NARGS Chapter Chairs "Toolkit"

At the Steamboat Springs meeting last summer there was a discussion on ways that members can work together to strengthen their NARGS chapter as well as NARGS. Carol Eichler of the Adirondack Chapter has prepared a “Toolkit” of ideas that she has shared with us. See below.  Hopefully, the ideas will be useful to your NARGS chapter. For an interaction discussion between NARGS members, chairs, Ad Com, and Board members, go to: .   (You will need to log on.)

NARGS Toolkit

Working Together to Create Strong NARGS Chapters and a

Strong National Organization

By Carol Eichler,

Adirondack Chapter, NARGS


Attracting new members to Chapters (some suggestions are also applicable to joining National)

Because we are losing members each year (for a host of reasons), as Chapters we need to constantly take an active role in recruitment. Many Chapters may already have put these ideas into practice. There is no one “magic bullet” that is key to bringing in new members. In fact, many different approaches should be simultaneously applied. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make your meetings open to the public
  • Be welcoming to non-members and first-time attendees; engage them in conversation and introduce them around
  • Send out press releases about your Chapter meetings
  • Have at least one speaker program each year that would have appeal to a larger audience
  • Create and distribute an attractive brochure, especially to local nurseries
  • Have a dynamic website and/or other online presence (Facebook page for example) to increase your visibility and accessibility
  • Offer a rock gardening program to area garden clubs and of course take the opportunity to promote both the Chapter and National memberships
  • Likewise, give programs at local nurseries
  • Buy a NARGS membership for your local libraries so that the Rock Garden Quarterly gets broader exposure
  • Participate in plant fairs, county fairs, and state fairs
  • Offer incentives to join; e.g., a first-year, discounted membership or a special price to commit to a 2-year membership; hold a members’-only plant sale; offer a members’ only “plant-of-the-month” sale
  • Expose non-members to trough gardening; e.g., have a trough display at your public plant sale or offer a trough making workshop open to the public
    • Carol Eichler: We are part of a big garden fair every year selling plants from our gardens. Our plant booth is very popular because of the unusual plants we offer so lots of gardeners visit us. It has been a good event for recruiting new members because of the exposure. But what has contributed even more to successful recruitment the last 2 years has been the extra effort we have put into displaying a beautiful, in-bloom trough with someone on hand to answer questions. I believe it makes the concept of rock gardening more appealing and more approachable.
  • Encourage current members to invite their gardening friends to attend a program meeting and to share why they are members
  • Plan a stimulating year of programs
  • Always promote membership and its benefits at meetings
  • Share your enthusiasm of rock gardening and of being a member of your Chapter and NARGS

Retaining Members

The first year someone joins a Chapter is critical to retaining them.

  • Send a personal letter and welcome packet
  • Acknowledge their new membership in your newsletter and at meetings
  • Assign an established member to “adopt” each new member, extending a special invitation to them prior to programs; talk to them at meetings and introduce them to other members
  • Engage them in Chapter activities; e.g., ask them to bring refreshments, to be a greeter, to join a committee, etc.
  • Build a warm and welcoming environment for all attendees to programs
  • Offer an incentive for 1st year members to rejoin; e.g., a renewal gift plant or discounted 2nd year membership renewal

Program Ideas

One cannot underestimate the value of a strong program – speakers, workshops, garden tours, etc. It is critical for sustaining membership and forms the basis for becoming better, more knowledgeable gardeners.

  • Survey members for ideas and interests for topics; also, for any potential speakers
  • Communicate with other Chapter Program Chairs to get ideas and contacts
  • Attend National events to network with other Chapters for ideas
  • Coordinate with other Chapters to share expenses for speakers traveling from a distance
  • Create a program committee to brainstorm ideas, share contacts, and share responsibility
  • Read the newsletters of other Chapters to learn about their programs
  • Allow for an adequate program budget; be prepared to spend some money for a quality speaker who will have travel expenses on top of a speaker’s fee
  • It would be great if National could help – maybe coordinate a list of speakers with input and feedback from the Chapters. Besides coming up with names and topics, we often have no way of assessing whether someone is a good speaker. It would be great if there were a central place where we could turn to get some information.
  • Tap into local nursery owners as speakers
  • Tap into garden writers who are often interested in speaking because it allows them to promote their books
  • Encourage Chapter members to give talks; e.g., a members’ share program (a great way to get member participation); speak about a trip; speak about the national conference they attended and offer a stipend if they do. (Preparing a talk takes a lot of time.)
  • Ask your members (especially your board) to keep eyes and ears open to speaker possibilities and keep an on-going record of potential speakers
  • Invite a past speaker to return; they could update a previous program or they may have new material
  • Vary the program topics to reach a broader audience (some practical, some more academic, some on broader garden topics); one of our most widely attended programs was when we had a civil engineering professor who was an expert on Portland cement speak; there’s a whole science around formulating durable concrete

Engaging Chapter Members

As all-volunteer organizations, no one should feel they are taking on a lifetime assignment when they assume a leadership role. It is important to continue to recruit new people to take on the responsibilities of running a Chapter.

  • Consider setting term limits for your Board’s membership to require regular turnover
  • Form a committee of several people, not a committee-of-one, to engage others, share responsibility, and prepare others to take over the reins
  • Ask people to assume a new role. An appeal in the newsletter or at a meeting is rarely effective. Better to ask one-on-one. Often people are flattered to be asked.
  • Create job descriptions so it is clear what the responsibilities of a position are and what you are asking someone to do

Ways Chapters/Individuals can contribute to NARGS

  • Promote joining NARGS at meetings and in the newsletter; outline the benefits to joining
  • Print a regular “News from NARGS” article in your newsletter
  • Require your members to join? (like many gardening organizations do)
  • Donate a portion of your plant sale proceeds to NARGS or hold a special fundraising event to benefit NARGS
  • Raise your Chapter annual dues and donate that increase every year to NARGS
  • Make a Chapter donation and/or personal donation; run a challenge to have the Chapter match personal donations
  • Purchase gift memberships
  • Purchase NARGS annual memberships for your local libraries
  • Volunteer by joining a NARGS Committee
  • Participate in NARGS activities such as the Seed Exchange, annual meeting, and study week-ends
  • See also ideas above for “attracting new members”