6 Steps to Diverse, Engaging Programs
Are you tired of holding the same programs year after year? Are you wondering what programs can invigorate your branch and diversify your membership base? Holding programs that reflect the interests and highlight the voices of diverse people is a key component to a strong diversity and inclusion strategy. It will indicate to potential and current members that diversity is a priority for the branch and attract new members you wouldn’t otherwise reach.
What Does a Successful Program Look Like?
Make sure that you have your vision of success front and center as you consider and plan for future programming. A vision of success will help you determine not only the type of programs that you should hold but also what steps you need to take to plan for and execute the event. After the event, your vision will help you recognize and celebrate what you’ve accomplished and determine how you can improve next time.
Consider making the following attributes part of your vision for success:
- The program was related to the mission.
- The program was well attended.
- Attendees included people with identities currently underrepresented in your branch.
- New people came and left wanting to join AAUW.
- Event attendees were engaged and not bored.
- Attendees got to interact with each other.
- Attendees got to share their unique perspectives and listen to others.
- Attendees learned something new.
- Many branch members worked together to make the event happen.
- The branch successfully collaborated with another community group.
- Presenters represented diverse identities and viewpoints.
- The program was executed smoothly and without major hiccups.
Reach out to the AAUW Affliate Program Resource Committee (formerly the Branch Program Resources Committee or BPRC) members and AAUW staff for help or to share your successes. They are eager and available to offer assistance with your branch programs. You can reach the committee with questions or success stories at firstname.lastname@example.org. Success stories may be posted on AAUW’s website or Facebook page, and your program may even become a Program in a Box!
The 6 Steps
Visions for success vary from program to program, and different branches have different programming needs. Regardless of your specific vision, these six steps can help ensure that your program is successful.
2. Choose Spicy Programs
Make sure your program is the right mix to engage current and potential members. Ask yourself the following questions.
Is the program mission-based?
As AAUW members, we share a mission that empowers and defines us as an organization. Our programs should engage our members and communities in understanding and advancing equity for women and girls.
AAUW’s issues are also intersectional issues, from the larger wage gap for women of color to the underreporting of domestic violence within the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community. Holding mission-based programs can help you reach more diverse audiences, and the best way to start is by exploring AAUW’s many Programs in a Box. Brainstorm ideas for your next event on diversity with the AAUW calendar of important holidays and commemorative dates.
What are some examples of mission-based programs?
- Programs that focus on AAUW public policy issues: civil rights, affirmative action, hate crimes prevention, reproductive rights, economic security, work-life balance, pay equity, retirement security, health care, K–12 education, career and technical education, charter schools, higher education, No Child Left Behind, school vouchers, STEM education, Title IX, equity in school athletics, and ending sexual harassment, among others.
- Programs that teach through AAUW research reports: for example, Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing (2015), The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (2015), Women in Community Colleges: Access to Success (2013), Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School (2011)
- Programs that feature AAUW fellows and grantees
- Ready-to-use Programs in a Box
- Projects that have global connections with efforts such as Women Thrive Worldwide or AAUW partner CARE
- Membership campaigns to help grow a branch
Will the program grow your branch?
The number one reason people get involved in AAUW is passion for empowering women and girls, so holding mission-based events is key to growing your branch. As you plan your event, consider whether it will attract individuals from various demographic groups, such as ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and sexuality. You may want to prioritize programs that attract perspectives your branch is currently missing. For example, if you put on a program through AAUW’s Princeton Review collaboration, you may attract college students or young professionals, while a panel on work-life balance may attract working parents.
The longevity of AAUW depends on our ability to recruit and retain new members, and engaging programs are an excellent way to get new, diverse members in the door. It is critical that branches consider whether their programs will appeal to potential members.
Will the program engage current members?
Programs should also engage and invigorate your current members, including those who haven’t been actively engaged recently. The right kind of program may get them more involved and encourage them to consider leadership positions. Ask yourself if current members would want to attend and whether they could help plan or serve as volunteers during the program. Serving on a program planning committee or as a greeter at an event can be a stepping stone to leadership.
Programming assessment tool
The easy-to-use Spice Up Your Programming assessment tool will help you analyze whether your current or potential program is mission-based, will help grow your branch, and will engage current members. Ideally, your program should meet all three categories, but don’t give up if it doesn’t. Consider ways to adapt the event to involve more of your current members as volunteers or attract new audiences.
Download the Spice Up Your Programming assessment tool
3. Choose Your Program Format
Consider which format will work best for achieving your vision of success.
Panel or speaker: This format will give the floor to individuals who have real experience with the topic, either personally or professionally. This format is great for helping participants learn something new and highlighting perspectives and expertise from outside your branch.
If you are organizing a panel, take care to feature individuals with diverse identities and perspectives. If you typically host one speaker at a time, make sure that your speakers throughout the year represent diversity.
This may mean reaching beyond your current network for potential presenters. Get more tips for securing speakers for free, and read on for information about collaborating with other groups.
If your vision of success includes participants interacting with one another, you can add an interactive element such as an icebreaker or post-speaker discussion.
Where can I find speakers and presenters for a mission-based program?
- AAUW national staff
- Plaintiffs from AAUW-supported cases
- Local college and university faculty
- Local business leaders
- Local K–12 teachers and other educators
- AAUW fellows, grantees, and awardees
- Representatives from local museums and historical sites
- Chambers of commerce
- Hospitals or clinics
- Physicians for a National Health Program
- States attorney’s office
- Local Junior League groups
- The American Civil Liberties Union
- National Women’s History Project
- The American Program Bureau’s women’s issues speakers
- The Society for Women’s Health Research
- Volunteers or staff from women’s and girl’s organizations such as the League of Women Voters or the Girl Scouts
- Local newspapers or college and university newsletters
- Local, regional, and national speaker bureaus
Cocktails and Convos or coffee meetup: This format provides an informal setting through which prospective members can check out your branch and connect with current members. This may be their first impression of your branch, so you will want to make sure it’s a good one! Make sure current members know that part of their role is to welcome and get to know new attendees. A personal connection can help attendees feel like they belong and encourage them to return. Read the Cocktails and Convos Program in a Box for step-by-step instructions on how to hold this program.
Workshop: A workshop format lends itself to high engagement and high interaction and allows participants to learn something new. Workshops can serve as professional development opportunities and therefore can help you engage recent graduates, young professionals, and mid-career professionals. Consider hosting a Work Smart salary negotiation workshop, facilitating an AAUW member training, or inviting a local leader to facilitate a workshop on a topic of interest to your community.
4. Collaborate with Diverse Groups
Working with diverse groups can help you hold programs that elevate the voices of diverse communities on important AAUW issues. This, in turn, increases AAUW’s visibility in those communities. Other groups may be able to work with you to identify topics that are relevant in your community, arrange speakers, and market to members of the public you wouldn’t otherwise reach. Although coming together on a particular event may serve as a catalyst for beginning a new relationship, having successful relationships with other groups requires continued engagement over time. Read our Community Engagement resource for ideas about finding potential collaborators, making connections, and working effectively with other groups.
5. Plan Logistics for Your Program
As you plan your logistics, make sure you choose times and locations that are convenient for the people you want to attract and that reflect the needs of all attendees.
Dates, days, and times: Consider the schedule of those you want to attend. Evening and weekend programs are typically best for bringing in new people, because a program held on a weekday during the day will exclude individuals who work traditional business hours. Evening and weekend programs may present a challenge for individuals caring for young children, but some caretakers may be able to arrange for child care in advance, or you can advertise that attendees can bring children with them. Some branches have even had success providing a volunteer babysitter at the location of the program.
Also avoid scheduling programs during religious events or cultural holidays. If you normally hold your program the same date and time each month, consider rescheduling if it conflicts with a holiday.
Places: Choose spaces that are neutral, nonreligious, and free, such as community centers, libraries, and schools. Consider the impression that a space will leave on a possible attendee. A young person might not attend an event held at a nursing home, assuming that the event is not designed for young people; someone who is not a Christian might be uncomfortable meeting in a church.
Make sure you choose a location that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in terms of parking, entrances, restrooms, lighting, and other requirements. Many potential locations are already required to be ADA compliant, including schools, community centers, and hotels. Avoid holding meetings or events in a member’s home, because personal residences might not meet all access requirements. Read the Planning Accessible Events guide for more information on ensuring that your events are accessible.
Finally, consider whether your location is accessible by public transportation. Some interested individuals may not drive or have access to a personal vehicle. If your program location is not near public transportation, advertise and coordinate carpooling for those who may need it.
Food and refreshments: If you are going to have free refreshments at your program, make sure to offer options that meet various religious and personal preferences. If your program includes a meal, ask for dietary restrictions ahead of time. Also consider that a paid meal may be cost prohibitive for some members and can be particularly intimidating to new attendees. If you have a paid meal, consider a program where your branch board sponsors all new attendees.
Funding: Consider partnering with another AAUW branch or local community organization to share the costs. You can also solicit funding from local corporations or businesses. For example, if you are doing a STEM program, approach a pharmaceutical or engineering company; if you are doing a program on being financially fit, approach a bank or financial planning company. Some of AAUW’s Programs in a Box are also fundraisers!
6. Spread the Word
Once you have the details of your program nailed down, get the word out in your community! To attract new attendees, you must be proactive in advertising your programs in spaces community members already visit. Here are a few ways to get the word out.
Posters and flyers: Put up your program poster in community centers, libraries, religious centers, and other spaces with public boards, such as coffee shops. In some of these spaces you may also be able to leave flyers so that interested people can take a copy with them. Read more on finding good imagery.
Newspaper: Local newspapers often list upcoming community events, and community members are used to looking there for information about what is happening in the community. Your paper is a great place to advertise your event.
E-mail: E-mail your current members and other people you know in the community who you think may be interested in attending. Encourage everyone you contact to pass the message on to other people or groups who might be interested.
Tabling: Set up a table at a farmers’ market, on your local campus, or at other community events. Share information about your event and ask people to sign up on a sheet if they are interested in attending. That way you can follow up with them, which makes them more likely to attend. Read more on tabling.
Work with other community groups: Ask your collaborators to help you spread the word. They may have some ideas about reaching out to audiences you do not normally attract. Also ask collaborators to share the information with their contacts, and provide flyers and other helpful advertising materials.
Social media and website: Post about your upcoming programs on your website and on Facebook and other social media. While nonmembers are not likely to come across these pages on their own, they may check your website or social media accounts for more information if they have picked up a flyer or received an e-mail. Read more on social media.
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