Nearly every Toastmasters club wants more members, and nearly every Toastmasters club struggles to find them. As an area director, when I mention “recruitment” or “membership building” to club officers, I’m frequently met with a groan. I get it. Getting the word out, finding potential guests, inviting them and convincing them to join is a lot of work. It’s not surprising that many clubs rely on luck to attract guests and see membership building as outside their control. Who hasn’t said or at least thought, I sure hope more guests start showing up? Hoping doesn’t bring in new members—taking action does.
It’s time to stop waiting for guests and new members and instead choose the size you want your club to be. Decide how many members you want and then go find them.
Personal Benefits of Membership Building
Take a moment to mentally list three or four leadership skills you hope to gain by being involved in Toastmasters. Now, think about the skills you need to attract new guests and build your membership. Chances are, there’s a lot of overlap in those lists.
Membership building is not a chore that Toastmasters must do; it is Toastmasters. It’s an ideal opportunity to practice persuading, communicating, planning, strategizing and executing—all of the very skills we’re in Toastmasters to learn! You won’t find a better place to practice leadership than in membership building. And once you’ve mastered these skills of persuasion and communication, you can put them to use driving positive change in your work and volunteer activities, your community or your family life.
How to Do It
Membership building can be broken down into four steps.
1 Form a team.
Leadership is not something you do by yourself. You’ll want the whole club to help eventually, but start by forming a team of three or four people to initiate the project and develop a plan.
2 Set a goal.
Decide how many people you will bring into the club. A simple baseline is the number of members you need to achieve Distinguished status by the end of the current term. This gives you a specific goal as well as a hard deadline.
3 Make a plan.
First, brainstorm lots of ideas for how to grow your membership. Second—and this is the hard part—pick only one. When you have lots of good ideas, it’s tempting to try them all to see what works. But if you do, you won’t do any of them well enough to make a difference and you’ll tire out your volunteers. Pick the single activity most likely to achieve your goal and put the rest away for later. Finally, break your chosen idea into steps, start to finish, and determine who will do what by when.
Now carry out the plan and evaluate the results. Even if the first thing you try doesn’t work, you’ve still developed new confidence, skills and knowledge. Choose the next-best item on your list and try again.
Some Ideas to Get Started
You know best what the right approach will be for your unique club, but here are some ideas to consider.
Personal Invites: Focus most of your effort on face-to-face invites. Signs, fliers or social media posts are appealing because they are safe and easy. However, they don’t work near as well as the human touch. Many of us are bombarded with advertising and social media posts, and we are becoming adept at ignoring them. We only trust recommendations from real people, ideally people we know personally.
Asking someone to come to Toastmasters can be intimidating, but it’s no different from preparing for a speech. Decide who you will ask, when and where you’ll ask them and what you’ll say to open the conversation. Then find a partner in the club and role-play asking until you are comfortable with it. If you still struggle, a personalized email invitation is still an improvement on an anonymous sign.
“Membership building is not a chore that Toastmasters must do; it is Toastmasters. It’s an ideal opportunity to practice … all of the very skills we’re in Toastmasters to learn!”
Events: It can be a hard sell to ask a busy professional to attend yet another meeting. Holding an event creates an opportunity to invite guests with promises of fun, food and a no-pressure introduction to the club. Plus, it’s fun for current members to do something new. You might hold an open house, a viewing party for the World Championship of Public Speaking, a story telling hour or whatever you think will excite your potential guests and current members. As mentioned, advertising often doesn’t work these days, but there is an exception: It works when it includes the words “free food.”
Target Your Recruitment: Don’t try to market to everyone or you won’t reach anyone in particular. Identify the groups in your community who are motivated to improve their leadership and speaking skills and then go to them instead of waiting for them to find you. Which local companies, nonprofits or civic organizations might benefit from what Toastmasters has to offer? Volunteer to speak to a human resources representative about the benefits of Toastmasters, perhaps with an offer for lunch or coffee.
Get Visible: Many people have never heard of Toastmasters, and of those who have, many often have no clue what it’s about. We have to show them! Every so often, try meeting in a new and public place, like a restaurant, coffee shop or a park, and let people see what your club does. Make it clear that guests are welcome to observe or even participate. This might be as simple as opening the doors at your regular meeting place or inviting the public to an open house event.
Another seldom used option is speaking outside of the club. We don’t become public speakers just to give better speeches from Toastmasters’ manuals. We do it to drive change in the real world. Check with local civic organizations, schools, churches or community groups to find speaking opportunities, and after you bring down the house, be sure to mention where you honed your impressive skills.
You Can Do This
It’s easy to get discouraged, to throw up your hands up and say, “We’ve already tried these things before!” But this is just an excuse. Even ideas that failed once might work at a different time, a different place or with a different approach. Keep trying!
Recruiting new members is a challenge. But it’s a worthwhile one. It’s the kind of challenge that drives you to learn new skills, take new risks and grow your abilities as a leader. It’s a challenge that makes you better. Stop hoping for more members. Stop waiting for more members. Choose how many members you want, and then make it happen.
Watch the video below from the Ingleburn Toastmasters club in New South Wales to discover how they are promoting the WOW! of their club and attracting new members.
Ryan Urie is a technical editor by profession, and a District 9 area director and former president and vice president membership of SEL Toastmasters in Pullman, Washington.