Maintaining Your Membership

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Organizations often report difficulty in maintaining membership, and this can be a source of disappointment or loss of momentum for an organization. You should not assume that members leave as a result of something your organization did wrong. As individuals come to your organization they may be in one stage, and after receiving your services they may be in another stage.

Some individuals seeking information may be satisfied and disappear from sight. Other individuals might find that after the information is digested, they really want support. Still other individuals may not come to you for either information or support but because they want to participate in research. Some feel they know what they need to know, have adequate support structures, or have integrated the condition into their lives to their satisfaction. They may want to contribute to furthering the science and understanding of the condition.

Needs Assessment

You must continually assess the needs of your members. This is a difficult job, particularly for a small organization. Usually members consist of adults and children, grandparents, significant others, friends, funders and health care providers. The affected individuals in the organization may have a wide range of phenotypes, or characteristics of the condition. Their needs may vary tremendously depending on how the condition affects them. In addition, psychosocial aspects of the condition may convey greater burdens, and needs of the members may be even more complex. Needs assessment can be used to spur ideas or assist with planning of any activity, from fine-tuning conference offerings to overhauling the way your members communicate with each other.

Using Needs Assessment to Make Positive Changes

Jean Pickford
Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types, Inc.

"Our Foundation hosted its eleventh biannual family conference in Philadelphia in July 2000. After reviewing the evaluation forms from this conference, the office made changes and updated its program for our 2002 conference. This conference took place in Seattle, WA, and was a huge success. We provided four tracks of programs for each age group: adults, teens, pre-teens, and children. Dividing the audience into these specific tracks was a positive move. Subjects discussed dealt with specific issues facing these age groups."

Surveys

Surveys can be a good way to assess the needs of your members. Keep the survey short and to the point. Make sure the survey questions aren't misleading or suggestive that you might provide services you cannot provide. Make sure you leave room in the survey to find out the needs of a broad range of your members.

How Survey Results Helped Us Revamp Our Organization

Andrew McCluskey
Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation

"The EDNF submitted a questionnaire to the 1,500-strong member base in February of 2000. The 430 responses were collated and presented to the board of directors in March.

EDNF had 1,500 members, a paid staff of one executive director, and a part time clerical person. With local branches in over 25 states and an international member base, the EDNF was cracking at the seams. We required a system that would allow information to flow quickly and efficiently without constantly having to go through the national office.

Working closely with an independent computer consultant, EDNF redesigned its website to deliver information in a more structured and logical format, corresponding to typical requests. The major benefit of the new site was that it allowed the EDNF to create a secure area with nearly 50 different message boards, online chat rooms, and a voluntary contact database allowing members to search for other members. It also allowed us to give all members their own email address @ednf.org, with an online mail system, calendar, scheduler, and address book. The secure members area is accessible only to EDNF members with a login and password.

All this was achieved and the site was launched on the 26th of June of 2000.

Since launch, we have received over 50 requests for membership of the EDNF, about ten times the volume we'd normally receive in that members are signing up for their online accounts at a steady rate, the message boards are being used, and members are finding answers to their questions immediately.

The key benefit of the system is that an EDNF member can now ask a question in a secure environment and have the whole EDNF membership read it. Instead of routing information requests through a central office and depending on the knowledge base and time of two individuals, information requests are being handled by the membership themselves. With more than 100 members actively using the system, the bottom line is 100 heads are better than two when trying to find an answer to your question.

An online member sign-up is coming, which will reduce the amount of paperwork and time spent on processing members. Online donations will also be available, as will the ability to sell merchandise and other products through the new shopping cart. This will free the time of the paid staff to focus on moving the Foundation further ahead.

And I hope that happens soon. Of course launching a new system like this is always crazy in the first month! In addition, the system is free and the only thing a non-profit will have to pay for is the time of the consultant to install it."


Recognizing Their Talents

Sometimes retaining members is as simple as getting them involved. Membership really comes alive for some individuals when they can contribute something to the cause. Find out what skills, talents, and connections your membership possesses and you may get some volunteer help, enliven the membership, and generate resources, all at the same time.

Recognizing your members' talents doesn't end after they complete the task. Make sure your volunteers feel appreciated. Take some time out to say thank you. This could be as elaborate as a volunteer-appreciation event or as simple as a heartfelt email at the end of a project or after a period of service.

Helping Them to Be Involved

Communicating with your members is perhaps one of the most important services you can offer them. If your members hear about advances in research, new methods of treatment, new services and other items of interest, they will feel connected and involved.

You can communicate with members in many link building service ways through print media such as newsletters, postcards, and announcements, and through digital communications such as the website, bulletin boards and email.

Providing New Avenues for Commitment

It is important for some members that there be a variety of functions and new activities. Some organizations notice that after receiving support for a while, some individuals want to engage in social activities with fellow advocacy organization members. You may chose to offer such activities, offer an opportunity for these social events to occur without your direct involvement, or chose to ignore this need. In the context of a variety of organizations, all are valid options. It is imperative that you indicate respect for a variety of needs within your organization. There are many ways to do this. Do you have a great story about a creative new outdoor fountains avenue that rededicated your membership, and especially your volunteers? Let us know, and we can share it here membership@geneticalliance.org

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