The past few years have been tough for many clubs. The transition from in-person to online meetings was often bumpy, and once that smoothed over, members complained of Zoom fatigue. However, some clubs that initially saw membership drop dramatically have now found their footing.
If your club needs some inspiration and ideas, read on to discover how four clubs successfully revitalized their membership.
Showcasing Their Club
Lakeland Toastmasters • Lakeland, Florida
For more than 60 years, Lakeland Toastmasters in Lakeland, Florida, had been a strong club, consistently achieving President’s Distinguished status. But after 2020, the club lost momentum. It went from having so many members that leaders were considering splitting into two clubs, to having single digits in attendance. They even lost their venue.
In October 2022, the club held its second community outreach event, called Amplify, which previously had been in an online format. The in-person event worked: By the end of the evening, the club had gained nine new and reinstated members, as well as a freshly energized club base.
“We wanted to do something with the goal of providing value to the community and providing excitement about finding your voice and gaining self-confidence,” says event chair Maria Martinez, DTM, who has served in various club and District leadership positions. “Basically, we wanted to sell Toastmasters without selling Toastmasters.”
The club has always thrived on interpersonal relationships, something online and hybrid meetings couldn’t always provide. It was the main reason for non-renewals. But current members knew that if they could get people through the door, they could get people excited about Toastmasters.
By the end of the evening, the club had gained nine new and reinstated members and a freshly energized club base.
The Amplify event was something between a demo meeting and an open house, but it was marketed as a community event with a networking component, sponsored by Lakeland Toastmasters. “For some people, ‘open house’ is a term for selling something,” says Martinez. Instead, she wanted the event to showcase how Toastmasters can provide real value by giving people the resources and tools to be the best version of themselves.
“We wanted to tap into people’s desire to get inspired, and say, ‘Look at our people, look at what you’re missing if you’re not a part of it, and here’s how you can be a part of it.’”
The evening started off with an informal hour of networking, allowing people to simply mingle and meet. “Networking is one of the most effective and most underestimated parts of Toastmasters,” Martinez explains.
A seasoned Lakeland member began the program with a speech, and International President Matt Kinsey, DTM (a member of the District), delivered the keynote address. A roundtable discussion followed, with members at various levels of Toastmasters tenure sharing how Toastmasters had impacted their lives.
Nearly 65 people attended, and the club spent little on marketing. The invitation was posted numerous times on the club’s Facebook page, and every club member was asked to attend and share the invite on their social media pages.
Organizers also posted fliers at local coffee houses and community boards and took advantage of the local chamber of commerce’s calendar of events, as well as a popular local publication’s calendar. Additionally, they crafted personal email messages to send to former members and any recent guests, and they reached out to neighboring clubs.
The event was held at the club’s regular venue so potential new members could see the meeting space. Guests were directed to parking, greeted at a sign-in table, and handed tickets for door prizes. There was also a contest for people who joined that evening.
Knowing that people may change their minds after an event is over, members were very intentional about asking guests to sign up that evening.
“We made sure members understood that nobody should walk out without being asked to join,” says Martinez. “If people fill out the application, now they know they’re a part of our community. It creates a sense of belonging that we all need, and at the same time, that sense of accountability: I paid, and I want to get my money’s worth.”
The event served as such a catalyst that the club now welcomes an average of eight guests to each meeting.
“Amplify for us means find your voice, increase your influence,” says Martinez. “Toastmasters has given me so much. Everything I can do to help and support and promote it, I’m there.”
Bringing Clubs Together
NCD Toastmasters • Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
NCD Toastmasters Club chartered in 2017, in Port Moresby, the capital of the island nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Sponsored by the prominent financial services firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu PNG, NCD Toastmasters was one of many flourishing Toastmasters clubs in District 69, which also includes Queensland and Northern Territory, in Australia, and Fiji.
The future was bright, says Christine Lennon, DTM, NCD Toastmasters’ Vice President Education, District 69 training coordinator, and a member of three other clubs in New Zealand and Australia.
NCD was an active club so when membership began to dip in 2019, Lennon wasn’t overly concerned. “We saw a slight decline, as often happens in corporate clubs,” she says. However, challenges began to surface. Many Deloitte members worked offsite from the company’s offices, making conventional noon meetings nearly impossible. After-work meetings proved equally unsuitable. Growth stalled, Lennon says.
When COVID-19 arrived the following year, membership was further disrupted. The economic impact rocked many of the Papua New Guinean companies that had been supporting clubs, including NCD. Corporate budgets were cut; some club members lost their company jobs. But Lennon wasn’t about to give up. She contacted two other Port Moresby clubs on the verge of folding and suggested they merge with NCD into a single online club. The merger took place; however, without a corporate sponsor, NCD became self-funded.
“It’s exciting to have a full agenda and to sometimes see 36 people online as visitors. As they step out of their comfort zones, new members are even more excited [about the club].”—Christine Lennon, DTM
To help launch the NCD revitalization effort, Lennon worked with Club President Alma San Antonio and Past Club Secretary Julie Matty. Since all three women have been active members and leaders in other clubs, they had excellent contacts in the District. Their strategy was strength in numbers, so other clubs were mobilized to restore viability to NCD. Members of BPNG Toastmasters, sponsored by the Bank of Papua New Guinea, and BSP Toastmasters Club, sponsored by the Bank of the South Pacific, joined NCD meetings online to fill out speaking and meeting roles. Several pre-charter groups attended to learn about running a successful club. Members of Capital Toastmasters Suva in Fiji (then-undistricted) also came to share their skills, along with the District’s newest club, KPMG PNG, a corporate club in Port Moresby.
Lennon also invited past club members and corporations who hadn’t had enough employee interest to start clubs of their own. The result: A robust group of diverse, multi-talented individuals began attending NCD online meetings regularly.
“Having a base of committed members who turned up every week” made an enormous difference, Lennon says. Existing members learned from their colleagues and helped welcome guests, who received a solid, well-rounded introduction to the organization.
NCD received a big uptick in membership when the OK Tedi Mining Company agreed to pay membership fees for eight employees. Lennon wasted no time in visiting the mine site and the company office in Port Moresby.
“I spent a day with the women in the office and 14 signed up as members!” Lennon says. Soon, leaders at the company realized that Toastmasters would be a tremendous benefit in training their leadership team and pledged additional support.
NCD also developed a mentoring program, drawing from its base of experienced members. That led to an influx of new members, including a member with the experience to facilitate hybrid meetings. Today, NCD has 25 members, with many more visiting online.
A heartfelt, innovative collaboration helped drive NPD’s vibrant new culture. “It’s exciting to have a full agenda and to sometimes see 36 people online as visitors,” Lennon says. “As they step out of their comfort zones, new members are even more excited [about the club].”
She adds: “I believe that every one of us has grown in the process and continues to grow, gaining skills posed by the challenges. Our continuing success is due to the teamwork that really made our dream work.”
Emphasizing the Fun
Paddington Toastmasters • London, England
Paddington Toastmasters has had its ups and downs over the years, but the club is definitely on the upside of success now. Founded in 2015, it grew quickly due to an excellent meeting location near the Paddington underground station in London. However, within a short time span, the club had to move three times, and with each move, fewer members renewed. Eventually they found an ideal location near another underground station and things were looking up. Then COVID-19 hit.
Many members weren’t interested in online meetings, and membership dropped to just eight people. “They were eight very loyal members,” emphasizes Janet Milnes, a Toastmaster for 30 years, current Vice President Education, and originally an advisor to the club. “So we kept going, we kept having fun, and decided to see where we were when we came out of this.”
They still had their venue, and in September 2021, the club decided to go hybrid. Membership bounced back up to 17. However, it then dropped to single digits again, mainly due to a rise in members needing to move for professional reasons.
Knowing people had always remarked on how fun and convivial the club was, club leaders decided their marketing and outreach efforts needed to reflect more of that personality. They completely revamped their website, going through several versions before landing on one that reflected the friendly, upbeat culture of their club.
“It immediately had an effect,” says Milnes. Soon more than half of the guests were finding the club through the website (with the rest being from Find A Club on the Toastmasters website).
When guests reach out, Milnes now sends a personalized letter that includes meeting details and what to expect, and she answers any questions or concerns the guest has expressed. As a result, she often has an email exchange with guests long before they come to a meeting. She sends agendas to guests for two months after their last visit. Even if they never end up visiting, she keeps them on a general mailing list for another two months. “I’ve had guests contact me even after a year,” notes Milnes.
Club leaders decided their marketing and outreach efforts needed to reflect more of the club’s fun and convivial personality.
To keep members engaged, the club occasionally hosts an educational session or Speakathon, or two people may present in a question-and-answer format. They’ll also do communication games and member challenges. Table Topics® might focus on something other than a question—such as pictures or a word. “We’re trying to get everyone to extend their thinking and explore different ways of doing things,” says Milnes. “We want to spark associations and encourage people to think outside the box.”
The club attracts members from a wide variety of ages, cultures, and levels of experience, and above all, the club wants to find members who are the right fit with the club culture. Guests are asked to come at least two or three times before they apply. “Having guests join immediately doesn’t always work,” notes Milnes. “We also want to make sure we’re the right club for them. We encourage them to visit other clubs before they may decide to join ours.”
And all the efforts are working. “We’re now in a really fortunate situation where we’re thinking, how big do we actually want to be? There’s a time when it’s too big.”
Leaning Into Experience
TGIS Toastmasters Club • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Membership soared during the pandemic for TGIS Toastmasters, an energetic community club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that chartered in 2005. Ironically, the challenge began after the crisis, when COVID-19 cases had slowed down in the country.
TGIS (Think, Grow, Inspire, Succeed) remained vibrant through much of the pandemic, as the online format allowed members from all over the world to visit and join the club, according to Santosh Zope, Vice President Education.
“We hosted two meetings a month that were internationally accessible,” explains Zope. The visibility, coupled with a potent social media strategy highlighting the club and its benefits, resulted in new members from other countries.
As the pandemic waned in Dubai, TGIS became one of the first clubs in the UAE to offer hybrid meetings. However, the transition to yet another meeting format wasn’t seamless. Membership slumped. Tech glitches and other issues—such as members missing the authenticity of speaking before an in-person audience—left many attendees dissatisfied with meeting quality, Zope says. A club survey showed an overwhelming preference for in-person meetings, so the club returned to that format.
Fortunately, the club’s Executive Committee has a long history of strategically assessing change management every year—a practice they followed before, during, and after the pandemic. They plan for and expect the best circumstances, but also prepare for surprises.
Each year, the Executive Committee introduces new practices to ensure the club recruits new members and continues to engage its existing members, Zope says.
For example, the club created a “Why TGIS?” campaign, with members sharing short video clips on the benefits of joining and being active in the club. The club also uses video clips to welcome and highlight new members, who share their backgrounds and why they joined TGIS. These appealing tactics “show the club is super active and offers loads to learn from,” says Club President Mohini Mehta. “They definitely leave a positive image on the mind of anyone planning to join the club.”
Each year, the Executive Committee introduces new practices to ensure the club recruits new members and continues to engage its existing members.
The club is also diligent in phoning members who haven’t attended for a few meetings so “we can understand the reason,” Mehta adds. Often just a reminder how caring the club is brings members back “for the amazing friendships they’ve made.” While not a highly unusual recruitment tactic, TGIS has found that utilizing experienced members to impress guests is highly successful. “We mix up fresh speakers/evaluators with seasoned speakers/evaluators,” Zope says. “This helps us to inspire and convert them to members.
“Experienced members play a great role in member recruitment, such as talking to guests during breaks of the meeting and advising them of Toastmasters benefits,” he adds. The personal touch is persuasive for everyone involved. “We create bonding between members and potential members. That gives a completely new dimension and purpose to members and, in turn, to our club.”
The club hosts vibrant, photo-filled Facebook and Instagram pages, and has found strong advocates among Google reviewers who joined the club. Notes one reviewer: “TGIS has had a tremendous impact on my professional and personal life. I’m immensely proud to be a member.”
Laura Amann and Stephanie Darling Laura Amann is managing editor and Stephanie Darling is senior editor for the Toastmaster magazine.