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Innovations in Membership, Programming and More!

August 01, 2012
Kara Sniegowski
Section News

Innovations in Membership, Programming and How to Connect With Your Members

At the 2012 STLE Annual Meeting, held in St. Louis, MO, panelists met during the Local Section Leadership session to share and discuss new ideas as they relate to all aspects of leading and maintaining a local section. Key topics included membership, programming (regular meetings, education day, plant tours and social events), leadership and volunteering, providing services to students and sponsors, and new ways to reach out and create community online.

Also mentioned in the panel discussion is the newly created LinkedIn group for section leaders. If you have ideas or best practices, or want to discuss or brainstorm with fellow leaders, you can post discussions on LinkedIn. To join the LinkedIn group, click here and request to join. When joining, indicate which section you’re involved with and your position with the section.

If you are looking for a sample document to create your own version, or wish to share your handy budget document, fantastic publication, or promotional brochure and flyer, you can utilize the Section Leaders MyCommunities page on www.stle.org.


Member Rolls One new idea was following up with HQ each month to receive updated membership rolls. Once you have the list in hand, you can compare it to last month’s and see who has joined, lapsed or dropped their membership. You can use this information to follow up with members and provide personalized service (i.e. reminding them to renew with a phone call), see why they’ve lapsed or dropped and welcome a new member personally and making that first, important connection.

Orientation Provide new members with a quick orientation presentation – ask them to come early to the next meeting and you’ll get them acquainted with all the section does (either by a verbal introduction or provide a packet of orientation materials). You can also use this time to ask them about their interests in regards to technical topics and volunteer opportunities available (currently and in the future).

Always Be Giving Give out gift bags or giveaways at every meeting as an additional incentive for coming to your meeting (or wait until the end of the session and give them out as attendees leave, to encourage attendance). You can include sponsors in this mix – providing their giveaways in the bags, include a recent copy of your publication and/or newsletter and a way to sign up to receive it regularly, a referral sheet if they want to refer colleagues, and membership information (including an application). You can also use this as a time to distribute any section-sourced graphs, reference sheets, etc.

Tap Into the Section’s Knowledge Base You have a good number of members in your area, and most likely, they would be flattered if you asked them to write up an article on their area of expertise. You can then use this article at your next section meeting, or in your publications. This could beef up your publication, and provide more value to members – allowing sponsors more exposure if members keep the publication. Also, if you think the article is a good one, you can have the author submit an Idea Submission Form and get the article into TLT. This is your chance to promote your section and for members to directly influence what they want to see in STLE’s magazine.

Publications If you don’t have a publication, you may consider starting one. It doesn’t have to be printed and mailed if the cost is prohibitive, rather, you can publish it online on a website or on a blog (websites typically cost you time and/or money, whereas blogs do not – just set it up, post and you’re off and running). If you do a publication, consider any of the following formats: summaries of monthly presentations (written by members or by the presenter), white papers, short handbooks, manuals or best practice articles, reference charts and graphs, and so on. 

Reward Long-Time Members If you have members who have been with STLE for 5+ years, or if they’ve attended every single section meeting, you may consider offering some kind of recognition and reward to those members. You could give away education gift cards (good towards your education day or even monthly meetings) or provide a drawing just for members with a certain number of years with STLE.

Let Them Eat Cake! One section offered a cake to celebrate member milestones (i.e. 10 year marker, or recently certified individuals), but you can use it for anything – either for the kick off or conclusion of your program year, to celebrate past presidents or volunteers for the year, or just to have some cake! If you have a chemist or baker in your midst, they might be interested in making the cake for the section. This could become part of your social event, monthly program, or just a fun surprise.

Member Get A Member Campaign The 2012 MGAM Campaign began at STLE 2012, and we encouraged sections to participate. If participating as individuals at your section or as a group, try offering your own incentives, or even creating teams within your section to compete against each other. Think up incentives that work for your group – could be STLE-focused (a free meeting/dinner, membership, etc.) or something outside of the organization, like a gift card. See the MGAM page for resources you can use.

PROGRAMMING: Monthly Meetings

Scheduling Try a new format, day of the week/month, and time. Survey your members to see if they’re interested in this first (either via an electronic or written survey, or through informal discussions with members before a meeting or on the phone). An early morning meeting (before they go into work), or a lunch meeting may work better for their schedules instead of a dinner meeting. You could also do a midday meeting or dessert-only meeting to cut down on food costs.

Formatting Try different formats. This could be an “Early Riser” session, a “Brown Bag” session (they bring their lunch to a location and you provide the speaker), a conference call (audio only) or online-only option (via a webinar format). You could also try extending the program over an entire day and offering different sessions at different times – i.e. Start with an Early Riser, have a lunch meeting or brown bag, then follow it up with two technical meetings – one midday and the other for dinner or after dinner. Members can attend the entire day, or just the sessions that work with their schedule or look interesting to them. Look to other types of meetings or groups you’re involved in to see what they’re doing, and if it could work for your section. And remember, a lot of this falls into marketing – get creative and create your own format! 

Content Work to have a diverse array of content options including traditional technical talks – broadly focused or specific; how-tos with demonstrations (has a lot of potential), forecasting or current market trend presentations, or a series of talks. You could host multiple speakers over a few days of the month (attracting a similar audience to all three events, or targeting a specific audience for each event), or host an “Automotive Day” – where you have a few different speakers within one day. This could be coupled with a plant tour or as a standalone event, but chances are, you’ll get a lot of folks to attend. You could also try a series of talks designed to complement each other – i.e. Topic 101 (102, and 103), Topic 201, Topic 301, etc. Just be sure you define the intended audience for each level and how each event differs.

PROGRAMMING:  Education Day

Survey Your Members See what kind of education they’re looking for and see what kinds of problems you can solve for them through your education. Questions can include: courses they’ve taken previously or those on their list to take in the future, topics they’ve encountered recently at work (and may or may not have been able to address), other factors including whether they’re certified, if they’ve changed functions recently, etc. Work in a group to determine the correct questions for your survey. Once you’ve created a survey, you can distribute it at a technical meeting, via email/mail, or you can administer the survey electronically through HQ via the Zoomerang account. Remember, once you survey your members, be sure to share the information with them, and show them how that information was used in the upcoming event (i.e. you asked for x, we provided x). This will demonstrate that you’ve listened, and that there is value in responding to future surveys. You can also use this to determine what your monthly programming should look like, but take care not to have too many surveys during the year.

Find A Theme Choose a theme for the entire program – whether it’s Lubrication Fundamentals, Advanced Lubrication, Bearings, etc. Once you have chosen a theme, be sure that every program, break-out or lecture revolves around the theme in some way. Also, once you have a theme, try offering two tracks for the program. Sections have offered a basic and more advanced track, but you can make it topical – i.e. if Automotive is the theme, you could offer Gas and Diesel tracks. You could also consider offering break-out sessions, where attendees can choose from a few choices on what smaller lecture they’ll attend. You can then bring everyone back together and have attendees report on what they learned or discussed in those break-outs. For those just starting out or unfamiliar with the topic, offer Early Riser sessions before the program officially starts so that these folks can get the absolute basics they’ll need for the rest of the program (survey those who sign up to see what “basic” means to them). Incorporate the theme into any marketing you do for the course.

Create a Mini-Conference Think of your Education Day as a mini-conference and include a variety of events and elements – creating a package that the attendee is buying. In your planning, include a meals and breaks, a planned social event or dinner, a technical talk on the first evening (if it’s a two day program), and cap it off with a certification exam sitting and distribution of certificates of attendance (these can also be sent after the event). If you have the manpower, try hosting more than one event a year and have a different theme for each, allowing you to accommodate all your members’ interests.

Reward Loyalty If you have customers or companies coming back time and again to your education day; consider offering a group discount or a certificate towards next year’s program. You can also provide certificates to sponsors as a way of recognizing their contribution to the section.

Create Connections Foster connections before, during and after the event by creating a group or community that can ask questions before and follow up after the event. This group can meet virtually or online, via teleconference, or in person (if they’re all local). Have attendees submit questions or what they hope to gain out of the session before the event, and tailor the program to their needs. After the event, provide a way for attendees to discuss what they’ve learned with others, extending the learning that started at the session. You could also invite instructors to participate in a Q&A session or “Ask the Instructor” via teleconference or webinar a month after the session to offer continued value.  

PROGRAMMING: Plant Tours & Social Events

Finding Locations If you are having a tough time finding a location willing to host the section, try writing a letter or making a personal phone call to a contact you personally know or someone on your board knows. You can also tap into affiliate societies – see if they can recommend their members’ facilities for your plant tour. This could become the basis for hosting a joint meeting with another society.

Format Make a plant tour just as well rounded as a regular technical meeting by incorporating a social event (a meal before or after), as well as a technical talk. The talk can be given by an employee at the facility you’re touring, or it can be given by someone else before/after you tour the facility. To attract the most people to all aspects of the tour, be sure to have topics and locations that tie in together. See note above about an “Automotive Day.” You can do this with any topic.

Every Event Should Be Social Be sure to incorporate some kind of socializing into every event – whether it’s the 30 minutes to an hour of social hour before a technical talk, the dinner after the meeting, or another idea you come up with. Try new ways to get everyone involved in the social hour. For instance, incorporate “First Friends” – people designated at every event to help out first timers and/or make that connection with them, and introduce them to members with similar interests. Each meeting, you should have a few people signed up to do this, so that each new person has a solid connection. In addition, at any event, you can try out targeted networking – where you gather folks together based on their area of interest to get them talking. To start, label each table with different industries – i.e. MWF, bearings, etc. and then ask participants to sit at the tables that match their work. Or, you can have them sit at tables based on topics they want to discuss – i.e. recent regulations, new designs just released, etc.

Mix It Up Try a mix of traditionally successful events, and throw in some new socials to meet the changing needs of your membership. Some events that have been successful in the past include: golf outings, which can also be used for fundraising, sporting events, theater, comedy clubs, and river cruises. Some new types of events, formats, locations to try are listed below:

  • Movie Night For a movie night, you can provide a showing of a movie that’s just come out, or you can go to the theater as a group. When going as a group, you can either see the same movie, or see different movies. Get together after at a restaurant to vote for the best showing. 
  • Cook-Out Host at a member’s house, and incorporate a chili cook-off or some other cooking/baking competition for added fun.
  • Holiday/Seasonal Parties In the summer, you can try a cookout or you can schedule a hike, bike ride, 5K or other outdoors activity. Bonfires are also nice in the summer, maybe even after a technical meeting.  Luaus can also be fun in the summer.
  • Casino Night This event could serve as a fundraiser and feature sponsors, or it could be a group visit to a local casino.
  • Wine/Beer Tastings Try a wine or beer tasting at a local restaurant or brewery, or try something like “Bottles & Brushes” where participants get a painting lesson while enjoying a nice glass of wine, and they can take home their artwork at the end of the evening.
  • Game Night Get to know your members better by having everyone bring their favorite game, and mix up the groups. You can have prizes or awards for those who win or lose the most, or other creative awards that have no basis on winning or losing.  
  • For Foodies Host a dinner party or cooking class. If you’re ambitious and like to plan, try out a progressive dinner where members go from house to house, and each house hosts a different course.
  • Sporting Events Have a March Madness competition and viewing of the final game (you could even attach prizes to the winning bracket), or you could host any kind of game viewing in your venue, similar to a Super Bowl party.


Science Fairs Attend any kind of student event that fits in with the Society’s focus. You can offer awards for students who participate in projects relevant to the field. If you’re planning on visiting a science fair, conference, or other industry event, HQ has a booth setup and handouts that you can use. 

Student Sections Help set up a student section in your area. Work with faculty at local colleges, since they will likely be the one in charge of the student section. Provide resources and information to the faculty and students that are interested. Be sure to mention that you award scholarships and that could be a good tie between your section and the student section, and a good way to identify potential scholarship recipients. In addition, you can extend your meetings to student sections in the form of webinar broadcasts to the university, or visiting lecturers.

Student Day Consider hosting a student day, where you invite local students to see how your section works and offer a preview of the information, events and support that’s provided by the section. Your student day could include events geared towards students and young professionals, including a job fair (get local companies involved), training opportunities like how to improve your resume or interviewing skills, or a mentoring program (match up students with potential mentors at your section). You can also incorporate students into your technical program – have a brief time slot for students to present their research before the program, or have a group of students present as part of your program.

Scholarships Remember to advertise that any scholarship you provide is matched by HQ, so that is a huge selling point – double the money! To raise money at your section, consider offering a sponsored social event like the golf outing, silent auction, raffle, and so on. Don’t be afraid to try out new ideas. 


Get New Members Involved Quickly Upon meeting a new member, be sure to mention volunteer opportunities if they match up with their interests (say, they have been an instructor before, you could mention your education day). Also, if they are new, they are likely to be enthusiastic and willing to volunteer, so be sure to give them opportunities. Even if it’s not their ideal job, you can at least get them acquainted with the organization and how the section operates.

Microvolunteering Consider offering your volunteer openings as smaller, less daunting commitments. One section changed their board structure and allowed members to serve in one position instead of rotating through the chairs (reducing a four-year commitment to a one-year commitment). You could have sign-up sheets and require each member of the section to serve on the Welcoming Committee for one meeting – identifying new members, introducing themselves and connecting newbies with similar members. Whatever task/position you have a tough time getting volunteers, chop it up into smaller, more digestible pieces so you can get more commitments.

Training Volunteers Consider hosting a training day where all volunteers of the section attend a session addressing the current state of affairs, concerns/issues and successes of the past year. You could organize it around one hot topic for your section. You should also have new volunteers shadow current volunteers to they know what they’re signing up for and how to do their duties when the time comes. For current volunteers, have one person present at each board meeting – 5-10 minutes on how to do one of the tasks they’re in charge of. That way, all volunteers are cross-trained and can step in if a member is on vacation or moves away.

Volunteer’s Paycheck Recognition is the volunteer’s paycheck – so be sure to recognize your current volunteers. Some new ideas to try include:

  • “Volunteer of the Month” Create your own award program where members or board members vote. Have a prize to accompany the award and plaque, something locals would appreciate (i.e. a gift certificate for a milkshake, naming the award after the ice cream joint: “Wally of the Month” for Wally’s).
  • Spread the Word If you notice something particularly wonderful, submit a volunteer’s accomplishments to the STLE blog, or you could write them a recommendation on LinkedIn.
  • Thank Yous Throughout the year thank each volunteer and send personalized notes. At the end of the year, thank each volunteer at the last meeting for the number of hours/tasks they’ve done over the course of the year.
  • Volunteer-Only Event Host a social event that’s free of charge to the volunteers and only admits volunteers, where you recognize them again in front of their peers and use this time to present them with a gift and/or certificate of recognition.


Provide Options When talking with companies and members, get an idea of what potential sponsors are looking for in terms of customers and type of sponsorships, and be sure to ask when their fiscal year ends. That way, you can approach them at the right time, with the right offer. As to items companies would look to sponsor, think of anything with high exposure. This could include a listing on your website or e-newsletter, jump drives for education courses (including their company’s info on the USB), items at your golf outing (awards, holes, door prizes, etc.), food or facility space (either their space, or provided via funds), or advertising in your publications. Another great idea is to create a buyer’s guide – where sponsors pay to be listed in a category, or companies are listed for free, but have to pay for an enhanced listing (i.e. their information includes a website address, company profile, etc.). In any case, you’ll be successful if you provide member value in the sponsored item while also allowing attendees to get to know the sponsor companies.

Recognition Recognize sponsors as often as you can, but don’t interfere with the technical program. Put their logos and company information up on the slides as attendees participate in the social hour before the program, and thank them formally at the beginning/end of the program. Invite sponsors to attend one event per year for free, and let them to bring employees – you might get some new members too! If they sponsor an event, food or a venue, be sure to put their information in the promotional brochure and in the post-event info. If you have sponsors contribute a fixed amount each year towards your discretionary funds, thank them each month with a personalized letter, post their company name and a link to their website on your site, and be sure to mention them at each meeting.


Website If you’re considering a website, talk to the sections that currently have websites: Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Philadelphia and Toronto. They will be able to provide some insight on what it takes to set up and maintain a website. Generally, having a member who is tech savvy can be helpful, but is not necessary. You can outsource the website creation to a professional or consider outsourcing it to students at a local university. See the Local Section MyCommunities page to see how these sections set up their website.

LinkedIn & Facebook These are two of many free social media options you can utilize and they make a lot of sense if you want to build an online community, but aren’t at the website stage yet. You can create a LinkedIn Group or a Facebook Page/Group where members can join and then start discussions. You can make the groups open or limit them to members only. If you’d like more information – just try a Google search or look at the tutorials offered on each website. You can also contact us at the office before starting a group.

YouTube & Flickr These two sites are available for free to post videos and photos, respectively. Get creative and tap into your membership by having members create short how-to videos, tutorials or even provide quick best practice notes on their area of expertise (i.e. how to install a bearing properly, proper lubrication for gears, etc.). Flickr can be used to house your event photos, and you can link to photos on your blog or in your e-newsletter.

Blogs & RSS Feeds Blogs are handy for building community, but they are more centered on providing content. A blog is essentially a website (available for free, but with less functionality than a traditional website), that allows you to post content on a regular schedule. A blog has posts (short articles) which can be used to do many things, including: tout your education program (accompanied by links to the registration form), talk about your latest technical meeting and provide summaries of the presentation from your members, and cover events through photos. An RSS Feed is “Really Simple Syndication” – essentially a way of signing up to receive an email whenever the blog is updated, allowing members to subscribe and receive automatic notifications when something new has been posted. An alternative to creating your own blog – send information to us and we can post features and/or news announcements on the STLE blog.

Content & Promotion With any of these options, you want to make sure you have great content you can share. These are all just tools—they are not an end, they are a means to an end. You want to create engagement whenever you can, and members will only be engaged if you give them something to talk about, read or discuss with each other. And remember that no matter what kind of options you’re providing online, be sure to let members know about it – mention it at every meeting, or have a handout of some kind you can provide to newcomers.

Technical eNewsletters This is something new to STLE—a technical newsletter sent out via email and posted on our website, which is fed through content submitted and reviewed by members and our technical committees. If you’d like to start creating content, this is a great way to get involved. Simply ask a member, volunteer or speaker to write up an article on any of the   general topic areas listed here—and see our sample of the Metalworking Fluid eNewsletter. It’s gotten a great response so far, and we’ll look to continue that and expand our other technical offerings. If you provide an article that summarizes a recent technical presentation, showcase a video from your section, or otherwise give them solutions to their everyday problems, you’ll be a hero to your members (and remind them what they get out of their membership on a quarterly basis).

The main theme that permeated the session was to try new things, and be sure to listen to your members. Give them what they want and they’ll be sure to come back again!

For general inquiries on section support and/or questions on the content presented here, contact Kara Sniegowski at klemar@stle.org or at (847) 825-5536.

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