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Publications > Dateline Houston > September 2002 > Director-Sponsor Report


Volume 42, Issue 1

September 2002

Sharing Ideas

by Bonni Graham, Director-Sponsor, Region 8

One of the things chapters routinely ask me is, “What are other chapters doing? We want to do new things, but we also want to do what we know works.” If you’re a chapter president, you’ve noticed that we always ask for new and innovative ideas your chapter has implemented since your last chapter report. This time, we received so many great ideas that they served as the inspiration for the Board’s report back to you.

To help you with your strategic planning, this article groups the ideas by the categories in the Chapter Achievement Award guidelines!

Membership and Member Services

Many chapters moved their elections online this year. They universally reported a successful experience with this method, in some cases seeing a significant increase in the percentage of members voting. Many used the Zoomerang service (www.zoomerang.com), while others set up a custom, password-protected service on their chapter site. In most cases, the membership number served as the access password.

In addition, many chapters have started using PayPal (www.paypal.com) to accept credit cards. This service works by accepting credit card information, then transferring the income in a batch to the chapter’s checking account (specified during setup). This service is a cool way to add convenience to your money collecting!

Programs

A rose is a rose is a rose is not always true! One chapter discovered that its members found the term “meeting” off-putting. By changing the name to “workshop” and adjusting the format to more of a roundtable discussion, they experienced a significant increase in attendance. Be sure to survey your members; everybody has a different take on what they want.

Another successful meeting format change was one chapter’s “Network and Nibble” format. According to their description: “There is no formal speaker, but every person introduces himself or herself. We specifically invite local employment agencies and hiring managers. No dinner, just appetizers, the cover fee is low enough for even unemployed members. We also ensure that there is plenty of material such as back issues of Intercom, the quarterly journal Technical communication, and conference proceedings available for people to review, as well as other technical writing related resources.”

One chapter has started a book club, to help members “interact on a different level from the technical meetings.” Another chapter maintains a lending library of the top titles in technical communication and business.

Is your chapter experiencing tough economic times? You’re not alone; many chapters are seeing the same thing. One chapter established a Job Search Support group for out-of-work members. It focuses on “preparing members to find new work, network, cope with the recession, develop new and more marketable skills, and expand their portfolios.” In addition to the main group meetings, the support group is organized into smaller groups that meet more frequently to provide mutual emotional support and encouragement.

Chapter Communication Products

Consider the possibility of “hiring” a student to help produce or edit the newsletter. Many schools grant academic credit, and chapter funds permitting, you can create a stipend to help the student gain access to some of the training and networking available at the annual conference. Make sure to have a professional-level chapter member serve as a newsletter advisor, so that the student is directed. Concerned about the consistency of how information from your chapter is presented? One chapter created a style guide to help chapter leaders and membership communicate about Society and chapter events and other information.

Recognition Programs

In this section, I’m adding an idea that came up during the Leadership Day roundtable: When you recognize a volunteer, plan for recognition before the end of the year, and plan for more recognition than simply announcing their service at a chapter meeting. Consider having a  “volunteer of the month.” Recognize that individual with a certificate delivered at the meeting, a brief article in the chapter newsletter (no more that 250 words – one paragraph), and a letter on STC letterhead to their employer, thanking them for their efforts (send a copy to their boss and to Human Resources). You could even use the brief article as a press release to local business magazines, many of whom have space for short “newslets” about local business people, which would provide publicity for the chapter as well!

In addition, consider a special recognition for senior or long-term members. One chapter tried this and noticed an upsurge in participation by those members. Long-time members have a wealth of history and knowledge that newer members find invaluable. Recognizing these members keeps them – and their experiences – available to and involved with the chapter.

Expanding Community

Many chapters in many regions are sponsoring student writing competitions. These competitions introduce elementary, high school, and college-level aspiring communicators to the theory, practice, and art of technical communication. Some competitions are in conjunction with a local science fair or other school function, and some are standalone competitions. Either way, they are excellent vehicles for expanding community. As for volunteer opportunities, they provide a finite and concrete opportunity that allows volunteers to provide an exceptional service of limited and specific duration.

Other chapters sponsor a booth at college and high school career fairs. They spend a day discussing our field with students interested in pursuing a career in technical communication. This effort provides exposure to specific interested parties and to the community at large. It enables volunteers to help define and promote the profession, as well as to network with others in related fields, serving at the other booths.

In a completely different area, one chapter has started an outreach/partnership program to other, related professional associations, such as American Society of Training Developers (ASTD), American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), and American Society of Indexers (ASI).

They’ve established a liaison position on their administrative council to develop strategies and maintain programs ensuring the continuity of the effort.

Leadership

While sponsoring a chapter leadership workshop is not, in and of itself, innovative, some chapters have taken such training to the next level. One chapter held an all-day, free training, open to all volunteers, that not only explained the organization and structure of the Society, but instructed attendees in the best practices of non-profit organizations in general for running chapter activities and managing volunteers.

Administration

A chapter treasurer holds a position of great responsibility. While there is oversight at the Society level, some chapters have supplemented that with additional checks and balances, such as having the chapter president receive a copy of the bank statement directly from the bank. This aditional step provides a level of safety and comfort for both officers.

Some chapters, particularly in farflung areas, have begun holding their administrative council meetings on the Web. NetMeeting (www.netmeeting.com) enabled one chapter to “establish leadership in its several geographically dispersed communities spanning about 70 miles so that they could meet more often and conduct more chapter business.”

Even student chapters are getting in the act: one student chapter plans to use its website as an article repository, as well as a two-way communication medium: “They plan to implement threaded forums and polls so that members and students can collaborate outside of the meeting room.”

That’s it! I hope some of these ideas inspire you and that you’ll experiment with putting them into action.


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