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Building Membership and Strengthening Chapters

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Over the past two years, I had the privilege of serving as PTWW Board Member-At-Large and Chapter Liaison to the 11 incredibly diverse northeastern chapters: Washington D.C., Connecticut, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Rhode Island, Tidewater (Norfolk, VA), Charleston, Central Virginia (Richmond), New York, and the chapter that started it all, Boston.

All together these eleven Northeast Chapters have over 1,000 members and have grown about 5% between 2013 and 2014. While some of these chapters have seen truly impressive growth (29%+) during that time period, a few are facing a serious decline in membership (with steps hopefully being taken to help turn things around).

To help me understand each of these chapters and how I might be of service to them, I conducted in-depth phone interviews with their chapter presidents, with some conversations lasting over two hours.

The interview questions I developed were designed to explore chapter strengths and weaknesses in detail and uncover hidden areas for potential growth and development.

I began by reviewing the chapter's history (milestones and recent transitions), legal status, policies, procedures and bylaws (including when these documents were last reviewed), chapter purpose and mission statement, whether the chapter has a dedicated chapter phone number, postal mailing address, e-mail address and web site, and who maintains them and how often.

I have found that some of these seemingly trivial elements - and many others that follow below - can combine to have a major impact on the resilience of the chapter, its board and the future growth of chapter membership. Together, they can make the difference between a thriving chapter and one which no longer exists.

We also talked about the chapter's service area (geographic description, total population and racial demographics), comparing those elements to the numbers and demographics of their current members. This exercise helped to uncover unmet opportunities for future growth and activity development.

By using the U.S. Census Bureau's Quick Facts website, chapters can determine the likely number of all potential Prime Timer members in their service area by combining the Census Bureau's statistics on gender and age range with a conservatively projected 4.5% percentage of all males who likely will self-identify as gay or bi.

That projected number can be compared with the chapter's actual membership to get a rough but useful estimate of the percentage of potential members currently being served by the chapter. The same methodology can be used to examine other potential member populations based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and physical ability in order to address underserved populations.

In our interview, we look at where and how members are recruited, as well as reviewing the chapter's print and electronic materials to see how well they reflect the mission of the chapter and the demographics of the service area.

We look at whether the chapter has a published non-discrimination policy and make sure that all recruiting and communication materials include PTWW's Mission Statement as well as ways to easily contact someone from the chapter by both email and phone.

Since not all members have the same physical or financial capabilities, we look at how accessible events and activities are for members with mobility challenges. Are events accessible by public transportation and does the chapter have any car pooling procedure in place? Is chapter and event information readily available to all members, even those without easy access to computers?

We look at the general cost of chapter membership dues and chapter activities and events to see how affordable they are considering the service area population. In addition, are the membership forms clear and easy to complete and do they provide members the opportunity to protect their anonymity if they so wish. Is the chapter gay and bi FTM trans-inclusive?

Are the tangible benefits of joining the chapter clearly stated in writing? Does the chapter have a regularly updated calendar of events with complete and easy-to-access information about each activity? Are the events and activities offered in response to chapter membership wants and needs?

Are members actively encouraged to voice their ideas and suggestions so that members interests and needs are being met? Are outstanding members regularly recognized for their direct or indirect contributions to the chapter?

What LGBT or mainstream organizations does the chapter partner or collaborate with? Does that collaboration result in increased public awareness and increased chapter membership? Is the chapter's website and/or social media site(s) regularly updated and maintained? Do these sites make it easy to find additional information about the chapter, how to join, and how to RSVP for chapter activities?

Does the Chapter have an informative monthly newsletter with a descriptive and useful calendar listing of events? Are emails periodically sent out to keep members informed without becoming burdensome "spam"? Is it easy to find out how to get in contact with any board members?

Are all chapter financial transactions transparent, open to scrutiny, and are basic financial statements made available to all members on a monthly basis? Is the chapter on solid financial ground with adequate reserves in place?

Regarding chapter resilience, are robust safeguards for funds in place and are important chapter records regularly backed up, password protected, but also made accessible to other trusted individuals should emergency situations arise?

Have policies and procedures been established to help protect the board and members from liability issues? Are there ongoing plans for succession to insure that new leadership will be available in the event of planned or unplanned transitions?

I usually concluded by asking, "How can PTWW be of service to your chapter and members and what resources can we provide to help you reach your chapter's goals?"

These are a sampling of the questions that I have developed to help learn more about the chapter and to help the Chapter discover for themselves ways they can capitalize on their strengths, address their weaknesses, and build on their newly discovered potential.

As founding member (2007) and president of the St. Louis Chapter (the third largest of all PT chapters), I have used these and similar questions to help increase our own chapter membership and build greater resilience.

Feel free to contact me at
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to share your thoughts on even more ways to improve and strengthen your Prime Timer chapter.

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