User Group Best Practices: Tips for Attracting New Members

by Warren Williams and Cathleen Merritt of The AppleWorks Users Group
One of the important challenges faced by user group leaders is finding ways to attract new members to your organization.
Of course, the key to expanding your membership is to offer exciting, interesting programs at your meeting. If your meetings are boring, your efforts at attracting members will be wasted. But assuming that you are running interesting meetings, here are some techniques used by successful user groups to attract and retain their members:

  • Advertise each meeting under “computers” in the classified section of your local newspaper. Run this advertisement the Sunday before your next meeting. Mention the main theme or topic for the meeting. Change this advertisement every time you run it.
  • Check if your local radio stations have a Community Calendar feature. Send a notice of each meeting to the person in charge of that feature. Same for the Community Calendar program on your local cable TV station.
  • Ask a member of your group to serve as a “greeter” at your meetings. This person should approach new people, invite them in, give them some background about how the meeting will proceed, and introduce them to current members. Your greeter should be personable and welcoming – technical competence is optional.
  • At the beginning of each meeting, ask newcomers to introduce themselves. Point out others in the group who have similar interests or who live near the new member.
  • Invite young people who are not members to give presentations to your group about topics that interest them. Suggest that they bring a friend or two to give them moral support. Some of these young people will find the topics of your meetings interesting and will join your group.
  • Contact local school districts and see if you can help them with any responsibilities they face. Try to arrange a face-to-face meeting and send a business-savvy, professionally-attired representative of your group to that meeting.
  • Volunteer to help with some of the school district’s activities. (For example, offer to run a short “technology update” session at one of their in-service days.) Educators will learn about your group and will consider joining.
  • Send a professionally-attired representative to local computer stores and offer to help get equipment working together, solve problems, offer self-help seminars or do whatever else the manager might like you to do. Don’t ask for anything until you’ve been helping for at least a month. Then ask the manager if he/she minds you putting out small, attractive flyers somewhere in the store.
  • Always accept “No” graciously; even when a store manager or school district misses a good opportunity. Always assume the store or school district has a good reason for not working with you — even if they don’t.
  • Give a small summer stipend to a popular high school or college student. Have that student do things for the group, including upgrading the membership database and giving presentations. Encourage the student to bring friends to the meetings.
  • Call each new member after he or she has been with you for two or three months. Try to get ideas for presentations and services that will attract this member. Give the member your home phone number and ask him or her to keep in touch.
  • Telephone your long-time members occasionally. Solicit feedback about ideas they suggest for the group.
  • Run joint meetings with nearby user groups. Show the nearby folks how interesting and exciting your meetings are. You’ll discover how many computer users are willing to join more than one group.
  • Find a nearby Windows user group. Arrange to give a 15-minute “Macintosh Technology Update” to that group. Invite the leader of that group to give a similar “Windows Technology Update” to your Macintosh group. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn.
  • Make your meetings FUN! If people aren’t smiling from time to time, ask yourself “Why not?”
Dr. Warren Williams is President of the AppleWorks Users Group (AWUG) and Editor of AWUG’s monthly newsletter, the AppleWorks Journal. Dr. Williams is an Emeritus Professor of Technology at Eastern Michigan University.
Cathleen Merritt is Director of the AppleWorks Users Group and is Associate Editor of the AppleWorks Journal. Ms. Merritt has written more than 300 articles published in numerous technology magazines and newsletters.

The AppleWorks Users Group, the world’s largest computer user organization, has more than 15,000 members in the United States and 51 other countries. To learn more about AWUG, visit the organization’s website.

(Originally published as a MUG Masters article on The MUG Center)

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