Toastmasters: Learning how not to Market

copy-of-susan_headshot4 I am an incurable Toastmaster. I joined Toastmasters International in the ’80s and have never looked back. With more than 250,000 members in 106 countries this 501(c)(3) volunteer organization presents  great self-teaching opportunities both for leaders and for speakers from absolute beginners to its volunteer Board of Directors. Only a small World Headquarters staff in California is paid.

About a year and a half ago, the  Board looked at changing organizational governance. Earlier this year, the Board published on its website a proposal which required approval by member clubs. Board members traveled out to local region and district conferences around the world with a mission of marketing to whatever members who showed up  at conferences. The organization’s website carried a summary of proposed changes and commentary by the Executive Director. In March, World headquarters sent out its annual proxy ballots to club Presidents and Education Vice Presidents.  An “Executive Director Communication” appeared on the corporate website. In May, WHQ sent  colorful, heavyweight six-panel brochures to District Governors for District conferences, and opened several social networking sites to members. The International President sent out “Dear Toastmaster” eMail to the membership. The June and  July issues of the organization’s monthly magazine carried ads for “Global Representation and Support.”

But participants in the members-only official LinkedIn Toastmasters International Members group began pushing back.  And talking to others not in LinkedIn. Things were not exactly going according to the Board’s plan. Why ? What had gone wrong?

It comes down to learning from the commercial sector who now is in charge when it comes to buying goods and services. And the fact that while people love to buy, we hate to be “sold” a bill of goods. The lengthy proposal with only two issues for consideration by clubs and many actions by Board members came across like a bill of goods that club members had not contributed to.

Has this not-for-profit organization been paying attention to shifting marketing strategies in the private sector? Not seriously. Has this not-for-profit organization been depending heavily on one-way marketing of a concept written over a two-year period by roughly thirty Board members? Seriously. As of May 3, there were 5,634 Toastmasters participating in the LinkedIn discussions. Where was the International President? Not in LinkedIn, where she could read what was being said about the proposal –or where the Board could have gotten input from those who were unable to attend conferences. Neither were the Second Vice President, or the Third Vice President. Twelve of the current 23 Board members were not taking advantage of opportunities to so much as read—let alone respond to–what members had to say about the proposal before it was presented to membership at large. Many felt left out of the process. And turned off.

The proposal will be voted up—or down—in August. In the meantime, all this outbound marketing reminds me of the technology sales organization that keeps bombarding me with eMails and marketing materials that I have been ignoring for the past year. Some day I am going to return one of those eMails with a PLEASE REMOVE.  As for Toastmasters….it’s also a great place to learn how not to market.

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One thought on “Toastmasters: Learning how not to Market

  1. Susan,

    You do make some excellent points but, I would have hoped that you noticed an evolutionary change between how the information was communicated last year to this year. We spent quite a bit of time working on a communication plan and we have been working to use many of the tools that are out there.

    As I’ve said before on the social networking sites, it is wonderful to see that many of our Toastmaster friends have embraced this technology; however there are still hundreds of thousands who have not. As one of those who has been out there working hard to communicate this information to many different levels of our organization, I’ve personally found the face-to-face interactions much more productive than those I’ve had on the social networking sites.

    Warmly,
    Tim Swearingen
    International Director 2008-2010

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