Do Right By Your New Members, Teach

We all want to help new members avoid being “that guy” — the one who doesn’t know the unwritten rules and doesn’t understand what to do as a member, usually resulting in a bad experience or unmet expectations. Yesterday’s post recommended that the first step with any new member is to ask questions to learn about their needs and expectations — to listen.

The second step is to teach. Many of your members (vendor, supplier, associate, affiliate) joined in order to make new contacts that will lead to new sales. To help them avoid the “that guy” label, you must take the time to teach them how to successfully network and develop business in your organization.

What you teach will depend on your organization’s culture, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Focus on relationships, not pitching your product. People are much more likely to listen to or buy from someone they know and trust. Your membership opens the door a bit, but it doesn’t get you inside; you need to do some work to get there.
  • Find ways to get involved in the organization and to work side-by-side with fellow members on events, committees, special interest groups, community service projects, whatever. Take the time to get to know them as people, not prospects.
  • Think about giving, not getting. Show up at a meeting with the mindset of “how can I help you?” and see how you feel when you leave. The other members will feel better about you, that’s for sure.
  • Don’t ignore your fellow vendors. So often new members concentrate only on developing relationships with their prospects — big mistake. A fellow vendor can make introductions, be a good reference, and send business your way — cultivate those relationships as well.
  • Learn about the industry. Keep up on issues, news, and trends that occupy your prospects’ minds. Demonstrate by your knowledge and actions (and your checkbook doesn’t hurt either) that it’s your industry too; after all, your revenue does depend on it.
  • Manage your expectations. You (or your boss) want results but relationships take time. Building a reputation takes time. Building trust takes time. Yes, it might take more than a year, be ready for that. Your dues are a business development investment.

There are plenty of resources out there on the right ways to network, yet you’ll find that not everyone seems to apply theory to practice. You know your group’s culture and how a member can best get ahead, give them that insight.

There are several ways to teach them:

  • Schedule a “marketing” meeting with them, not an “orientation” meeting, the label matters. Discuss marketing opportunities that would fit their goals and product. Give them some pointers on networking and relationship-building. Share member success stories that illustrate those guidelines.
  • Assign new members to veteran members. Ask the veterans to call new members, share advice and experiences, and invite them to the next event where they can introduce them around.
  • Make sure all your new vendor members receive networking/business development guidelines by both mail and email. Give this advice to them in as many ways as possible — one of them is sure to stick.
  • A few times a year invite all new members to a panel featuring two regular and two vendor members. Incentivize attendance — if they come, they get a deep discount off their next event registration. The regular members explain how to earn their business. The vendor members share how they developed the relationships that led to new business.
  • Be the social media coach for your members — hold classes on how to use social networking and media tools to market their businesses effectively.
  • Dedicate a section of your web site to the special needs of your vendor members. Feature interviews about the success stories of vendor members. Keep the content fresh — find new resources about networking and post or link to them. Publicize all your marketing opportunities and include testimonials lauding the value.

What else can we do? How are you helping your vendor members do business with other members? What are you teaching them?

Do Right By Your New Members – Listen

Cynthia D’Amour wrote today about barbequing members, not literally. Take a moment to read it. Did you cringe too because it sounded familiar? Cynthia says “the rules were not explained.” That’s a fairly common occurrence on listservs. Sure, there were listserv guidelines that told members to refrain from commercial posts, but how many people really read them, especially if you’re a new member and are still procrastinating about reading the gigantic manila envelope of orientation material you received last month. Plus the rules are usually written in that “policies and procedures” language that causes us to skim quickly, not really digest anything, delete and move on.

Another barbequing happens when a new member goes to their first event or meeting. Armed with business cards, he approaches a small group, introduces himself and starts his elevator speech while pushing his card into everyone’s hands. What’s your usual reaction when this happens to you? Ugh, another pushy salesman. Not the best first impression, is it? If you see “that guy” again at a meeting, you quickly avert your eyes and head in a different direction.

But “that guy” doesn’t know any better. Most members don’t. They join the organization to make some contacts and get new business. He was nervous, he did his best. Then nothing happens — he’s not feeling the love at meetings, his calls aren’t returned, soon he stops going, and when it’s renewal time, he thinks, well, that didn’t pan out, don’t think I’ll be signing up again.

What can we do to help our members succeed? Their goal is to get new business — how can we help them with that? We should have a plan in place for each new member that includes educating them on how to market within our organization, and this doesn’t mean just mailing them a list of advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

(photo by ky_olsen/Flickr)
(photo by ky_olsen/Flickr)

First, survey all your new members when they join. You have their full attention when they’re completing the membership application so add some questions to it. Even better, interview new members. Some associations have member ambassadors make these calls or visits — a great way for the new member to make at least one new friend.

Learn about your members so you know how to help them meet their membership goals, and how they can help the organization.

  • What are their membership expectations? What does their boss expect?
  • What are they selling?
  • Who is their target market? What type of companies or people do they need to meet? What type of job position?
  • How do they normally market their product/service?
  • Will there be others from their company willing to get involved in the organization and attend meetings and events?
  • When can they attend meetings/events — breakfast, lunch, dinner, weekend?
  • Do they (or someone else in the company) have expertise they’re willing to share? Can they write content for your publications or web site, present a class or webinar, or provide podcasts or videos?
  • What other organizations do they belong to? How are they involved there?

These additional questions will give you insight on how to better serve and engage your members.

  • What methods of communication do they use and which do they prefer?
  • What types of social networking/media are they or their company involved in?
  • What are their most pressing business challenges? What keeps them up at night?
  • What kind of classes do they need for their professional development? What do they need to know to help their business prosper?
  • How do they spend their free time? What are some of their personal hobbies and skills?

Now that you have listened and learned about their membership goals, you can suggest a marketing strategy for them based on their probable involvement and other visibility enhancing opportunities — advertising, sponsorship, exhibiting, and content marketing (webinars/classes, podcasts, videos). You can also suggest other ways they can get involved based on what you’ve learned about them and their business.

But that’s just step one, step two is critical. To help them avoid the “that guy” scenario, you must teach them how to network and develop business at your organization the right way. And that’s the topic for my next blog post.

So what have I forgotten? Are there other questions that you ask your new members?

My Five Favorite Volunteering Experiences

I’m late to the blogging scene, but now that I have some extra time on my hands (more about that later!), I wanted to add to the volunteering discussion that Peggy Hoffman started. However, instead of writing about my ideal volunteering jobs, I’m going to first write about my favorite volunteer experiences. I haven’t thought much about why these five experiences left such an impression on me, but by writing about it, I’m hoping to figure that out and use that insight in managing volunteers in the future.

Teaching English as a Second Language

When I lived in Arlington, Virginia I volunteered two nights a week for an adult education program that taught basic English to recent immigrants, most of whom were from El Salvador, but also included refugees from other countries. I spent much of my adult life up to then working as a restaurant manager so I felt particularly close to the Salvadoran community since many of my employees grew up there. Most of these students were holding down two minimum wage full-time jobs but still found time to show up several nights a week for English classes. My job was to assist the teacher with these large classes of 30-40 students of varying levels of literacy. It was perhaps the most rewarding work I have ever done.

My satisfaction came from the fact that I was truly helping these folks learn their new language as well as other life skills — we used everyday scenarios as teaching tools, such as opening and maintaining a checking account, going to the doctor or calling 911, filling out job applications, etc. I used my talents to help them succeed — I’m in tune with how people learn another language because I’ve done it myself many times. I knew enough Spanish to get them through some tough spots. So I was a great fit for the job. Plus I felt tremendously appreciated by the teachers I worked with — they fought over my services! And I saw the appreciation in the faces of the students. I was also stimulated by the work, not only emotionally, but intellectually since I had to figure out ways to help them learn (or even read!).

Distributing food at the Sacramento Food Bank

I’ve only done this one time, yesterday, so my memory is fresh. I give high marks to the food bank — they do a good job with their volunteers. Their response to my email was immediate. I attended a volunteer orientation last Friday run by an energetic and friendly staffer who took us on a tour of their facility explaining what they did and how we could help in each area. She went over policies and procedures so we knew what we were getting into. It was a thorough introduction to the food bank. I signed up on the spot with the manger of their food distribution services and showed up for my first shift yesterday morning. He gave me a nice welcome when I arrived and put me in the hands of two experienced volunteers who showed me the ropes. Another newbie and I shadowed them for a bit and then we were on our own, but everyone was helpful with our questions.

I appreciated the orientation, the friendly crew of helpful volunteers, the lunch they fed us, and the feeling I got from helping those in need. As I put together the grocery bags for the clients, I knew that the food selections I made for each of them had a big effect on how well they would eat that week — there was an immediate connection between my work and the effect it had on others. Another aspect I liked is that I was part of a team. Although we worked individually putting together bags for clients, we were all doing the same type of work, and then after distribution was over, we worked in groups bagging up bread and other food items. So there was a social element to it as well. Which leads me to my most social volunteering experience…

Pouring beer at countless beer festivals

Yes, countless. I was part of the homebrewing community in Washington DC so my friends and I were asked by the local breweries and brewpubs to help pour their beer at beer festivals or charity events. We were “beer geeks” so we could talk about the different beer styles — how they’re made, how they differ — and recommend beers for people to try. It really doesn’t get much better than talking about something you love and sharing it with people. The brewers appreciated us because if we weren’t there, they’d have to pay people to pour. Festival managers (usually our friends) knew they could trust us to not give away free beer. So I always felt appreciated and I had a blast. But the important thing to take away from my example is — when volunteering at a beer festival, always volunteer for the first shift of the day when people aren’t so drunk, then you can enjoy the festival yourself during the second shift!

Preparing and serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless

One year my friends got mad at me because I had the nerve to skip our regular Thanksgiving. Instead I went to DC’s largest shelter and helped prep Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless. I only planned to work during the morning and get to my own Thanksgiving later that day, but I ended up staying until the end, serving dinner in front of the Capitol and returning to clean up the kitchen at the end of the night. Why did that experience make such an impression? Lots of people come to the shelter on Thanksgiving to help, almost too many, and most of them don’t really know how to help effectively, but the staff is used to that and find jobs for everyone. Because I was a restaurant manager at the time and knew my way around a kitchen, I was put in charge of teams and that felt good — to be recognized for what I brought to them and given responsibility that I could handle. I felt appreciated. And look what happened, I never left. I stayed and kept helping.

Later that day as it got dark and cold in front of the lit-up Capitol (yes, the contrast was purposefully made by Mitch Snyder, the shelter’s founder, always on the look-out for good messaging opportunities), we served dinner to hundreds and hundreds of homeless folks. Everyone was incredibly polite and kind and I got many looks in the eyes with heartfelt thanks from some really down and out souls — it’s something you don’t forget. My friends forgave me immediately when I told them about my day.

Moderating a panel at NAHB’s Conference on Membership

Perhaps the most boring for many of you who do this type of thing all the time, but I really enjoyed moderating a panel discussion last fall at the National Association of Home Builder’s Conference on Membership. I put myself in the audience’s shoes and played Oprah, even walked around the room while doing it (so was I Phil Donahue?). The audience was made up of association CEOs and membership directors as well as volunteer leaders from home building associations from across the US, so it was easy for me to imagine what they would want the panel to talk about and to elicit questions from the audience. Why did this experience stand out for me? Recognition — who doesn’t like that? I felt honored by being asked. It was also intellectually challenging. I had to listen while thinking ahead to possible questions and conversation starters. Of course, I had a lot of questions written in the notes I prepared but I wanted to keep it fresh and go where the conversation led. And it was a one-off deal. There was prep involved but after the “performance” that was it.

Ok, I’ve rambled on enough. So my first blog post is written. That wasn’t so hard. Now I have to figure out what I’ve learned about these five experiences. Some things are obvious. Make it fun. Teams are good. Make it intellectually or emotionally rewarding — match work with skills. Recognize the skills your volunteers bring you and don’t be afraid to let them shine. Provide training — let them know what to expect. Show your appreciation. Have lots of one-time only volunteer opportunities. What did I miss?

Your turn, what have been some of your most rewarding volunteer experiences?

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