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Sharing Ideas
Published
2002, Q3 (July 05, 2007)
by Bonnie Graham, Region 8 Director-Sponsor
with some edits and additions by Chris Benz, Region 2 Director-Sponsor

One of the things chapter leaders routinely ask Director-Sponsors is "What are other chapters doing? We want to do new things, but we also want to do what we know works." Before each STC board meeting, Director-Sponsors regularly ask chapter presidents for any new and innovative ideas their chapter has implemented recently. This article presents some of the excellent ideas submitted for the May 2002 meeting. To help your chapter with strategic planning, the ideas are grouped by the categories in the Chapter Achievement Award guidelines.

Membership and member services

Many chapters held their elections online this year. They universally reported a successful experience with this method, in some cases seeing a significant increase in the percentage of members voting. Many used the Zoomerang service (http://www.zoomerang.com), while others set up a custom, password-protected service on their chapter sites. In most cases, the membership number served as the access password.

In addition, many chapters have started using PayPal (http://www.paypal.com) to accept credit cards. This service works by accepting credit card information, then transferring the income in a batch to the chapter's checking account. This increases the convenience and, in some cases, the possibility of attending chapter meetings.

Programs

Sometimes all you need is to reframe something. One chapter discovered that its members found the term "meeting" offputting. By changing the name to "workshop" and adjusting the format to more of a roundtable discussion, they experienced a significant increase in attendance. Be sure to let your chapter leaders know what you are seeking; every member has a different take on what he or she wants.

Another successful meeting format change was one chapter's "Network and Nibble" format. According to their description "There is no formal speaker, but every person introduces himself or herself. We specifically invite local employment agencies and hiring managers. No dinner, just appetizers. The cover fee is low enough for even unemployed members. We also ensure that there is plenty of material such as back issues of Intercom, the quarterly journal (Technical Communication), and conference proceedings available for people to review, as well as other technical writing resources."

Another chapter has started a book club to help members "interact on a different level from the technical meetings." Yet another chapter maintains a lending library of the top titles in technical communication and business.

Are your chapter's members experiencing tough economic times? You are not alone. Many other chapters are seeing the same thing. One chapter established a Job Search Support group for out-of-work members. This group focuses on "preparing members to find new work, network, cope with the recession, develop new more marketable skills, and expand their portfolios." In addition to the main group meetings, the support group is organized into smaller groups that meet more frequently to provide mutual emotional support and encouragement.

Chapter communication products

Consider the possibility of "hiring" a student to help produce or edit the newsletter. Many schools will grant academic credit and, budget permitting, your chapter can create a stipend to help the student gain access to some of the training and networking available at the annual conference. Make sure to have a professional-level chapter member serve as a newsletter advisor so that the student is directed.

Concerned about the consistency of how information from your chapter is presented? One chapter created a style guide to help chapter leaders and membership communicate more consistently.

Recognition programs

Here is an idea that came up during STC Leadership Day in Nashville in May: When you recognize a volunteer, plan for recognition before the end of the year, and plan for more recognition than simply announcing their service at a chapter meeting.

Consider having a "Volunteer of the Month." Recognize that individual with a certificate delivered at the meeting, a brief article in the chapter newsletter (no more that 250 words or one paragraph), and a letter on STC letterhead to their employer, thanking them for their efforts (send a copy to their boss and to Human Resources).

You could even use the brief article as a press release to local business magazines, many of whom have space for short "newslets" about local business people, which would provide publicity for the chapter as well!

In addition, consider a special recognition for senior or longterm members. One chapter tried this and noticed an upsurge in participation by those members. Long-time members have a wealth of history and knowledge that newer members find invaluable. Recognizing these members keeps them, and their experience, available to and involved with the chapter.

Expanding community

Many chapters in many regions are sponsoring student writing competitions. These competitions introduce elementary, high school, and college students to the theory, practice, and art of technical communication. Some competitions are held in conjunction with a local science fair or other school function, and some are standalone. Either way, they are excellent vehicles for expanding community. As for volunteer opportunities, they provide a finite and concrete opportunity that enables chapter volunteers to provide an exceptional service of limited and specific duration.

Other chapters sponsor a booth at college and high-school career fairs. They spend a day talking with students interested in pursuing a career in technical communication. This effort provides exposure to students and to the community at large. It enables chapter volunteers to help define and promote the profession, as well as to network with others in related fields serving at the other booths.

Another chapter has started an outreach/partnership program to other, related professional associations such as American Society of Training Developers (ASTD), American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), and American Society of Indexers (ASI). They have established a liaison position on their administrative council to develop strategies and maintain programs ensuring the continuity of the effort.

Leadership

While sponsoring a chapter leadership workshop is not, in and of itself, innovative, some chapters have taken such training to the next level. One chapter held an all-day, free training event, open to all chapter volunteers. The event not only explained the organization and structure of the Society, but it also instructed attendees in the best practices of non-profit organizations for running chapter activities and managing volunteers.

Administration

A chapter treasurer holds a position of great responsibility. While there is oversight at the Society level, some chapters have supplemented that with additional checks and balances, such as having the chapter president receive a copy of the bank statement directly from the bank. This provides a level of safety and comfort for both officers. Some chapters, particularly those that serve wide geographic areas, have begun holding their administrative council meetings on the web. NetMeeting (http://www.netmeeting.com) enabled one chapter to "establish leadership in its several geographically dispersed communities spanning about 70 miles, so that they could meet more often and conduct more chapter business."

Even student chapters are getting into the act. One student chapter plans to use its web site as an article repository, as well as a two-way communication medium. "They plan to implement threaded forums and polls so that members and students can collaborate outside of the meeting room."

Acting on these ideas

If you would like to learn more about a particular idea, including getting in touch with the chapter that developed it, just let me know. I encourage all of you, whether you are a chapter leader, volunteer, or not-yetinvolved member to discuss these ideas, as well as your own, with each other. By knowing what the members in your own chapter value, you can help your chapter deliver that value.

Bonni Graham has spent 10 years as a practicing technical communicator. In 1994, she started Manual Labour, Inc., a technical documentation outsource provider. Bonni can be reached at (619) 291-0050 X101 or bgraham at manuallabour dot com. Region 8 of STC includes 21 chapters with nearly 4,000 members in California, Nevada, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. End of article.

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