One of the primary goals of any technology or business community group, from a user group to a non-profit organization, is to grow membership, introduce new perspectives and ideas, and actively replenish and expand the numbers. This is certainly true with IAMCP, where the strength and quality of a chapter is defined by the opportunities within its membership. More members equal more partnership opportunities.
Having participated in a wide variety of networking organizations, I’ve seen a wide variety of initiatives to grow membership. The ideas I’m sharing today were developed and refined across two communities: eBIG and the MEC.
Back in 2002, I cofounded a non-profit called the East Bay IT Group (eBIG.org). At eBIG, we launched or merged with more than a dozen technology user groups, and I served as the membership chair and unofficial evangelist for the group. In addition, I personally ran three of the user groups, conducting monthly meetings, organizing special events, and driving both sponsorships and attendance. These included the Collaboration SIG (special interest group), the Software-as-a-Service SIG, and the Entrepreneur SIG.
We started with zero members, but through a lot of hard work and constant promotion, we had close to 10,000 members in 2007 when we merged with another non-profit and I resigned from the board. It was during this time as a SIG leader and non-profit cofounder that I began to develop and document (primarily through blogging) tactics for growing community membership.
While at Microsoft, I joined the Management Excellence Community (MEC), and served on its leadership team (MELT) as the global evangelism chair, working with human resources and the leadership development team to build community around people managers within the company. In this role I refined and articulated what I had practiced earlier, packaging the concepts into an easily consumable format.
Community is as easy as 1-2-3: Bring a friend, assign roles, and keep learning.
1. Have members bring a friend.
It’s always hard to feel like you’re a part of something new when you don’t know anyone. I don’t care how senior you are in your current company, it’s human nature to feel more comfortable around familiar faces. Knowing someone in the crowd helps spur the networking activities. But it’s more than having someone to talk to as you sit in the audience — making it a practice to bring someone new to each of the monthly meetings is critical to growth. We are all advocates of the program, and we should be talking to people about it, inviting them to join. Again, the more members, the more business opportunities.
2. Assign roles to everyone.
Data shows that when people have a specific purpose within a team or with a project, they are more likely to stay engaged. We’re all busy, and our availability to chair a committee or spearhead a special initiative with IAMCP varies with the ebb and flow of our actual jobs. But the fact remains that people who play an active role in the community tend to stick around, and as a result, they get more out of their involvement. The board can be as big as you want it to be. If people want to help out and identify an unmet need, create a new board seat, committee, or sub-committee, be sure to welcome their service and increased participation.
3. Keep learning.
The principle purpose of the monthly chapter meetings is not to sit and listen to speakers, but to do some peer-to-peer networking. However, we’re all in need of intellectual and professional nourishment. We all bring a wealth of experience to the table, but if we’re always talking about ourselves and our companies, we’ll miss many of the learning opportunities around us. Good content helps drive good dialog, and may open up new possibilities for peer-to-peer business.
As we built our board of directors for the Seattle IAMCP chapter and set as one of our goals to become the largest U.S. chapter (hey, we’re on Microsoft’s home turf—– of course that is our goal), I shared with the team these three steps, which had helped guide the membership drives behind my eBIG and MEC experiences. We agreed to put them into practice, and if you attend one of our monthly meetings (on the third Thursday of each month, 11:30 A.M. unless otherwise posted, in Bellevue, Washington) you will hear us talking about our progress against these three areas.
If you want to grow your membership base, encourage members to bring a friend each month, to find a role within the chapter, and find an area where you need to learn more. How you institute these simple ideas may fill up your next couple of board meetings as you explore ideas, make assignments, and take action. Just ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you encouraging people to invite others to chapter meetings and special events?
- Are you finding ways to get people more involved, both with the board and its committees?
- Are you providing regular opportunities for your members to learn the basics about IAMCP, the Microsoft Partner Network, and how to be a better partner?
My challenge to you is to check back from time to time with these goals, and validate your priorities as a chapter.