2015 State of the Chapter

State of the IABC/Topeka Chapter – 2014-15

It’s good to reflect on the past year to see where we are as a chapter, and of course, share some of the information with the membership that you may not be aware of.  As I thought back to over a year ago on any kind of impact that I wanted to make on the chapter, my short list was to improve on our chapter’s presence; membership engagement and retention; and justifying that hour away from work (or our lunch) to improve professional development skills. This synopsis, I believe, covers issues over the past 11-12 months. 


When the IABC/Topeka board transition team met back in July of 2014, we talked about what hadn’t been working so well, and what seemed to be going smoothly.  For several years now, IABC at the International level has been undergoing some growing pains with executive leadership, which then affects staffing and services.  I think our biggest concern with International has been the turnover in staff and notification process of membership renewals.  It was brought to my attention that in the renewal process, there should be more local involvement in reminders, rather than coming from International.  Part of the hindrance in keeping track of memberships was the software that International provides for chapters had been under construction, which precluded our membership VPs and other board members from accessing information.  Believe me, it was very frustrating from our end!  As it turns out, International had so many issues with the membership software, they scratched the vendor they were using and invested in another one, and it understandably took longer than expected to get that up and running.  I think we’re on the right track now in getting the information that we need—and the software that they are using looks to me to be much improved (and more user friendly).   


For the members who belong to our chapter but don’t attend meetings, we want to know—how can we engage you?  We understand that we have some pretty busy communicators out there; however, our membership can benefit from your expertise and experience. We had a great program in January where longtime members shared with attendees their process and tips for entering and winning Bronze Quill awards.  Hearing their strategies was enlightening.  We’ve had our own members serve as our featured professional development speakers. Would more of you like that?  Let us know!  When members filled out the survey that we distributed in the spring of 2014, I was alarmed to learn that 75% had no interest in serving on a chapter committee.  Without help, the board could not plan and execute many of the events and that make our chapter viable.  It is my hope that we can engage our members more and they in turn will learn how their involvement creates a more successful IABC/Topeka.  


As I took on the presidency of this chapter, we had just gone through a website update with the hiring of a company, StarChapter, which works with many IABC chapters.  This was the first full year of utilizing it.  Overall, I think the change has been a positive one.  We posted photos of the current board members on the site so that we have faces to go with the names.  We’ve also made registering for meetings easier by having the availability to make payments via credit card. 

One of the benefits that our chapter offers is a job bank that is accessible to our members.  Members may not necessarily be seeking another job opportunity; however, something might pop up that really intrigues a person.  In the past, we have sent out separate email notifications for job postings.  We link that information to our job bank on the chapter’s website.  The board recently discussed posting that link regularly in the monthly newsletter for those of you who are interested.  We would like to remind you all to let your employer know that if they have a communications-related position opening, that IABC is a good place to advertise.  There is no charge to post a job coming from members or their employers.  Be sure to look for the job bank link in the future!


When I was invited to join IABC back in 2006, I was fortunate enough that my place of work felt the organization was worthy enough to pay my annual membership fees.  Previously, I had been involved in another national communications organization from 2002-2006, and it cost much less to belong; however, I am not sure it provided as many benefits as IABC.  Always keeping that thought in my mind, I believed it was important to ensure that our chapter had top-notch professional development programming so that when the member walked away from the IABC meeting, they felt that the information they received was applicable to their work.  This year, we had many speakers covering a wide array of topics that relate to our members and the work that they do.  I think as evidenced by attendance at a majority of our meetings, the chosen topics were of interest, and we received positive feedback regarding the quality of the programs. 


Our membership stands at 51 as I write this.  Although that is a good number, I’m not sure if we have less corporate memberships or some are not choosing to renew, because membership has been higher in the past.  Membership recruitment and retention was on the board’s radar this year.  My goal was to encourage inviting guests to every month’s professional development, whether it was a membership month or not.  In March 2015, we tied into International’s membership drive campaign, and were successfully listed as one of the Top 10 chapters in the WORLD to increase our membership! That is something to be proud of!

On another membership note, we did discuss mentoring at our July 2014 transition meeting; however, I am not sure we fleshed that out enough to put anything into action, but I do feel it is an issue definitely worth pursuing.  With following up on engaging more of the younger communicators, efforts in the past have not been as fruitful as we would like.  I think we chalk that up to many end up moving to the Kansas City area.  That’s just a reality, but hopefully a challenge we can resolve.

In seeking to be more personal and tie into networking, I asked our board to invest in spotlighting one member each month, so we came up with the Membership Minute.  At each month’s professional development meeting, a different member would share their communications journey with the attendees.  I would have liked to have had a complimentary piece to that to print in our newsletter.  My reasoning being that not everyone attends the meeting to hear the member’s story, but we do have a broad audience who receives our monthly newsletter and sees that content.  I know that our president-elect has some ideas to tweak that process, so hopefully, we can improve upon that. 


Financially, Topeka is a strong chapter.  We have been financially strong over the years, and continue to be.  In going through the chapter’s budget this year, our VP of finance worked to break down some of the itemizations a little further to make the budget more meaningful and easier for all the board to understand when reviewing.  We also had a bit of frustration with reconciliation between the bank and our StarChapter registration.  Hopefully, that will be worked out soon to the benefit of the new VP of finance as well as the rest of the chapter.  When we had our May 2015 board meeting, we were around $2,000 under budget, but then some of the bills came in from the Bronze Quill event that hadn’t been reconciled.  During the budget review at our June board meeting, numbers showed we were about $900 over budget.  By our speculations, we attribute this to fewer Bronze Quill submissions, as well as fewer sponsors than in the past.  Sponsorships are so vital to this event, which helps to offset costs.


Finally, I would like to once again thank those who served on the 2014-15 IABC/Topeka chapter board this year.  When each of us takes on the responsibility of serving on the board, we are never 100% sure what will come up, but I appreciate the time that each of you took to invest in your board duties, thoughtfully suggesting improvements for the future of the chapter, and your expertise as well as friendship.  Best of luck to the incoming board members for a successful year and continuing the succession of leadership that keeps this chapter alive.  I would also like to acknowledge how thankful IABC/Topeka is to have our meetings held at Rasmussen College in Topeka.  They have been a great partner for over a year-and-a-half now, and we truly appreciate the opportunity to host our meetings on their campus. 

I humbly thank each and every one of the members for allowing me to serve as president of the IABC/Topeka chapter this year.  It has been an honor.


Keri Renner
IABC/Topeka president