Reflections on the Membership Drive

After POCA's first Membership Drive back in May, I realized something important: when it came to signing up new patient/community members for POCA, WCA was remarkably similar to another common citizen of the Pacific Northwest — a slug. Especially if you factored in our size relative to other clinics, and the number of people on our email list, WCA was like the giant slug of POCA Membership drives. Sure, we signed up a patient here and there, but we weren't making what you could call a real effort.

This time around, though, things were different. The three WCA clinics signed up almost 50 new POCA patient/community members for the October Membership drive! But you know what else? October was a record busy month for WCA — and that never  happens. Especially around Halloween, our fall numbers are reliably disappointing — but not this year. In fact, the last weekend in October was our busiest week except for the week of May Day (when we treated 380+ people for free, so that doesn't really count). So here are some thoughts from a former slug about why participating in the POCA Membership Drive is a great idea for POCA clinics.

1) It's beautiful to feel like you're part of something bigger than yourself — and it's good for everybody. The state of conventional healthcare is extremely depressing. Many patients come to our clinics as an oasis, a sanctuary, a place to feel human again even in the midst of pain and illness and interactions with dehumanizing systems. But our clinics, individually, are small. Individually, we can only treat so many people. Many patients get that our clinics are small businesses with all the usual vulnerabilities, and they just cross their fingers and hope we stay open. I've had patients tell me that they're relieved that we're still here after 11 years, that we didn't give up. In this tough environment, it's like a tonic to see us trying to build up community acupuncture, to connect existing clinics and to make more of them.  All of us who work in community clinics are continually inspired by our patients' resilience, heartfulness and generosity. POCA Membership Drives are a way of reciprocating, of saying, we're in it for the long haul and we're in it together. Even better than having little sanctuaries? Reaching out beyond them.

2) It's all about the mojo. How does a clinic build momentum? That's what everybody wants to know. New acupunks ask, what's the right square footage, what's the right kind of signage, what kind of chairs should I get? But the really important thing to ask is, what's the right spirit?  In the beginning I was as nervous as anybody else about asking patients to do anything other than show up, get poked, and pay what they can. It's scary: we all know how many acupuncturists fail in business, and we're just grateful when the phone rings, we don't want to push our luck. But fear is a contraction, and the only spirit that really works for community acupuncture clinics is one of expansion. What really makes a clinic grow is not fear that we won't be able to keep the lights on, but a burning desire to treat more people. POCA Membership Drives are an embodiment of that desire: make the co-op stronger, give out more micro loans, help open more clinics and TREAT MORE PEOPLE! When you're putting energy into a POCA Membership Drive, you're being expansive. That's why I think WCA was so busy this past October — we were really trying to be expansive.

3) You build tighter bonds with people who get what you're doing and why you're doing it. Skip and I have written about this in various places in the forums before: there's this confounding thing that happens when your clinic is having a growth spurt, whether it's the growth immediately after you open or when you're making a leap to higher numbers of visits. You seem to (briefly) attract some of the wrong people, people who want things that you don't have to give, people who want you to be really different than you are. People get mad at you for weird reasons, like not billing insurance or having the wrong kind of fleece blankets or, my personal favorite, not being professional enough. They get mad at front deskers and acupunks and even the clinic plants, if they're in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the past we've written that there's not much you can do about this phenomenon except sit tight and wait it out until your clinic goes back to attracting the usual 99% of people who are happy to be there and easy to work with. But the fact is, now that we have POCA, there IS something you can do to make it easier to weather these inevitable hiccups.

By asking people to join POCA as patient/community members, you're giving them a way to understand what your business is really about, and to make a commitment to that. POCA clinics couldn't survive if we attracted customers who only cared about what's in it for themselves. We need people to transcend their self-interest in various ways: to be gracious when somebody's snoring, to be understanding when somebody's walker is clattering over the floor, to be patient when their acupunk needs to give somebody else a little extra time because they can't get comfortable in their chair that day. We couldn't stay open if all of our patients got cranky with us for not providing perfect, spa-like service in an exquisitely controlled environment. We're trying to do something very different, something much more inclusive, and we need a patient base of people who get that. When you ask your patient members to join POCA, you're asking them to transcend their self-interest. Even if they don't say yes to the co-op, it's good for your clinic that you asked.

4) Capitalists pay marketing consultants gazillions of dollars to create sophisticated “advocacy campaigns” for them — but POCA clinics get to participate for free. And also for better reasons. Check out this post from a marketing expert that none of us could ever afford.

“Creating an advocacy program is one of the most impactful things a brand can do to start building meaningful relationships with their most dedicated fans, engage their most loyal customers, and empower organic word of mouth both online and offline.

    In working with clients from various industries and various sizes, the number one reason for the long-term success of the program we’ve identified was defining the clear objective from the outset. Sounds simple, right? But a lot of marketers confuse exposure with advocacy.

    Short-term Buzz: If your objective is to get a whole lot of people talking about your product launch or latest initiative, then look to ‘celebrity’ endorsements or influencer coverage that would engineer online conversations to get your message across. This will work to get the word out quickly, but will also die back as quickly once your initial push is over. There is a plethora of services that will allow you to ‘rent’ those relationships for a short period of time. These short-term endorsement program have a place in the marketing toolbox as long as marketers are clear exactly what they are getting and ROI these programs are driving.

    Long term Love: Creating a sustainable network of advocates – customers who support your brand and will talk about it to their friends – will take more effort to build, but will guarantee long-term commitment from your fans. These program can empower super-fans or even your employees or partners to talk on your brands’ behalf as ambassadors. They are the ones who will go that extra mile to get the word out about the great work your company is doing.”

Doesn't this seem like an even BETTER idea if word of mouth marketing is the only kind of marketing that you — like WCA — can afford?

How exactly did WCA shift from being sluglike to rocking the Membership Drive? It required an initial investment of planning and time, but it was really pretty easy. Two of our punks, John Vella and Lindsey Dority, have been working on integrating POCA volunteers into WCA's operations. As part of that, Lindsey made banners for each of the three clinics that said, “Join POCA!” She made sure that fliers were available at the front desk of all the clinics. John and Lindsey had meetings with WCA's fabulous reception team, and that was where our collective efforts really took off. When I was at work, I heard receptionists explaining POCA to every single new patient, and encouraging returning patients to join. Last Sunday I dropped in at our Lents clinic to see that it was packed with snoozing people, packed like I'd never seen it — and in the lobby, a POCA volunteer was sitting in front of the POCA map with a laptop and a sign that said, “Do you have a birthday this month?” — ready to sign up new members. I don't think the full chairs in the back and the volunteer in the front represented a coincidence. I think that was the energy of the Membership Drive in action.

So thank you to the hardworking team of volunteers, receptionists and punks who made this Membership Drive a success not just at WCA but all across POCA!

Author: lisafer

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  1. What a great post! It was obvious while we were there, that the receptors were talking up POCA!

    And lest you all think that only the Big Damn Clinics can be effective in this way, our clinic signed up over 20 members, as did ToCA in Toronto! And that bond with the patients Lisa mentioned, oh yeah!

    For an update on what’s happened since the membership drive ended (it’s amazing!), click here:

  2. Thanks for this post Lisa. It is really exciting to be a part of something that is growing into such a cool experience for so many people. It is great to be able to share community acupuncture with others and it is even better when a patient expresses their excitement around being able to share community acupuncture with their family & friends across the country! POCA truly feels like a positive and magical snowball effect that is just getting bigger!

  3. Lisa, As a receptionist when word of the membership drive first surfaced I was scared to pieces as I have not ever seen myself as a sales person so to speak. It took me a little while to get the hang of explaining to patients and friends of patients what exactly POCA is.

    After a few futile attempts I started getting more relaxed and determined to get the word out. I would start by giving them a quick and brief overview not only of how POCA got started, but how WCA got start and how POCA came about. I would then explain the benefits they would receive as a member.

    After that short quick explanation people were ready to sign up and obviously many did in fact do so.

    The above post reflects many of the things I was having to deal with, and with perseverance and determination I over came my fears and the day I signed up a patient right on the spot I was elated. I had done my part to insure the continued success of POCA and community acupuncture.

    Thank you for a wonderful post and for your inspiration in something you believe in.

  4. I second David on not being a salesperson at heart! Talking to people makes me very nervous much of the time, so I don’t really see myself as someone whose hand shoots up if you ask for volunteers for this type of thing. But the more I have talked to patients about POCA over the last year, the more comfortable I have gotten doing it.

    Patients who get acupuncture with us at WCA generally “get it” when they hear what POCA is. It makes me realize that I’m not burdening people by bugging them about an organization they may never have heard of, but instead I am giving them a chance to join something bigger, and giving POCA a strong patient-member base. It’s not that I’m trying to convince people to join POCA or selling them on a membership, but more like I’m letting them in on a diverse and dedicated community.

    The more I talk to people about it, the more positive feedback and lit up faces I encounter. Some people join that day; others think about it and may join another day; others might not officially join but get inspired just knowing about POCA. I think we all need to hear more stories like POCA, so I try to do my part to spread the word so our network can grow larger and stronger, while staying every bit as dedicated.

    Annie (WCA front desk)

  5. I’d go so far as to suggest that if you’re looking for a little more mojo to coalesce around your clinic sign up to do what MM did for this most recent and successful Fall Membership Drive.

    What? You’ve never led a membership drive before- pshaw!
    There are tools in the forum and a bunch of folks- like the Membership Circle: MM, John, Whitney, Mike G, me! who can help you get the Spring Membership Drive going….

    How about next Fall’s Drive? It would be oh so awesome to know that we’ve got folks lined up to continue to do this very necessary, and FUN work.

    Put your name down here and we’ll help you get rolling when the time comes. Time commitment for each drive is about 2 months- one to get ready and the other to see it through.

  6. How lucky I was to have my first month working as a punk coincide with the POCA Fall Membership drive!! So energizing to my post-graduate school-wearied heart. I saw so many great things happen! SO MANY POCA PATIENTS!!!!!

    I loved this whole post. But, my favorite part:

    “But fear is a contraction, and the only spirit that really works for community acupuncture clinics is one of expansion. What really makes a clinic grow is not fear that we won’t be able to keep the lights on, but a burning desire to treat more people. POCA Membership Drives are an embodiment of that desire: make the co-op stronger, give out more micro loans, help open more clinics and TREAT MORE PEOPLE! When you’re putting energy into a POCA Membership Drive, you’re being expansive. That’s why I think WCA was so busy this past October — we were really trying to be expansive.”

    The excitement this month was so thick. Such good energy of sharing to go around.