An earlier post, Solve the Right Problem, illustrates how even the smartest of us can get a bit off track in trying to solve a problem. The following example, involving chapters and the issue of membership recruitment & retention, also demonstrates this.
Don’t Talk to Us about Recruitment!
Let’s set the scene: this was an association with approximately three hundred state and local chapters. It was also during the 1980’s, when certain states and regions of the country were in an economic downturn, but others were doing quite well. To encourage struggling chapters with their membership efforts, the Membership Committee decided to offer Recognition Awards to those chapters that had done the best job of recruiting new members.
The response was either underwhelming or negative. Why?
As the executive for the Boston Chapter, which had received an award, noted, “The economy is doing very well in New England; it’s been very easy to recruit new members. We don’t find the Recognition Award to be especially meaningful.”
Meanwhile, down in Texas, the economy was very poor. The executive from the Houston chapter observed, “Our members are moving away from Texas to places like New England. We’re busting our butts, doing everything we can to retain as many members as we can. And then National goes ahead with their silly little awards program…as if that is going to encourage me to work harder or smarter!”
Helping Chapters Solve the Right Problem
To their credit, the Membership Committee listened and scrapped the recognition program. In its place, they created a Chapter Membership Grants program allowing chapters to apply for funds. The chapters submitted proposals detailing the specific membership recruitment or retention issue they faced and their strategy for dealing with it. What's more, a condition of the grant required the chapter to share "lessons learned" with their fellow chapters.
As a result, if a chapter was in a depressed economic region – such as Texas at that time – and needed funds to launch an innovative approach to retention, they could apply for a grant. In this way, the Membership Committee was responding to the “facts on the ground” and enabling chapters to address their most pressing issues.
The Bottom Line: The Membership Committee was smart to jettison an award problem that solved nothing and replace it with the grant program designed to help chapters solve the right problem!