a different pool of potential members and program participants.
· We’ve had great membership chairs – first former Post-Dispatch science writer Tina Saey, and freelance journalist Shera Dalin. These days, we benefit from Shera’s broad network of journalists from all over our region. Recently, she and two other board members visited a newsroom where we had been unknown, pitching SPJ to their reporters and editors. As a result, several people have begun attending our programs and we hope to convert them to members.
· We reach out individually to prospective members and invite them to join in a low-key way. No hard sale tactics required.
· And we hope to do even more in the future. We’re planning another spring regional conference for 2009, and we’d like to include a journalism contest as part of that program. Another trivia night already is in the works. So, we plan to build on our success going forward to make the St. Louis Pro Chapter even bigger and more vibrant.