Fundamentals of Chapter Management: Section 5 - Chapter Communication
Keeping Members Informed
The most important service the chapter can provide its members is information. Regular communication strengthens the chapter by helping members understand chapter goals and priorities, and by giving them the information they need to take an active role.
Choosing the right vehicle for the message is the key to effective communication - whether it is written, phoned, faxed, printed, or computerized. This section features ideas on how the chapter can stay in touch with its members and offers detailed pointers about producing effective chapter newsletters.
True crisis situations are infrequent. But when issues call for immediate action, contacting members quickly is critical. Keep crisis communication brief and to the point. Provide all the information necessary to make a decision, but exclude "extras" such as unnecessary history, opinions, etc. Use crisis communication only when there is a real crisis. There are a number of ways to get information to members in a hurry. Consider an electronic mail (e-mail) alert, fax, and phone tree telephone contact.
Action alerts are requests for action targeted to key leaders or the entire membership - usually on legislative or regulatory-related issues.
- are usually sent by e-mail;
- must include detailed information on the issue;
- must state the problem, background, and the solution;
- should include step-by-step instructions - exactly what the member is expected to do;
- should include a deadline for action and a reporting mechanism;
- should ask members to send the chapter copies of responses they write or short reports on how they responded to the issue; and
Member alerts are good vehicles for updating the entire membership on practice-related developments, new chapter programs and policies, and other important activities.
- are usually typed and mailed;
- should be short;
- outline changes and how they affect the members;
- inform members of a special event on short notice; and
- should be printed on special letterhead and mailed in easy-to-identify envelopes.
Brochures are excellent vehicles for sharing information on chapter programs and services, meetings, or special projects.
- should be kept concise - one to four pages - since longer brochures are less likely to be read and cost more (a one-page, tri-fold brochure is very effective);
- must clearly identify the service, meeting, or project;
- should be well designed and readable - choose a typeface that is clear and large enough; and
- should highlight how the products and services mentioned will help the reader, and include details on how to order or register.
A regularly scheduled newsletter is one of the best tools to communicate with chapter members.
What Can a Newsletter Do?
A newsletter is an effective way to keep members informed about chapter activities, member accomplishments, legislative developments, educational opportunities, practice updates, and other information crucial to the practice of emergency medicine.
Members want to see a return on the money they invest in chapter dues. A newsletter is a graphic way to give them that feedback - and to tell them how they can become active. The chapter may be involved in a number of important projects, but members will not be aware of the projects unless they receive information about them from the chapter.
Newsletters are good vehicles for meeting notices, job placement ads, and board meeting highlights.
Some chapters use their newsletters as a source of revenue. If the chapter produces its own newsletter locally, consider running paid ads for physician services, educational meetings, or job openings. The revenue generated can offset production costs.
What to Include
To make sure the newsletter answers the needs of chapter members, identify what the members want. Where does the chapter focus its efforts? Education, government affairs, public relations? The newsletter should reflect the interests of its readers.
Here are some content ideas from successful chapter newsletters around the country:
- stories highlighting chapter activities (Emergency Medical Services Week programs, recaps of chapter educational meetings, election results, committee updates, etc.);
- stories on legislative, financial, and practice developments around the state;
- summaries of board, committee, and member meetings;
- announcements of upcoming meetings in the state and surrounding area;
- message from the president;
- listing of new chapter members;
- stories on national meetings (including personal focus of chapter members who attended);
- announcements of upcoming chapter and national meetings;
- news from ACEP or other chapters;
- member questionnaires (the newsletter allows the chapter to gather direct information on member interests, priorities, and opinions);
- job placement ads (a valuable service to members in the state looking for positions);
- paid advertising (develop advertising policies and pricing carefully); and
- spotlight/interview of new members, board members (personality sketch).
Include information on how members can get involved in the projects mentioned in the newsletter. Include phone numbers of physicians to contact, addresses of legislators to write, etc. Stimulating interest can result in more active member involvement.
How to Get the Stories
Although there's no shortage of news in emergency medicine, knowing where to look can help reduce the time spent searching for stories to interest readers.
ACEP is a good source of newsletter material both from the national arena and from other chapters around the country.
Special issue updates and action alerts are sent to chapter leaders from ACEP departments like Practice Management and Government Affairs. These mailings and or e-mails can be another source of material for the chapter newsletter.
Avoid stories from Annals of Emergency Medicine, ACEP News, and Emergency Medicine Today, unless there is a specific chapter angle to add. Those publications are sent to all members.
Other health-related publications and general interest magazines carry stories that may interest chapter members. Keep a folder to store clippings and potential story ideas for future newsletters.
Who Does It?
Identifying the person to serve as editor and/or writer for the chapter newsletter is very important, even if the chapter has a staff person who produces the newsletter. The newsletter editor should be someone who is actively involved and will know where to get the information for stories. However, it should not be the chapter president since that person has a number of time-consuming key responsibilities.
Assigning newsletter production to an interested member is the most effective way to have it produced regularly. Ideally, the person will do it for more than one year, allowing continuity over a period of time. Working on a newsletter keeps the editor informed and involved and strengthens his or her understanding of how the chapter works.
Good Writing and Why It's Helpful
Good writing increases reader enjoyment and understanding and makes the chapter newsletter an effective communication tool to bring members information quickly, informally, and accurately.
There are many excellent source books for advice on good writing, including Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, and The Associated Press Stylebook. The Strunk and White manual is a great place to start to streamline prose. It's brief, inexpensive, fun to read, and is available in most bookstores.
When writing for the newsletter, aim to be objective. There is a major difference between straight news and editorial opinion. When reporting news, stick to facts. Express opinions and points of view in editorials or opinion columns.
Opinion and editorial comment can play an important role in the chapter newsletter, however. They can get members excited, interested, even angry enough to take action. Include opinions and comments in a letter from the president, in an editor's column, or in guest editorials requested from members. On a controversial issue, consider having pro and con viewpoint articles.
The chapter may consider accepting ads in the newsletter to help pay for the cost of producing it. If so, develop a policy on what type of ads it will and will not accept.
Other policies the chapter may want to develop are guidelines for members who want to write articles as to what will and will not be printed; what the editing policy is; story length that is acceptable; and the style preferred for publication. Include information about how to submit articles or information for the newsletter, the editor's name, address, phone number and fax number (if available), and a schedule of deadlines for the next issue.
The chapter may want to print extra copies of the newsletter for media packets, for elected officials, or for recruiting new members (samples are included - see Appendix 1 ).
Regular communication with members is one of the most important services chapter leaders provide. There are many successful ways to share information - choose the vehicle that best meets the chapter's needs and budget.
A chapter newsletter is an excellent tool to inform members about current activities and issues, and to increase member enthusiasm and involvement.