Suzanne Morgan Williams (Nevada)
2020 is almost here and, since new ideas take a bit of thought and planning, now is the time to think about revitalizing your membership and volunteer team. But how do you find new people to build community and energize your group so you can offer great programming?
Every region has attrition, and smaller and new regions often struggle with getting the word out to their communities that SCBWI even exits.
Your first ally is the public library. They have e-mail lists and advertising budgets. Generally, they’ll be thrilled to host events that are free and open to the public. In Nevada we did model critique groups followed by a short pitch for SCBWI. Short writing workshops are also effective as are presentations featuring your PAL members’ books. All of these should be geared to adult readers and writers. We repeated these free programs in several local libraries, staffing them with experienced volunteers. We added two or three members from each event, developed relationships with librarians which benefited our PAL members, and provided a community service. The three members per event may not seem grand to regions with hundreds of members, but if you start with sixty members, adding ten new ones from, say, four library evenings is huge.
Indie bookstores may also be willing to host events like this and have their own lists of readers. The positive for opting to do outreach in a bookstore is that you can pair it with a PAL book signing. Win/win.
Teacher and librarian networks can help. If you have a teacher who is active in your region, ask if they can spread the word about upcoming events – especially entry level ones. Many teachers long to write children’s books and have no idea how to get started. Most school districts have a list serve where your events might be shared if they have some connection to writing for school curriculum, new STEAM books, simple writing techniques for children and teachers etc. And all schools have a staff room and bulletin board.
Librarians might get involved with a “meet the authors” evening (again, works for your PAL and published members), or a “readers as writers workshop” where they can get ideas for their own programming. These connections with librarians are great for your region and your members.
Professional credits can entice teachers to your larger conferences. You’ll need to do some hefty planning to offer these, but if you have a volunteer who is familiar with your school curriculum, or a college or university partner, you may be able to offer a half or full credit for attending your event. There may an extra cost for this – to a college – but if you work through a school district the credit may be free. If you offer this kind of credit, your conference can, and probably will be, announced through the school districts’ communications. This is free advertising as well as a service to teachers.
Entry level events:
Zoom sessions provide wonderful opportunities for members who are already connected, but to get new members, there is nothing like the personal interaction of small workshops.
Showcase your published members in a newbies workshop day. We used to do these once a year in a donated space (think church or local arts organization) for 30 to 40 people. We kept costs extremely low by staffing with local PAL members who received small honorariums and had no travel costs. Our newer published members got practice presenting in a welcoming environment and we showcased them as role models to the potential new members. We advertised this through library and teacher communications, in local news and online calendars, at day cares, arts organizations, other adult writers’ groups, in senior and community centers, through creative writing classes at the community college, and in coffee shops. We kept the cost to about $25 to $40 per person and also offered low cost critiques with our PAL members (more practice for them, and a little income too.)
Single focus workshops such as a demonstration of effective critique group methods, followed by matching potential members with others in attendance to get started building their own support systems are effective. Other ideas include sketch days, what an agent does and how to find one, writing query letters, or various craft workshops. These can be presented singly or as a series and have the triple function of increasing membership, connecting new members to the SCBWI community, and utilizing your PAL membership. We found that offering PAL members opportunities to be seen, get paid a bit, and to grow their own skills keeps them active and engaged.
The drawback to these entry events is finding the volunteers and local PAL membership to staff them. Many writers and illustrators are introverts, and many feel they are not in the “in group.” Some don’t know how they can help, so I found that volunteers need to be invited. But who? And how do you know they will complete the tasks you give them? Low cost outreach events are perfect for trying out new volunteers. Because they are inexpensive or free, the expectations of attendees are not as high as at more costly conferences and – they aren’t as intimidating to new volunteers.
Host a Volunteer Roundup. A bookstore or library conference room is a perfect and free place to meet. Tell your current members that you’ll be sharing all the ways they can help and the benefits they will reap. Have food. Offer door prizes (books of course.) Ask people to bring ideas for future programming. Don’t forget to find out what attendees want to do and what they feel their skills are. Sign them up, on the spot, for smaller jobs like manning a sign-in table, serving food, or writing a piece for the newsletter. Once they show they are reliable, give them increasingly important assignments. You’ll have staff for your outreach programs and begin grooming your future conference coordinators, critique coordinators, newsletter editors, and RTs.
Suzanne Morgan Williams is the author of the middle grade novel Bull Rider and eleven nonfiction books for children. Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection, is on state award lists in Texas, Nevada, Missouri, Wyoming, and Indiana, and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. Suzanne’s nonfiction titles include Pinatas and Smiling Skeleton. The Inuit, Made in China, and her latest book, China’s Daughters. Suzanne has presented and taught writing workshops at dozens of schools, professional conferences, and literary events across the US and Canada. Suzanne is RAE from Nevada Region SCBWI and was SCBWI Member of the Year in 2012.
Visit the website and connect with Suzanne.
See Suzanne’s other articles on RAE exchange here (link to come).