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By: Robert Janis

Attracting Members and Building a Database

The most important element of an ATV club is its members. Obviously, a club cannot succeed if it doesn’t have a decent amount of members who stay committed to the task--fighting for the club’s agenda and having some fun with friends.

It can be tougher for some ATV clubs to garner a membership, especially if it is located in a sparsely populated region of the country. Then there are clubs that can attract the members, but fail to keep them involved.

Russ Ehnes is executive director of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC). He is also a past president of the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association (MTVRA) and current president of the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association (GFTBRA). He knows how important it is for an OHV club to attract members, keep them involved, and build a database which provides a club with an army of advocates when pushing an agenda or protecting a trail becomes a major issue.

Attracting New Members

One idea that he has found to be quite successful in attracting new members is something called “Complimentary Membership.” The program is based on a small card that when folded in half is the size of a business card. Members of Ehnes’ clubs carry bunches of these cards with them just about everywhere they go. One side of the card contains an application; the other side of the card identifies the holder as a temporary member of the club. When members meet people riding a trail, visiting a motorcycle or ATV shop, using an OHV park or whatever, they pull out their “Complimentary Membership” card. The potential member fills out the application providing his or her name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. The application is then torn away from the part of the card that identifies a person as a “complimentary member” and passed on to the club. The person who has just signed up gets the ID part of the card.

“They become a temporary member which means that they get the club’s newsletter,” explained Ehnes. “They are a temporary member for one year, and we send them a letter thanking them for becoming a temporary member and alerting them that if they want to become a full member, they can just send in a check for the yearly dues. Then when the temporary membership runs out after a year, we send them a renewal letter or notice and ask them to become a full member. Meanwhile, we get their name that we add to our database so we can call them up for support when we have land use issues. It is extremely valuable for fund raising, soliciting comments for land use planning, and more. Also, it gives the club the opportunity to send the person a newsletter to show them the value of belonging to the club.” The “complimentary membership” is free.

Ehnes said that the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association aggressively hands out the cards. The club’s membership chairman goes to all kinds of OHV-related events including motocross racing, snowmobile grass drags and races, and goes from camp-to-camp-to-camp in riding areas passing out these cards and getting people to fill out the application. Moreover, the club sets up a booth at some events. “When you are working a booth at an event, you really don’t have time to engage a visitor with constructive conversation about the club and why they should join. However, you can give them one of these “complimentary membership” cards which they can fill out at their leisure and send back to the club. Then the newsletter alerts them to the advantage of being a member.” Ehnes said that club members who man a booth can follow up with the potential new member some days after the event.

According to Ehnes, the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association actually signed up 1,000 “complimentary members.” “Not all of the thousand signed up to be full members, but close to 400 of them did. We almost tripled our paid membership using this campaign,” said Ehnes.

“When it came time for travel planning by the Forest Service, we had a database of 1,000 supporters; and they were all concerned people directly affected by any decision the Forest Service made,” continued Ehnes. “If you rely on just your membership list, then you’re carrying a small percentage of actual riders you can tap for support.”

Who knows, you may be able to attract a Forest Service engineer to become a member of your club using this tactic. “We get involved in trail projects that employees of the Forest Service work on,” said Ehnes. “It turns out that one of our best members is an engineer with the Forest Service. “He likes to ride trail motorcycles. We got to know him working at trail projects, and he got to know what we were about. He joined, and now we work closely together concerning trail relocation and trail design and layout. When he does a motorcycle trail, he asks members of the club to go along with him to see what he has in mind to make sure it is good for the riders.”

Retaining Membership

Ehnes also noted that it can be difficult for a club to retain its members. He said that the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association has tried some things that seem to work.

Ehnes explained that his club used to hold monthly meetings whether or not it had anything to discuss. “When you do monthly meetings, people are enthused for a while. However, when you don’t have anything to discuss, then people find the meetings a waste of time; and they don’t attend. Just the same few guys would show up. So we call meetings only when there is a reason to call a meeting. It might be a month between meetings, two or three months between meetings. It depends on the time of the year, and what we are working on. People know that if a meeting is called, then there is a good reason for it, and they will attend.”

Ehnes added that a club needs to have a good balance between being active politically and just plain having fun. The Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association has volunteer trail projects, but it also holds fun events like pot lucks and socials. “It helps to keep people involved,” said Ehnes. “They feel like they are a part of the club.”

He said that the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association holds about two to three trail projects a year and two or so social events a year. The pot luck is an example of a social event that occurs every spring. It also holds a state ride for members every year.

He has also found that simply asking a person to help will get a positive response. “In a meeting you ask in general for someone to provide a truck to carry some equipment, and you may not get a volunteer. However, if you ask a particular person to do it, then they appreciate being asked and will do the task,” said Ehnes. “People like to be asked.”

It is apparent from what Russ Ehnes says that you have to work to grow your membership, and you have to be innovative in keeping them involved.

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