20 attendee weekend event / Non-Profit Membership woes questions
March 28, 2014 11:31 AM   Subscribe

The Non-Profit I volunteer at has serious membership woes. Right now there's just a couple members left, and for this reason and life reasons, we are stepping down, but we don't want to just give up our cause. As such, we are trying to set up a 2 night, 2 day weekend getaway (tentative dates: May 16-May 18) in South Florida for 20 adults to hopefully get new board members and officers. Difficulty level: $5,000 budget. Also, I'm starting to think that perhaps this isn't the way to go? Advice anyone?

I am the Volunteer President of a 501 (c) (3) charity in Florida, whose membership has been steadily dwindling. We have done good works in the past, but it is frustrating to hold repeated elections only to have board members and officers vanish within a couple months. Now, the remaining couple members are demotivated and are finding we have other/more productive things to attend to.

As of now it is down to just two of us, myself and one other, and we are way over our voluntary commitments. These issues, Life changes, and for me a baby in June, have gotten us in the direction that we step down from our positions. Additionally, we haven't really planned anything in a while except for our escape plan. It was suggested we throw a big bash to attract new members out of the available pool (sober alumni from my old treatment center), and we have about $5,000 to spend on this. The issue is that I think we overestimated what $5,000 could get us.

So far Disney group rates in May are at about 10K for a bus from West Palm Beach, Hotel, and Park Tickets.

The cheapest thing I could find was Club Med Sandpiper which came in at around $7,200 all included.

Cruises are out, as we don't want to have a "Passport Required" mandate.

We have around $10,000 in the bank, but we would like to leave the (hopefully) new members at least $5,000 to start with.

We are setting up several scholarship-type funds in the meantime to give some immediate direction and drive for the new members, but as of now, if we left, there's no one to take over the reins.

I'm fine with doing something local, but it needs to "pop" and draw people who potentially have a lot going on in their lives into becoming interested attending, and then in volunteering their future time. I'm even fine with doing something out of state, provided it will appeal to a very wide range of people, and not go over the budget.

I'm also open to completely rearranging my thinking in how to pass on the reins, so if you don't have any input on the "getaway" portion of this, but have experience or advice on reinvigorating a fading volunteer-run, non-profit let me know. Of important note along these lines is that since we're spread so thin, we don't have the time nor the inclination to consistently approach our membership pool to garner interest that way, which is why we were looking into a one-time event.
posted by Debaser626 to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
Best answer: This is categorically, 100%, not the way to go. I say this as someone who watched in horror as a non profit ran into the ground on this model.

Do you guys have any kind of social media presence? Are there people who have been leaders previously, but are not currently? Also what was the previous membership model? When you say members, do you mean "volunteering members" or are all volunteering members members?
posted by corb at 11:41 AM on March 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

Nonprofit consultant here. I would be a pretty angry donor if I found out that you spent half of the money in the bank on a "getaway" to try and get new members. That is not a good use of funds.

Corb's questions are the place to start. Do you have "friends" of the organization who would be willing to step up? Past donors or volunteers? Have you tracked this information somewhere so that you can reach out to these people and try and get them on board?
posted by anotheraccount at 11:49 AM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why did you originally get involved? There is a need that your organization addresses, and probably booking cruises is far from it. With $5000 you might be able to put together some event (auction, beauty pageant, walkathon, block party, dance) that will draw the public and, this is key, require volunteers to make this happen.
People willing to volunteer for your cause. Those are the folks you really want.
posted by otherchaz at 11:55 AM on March 28, 2014

Best answer: That $5000 that you might spend on the fling would be much better spent getting your dissolution plans in order (as I recall, nonprofits must have a plan to disburse their assets in the event of dissolution. It's codified, and binding) and/or ramping up your membership contact, or making the extra effort to get a better system for membership contact. A fling has the appearance of impropriety.

I've been in a nonprofit that was in the same situation. The board was moribund, and they couldn't muster the community interest to get new residents to serve on it. A letter was composed and sent to everyone who was served by the nonprofit that unless they could get some new blood to stand for elections, they were going to dissolve the non-profit, and disburse the assets in thus-and-such a way.

It was ransom note, really: Give us your new, fresh blood, or we'll kill the non-profit.

It worked pretty well. The old board was completely replaced, and a new, energetic board got in and started doing stuff. It was also important to be *active* in your nonprofit purpose. Stuff has to happen, and be seen to happen. Membership contact and information was an important part of this.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:56 AM on March 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: The getaway was actually suggested by our only donor (the treatment center in question), where this money came from. The issue with tracking down older members and alumni is a large stumbling block in the form of HIPAA. As our member pool is drawn from Alumni of a substance abuse treatment center, any communications to those folks have to go through so many lines of forwarding that (with the responsible people's actual job requirements) it just doesn't get done in a timely fashion. Add to that that these responsible folks' job also entails "hitting up" these people for donations, I have a sneaking suspicion that there's a large demographic of our target group who have mail from them filtered straight to junk.

I have long thought that the real way to handle this is to approach those folks who are still inpatient, consistently and constantly, whether it's a free pizza night every week, and setting up short fishing and other functions is the way to go, and I have made several committees whose responsibility is overseeing this (I live three towns away now, and it would be 80 miles round trip for me to go do this myself), but despite my repeatedly stating that a commitment means exactly that, without fail, this ball has been dropped on each occasion.

We could dissolve the group, but we have had so many good ideas that we can do, which for political and liability reasons the actual treatment center can't employ, that it just seems a shame.

It just seems so depressing to do that, but throwing $5,000 away on a vacation which won't actually garner any more interested, committed parties isn't any better.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:01 PM on March 28, 2014

Best answer: I think the impulse to gather people is right, but on the simplest type of event possible: 20 chairs in a circle, in the cheapest location you can find (like, a church basement). This style of event will attract people who want to give to the organization, not get things from it like a fun retreat.

To get around the HIPAA/spam problems, put an ad on craigslist and in the alt-weeklies in the area near the treatment center inviting all alumni of the treatment center.

Inspiration for you: Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:09 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

A practical problem with the getaway is that it seems that you want to attract busy people who might have a hard time finding time to get involved but you also want people who can drop everything for a whole weekend. Is there a Facebook group for people who received treatment at this treatment center? My cousin was in a Facebook group like that.
posted by kat518 at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2014

Response by poster: I just sent an email to the contacts I do have (about 25 people) mentioning the possible dissolution of the group, and provided details on the scholarships.

Perhaps a nice catered dinner at a hotel meeting room/closed venue where a new board could be established and immediately vote on recipients for the scholarships will be the way to go. A hell of a lot cheaper, and potentially more effective.

Thanks for the input, all!
posted by Debaser626 at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2014

Going forward, would it be possible to open up the membership pool a bit? Maybe your non-profit could ally with a second treatment center, providing more potential members? How about opening it to people in recovery who have not been treated at this specific place? Or to people who have had friends/loved ones with addictions? I just think that if the organization continues the way it is, there is no way you will survive. You need to be open to making a pretty big change.

Are there other nonprofits in the area working in this or a related area that you could build partnerships with? This could really increase your visibility, potentially leading to more donors and members.
posted by imalaowai at 8:58 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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