November 2022 From the President’s Keyboard: Does Your Chapter Have an Ambassador Program?

It’s November, and we’ll soon be into the holiday season. Most ASPE Chapters have resumed their monthly meetings and have held one or two technical sessions so far. I attended the October meeting for my hometown Atlanta Chapter, and while I saw many familiar faces, I was encouraged to see some new ones too. Those new faces are the future of ASPE. Missing at the meeting, however, were the virtual designers and engineers. That’s the group we need to reach and get them to attend Chapter meetings, our Tech Symposium, and our Convention & Expo.

Without question, the internet makes it possible to work remotely and complete a project from start to finish. That’s been proven during the last three years. However, while working remotely was a useful means to an end during the pandemic, there are some benefits to working face to face, live, and in person. I have always been a hands-on person in my career. I am dating myself here, but I remember a time when I needed to know just how much space a 6-inch backflow preventer occupied. I’d go to the catalog shelf, pull out a big binder, and thumb through it until I got to the backflow pages. Okay, read the dimensions; it looks like it should fit. Maybe it did. Then I would go to a product show and see a backflow preventer up close. The rep would tell me that the backflow preventer must be installed with x-clearances here and y-clearances there. I could touch the backflow preventer and see all of the test ports, valves, and fittings. The mechanical room in which I was cramming it suddenly seemed very small. Those were life lessons, up close and personal. Yes, you can get most of that online now, but you don’t get the up close and personal. The same applies to the relationships you make with sales reps and manufacturer reps. You lose the “personal” entirely online.

In my mind, the biggest benefits that face-to-face meetings offer are the relationships you build and the resultant networking. At each Chapter meeting, each Convention & Expo, and each Tech Symposium I attend, I see the faces of friends, some long term and many newer ones. That’s a direct by-product of years of real-time interaction, which you’re just not going to get doing everything virtually. I can also tell you that the reason I am employed now is a direct result of ASPE networking. I won’t get into that story here, but if anyone is interested, give me a call and I’ll be happy to bore you to tears. If I can be totally honest with you, when I stop and think about it, I do actually get tears in my eyes. That story is something I will never forget, and to that ASPE individual (you know who you are), I am eternally grateful. You only experience that through ASPE networking.

Did Somebody Mention Membership?

Our latest membership reports show an upward trend; we’re above 6,600 members now. That’s always good news. Historically, we have been very good at recruiting new members. However, when you dig into the monthly membership reports, they also show a significant number of members dropping. One glaring indicator shows that the highest percentage of drops occurs in the one- to five-year membership range. What if we could strike a better balance between recruiting efforts and retention efforts?

For any Chapter Presidents and Membership VPs who may be reading this, ASPE’s website has a handy guide posted in the How-to Helpers sections of the Chapter Officers and Members Only pages. It’s titled “How to Create a Chapter Ambassador Program.” It’s not a new document, but I would like to reintroduce it because I believe it‘s a valuable tool and that it does work. Several Chapters employ it, or at least their own version of it.

That’s a point I want to make. The Society does provide how-to helpers on both the Members Only and Chapter Officers pages. They’re meant to offer some guidance, tips, and advice to make things easier. They’re not policy, by any means. They’re simply templates to use so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t expect everyone to implement an ambassador program verbatim, but look at it and see how your Chapter can put it to use. How can it work for you?

The basics of the program are simple: Find a veteran Chapter member who attends most meetings, with maybe a gregarious personality, possibly an Affiliate (an experienced salesperson?). Maybe two or three fit that bill, depending on your Chapter’s size. Approach those persons and ask if they’d be willing to serve as your Chapter’s ambassadors.

I’m sure that most of us recall being a new member, attending your first ASPE meeting. You’re a little tentative, not sure where to sit, and think, “Does anyone know me here?” The people seem nice enough, but no one has approached you. They collected your money at the door, the food was fine, and the program was interesting enough. At the end of the evening, you’re leaving, and you wonder if you should show up next month. Project that out over a year. If you haven’t felt engaged in that time, you might be thinking that maybe your ASPE renewal isn’t worth it.

Now replay that first ASPE meeting. You’re still tentative, and they collect your money at the door. Then someone does approach you and introduces themself. In full ambassadorial style (is that a real word?), they take you around and introduce you to every Board Officer, other members, and the speaker. They have a spot for you at the dinner table. In conversation, they ask about you, your family, your career. Prior to the President or VP Tech introducing the speaker, they welcome you as a new member to the Chapter. As you’re leaving that first meeting, you remember that the food was outstanding, and the presentation was precisely about an issue on which you’re working. You can’t wait to get to next month’s meeting.

Those are diametrically opposed first-meeting scenarios, but I’m invoking poetic license to make my point. Maybe some of us have actually experienced one or the other. To improve membership retention, I feel strongly that an ambassador program is the way to go.

Your Region Director may have already talked with you about reintroducing the ambassador program. Please take that to heart. We’d like every Chapter to designate one or more ambassadors. Have your ambassador read through the how-to guide. There are some excellent tips in it. Follow up with your ambassador each month and make sure they are keeping your new members engaged and happy.

Again, we’re not pushing policy on Chapters. You can adapt the guide in any way you think best fits your Chapter. My question is, why wouldn’t you want to put it into play and keep your members coming back? Back when it’s time to renew and back to each monthly meeting.

With the help of our Region Directors, I’ll get the roster of each Chapter’s ambassadors. Once we’re all up and running, I’ll call Chapter Presidents and get feedback on our progress and the results. Let’s keep our members engaged and maybe even get those virtual designers to appreciate coming to meetings.

I’d like to extend early Thanksgiving wishes to all. Unlike the retail world, I’m not going to get to holiday cheers quite yet. I’ll save that for next time.

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