At a Board of Directors’ meeting in 2007 one of the board members asked: “what do we know about our members?” In 2008 and every other year since then, we’ve been surveying members to develop a demographic profile, assess the level of knowledge of our programs, poll member interest in volunteering, solicit ideas for speakers and topics, and give members an opportunity to provide guidance to the Board.
In May we conducted our fifth biennial member survey and 34% (388) of you responded, a very respectable response rate. Thanks to so many of you for taking the time to complete the survey, giving us valuable information. Despite the fact that each of us is growing older, as an organization we have grown slightly younger. As you may recall we gave you the opportunity to provide comments to the Board and to the Program Committee; 167 and 112 of you, respectively, did just that. Over 50% of the comments to the Board can be summarized as “Keep doing what you are doing” and we are going to follow your guidance and do just that.
We received numerous comments to perform more marketing of the organization but that is a bit of a double-edged sword. We finished the 2015-16 Program Year with 1137 members, 302 of whom were new members, and our renewal rate for the 2016-17 Program Year is tracking slightly ahead of this same time last year and we have added 67 new members so far. So gazing into the crystal ball we could reach 1200 members by June 2017 but that poses the challenge of you fitting into First Presbyterian comfortably and the even bigger challenge of you finding a parking place. The HHI Fire Marshal has rated the sanctuary with a capacity of 950 but a more realistic number for us is probably 750 and that is more driven by parking constraints. Several of you have commented that we need to find a bigger venue and along that line we have made two presentations to the Town’s Venue Committee, at their request, about our space requirements and interest in a facility should the Town build one. The reality here is that if the Town should decide, and the residents agree, to build a facility it will be at least three years out. So the Board has decided to minimize our external marketing efforts but to leave in place our most effective marketing tool, YOU, our members. Our Board will be monitoring the Council’s growth and attendance numbers and will address issues as they arise which might negatively affect the quality of our speaker program.
In the Program Committee comments you have provided enough topical suggestions to cover the next 5 years of Programs. What is particularly comforting is that your suggestions and our Program planning are very much aligned. Our coverage of Latin America is expanding and will be a staple focus in future years as it is our closest neighbor but is generally overlooked. With WAC HH member Maria Berliner’s addition to the committee we are able to develop our knowledge of Latin America and thus add good speakers to the Friday series. The other area you want us to develop is to bring speakers in from offshore so that we get out of our Echo chamber and gain different perspectives on issues. We whole-heartily agree with this recommendation and we now have the means to do it.
Two of our members, who wish to remain anonymous, approached me a while back and said they were interested/willing to make a significant gift that we could use to enhance the Friday Speaker Program. They asked us to think about it and come back to them with a concept on how we would use a gift over multiple years. We explored multiple ideas and coalesced on this:
CONCEPT: Broaden our Speaker base by actively recruiting Non-US speakers with the goal being to have at least one per season.
We reviewed this Concept with our donors; they liked it and have committed $100,000 to get the program started for the next three to four years. We are excited to have this opportunity but recognize it will bring significant logistical challenges and will require hard work on the part of the Program Committee. We have formed a Sub-committee within the Program Committee to focus on this effort with the intent of having one such speaker in this Program year and ideally two per season in the years ahead.
So watch this space as we launch into the unknown sphere of off-shore recruiting.
Lee J. Wilwerding
President, World Affairs Council Hilton Head