Meeting Your Mission

Beyond Pumpkin Spice: Lessons to Pump(kin) Up Participation

You probably didn’t head out to the supermarket to purchase instant hot cereal, but there it was summoning you: Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal. #LimitedEdition. And you really didn’t need any new air freshener, but that “Spooky Berry” scent and pumpkin infused spray could certainly transform your home into an absolute Halloween haven. Ooooh! Look farther down the shelves and you catch a glimpse of a beautiful fall themed box of facial tissues. You could blow your nose for the next five years with the stash you already have at home, but the thought of reaching for that particular festive package, if the autumn chill gives anyone a cold, was irresistible. That is, irresistible once you saw it below the air freshener, limited edition Halloween cookies, and the oatmeal. And you know you wouldn’t have bothered to stroll down the paper goods aisle, so you wouldn’t have seen it otherwise were it not for that intentional grouping of products.

They’re all lined up beautifully this season, shelves upon shelves of seasonal merchandise for sale, each item beckoning to you, in turn, the moment you’ve placed another in your shopping cart.

The more time you spend in the grocery stores, the more noticeable the seasonally designed supermarket end-caps become. You might find yourself contemplating the impact of these festive supplies as you are engaged by scents, flavors, slick merchandising and calculated sales techniques. For professionals working to advance initiatives and increase engagement in their work, here’s what new lessons you have to learn from the pumpkin spice season:

1.    Think horizontally.  Build affinity and connection. Moving a customer from an oatmeal purchase to facial tissues and then to an air freshener purchase is more likely to happen when the items are grouped by a common thread that speaks to the customer. Participants attending one of your organizational events may be your best candidate for the next event and the one after that, thanks to a shared interest in program subject, speaker or offering. Take note of participants’ interests and make the most of opportunities to send follow-up messages with robust details of events with related subjects and fields of interest. Make sure you have retained participant data and contact information before they leave your program or event. They’ll be happy to share their contact information once they know you’re offering more experiences they may want!

2.    Think vertically. Engaging Upward. Pumpkin Spice flavored oatmeal can reawaken someone’s appetite for hot cereal, and she may go down that breakfast aisle of her own volition next time she’s grocery shopping. In the same manner, it could be that your newest students had never before participated in any adult education programs but were specifically curious about the buzz surrounding a visiting professor, or celebrity guest speaker. Now that they’ve been back in a classroom, they may be open to an array of classes and could eventually become your next adult-ed committee members, board members, funders, or future speakers! Build your organization by engaging upward.

3.    Think holistically. The tempting array of festive, seasonal products addressed numerous different needs and wants – some edible, some practical, some pleasing to the eye or the nose. Similarly, your participants and members are multifaceted individuals with emotional, practical, intellectual, and spiritual sides to consider. Initiate personal connection; engage in one-to-one conversations, at the event, or when the opportunity presents itself. Finding out what your target membership is looking for may help you create programming that will attract others and grow your organization. Don’t be shy; most people will be flattered by an invitation to talk about what’s working, or not working, and will appreciate the time you took to give them your focused attention.

Every program, meeting, or event you plan will appeal to participants for different reasons. After publicizing each particular activity and engaging as many people as possible through traditional outreach goals, remember to think horizontally, vertically, and holistically to keep your members’ attention, engage them further, and grow your organization.

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