For any volunteer group, growing and retaining membership membership is challenging – but especially so during a pandemic. For Soroptimist Raleigh this was no different. We asked our membership committee chairs Sarita Harkness and Pat Lynch to talk about how they’ve managed in this Q&A.

What have been the top challenges for the membership committee during the pandemic?

When we hear that a woman is interested in joining Soroptimist, we like to meet her personally to answer any questions as well as to let her know what to expect. We have been able to conduct one-on-ones by meeting at restaurants with outdoor seating and wearing masks. However, during this very cold winter it has been more difficult.

What are some of the ways you have been recruiting new members in this virtual environment? What has worked well?

One thing that has worked well is getting new member recommendations from our current members. We try to let all members know how important it is to be ambassadors for Soroptimist by sharing our mission with everyone they know and meet. If their recruits are interested in learning more the membership committee can follow up. We also receive periodic queries about the club that come in via our web site, or from the SIA web site,

Do you think you’ll continue to do virtual events once we can meet in person again?

While we feel that “in person” Meet and Greet events and follow-ups are the best approach, COVID has taught us that virtual events are likely to retain a place in our overall strategy. Our first virtual Meet and Greet was held last year via a call on ZOOM. Packets of information that were delivered personally to guests before the event included small bottles of wine and snacks. We asked each guest to introduce themself, and we shared club information. It was a good way to introduce these ladies to Soroptimist, and half of them decided to join, which was wonderful. However, it was certainly a contrast to meeting at an art gallery or at a wine bar as we have done in the past. In those venues we can meet with larger groups of potential members and have more one-on-one time with not only membership committee members but other club members. At in-person meetings, we can also allow a little more time for speakers to talk about Soroptimist, our club and our programs. And we find the personal contact much more satisfying.

How have you been engaging and supporting all members over the past year?

Most women join Soroptimist because they’re truly interested in the work of the club and want to participate. They lose interest when they don’t feel able to contribute in a way that is valued. A key to member retention is engagement with the club, its projects and operations. Therefore, we ask all members, no matter how long they’ve been in the club, to join one or more committees, and play an active role on a regular basis. All committees meet virtually, which saves time and effort in getting everyone together in one place.

Since we want all of our members to feel that they “belong”, we’ve emphasized shared understanding of “everything Soroptimist.” We held an orientation session for all of our newest members, but we encouraged all members to take part so we could be on the same page. We created a virtual session called “Soroptimist 101” to review our global, regional and local goals and projects. We included a section on Soroptimist terminology, and history. It turned out that even current members learned a thing or two! The event was recorded to allow it to be presented to those who could not attend, and to use in the future. We’ve also held some fun online socials, just to get to know each other better. Our monthly meetings have all been by ZOOM, and another way we’ve helped with engagement is to teach ZOOM hints and tricks so no one is left behind.

What are some of the positive things that have come from this experience, if any?

We have been able to engage new, very busy, young professional women due to the simplicity of having virtual meetings. It’s definitely a plus to be able to continue having virtual committee meetings in particular and we are all more comfortable with having that as an option in the future. We’ve gained new skills. We’ve gained new enthusiasm for using our time wisely and efficiently. And we’ve been impressed with how much we can get done through determination and focus, even in a virtual environment!