Increasing international membership requires flexibility and creative thinking
Published January 2018
“When members are geographically dispersed this can prove a big challenge — but digital can help if we get it right,” says Richard Gott, founder and chair of MemberWise, a free, professional network providing practical support to over 4,500 membership organizations and associations.
Part of the MemberWise community, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) — which has 150 member organizations each representing a country, nation or territory spread across five regions — introduced a range of digital tools and technology to its operations in December 2016. This aimed to provide a high quality service to members (girl guiding and girl scouting organizations worldwide), as part of an organizational strategy to increase the number of girls in the girl guiding and scouting movement from 9 million to 12 million by 2020.
By embedding a range of digital tools and technology into its operations to further improve how it communicates with members and provide a range of flexible online training and resources, WAGGGS plans to increase its global membership to 154 organisations by 2020.
“It’s about having a range of digital tools at our disposal to bring new countries into the fold and ultimately increase the number of girls and young women we are supporting,” explains WAGGGS’ head of membership development, Kerrie Fuller. “We want our global membership to feel supported, no matter where they are based in the world.”
WAGGGS identified three challenges that could be tackled with the digital tools and technology:
Supporting volunteers in countries that WAGGGS can’t physically access to set up girl guiding and girl scouting organizations and become members.
Every year, WAGGGS receives several enquiries from volunteers looking to set up girl guiding and scouting organizations in different parts of the world. Some of these volunteers are based in countries that are unsafe for WAGGGS staff to visit, such as Afghanistan.
The membership body has introduced several new tools to communicate with and provide virtual support to these volunteers, to reduce risk to staff and volunteers while maintaining high level support. These include:
- Setting up Skype calls for meetings
- Producing ‘how to’ films covering topics such as managing internet security for girls
- Using WeTransfer to create a toolkit of downloadable guidance notes and templates, covering subjects such as writing a constitution, electing a national board, developing a membership strategy and writing a press release
- Creating a chat room function to allow for questions and answers during online training sessions (WAGGGS usesa bespoke online learning hub with a forum functionality, as well as Skype chat and Whatsapp)
For WAGGGS, introducing these new tools means they are not jeopardizing the safety of staff while still effectively supporting volunteers in a flexible and practical way.
Since 2016, WAGGGS has supported over 80 volunteers and organisational leaders in four countries (Albania, Azerbaijan, Palestine and Niger), to become members of WAGGGS. The membership organization has calculated that it can save up to £12,500 by delivering online training and providing practical resources rather than physical training.
Assessing an organisation for membership eligibility without setting foot in the country (for example Syria).
When a girl guiding or scouting organization is ready to become a member of WAGGGS, an assessment visit is undertaken. For those organizations based in countries considered unsafe to visit, WAGGGS now undertakes virtual assessments over Skype. It also emails documents and reports over ahead of time for people to read and to help prepare for the assessments.
“We had an organization in Syria asking us to assess them but our insurance company wanted to charge us a lot of money for two assessors to make the trip,” explains Fuller. “It’s also hard to find assessors in the Arab region to visit certain countries because of the sensitivity over passport stamps. This way we can use our assessors based elsewhere.”
Scouts Syrians (Guiding Branch) in Syria took part in an online assessment and is now a Full Member of WAGGGS. Meanwhile WAGGGS has been in touch with volunteers in Afghanistan and Kosovo whose membership applications may require virtual assessment.
Giving global members access to a range of services, including flexible training and development opportunities.
Every member is assigned a relationship manager who works with them to assess their capability as an organization, explains Fuller. “We develop a tailored development programme for volunteers and staff to improve their skills and knowledge in areas such as governance, marketing, fundraising and education programmes.”
WAGGGS is now accommodating the needs of girl guiding and scouting organizations from all over the world by offering them flexibility about how and when they access this training. It holds online meetings and events throughout the day to cater for organizations in different time zones. Attendees can watch live events using GotoMeeting, which allows them to type questions to the presenter (this tool also allows events to be recorded and subtitled). WAGGGS is also getting to grips with another video conferencing tool called Zoom and hopes to start using this with members in 2018.
WAGGGS wasn’t previously tracking information about who and how many people are joining online meetings and events but has started measuring this information in 2018. Fuller notes that there are now members accessing the training in all time zones across the world.
Members expect a “personalised” service
WAGGGS is just one of many membership organizations reviewing how it recruits and communicates with international members. MemberWise’s Gott adds that digital helps to provide a personalised service to members. “The days of simply using the web to broadcast to the masses are over and members now expect a personalised, value driven online experience — at any time, in any place and via any device.”WAGGGS spoke about its work to recruit and retain global members at the MemberWise Digital Excellence conference in 2017. Find out how membership organizations can use digital to recruit, retain and engage members at the London-based Digital Excellence 2018 conference.