Bringing back enthusiasm and participation to your State Association- Lessons from a Small State
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Posted by: Laura Bovitz, Rutgers Cooperative Extension
It’s common for our state associations to struggle with membership, participation in state level professional development, and participation in the NAE4-HYDP conference. We need to find ways to share the merit of involvement in our professional association in order to keep our state associations viable, growing and valued. Below is insight from Alisha Targonski, Maine State Association President, on steps she took to revive membership and enthusiasm in her state:
In 2019 I was elected to be president of our state association, which was essentially a title-only position, as our association was generally inactive save for one annual meeting where awards were discussed. It wasn't until I attended my first NAE4-HYDP Conference and had a very lengthy drive back home, by myself, that some pretty modest ideas were born to give some purpose to a title and actually do something with this inspiration I felt. I had two goals for our 2020 association: support our staff and focus on professional development.
In 2020 we added 10 new members which helped bump our total membership up to 24, all new members are full-time staff hired in the last four years. Here's a list of small things that we did that have made a pretty big impact so far:
· Create space to focus on staff connection and professional development through the Association: We set up quarterly Zoom meetings for all staff and on the agenda was just three things every time: What's something rad you're working on? What's something that's challenging or stressful? And, which professional development opportunities (in state, nationwide, online, books/journals) do you recommend? Feedback was very positive from our first session and it was meeting a staff need without a huge amount of effort. We have started compiling a PD database from those conversations for staff.
· Share the NAE4-HYDP wealth: Going to conferences is awesome, so tell your colleagues! We emailed out to all 4-H staff a two-page summary of the conference, including links to keynotes and 4-H resources from workshops, plus a summary of what we do at the state level. We got on the agenda of our statewide December 4-H meeting to share about the conference and teach something useful we learned. We also announced our national award winners during a statewide Extension conference so our colleagues could be recognized locally.
· Share the relevancy and opportunity through the Associations: In the conference and association summary we shared the benefits of membership and of connecting to the national working groups. I also put it plainly that we have thankless jobs sometimes and this award system is our mechanism to recognize the amazing work we do. I also let folks know that the 2021 NAE4-HYDP conference was in Memphis and that as a team, if fundraising efforts could be made in 2020 and 2021, we could realistically get a group down there.
· Make the pitch individually: I got on the phone with people and made the sales pitch. I may have politely, and in the most friendly-yet-assertive way, cornered people in buffet lunch lines. The pitch was that we need to invest in ourselves, need fresh ideas, need to meet people from other places, and get out of our little corner of the country. We need to alleviate burn out and remember the things we love about this work.
Funding: Our State 4-H Program Leader helped navigate the system so our annual professional development funds could be used to cover the cost of national membership. Our state and national fees are a tough check to write in December and this helped alleviate that financial barrier. We also spoke with our 4-H Foundation and found out that there were funds available for staff professional development, and that we, as staff, could allocate our donations into a staff professional development fund within the Foundation. Our Foundation is also interested in partnering in future fundraising to invest in staff professional development.