Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is anybody out there?

Hello? Knock knock? Anybody there?

Over the last few years I’ve come to notice a rather disturbing trend among Audubon chapters and bird clubs, the sound of silence.

In different roles I’ve had many opportunities to contact Audubon chapters or bird clubs across the country seeking information. I usually use the email link on their website but have also made phone calls, posted comments on Facebook walls, and sent good old-fashioned snail mail. My personal experience is that the response rate to inquiries is about 1 in 3.

At one time I was a VP for my local Audubon chapter. We were aware of some programs other chapters were running that were interesting to us. I contacted 14 chapters across the country, from small local chapters to large chapters with huge memberships. I heard back from 5 chapters. Four were willing to share some information. One said they were too busy. And the rest? Nothing. No response of any kind, even when I sent a follow-up or tried a different medium to contact them.

I also travel quite a bit on business and if I’m spending a few nights somewhere, I will look up the local bird clubs for meetings I can attend. In some cases there is no information about the upcoming monthly meeting on the website and the newsletter that is posted is out of date. I’ll email or call the club using the contact information they provided. Once again, I seem to get some response about a third of the time. The rest of the time, nothing.

Some of the issues are perplexing. One chapter I tried to visit had a note on their website that said they met at the local public library in the community room the first Wednesday of each month, September through June. They even gave the street address of the library. I made my way to the library that evening to find out the chapter doesn’t meet there. They haven’t for years. Yet this information is clearly displayed on the home page. The library staff said they get one or two people each month who ask about the meetings.

How many potential members are these groups losing? If people are seeking you out, why are you not responding? A common complaint among Audubon chapters and bird clubs is that as their memberships get older, they are getting smaller as they fail to attract new and younger members. I have a solution that may partially solve their problem. Write back. Return a phone call. If people are taking the time to try to contact you, maybe you should have someone available to take the time to get back to them.