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Chapter Leader Paul Stahlschmidt on Boosting Membership

Image: Events can be effective for recruiting new members. 

The Northwest North Carolina Mountain Bike Alliance (NWNC-MTBA) is not one of IMBA’s larger chapters. Based in a mountainous and largely rural part of the state, the group enjoys great trails, but growing the chapter’s membership base is a challenge. “I consider us to be a group of action,” says president Paul Stahlschmidt. “It’s difficult, honestly, to focus on building our membership when there are trail projects to organize and land manager relations to nurture. But adding new members, and keeping the existing ones onboard, is super important,” says Stahlschmidt.

Leaders of IMBA chapters large and small are likely nodding in agreement. Membership is a challenge that never goes away—the moment a new member joins that membership begins to expire. How can chapters keep the members they have and gain new ones? Stahlschmidt, who participated in IMBA’s Chapter Leader Training session on marketing and social media last year, offered these observations.

In terms of prioritizing membership efforts, I try to keep the Pareto principle in mind. It’s that 80/20 formula—in chapter terms, that means 20 percent of the members are going to do 80 percent of the work. That’s not a judgement, it’s just how things go! If we want to find new leaders, trail bosses and other movers and shakers, we need to add a significant amount of new blood every year.

Members provide clout, especially with land managers. It’s kind of the point to organizing in the first place—I’ve been in meetings where the land manager clearly thinks we are a much bigger and better organized group than we really are, which is the beauty of being part of a bigger association with thousands of supporters across the region and the nation. 

Events can be very effective for recruiting members. We have a few outdoor festivals, like the Catawba RiverFest, where it’s been worthwhile to have a booth. We hand out copies of IMBA publications, keep a clipboard at the ready and try to have some fun while greeting people in a friendly manner.

Some people are joiners by nature, others need an incentive to get involved. This is where IMBA’s membership benefits can be very helpful. From the prize packages during the membership drives to the member benefits info, it’s great to have tangible rewards to talk about with a prospective new member. 

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