Maximizing Member Value through Networking
Members want a connection - with the chapter, with other members, with chapter leadership. And for many different reasons.
The connection they seek is realized through the opportunities that you, as a chapter leader, set out for them. Offering innovative and enjoyable creative outlets to accomplish this highly valued benefit is on a continued drive toward success. Thriving as a chapter with level-based networking rests in the knowledge that people see networking differently. At its core, networking is simply about creating a memorable connection with other professionals, often with the goal of advancing career objectives.
There are many events and activities that you can create to fulfill this purpose for members, and it can be accomplished through collaboration at the different levels in which your chapter operates, from local to regional to national. It is in this way that you can not only build strong membership but also maintain it.
At the local level, activities don’t have to be complicated and can often be incorporated right into your regular chapter meetings. Sometimes, thinking outside-the-box and from a team-building approach can more effectively help your members connect and engage:
- Get-to-know-you moments. Start simple by planning a few minutes after each meeting for people to connect. It may seem counter-intuitive to have the meet and greet portion at the end of the meeting, but it ensures that members have somewhere in which to start the conversation. And, it honors their time. Those who don’t want to stay don’t have to.
- Late-night invitation only mixer. By taking your activity outside the traditional cocktail hours, you can reach the younger crowd, which is essential for the continuity of your chapter. Making it invitation only speaks to the exclusivity of the event and keeps it small. Here is a hint though, if your chapter is small, invite everyone and encourage guests to attend as well. That would help build a larger membership base.
- Let’s Get Physical. Encourage healthy work-life balance with focused activities that connect your members in other areas of their life, specifically healthy living and exercise. For instance, golf outing, biking social group or nature hiking group takes your members out of their business attire and out of the office mentality and connects in an entirely different manner – as whole individuals rather than their compartmentalized business selves.
At the regional level, it is important to connect with other local chapters for both planning networking events and providing opportunities beyond the people your members regularly see at each local chapter meeting. Step outside of the standard mixer with a few more socially-inspired ideas that are especially helpful when taking the networking up a level.
- Speed Networking. People don’t have a lot of time available for meeting new people. Make it focused with a theme night, giving a clear topic to discuss, and only allowing up to five minutes with each new person to maximize the number of people met. At the end of the speed portion, allow some time for networkers to mingle freely to deepen the connections they have already started.
- Open Mic Nights. Tap into your members’ creative sides. Offer an outlet for them to get on stage and share a piece of themselves that often gets lost in the office or at regular chapter meetings. Make it a fun night of entertainment between chapters. Maybe even make it a competition to see who can have the most people attending or performing. As you are starting out, be sure to have some planned performers to inspire participation – maybe leadership. Of most importance, ask that attendees sit with people they don’t know from their own chapter or other local chapters. They can have fun and get to know each other over the night.
- Musical Chairs. This is an easy way to incorporate networking right into your regularly scheduled event. Between speakers take a moment and say everyone shuffle to a different seat, making sure to sit next to someone new each time. Ensure there are a few minutes before the speaker begins for conversation with their new seat-mates. Not only does this help attendees meet new people, but it encourages movement and engagement with the presented content.
At the national level, events have generally already been planned by the national, so all your local chapter needs to do is opt in and encourage members to attend. As leaders, show your members how important the national is as a networking tool by becoming involved at that level. Volunteer for a committee to help plan or run the national event. Maybe even bring one of the above ideas to national to help scale down the networking opportunities available at the grander level into more manageable and digestible networking moments for your members, as well as other chapters’ members from across the nation.
Once you have the opportunities in place, you need to teach your members through content and by example how best to network based on their goals. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel though. Find resources already available that offer insight into the ease of networking. You can even create workshops in the how-to of networking that would serve as both a networking opportunity and a training to better utilize the connections that are made. Remember utilizing your StarChapter software to communicate all these activities to your members and guests remains the simplest layer of all.
At the end of the day, networking is essential for the success of your local chapter and your members’ career trajectories. But don’t overdo it. Help your members keep their networks small and manageable, with the knowledge that it is okay to adjust their network as their needs change – that is, they don’t have to keep in touch with everyone they meet at the same time. Fundamentally, networking is about connecting with real people in an authentic way outside the confines of the boardroom or office setting – respecting that is the key to success for all involved.
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