Membership Retention

The challenge is often not retaining the members, because they rarely leave. However retaining a core of active membership can be difficult. The following advice was presented by JETAANY at the 2007 National Conference.

A few basic strategies and things to remember. We’re going to start off with a few C’s:

  • Consistency: You’re a new JET just back in Michigan, or LA, or wherever – you go to the Career Forum, have drinks afterwards, meet a few cool people, you think, wow, I could really get into this organization – and then there’s not another JET event for 3 months. You have to keep pounding away – the more events you can manage the better. You get out what you put in; enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm, cynicism and general can’t-be-botheredness breeds the same.
  • Clustering: related to the above topic. We’re obliged to do certain things every year in conjunction with the Consulate around July and around October for Pre-Departure and Welcome Back receptions and so forth. We’ve found that these always tend to attract a lot of people. So try to organize as many follow-up events to these as you can; use them as an opportunity to get the ball rolling. Examples; after our Pre-Departure Orientation we had Old JET-New JET Dinners, a JET afternoon in a beer garden in Queen’s, a trip to the Urasenke tea ceremony place in New York, etc etc. Attendance has been excellent for all of these.
  • Community and Communications: It’s fundamental to create a sense of community among your members; if they don’t feel welcomed then they’re not going to come back. You can make sure you achieve this by having your communications in order – a weekly mailing list, a periodic newsletter, a website (especially if you can add a forum onto that site). It’s also effective to take as many photos as possible at your events and stick them up on the site, then e-mail the people who came with the link. Have a blog on your website and ask members to contribute. People like seeing themselves. A hard-copy newsletter especially is a very effective way to reach people; our editor gets e-mails from plenty of people he’s never met and who don’t come to events still telling him how much they enjoy the newsletters as a way to stay connected to a part of their life they would otherwise leave behind.
  • Get ‘Em While They’re Young: Target the new returnees aggressively; get the name of your chapter floating around before they’ve even left Japan. Talk to friends on prefectural listserves in Japan, ask people in your chapter to spread the word to friends they know who’ll be coming back to the USA. The prospect of having a ready-made social net when you come back to the US is a very useful selling point.
  • Cater to your Demographic: Recognize that people join their JETAA usually for one of three reasons, not always mutually exclusive, of course.
    • One, they need some help fitting back in and finding a job after coming back.
    • Two, which is actually kinda the same thing, they see it as a useful social device and fancy drinking with a few people with whom they share something in common, especially if, like a lot of New York’s members, they’ve just moved to a big city.
    • Three, those who join to take advantage of our ability to supply a Japan fix, what you might call Japanaholics anonymous. Some of your members may be rather more interested in a tour of an art gallery than going out and getting their drink on, and you might well find that you get completely different sets of people attending different events. So – be aware that running your chapter as a drinking club, however fun it may be, might alienate a few potentially valuable members.
  • Get ‘em involved: Do you have a Social secretary? Recruit one and get him or her to plan fun events – chances are his or her friends will show up, which always helps to broaden the network. How about getting a guest editor for the Newsletter? Solicit event ideas from your members and put them into practice; it sounds obvious, but people will be more active if they feel that they have some say in what goes on.
  • Think About Why People ‘Leave’: Again a few reasons here. One is what you might call organic; they’ve gotten married and/or had kids and/or got a demanding job, in short got on with their lives and done more or less what you’re supposed to do after JET. Fair enough – I’m not about to step up here and tell you to stop your members from getting married, however interesting it might be to try. You’re going to lose some of the older – or as we call them at JETAANY, ‘established’ members as a matter of course, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll touch on keeping them involved later. Another reason is one you can’t do anything much about – personal politics, cliques, etc. Sometimes people are just plain dicks – we had one of our members sign off the mailing list and drop off the radar because he didn’t get the bento he wanted at the annual softball tournament. Sometimes people leave for justifiable reasons, sometimes it’s a case of the toys coming out of the pram. Usually though it’s not that they actively ‘leave’, it’s more that they just don’t come to your events.
  • Keeping the Established JETs involved: Obviously members with families and demanding jobs aren’t going to come out into the city on a weeknight to go out drinking. But they have a lot of very useful knowledge and contacts that the recent returnees don’t have, and it’s a shame to let them go to waste. As a 501 (c) 3 NPO, JETAANY is required to have a board of directors, and we thought that probably the best way to staff that would be with established JETs in a variety of fields – law, marketing, NPO, academia, finance, etc. Most of the time they’re very willing to lend their expertise and time (up to a point) to help out, especially if they were more involved in their younger days. Even if you’re not an NPO, there’s nothing to stop you from establishing an informal ‘advisory panel’ or similar. Often people are flattered to be asked to help out and, so long as they have sufficient advance notice, willing to help. Another suggestion, particularly useful around October, is to get people established in different fields like those mentioned above and do mini career workshops for e.g. law school, how to get into banking, advice on grad school, etc. Useful for those already in the field to network, useful also for those who want to get in to make some contacts and get some advice.
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