To pilot a thriving Toastmasters club, leadership teams need a clear vision of the purpose of their club and how they can best help members achieve their goals. Leaders should be backed by enthusiastic member support and eagerness to participate—something that can often be easier said than done. So how can your club create and sustain an energetic and successful culture that benefits everyone?
Start by asking questions. Survey your members at least once a year, if not more often. Some club leaders may be looking for specific individual input to enhance new member experiences, assure they are helping members grow, or better match mentors and mentees. Other club leaders may want broad, whole-club responses to help them develop an annual Club Success Plan, which, in turn, can make achieving Distinguished Club status an easier goal. Hopefully, member surveys will help you improve both members’ experience and your overall club quality.
As a leader, you want to understand the interests and goals of individuals, and how those personal objectives align with and support overall club excellence. Regular member feedback will help ensure you are on the right track to successfully engage each person and channel that satisfaction back into a vibrant club setting.
Need more reasons to survey your members?
- Members will ultimately be more invested in club initiatives they help create. Surveys also send a clear message that leaders want to understand members’ goals and opinions, and are open to hearing ideas, changes, and even constructive criticism.
- Understanding what makes your members tick adds clarity to nearly every club function, including relevant programs, succession planning, new member recruitment, fun, and best of all, retaining members in a vibrant club. “One of the most overlooked keys to member retention is reading member interest surveys,” says Craig Harrison, DTM, a member of Silicon Valley ImprovMasters in San Jose, California.
- When conducted regularly, surveys provide a club quality benchmark. In essence, member surveys are a form of evaluation, a practice clubs already value highly. Sometimes, as clubs grow bigger and busier, and as leadership turns over every year, officers aren’t able to keep in close touch with every member. Surveys help fix unintended communication gaps.
- Finally, surveys can help track the evolving interests of each member, a key factor in retention. While people join your club for certain reasons, they belong because they are enjoying ongoing value.
Whether your club already has a survey process in hand or you’re looking for new ways to gather feedback, Toastmasters offers plenty of resources, which are all suited for online or in-person use.
Where to Start
If you’re looking for baseline member feedback, distribute the Toastmasters Member Interest Survey and/or the New Member Profile Sheet. Questions focus on an individual’s goals, leadership aspirations, club likes and dislikes, and fresh ideas. Members can email the fillable PDF to a designated person, often the Vice President Membership or Education (VPM/VPE).
For members who may be reluctant to address problems in the club, try the Club Quality Checklist. It can be done anonymously and will give leaders an idea of some adjustments they may want to make.
Club leaders can refer to the Moments of Truth module in the Successful Club Series. It guides a current leader or a club coach in objectively evaluating how a club is running—from first impressions to fellowship to meeting organization. While designed for the broader purpose of creating the annual Club Success Plan, it’s a good way to evaluate the workings of your club.
Many clubs craft their own surveys, drawing from the above suggestions and their own needs and questions. Leaders can design a custom Word document, a fillable PDF form, or Google doc.
Follow up for Feedback
Distributing the surveys may not be difficult, yet reeling in responses is not always easy.
“We do a member interest survey and yes, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get responses back. We encourage mentors to remind their mentees to respond and ask that club officers lead by example and return their responses in a timely manner,” says Greg Gazin, DTM, a member of Go Pro Speakers and New Entrepreneurs Club in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “One thing we did that helped the response rate was to give members an example of a completed survey to review,” he adds.
Diligence is a tactic favored by Megha Jindal, a member of Empower Toastmasters in Bangkok, Thailand, and Feedbackers Toastmasters Club in Forest Grove, Oregon. Club Presidents start each new year surveying members via Google (which offers forms to survey and collect information). “We follow up to ensure we get a 75% response rate,” she notes. “It’s a good pulse check.”
New Members, Mentors, and Prospects
Surveying new members right away is a must, says Kevin Markl, a member of Prep Squad in Dublin, California, and Hacienda Park Toastmasters in San Ramon, California. “It’s important for them to understand how our self-paced learning program can help them,” he notes.
The Member Interest Survey can be helpful not only to club leaders for gauging goals but also for engaging conversation between mentors and mentees. The form helps clubs find the best mentor to “hold [mentees] accountable as they work toward those goals,” while also allowing mentees to share their goals and ask for help, Markl adds. Cassandra Cockrill, DTM, a former District 57 (Northern California) leader, believes in surveying prospects. She designed an interest questionnaire to print and give to club guests, with every box in the brief survey representing a skill Toastmasters teaches.
“It’s a good conversion tool,” she says. “When people check almost every box, then they are clear on how much they need and want this training. This survey was highly effective and helped VPEs encourage progress that met the specific needs of each member.”
As noted earlier, member surveys offer insight and ideas for changes that are key to successful member retention. Harrison, the ImprovMasters club member, says if you monitor your members’ changing interests, you can keep them aware of all that Toastmasters offers.
“Once most members achieve their initial goals, they need new challenges. But they may not be aware of additional growth opportunities in Pathways, leadership, and other pursuits to glean or hone new skills,” he says, noting that the alliance between Toastmasters and Rotary International is a good example of all-new, intriguing possibilities.
“You can keep members for life if you support a learner’s mindset. There’s so much more to experience once members’ initial fears are conquered and goals met,” he says.
Your leadership team may discover that member surveys speak volumes—and provide an invaluable earpiece in learning what members need to join—and stay.
As your club accelerates into the 2020–2021 program year, be sure there are plenty of member voices supporting your efforts. If you’re not sure about your members’ goals or what they’re looking for, ask them. It’s never too late.
Stephanie Darling is senior editor of the Toastmaster magazine.