1-On-1 With Greg Damron – Part 3: Events and Welcoming New Members

Lori Halley 17 September 2014 0 comments

In the second of our Advisory Series 1-On-1 interviews, profiling members of Wild Apricot’s Small Membership Advisory Community, we talked with Greg Damron, President of ATD St. Louis. This volunteer-led organization currently has 250 members.

This is the final installment in our 3-part blog series offering highlights from our interview with Greg Damron. So far in Part 1, Greg offered insight into using surveys to develop valuable programs and ways of connecting members with one another. In Part 2, Greg touched on ways of building community and offering value through partner programs.

Full interview audio recording:

You can also listen to the entire 1-hour interview with Greg Damron here:

In this post, Greg Damron describes ATD St. Louis’s event development process as well as ways in which they welcome new members.

Event planning process

Shiv Narayanan:  Aside from the special interest groups you’ve mentioned earlier, you also have paid events that are offered pretty frequently. Can you outline some of the challenges of running those events?

Greg Damron: Those are definitely more the foundation of what we’ve done traditionally as a Chapter. This is our nuts and bolts here, the monthly learning event for our learning development professionals where we bring in a key speaker and we make arrangements with them months ahead.  Sometimes they’re local, sometimes they’ve come from some distance, and the topics will vary, but there’s much more planning, arrangement and logistics involved. ...This is more our mainstream here and this is the logistics that keeps us the busiest.

Do you plan a calendar of these paid events where you know for the next quarter who you’re going to be bringing in and focusing on different topics?  

We look at a calendar year. We have a plan laid out for where things fit together, and where does it make sense to have this type of event on this topic, or that type event on that topic, and looking for the correct date for our annual conference –all that as part of our annual retreat and strategic planning to get the basics of that in place.

But we’ve also found that around a six month window for actually nailing down a program seems to work really well. A lot can change in our industry, and if we plan too far ahead, then it may not be a topic that’s going to be of as much interest as if we maybe have a little bit more flexibility to keep that window of about six months out – at least when we initially start planning and lining up to have one, we’ll start marketing it a little bit later but trying to keep that window out at least that far seems to work well.   

In our recent Small Membership Survey, we found that other than dues, events were the second most critical source of revenue. Is that the case with your organization, or are events something that you feel you have to do at a break even proposition?

Well, I think there are two components to that. The monthly meeting we set up – there is a cost to attend that, but most of that cost goes to providing the event. Part of what makes the logistics challenging is so we’re able to do that. We are set up to be a non-profit, but on the other hand, we do have to balance the cost out so we can still afford to do everything we need to do as an organization.

That’s a lot of what drove the origin of our annual conference, in that it is a higher price point, it’s a bigger event, but it tends to be where we look to say, “That’s where we fund things for the Chapter”. But the luncheon rate is really set by what it costs to hold the luncheon.  And the non-members do pay a higher rate than the members do, and that’s one of the other benefits of being a member.  But it’s all about basically covering the cost of the event and keeping enough buffer so that we know that we’re doing okay if an unexpected expense comes up.

For these events do you survey members or non-members to figure out what types of topics you should be putting on your calendar?

Yes, as each event rolls through and afterwards, we send the survey out where we’re always asking for what they want to see in future events.  We do also send out either an annual or semi-annual survey, just generally asking then and there’s a few other different sources that we might get in terms of the feedback that might come in through various emails or just contacts we have in the community.

You mentioned your conference. Can you explain what’s involved with it?  I assume it’s different than the monthly workshops or the Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings.

To say it’s a little different would be stating it well!  It is a much larger event – it’s a full-day conference with multiple tracks so that our attendees have choices over which they may want to attend and might be a better fit for them.

One of the things that we’ve found here in our St. Louis region is that ATD’s International Conference is half a country away and some of us can get there, but not everyone can. And there is just so much to do at that conference. It’s the leading conference of its type in the nation.

So what we try and do on an annual basis, in the other half of the year, (where the international conference is in the spring, ours is in the fall), is to provide something that’s on a smaller scale but very similar. Same type of topics, same pools of speakers to give our region an opportunity to benefit from that same type of event.

It’s been very successful and it balances out the something for everyone philosophy we were talking about. Even the person who’s gone to the conference the previous spring can still benefit by coming to this fall conference because there’s likely topics there that they wouldn’t have been able to attend at the full conference.

In all of the events that your Chapter runs, do you have opportunities for individuals to network member-to-member with one another?

Yes, quite a few ways. We generally do a buffet lunch, where the first 30 minutes is somewhat informal. We might do an ice breaker during that time and the ability to network for maybe say the first half hour of the time that they are there with the other attendees works really well. We get great feedback on how much they appreciate being able to do that. And then during the actual topic, there are other interactions - perhaps group table discussions or other things of that nature, with two or three opportunities during a presentation to do something of that style.  We’ll also frequently have people either hang out for a little afterwards or find other ways to connect as a result of having met someone at one of the meetings. Then they have that connection built as they go about the rest of their week afterwards.

Welcoming new members

Are you inviting potential members or are you acknowledging new members that are attending for the first time at these events?

We’ve started doing that in a more specific way this year. We’ve always had the intent and process in place, but we’re trying to take it another step this year to give them something to make it more of an occasion, kind of a mini-celebration. “Hey, someone has joined us.”  We found a fairly good deal on putting our logo on coffee mugs, which looked a little bit stylish, so not just your standard mug.

At the beginning of each Chapter meeting, we make a presentation to anyone who was a new member attending for the first time, issuing the cup and congratulating them and having them take a few minutes to introduce themselves. That way, people have a little more conversational topic with them and might to get to know them a little bit later.  

We found the new members really appreciated the mug and also really appreciate being able to talk a little bit about themselves. It’s been very successful and I think the coffee cups were really more the catalyst, but they also have the extra benefit of going back to the workplace with them. It has our logo on it, and keeps us top of mind for them as well as others who might stop by their work area.  So a little bit of marketing out in the field from that point of view as well.

One of the things that we’re doing here, is trying to find ways to welcome new clients better.  Do you have a process in place after that first meeting to onboard new members and get them into the full swing of things, educate them about all the things that your organization does?

Well, I think at different times we’ve had times where we’ve been more successful and maybe a little less successful at that component. It’s an area that we’re currently saying how can we be more inclusive or more thorough.

So looking for better ways to do that and as we continue to have new people come in to help and assist. Building the hospitality team to where it wouldn’t necessarily fall to one or two people to do that but that we would have a larger group of people who would then just split up or perhaps so it’s not necessarily always the same people that welcome.  I think that’s kind of where we’re heading but we’re not there yet.

I heard about an organization that identified “ambassadors” to welcome new members. Maybe you could have new member “ambassadors” in each special interest group.

Love the idea of the ambassadors! If you’re receiving a call from a Chapter ambassador, I think that’s going to be well received in terms of the new member and what their expectations might be.  Excellent idea and I would love to see us put that in place.

Final words of advice

We can see that ATD St. Louis is a mature organization with many processes in place. If you were speaking to an organization that’s less developed, what would be two or three key pointers that you would suggest they focus on to develop their organization and grow their membership?               

Well, I think the first thing I would look to say would be the, “Hey, things that worked for us might be good for us to share but they may also not be the exact answers.”  Your situation may be different, but perhaps if you see us doing something, you could apply it.  

The second thing is, as we talked about earlier, the energy. Keeping the energy high and the involvement level high, whichever project might be the focus at that point is key. It’s a simple, but sometimes difficult answer. If there is energy in a project, you know it – and if there isn’t, well, you know that too. Find ways to keep the energy and forward progress high and “energy drains” low.

And I think the third one will be, when you’re in the situation where it’s not really rolling yet, to not have too many things going on, and to then pick what would be the most important and put all resources towards that until you get it moving the way you’d like it to.

In closing, thank you so much Greg, it was very illuminating for us and I’m sure it will be for the folks who read the blog post or listen to the recording.      

Thank you Shiv and Lori, I’m always happy to give back to the communities and hope this may be of help to others looking to build their Chapters and member organizations.

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This has been a 3-part blog series of highlights of our interview with Greg Damron of ATD St. Louis. If you want more, you can read Part 1 and Part 2 or listen to the entire interview with Greg here.

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

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

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 17 September 2014 at 8:30 AM

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