Setting Up and Running a Chapter
Start a Chapter
We have often been asked to share how we started and made the Buenaventura Section’s EMBS Chapter so successful. We’ve also been asked what it would take for someone else to start a chapter like ours in another area, or to use the lessons we’ve learned to help with other chapters in the Buenaventura Section.
It takes nearly nothing. Starting a Chapter is easy and fun! Making it grow is even more fun! We encourage anyone to start one now and enjoy the journey.
Setting Up The Chapter
There are two administrative formalities that need to be in place to form a chapter. They are easy to do.
- The Petition
Twelve members of a Society in the same IEEE section need to sign the petition (click here for the form). It then needs to be submitted to:
IEEE Member and Geographic Activities Geographic Unit Operations
445 Hoes Lane
Piscataway, NJ 08854-4141
Phone: +1 732 562 5511
When we started, we did not have 12 EMBS members in our section, and we did not have enough membership to submit a petition. So we organized monthly speaker events for 9 months to attract enough interest in EMBS in our section. IEEE members started joining the EMB society. So, if you do not have enough members, don’t use this as an excuse to give up. “Just build it, and they will come.”
- Forming a team of officers
You need four volunteers as officer candidates (Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer).
- Each candidate needs to be an IEEE Member and be a member of the society starting the chapter.
- Their membership needs to be in the Section where the chapter is being created.
Instructions on how to be an IEEE officers and run a chapter are in the IEEE Chapter Chairs’ Reference Guide.
Choosing Meeting Topics
The field of Bioengineering and Biomedical is so wide and so interesting that it is not difficult to find general themes that will appeal to broad audience. We have found inspiration in the local newspapers, by listening to our audience’s interests, and in the EMBS magazine Engineering in Biology and Medicine.
There are some efficient avenues to find speakers
- EMBS has a list of Distinguished Speakers who can be invited to come to your speaker events. Other technical societies will have similar lists.
- Local universities and colleges. The information is often on the schools’ website. By searching for the professors and doctors working in the field in each school, names and areas of specialities will surface.
- Local conferences and events. Save the speaker lists and topics of conferences you attend.
- Local companies. Also easily found on the internet by searching corporate listings or searching the internet on key words and a geographical location.
- Inviting your audience to suggest speaker names.
Finding Funding to support your Chapter
EMBS has established a Chapter Activity Funding Program with the primary objective being the support of local activities. Be sure submit a request for funds. You can find the EBMS guidelines for funding at the following link. Other societies have similar programs.
Sponsorship from local companies is recommended and sometimes needed to trigger the EMBS matching fund program. Officers of the Chapter and audience members are usually the most logical champions to seek fundings from corporations.
Our EMBS chapter provides an annual Chapter Summary that is very useful in persuading potential funding sources that we’re doing useful things, and for obtaining recognition, for instance, from the IEEE and EMBS.
Choosing the time and place for the talks
There are many avenues to host an event.
- Local universities and colleges offer their classrooms after hours for free. We really appreciate our wonderful relationship with California Lutheran University!
- Local restaurant. Audience members need to pay for their meals usually.
- Local library or civic center often offer free access to their meeting rooms.
- We also use Thousand Oaks’ Los Robles Golf Course clubhouse for Chapter and Section activities. The City of Thousand Oaks underwrites the cost of the facility (including food service) for non-profit organizations, including the IEEE.
It’s very important to settle on a place and date (i.e. last Wednesday of the month), and stick to it. People get in the habit of “just showing up,” and if there is no one there, the habit gets broken and your meeting attendance drops off fast.
Attracting People To The Talks
Building an audience is a slow process, but you can get a great headstart from IEEE and the technical society. The technical society will give the list of society members in the section to the Chair of the Chapter (the Section chair can help with this, using SAMIEEE). This can become the beginning of an electronic distribution list that is used to announce the events. Continue to build the list as you and your fellow officers encounter interesting people, or people who are interested in the field. As new guests come to talks, add their names to the list as well.
We use some simple processes and technology to generate publicity material for our chapter. Here are a few of the tools we use:
Meeting Sign-Up Sheets
Our sign-up sheets contain columns for:
- e-mail address,
- first-time attendee,
- IEEE membership status,
- how the attendee heard of the meeting, and
- distance travelled from work and from home.
We pass blank copies out from the front row and from the back row at our meetings, and religiously collect them when the meeting is over. We use the data we collect for meeting reports, mailing list management, and simple publicity analysis.
Chapter Web Site
The EMBS chapter maintains an up-to-date chapter web site with lots of useful information about our chapter. Take a look around to see all of the material we have.
The web site is maintained using FogCreek’s CityDesk, a relatively simple web content management tool that runs on a single Windows-based machine, and publishes static content to our web host. We’ve created templates and style sheets that automatically populate the “Future Events”, “Next Event”, and “Past Events” pages. It also populates an RSS feed , which will be picked up by news aggregators and Google Search. The templates and style sheets also automatically generate printable meeting handbills, which further reduces the work involved in preparing publicity for meetings. The handbill template also includes directions, contact information, etc. which does not vary from month to month. The “Starter Edition” of CityDesk is available for free. Please contact a chapter officer if you’d like a copy of the web site setup. It’s just small enough to be managed by the Starter Edition.
The Section has recently switched to WordPress for its web publishing. Chapters that want a light-weight web presence are welcome to contact the Section webmaster to request a page to be allocated for a technical chapter. The Section’s web crew will be happy to make limited updates to the page for the Chapter.
The WordPress capability is available on a larger scale for chapters that would like a more elaborate web presence. Again, please contact the Section webmaster for further information.
Mailing List Management
We obtained a listserv account from IEEE, and use it to distribute announcements. The keys to effective use of the listserv are to:
- Add e-mail addresses every month from the meeting sign-up sheets for first-time attendees
- Provide a valid return e-mail address
- Respond quickly (<24 hours) to requests from recipients to be removed from the list with a polite, affirmative e-mail, and then do so!
- Send html or text-only e-mails so as not to overwhelm the recipients’ mailboxes.
- Include a URL to the website
The listserv automatically removes “bounced” recipients, so the overall workload is simplified. Please ask your Section officers for information on how to request and operate an IEEE listserv account – they’d be glad to help!
Anecdote: Because we had nearly no EMBS members in our section, we had to “homegrow” our distribution list. We started with listing all the names of colleagues and friends that the 4 officers could think of. The Section advertised the chapter talks in their Section newsletter, and the Council organization advertised the talks in their own newsletter. As we gained new visitors at each talk, we added their names to the list. Today we have 800+ names in our list.
Frequency of Mailings
We’ve found that sending reminders of our speaker events work best when we do so three times: once two weeks before the event, once a week before the event, and once the day of the event. This is just enough to keep it “top of mind” but not so frequent to be irritating.
We use the web site as a source for our mailings. Rather than attach potentially large PDF or graphic files, the HTML-formatted mail message contains links to photos, location maps, etc. that reside on the web site. To do this, we:
- Open the hand-out version of the meeting announcement on the web site (click through the title of the talk to get to the hand-out).
- “Select-All”, and copy to the clipboard
- Start a new HTML-formatted mail message in your e-mail application of choice. If you choose to, add some welcoming remarks, or other narrative text to introduce the event.
- Paste the clipboard contents into the e-mail message. This will automatically format the text, and insert the links to the graphical elements located on the web site.
- Send the e-mail to the listserv address you obtained by following the instructions above.
Printed Publicity Materials
Chapter officers print handbills from our website, and post them at their workplaces. In addition, we provide every meeting attendee with
- a copy of the handbill , printed with the announcements for the next two meetings, half-size, on the back.
- a year-in-advance overview of our speaker program, with chapter news, mission statement, dinner invitation, and room for written notes printed on the back (this document is provided to our Section publicity officer to be included in monthly Section e-mails and annual printed bulletin).
- a general overview of IEEE and EMBS , including pointers to scholarships, student contests, the IEEE and EMBS web sites. We provide copies of this at student career fairs, to our contacts in K-12 school districts in the area, and to the student chapters at local universities.
Please feel free to make use of the samples provided here.
Focus On Your Audience
We have made our mission to listen to our audience and line up topics that are close to their top interests. To do this, we use surveys periodically to keep the pulse on their interest.
Here is our survey form for reference.
The golden rule that we use to plan a successful event is: “The topic and the caliber of the speaker brings the audience.”
We have also catered to our audience needs. Since our audience drives a long distance, we offer nourishment on site prior to the event. Getting dinners set up was not very easy but was worthwhile for the comfort of our guests.
We invite our audience members to bring friends, spouses, adult children, and colleagues to make it a more fun outing.
Some of our audience members experienced lay-offs and we offered help in networking and finding job opportunities.
Even though we have 60+ attendees at each session, the officers make a point to keep a one-on-one dialog with the attendees and keep tabs on what it happening in their professional life. We facilitate introduction to other persons to line up needs and interests.
The Speakers Will Come
Speakers have rarely declined our invitations, despite the long drive that most of them have. The IEEE organization has a very good reputation, our audience is a delight to interact with, and our speakers are very gracious and interested in sharing their work.
The biggest challenge that we have faced has been with coordinating our meetings with the speakers’ schedules. We now are able to book speakers 12 months in advance.
Cherish the Contributions of the Officers
We have currently 9+ officers and more have shown interest in becoming officer of the chapter. With the success of our events comes the interest of audience members to become part of the organizing team. We welcome everyone.
Our philosophy is to work from a vision that we define at the beginning of each year. The officers scope their responsibilities around their interests which makes being an officer fun and interesting. We have a golden rule which is that each minute provided by the officers is a nugget of gold that is cherished immensely and used fully. Our officers participate to the degree that their lives permit and we support each other in our functions when one member needs some time off. We are a “guilt free” and “pressure free” organization. We keep our officers meeting short (45 min) and we meet only if needed.