September Hot Topic: Attracting & Retaining Members

It’s the beginning of another school year and as we all sharpen our pencils and our wits, making your section’s SWE better than ever before is probably on the forefront of many a mind. A surefire way to ensure lots of ideas, enthusiasm, and participation is to gain as many new members as possible. This year’s SWE president, Siddika Demir, has asked that each current member of SWE take an active interest in recruiting one or more members. How can this goal be realized? It’s simple.

1. Start off strong. Get your current members excited about the new year so their enthusiasm will wear off on others. Plan new, fun events and don’t hesitate to start with something that has nothing to do with engineering. My section of SWE planned a Kareoke night in conjunction with AOE, the engineering sorority, and WIE, our female student support services office. We had an AMAZING turnout and because everyone had so much fun, SWE got a lot of attention. We had over 300 people sign up for our mailing list in the first week of school alone.

Now, how to turn that interest into commitment?

2. Get organized. Send out a survey to your mailing list with questions on level of interest, what they want to see happen in SWE for the coming year, and anticipated attendance at the next event. My section grossly underestimated the number of people who would turn out to our first general meeting and as a consequence didn’t have enough space in our reserved room for everyone OR enough food! I think things would have gone a lot more smoothly if we had planned a bit more in advance.

3. ADVERTISE. Just because they are on the mailing list and attended the first meeting doesn’t mean you have them hook, line and sinker. Make sure everyone is aware of the benefits of staying involved and joining SWE nationally. Send out weekly e-mails with upcoming events, conferences, and opportunities within the school. Use FACEBOOK, TWITTER, and any other social media site to constantly keep people updated. It doesn’t hurt to make some major events exclusive to paying members only and playing on that “exclusivity” to get people’s attention. In years past we have had an Evening with Industry at the exclusive Town & Gown Ballroom that was available for members only. Not only did members get an opportunity to meet business executives, but also to dine in an elegant place they might not have been able to otherwise. Nearly every female likes a little bit of glamour – use that to your advantage.

On the topic of retaining these members once they are bona fide, things get a little more challenging in my opinion. I feel the best way to keep people involved is to have committees for each event. Make sure everyone feels like they have a part in the organization and aren’t just a long for the ride. When I joined the Date Auction committee last year I finally felt like I was contributing to something and meanwhile even got closer with some of my SWEsters. This feeling of inclusion is lost on a lot of people just because of the the issue a lot of officers have with delegation. If this is the case, put one of your E-board members in charge of each of these committees so you can feel more confident in it’s efficiency. If giving a role to each SWE member seems like too much of an ordeal, keep reinventing the wheel. Don’t stick with the same agenda your section has had year after year. Try new events – plan more social outings. Obviously if something has worked year after year, why fix it? But plan something more. Doing something new together, even if it means failure can be a great bonding experience. And when you finally have those bonds, you won’t have any problem retaining your members.

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