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1-On-1 With Greg Damron – Part 1: “If You Build It, They May Not Come”

Lori Halley 03 September 2014 2 comments

This is the second in our Advisory Series 1-On-1 interviews.Through our 

Small Membership Advisory Community 

sessions, we’ve met some incredible, passionate and dedicated individuals and realized that our readers can gain a lot from these inspiring community leaders. So we're featuring the key insights, best practices, and strategies identified by these individuals in 1-On-1 series posts.

We recently interviewed Greg Damron, President, of the Association for Talent Development St. Louis Chapter (ATD) (formerly the American Society for Training and Development). ATD St. Louis (a chapter affiliate of ATD) is led by a local volunteer board of directors, and serves talent development professionals in the Missouri/Illinois bi-state region surrounding St. Louis. 

An hour full of insight

In an hour-long interview, Shiv Narayanan (Magnetic Apricot) and I asked Greg Damron to provide some insight into the successful strategies ATD St. Louis has implemented to grow their membership. Greg offered so much great information and ideas, that we’ve created a 3-part blog series based on the highlights from our interview.

This post offers Part 1 of our interview highlights. You can also read Part 2 and Part 3 – which includes the full audio recording of the 1-On-1 session.

Shiv Narayanan: Greg, I noticed that you started off as a member in your organization. Can you tell us a little bit about your progression to becoming the president of the organization and the journey.

Greg Damron: Well, the progression led from being a volunteer, to being a committee leader, to then being a board member. I began scheduling monthly learning programs and events and we had a lot of success gaining members’ interest, bringing up the attendance rates, and having more people join as members. Now currently as the President, we’re looking for other ways we can strategically keep moving forward and continue to grow and benefit our members.

How big is your organization – how many members?

In the last two and a half years, we’ve more than doubled our size. Since 2014 started, we’ve gone from around 200 to our current, just under the 250 mark.             

Cutting through the email clutter – “it’s a busy world out there”

Can you tell us a little bit about how you’ve built your membership through your communications?

With the communication system we have in place, initially someone attending an event will get their confirmation through the Chapter website. They also get our chapter welcome letters as they become a member. At the other end of a year’s membership, when it’s time for them to renew, we’ve set up a series of customized letters, to let them know, “We care that you’re out there. We want you to renew.”  

In the journey throughout the membership, we’re pretty regular about sending out messages on what’s going on. We try to do it in ways where we think that we’ll hit them when they’re willing to look, because it is a busy world out there.

We’ve been really successful in being able to put a message out that has value for them at a time when they can see it, open it and act on it. We’ve found that if we send a message at the end of the day, or on a Monday morning it’s not as effective. But there are a few windows during the week, such as say a Tuesday morning, maybe just after 8 AM that work very well. It gets people coming in the second day of the work week, gives them a couple of weeks to plan ahead for the upcoming event, and maybe even talk with their co-workers or check with their supervisor. We’ll see a spike in registrations coming in just after it’s sent and then maybe even another hit coming at lunch later in the day.

So we’ve seen increases in attendance at our events by targeting when we think that they’ll be able to see the message, read it, and respond. We also use a series of emails that lead up to the event as well, because there are those who’ll wait to come in at the last minute.

And do you think that your email initiatives have been a key driver behind the growth or is it just been something’s that sped up the process?  

I think a little of both, but more speeding up the process. It’s still about looking for those quality events, those quality interactions, giving them that reason to open the message, see something there, and attend an event where they can network with other members. The delivering part, once they’ve seen the message, is where the rubber hits the road. We get feedback from members in various ways on what they got from an event, and what they were able to take back to work and immediately use later that day in many cases. It’s about always listening for, “What do they need?”, and asking, “What types of things can we look to provide our members going forward?”

If you build it, they may not come. So ask them, “What should we build?

I’m reminded of a movie from several years ago. The memory is of the movie Field of Dreams, it’s about building a baseball field, and the saying, “if you build it, they will come.” Well, we’ve had the experience that it doesn’t always happen.

If you build it, they may not come.  But if first you ask them, “What should we build?” then things start to happen.

We’ve tried to build a special interest group before we had the people. We thought well if we build it, we can then attract people. It just didn’t work that way. In other organizations or other regions, maybe, but we found that dynamic just was not there.

Instead, as members join us, we ask them what kind of groups they might want to participate in. Those groups may not exist yet, but we then ask more people and find out, “What would make that work?  What would make you value that?” Because it has to be more than just saying, “I’d like to have one of those.” And as we look for those answers from our organization’s point of view of being talent development professionals, we break that out into better ways to interact with members and find out how we can best serve them.

Surveying members

You said you’d asked your membership about what they’re looking for.  How did you go about finding out that information?    

Well, we sent out Chapter surveys continually asking for feedback.  As we rolled into 2014, we sent out surveys letting them know that we had gotten their feedback ...and then, asked them, “Okay, now that we know what it is, what do you want it to look like?  When’s a good time to hold it? How often should we hold it?  What kind of things would you like to see there?”  And from the response we got back from that, we arrived at, “Okay, well it looks like the best time is going to be a mid-week afternoon and that it be towards the end of the day.”

Then in our first meeting for each of these groups, it became, “Well, how often would you like to meet? What’s a good interval? Monthly scared some people; because it takes a lot to get over here.  Quarterly on the hand, scared some other people because what if I miss one? That means it’ll be half a year before I get to come to another one. So we arrived at every two months and with two groups it worked out pretty well because we’ll have one group one month, next group the other month and just keep alternating. The response has been overwhelming and one of the things about a group like this is that sometimes you get that initial first surge, people are excited and then it kind of drops a bit.             

It dwindles, right?

Right, in most cases. However, we’ve had great results so far with it actually staying steady and growing – and at a time traditionally where we don’t see people come out to events.  Mid-July, it’s summer, and people are thinking other things. Historically, we sometimes haven’t even held a July event for our Chapter because of that, but this July we held our Special Interest Group meeting and it as well attended as the others with no drop off. We look to continue to do that as we go into fall and will probably see some of the folks we missed in July back with even more energy.

Your organization is further along in your journey, a more mature organization, but you are still incorporating a survey to figure out what the sessions should be and continuously polling them to refine that? Is that something you execute by yourselves?

Well, we’ve surveyed after our events for a few years now. We just looked at what would work best and continue to look for ways that we can fine tune it from there.

As an example, at the end of the special interest group (SIG) meetings, we’re asking for further feedback before they go. Sometimes on electronic feedback, you don’t always get the responses. But if we just give them a quick two-question, here’s a sheet of paper, just jot a few thoughts down, “What value do you think you got from today? What would you like to see in a future meeting? Just give us your quick thoughts on that.”

It’s been amazing the amount of things that we’ve seen come back that way. And then we are able to say, “Okay, that’s what we can roll into our next meetings then.”  So that one meeting feeds into what will happen for the next meeting and it gives everybody a stake in, “Where is the group going?  What kind of things do we want to be doing?”

Setting priorities

You mentioned a few new initiatives that you want to start, how are you prioritizing your future roadmap and incorporating it into your ongoing cycle of activities?

There’s always that double check that says, “Okay, how are we doing? How well is this fitting with what the members are looking to have? And since our membership base is always changing and growing, we have to keep re-asking that question and re-evaluating, “Are we going the right spot? Is the compass headed the right direction?”

But in terms of the more strategic – what do we want to be doing a year from now, where do we want to be? What’s our five year plan?  ...Every year we have an annual retreat in January to plan the year ahead.  One of the things we did this year after our meeting in January was to say, ...“Well, yes, we still want the annual planning. But we want to look at the quarterly results and map out where we’re going, take that compass check at least every three months. But then every month, we’re just continuously asking “What’s the membership saying? What kind of things are working for them.”

Update: Here are links to Part 2 and Part 3 of this blog series.

Image source:  Business-man-brainstorming - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 03 September 2014 at 8:30 AM


  • Beth Kassalen said:

    Monday, 08 September 2014 at 12:50 PM
    Thank you for this informative post. I want to reiterate the comments about customized emails, or touchpoints as we call them, with our various group members. It takes some dedicated to write three 'renewal' letters for six groups, but we make sure each of them are designed differently and include much more than 'click here to renew.' I believe members appreciate non-form-letters, and the 'we know you are out there' communications and I believe these customized letters are keys to getting higher retention rates. Wild Apricot's system makes it much easier to design, and schedule, specialized member communications.
  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Monday, 08 September 2014 at 1:19 PM
    Beth: Thank you for sharing your views and details about your organization's email communications. We're also glad that our system is helping you connect with your members.
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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