WFH NETWORK

April 2015 / Volume 3, No. 2

Member retention: keeping your youth engaged

A youth group cannot exist without its members: you need to know how to keep people interested so they stay involved – member participation is what keeps the group alive. Without enough members, the quality of a youth group’s activities and programs is diminished, the benefits of being part of the group are reduced, and it is harder for the group to achieve their mission.

Assess your situation

Knowing what you can really offer members helps you to recruit new members and to deliver on promises. One assessment method is the SWOT Analysis. This examines the Strengths and Weaknesses within the organization, as well as external Opportunities and Threats.


Fun activities
Committed leaders

STRENGTHS

 
No permanent venue
Lack of funds

WEAKNESSES

OPPORTUNITIES

Foundation/government grants
WFH Youth Programs

THREATS

Competition from other
activities and youth clubs


It’s important to be honest when performing your analysis. While it can be hard to recognize where work needs to be done, doing so is the first step to making improvements. The SWOT framework shows what you should take advantage of (strengths and opportunities), and what you need to be prepared for (weaknesses and threats).

Gather data

Recording and managing membership data – through accurate and timely membership surveys – provides clear insight into your organization’s current makeup. Age, gender, and contact information (e.g. mailing address, e-mail, place of residence) are examples of member characteristics you could document. Whether you record it in a large annual survey or in smaller collections, doing so on a yearly or semi-yearly basis is most useful. 

Analyzing your membership information may reveal some trends you were unaware of: are numbers increasing or decreasing, do you have only very young members, are they all from one neighbourhood? This establishes the foundation for any change you may wish to pursue, such as increasing recruitment or reaching out to different groups of young people.
 
Be sure to include some open-ended questions in your member survey, like what motivated membership registration and what members value the most about the group, or in the case of de-registrations, what made them decide to leave. These answers can help identify what you could do to better accommodate member needs.


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Ensure involvement

There are many ways to promote active youth involvement in the group, this being the key element for member retention in youth groups. Empower members by encouraging equal participation in the group’s development and decision-making processes. This will in turn help members to feel a sense of ownership within the group. Contributing to the team’s overall vision and goals, and having those contributions valued and recognized, will solidify a feeling that this is their youth group.

Identify and address the needs of your members through Q&A sessions and mentorship programs. For instance, young people with bleeding disorders may have questions and worries about having intimate relationships, starting a family, and embarking on successful careers, all while managing their medical condition or struggling to access comprehensive care themselves. Providing information and being responsive to their needs helps to establish an emotional connection and shows that you care about the members as people, first and foremost. If youth feel that they can trust staff and fellow group members, they are more likely to feel supported and in turn, continue to show their support.

Create and strengthen a sense of community by organizing team activities. Youth camps are one great example; they provide a fantastic environment for members to bond, have fun, and meet other young people living with a bleeding disorder.

Always prioritize clear communication so that everyone knows what is happening, what to expect, and what is expected of them. If people are out-of-the-loop they may feel disconnected from the group and its activities, and be less likely to participate. Showing appreciation for hard work, effort, and involvement makes a big difference. Recognize and encourage self-motivation, development, and dedication to the group, this inspires people to thrive in the organization. Always celebrate accomplishments together as a group!

 
  Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s important to recognize potential and help people to be their best. Whenever possible, train members in areas such as leadership, team building, communication, media literacy, grant writing, and government lobbying. This provides them with the tools to succeed, within the group and elsewhere, and ensures you have an educated, empowered group of thinkers who can confidently perform their tasks.

Carefully consider your group’s situation and needs before deciding on member retention tactics, and develop solutions that encourage and value youth involvement and empowerment. Remember, being in tune with member motivations, inspirations, and happiness is key to ensuring active participation and to enabling your community to flourish. After all, a youth group really is all about the youth members!

 

What's next?

Communication 
Letting people know what you expect of them and providing feedback on their work can be more complex than it sounds. Your youth group might be required to provide minutes of meetings to your national hemophilia society or local chapter. Find out what to include in minutes as well as how to give constructive, effective feedback.

 


Questions that require an answer are marked with  *
   
In your opinion, what are some of the most important questions to include in a membership survey? Why?