Game On! Team APWA gears up for Membership Madness

Brian M. Sullivan
Chapter Relations Program Manager
American Public Works Association
Kansas City, Missouri

On March 5-7 in Denver, Colo., more than 65 "star players" from 49 APWA chapters gathered for the first-ever National Membership Summit. Themed around the excitement and "madness" of college basketball's championship tournament, the Summit provided attendees with new ideas and fresh approaches to building and managing future growth within each chapter's membership. From the opening tip-off with Head Coach (and APWA President) Larry Frevert and Assistant Head Coach (and APWA National Membership Committee Chair) Ann Burnett-Troisi to the closing seconds, the three-day event motivated participants to return home and create their own chapter "playbooks" for member recruitment and retention.

Referee (and Keynote Speaker) Cynthia D'Amour opened the Summit with a variety of activities designed to teach chapter attendees the ABCs of networking, and how "working the room" can increase the member value of their chapter events. D'Amour is a nationally recognized speaker who specializes in high-energy, hands-on programs that give participants proven strategies on how to get more members involved in their organizations. Summit attendees practiced the art of meeting new people, and making good, memorable first impressions.

  The attendees of APWA's National Membership Summit












During the Summit's opening night reception, chapter participants showed off their school spirit by wearing their favorite college team apparel. Even APWA staff members Brian Van Norman (a diehard Kansas Jayhawks fan) and David Dancy (a Missouri Tigers enthusiast) squared off against each other for some friendly competition at the two Pop-A-Shot machines. The reception allowed attendees to meet key leaders and staff within APWA as well as practice "full court networking" learned earlier in the day.

The second day of the Summit began with an interactive session by D'Amour on what today's members want from involvement in an association's chapter. She explained that there are three key benefits that motivate people to join a chapter—and to continue staying involved. First, they want personal and professional development; this includes both formal education programs offered as well as less-formal skills members learn while active in the chapter. Next, they want to contribute to some greater good. Finally, they want to be part of a community; members want to feel like they belong to a circle of friends who care about them. Attendees then role-played ways to recruit potential members attending a chapter event for the first time.

What would March Madness be without a commercial break? Robert Lewis (Chicago Metro Chapter) led a brief presentation on promoting APWA membership to the private sector. During his talk, he emphasized the concept of reverse marketing and its potential benefit in recruiting new members. Lewis stated that if someone is selling products or services to you, then he or she would likely be interested in connecting with others in the public works industry. Attendees were encouraged to check APWA's membership directory online to determine whether a private sector individual or company is already a member.

In response to President Frevert's call to expand members' perception of public works, participants learned the basics of pitching the value of APWA to non-traditional public works groups such as airport, military base, and university personnel. Small-group brainstorming sessions gave attendees the opportunity to customize their membership pitches to these groups by identifying key decision-makers, anticipating their "hot button" challenges, and offering tangible solutions via APWA membership. D'Amour encouraged participants to consider how APWA's membership benefits are relevant and valuable to each potential new member.

Summit attendees were invited to take part in a series of roundtable "idea swaps" during the afternoon of the second day. Discussions centered on a variety of important APWA membership issues such as retention strategies, outreach to college students and young professionals, and new member orientation and engagement. Participants shared chapter best practices, and discussed challenges that they would like help with. They provided a wealth of suggestions with regard to how APWA could assist chapters in building their membership activities.

The final day of the Summit began with chapter attendees sharing their "slam dunk" tips for APWA membership growth. Following this high-spirited session, D'Amour shared the six essential elements of a successful membership campaign: vision/goals; plans; team involvement; contagious energy; measured success; and celebrations. She led attendees through a step-by-step process for recruiting new members from both the public and private sectors. Participants then worked on developing their chapter's membership recruitment and retention "playbooks" for the next year.

Attendees left the Summit with new contacts, fresh ideas, and an assortment of best practices for growing their chapter's membership. To keep the energy and momentum moving forward, the APWA National Membership Committee will be working with the Board of Directors and staff to facilitate future chapter-to-chapter communication regarding membership issues and ideas. Some of the proposed activities include a new Membership infoNOW Community, online resources for chapters to share about membership topics, conference calls and webinars with Cynthia D'Amour and APWA staff, and chapter membership challenges.

Brian M. Sullivan can be reached at (816) 595-5263 or