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How to Get and Keep Members Involved in Your Group/Guild
by Angela Davis and Mary Grace Ketner

Editor’s Introduction: A recent thread on our Storytell Discussion List concerned how to get people to become involved - to volunteer for positions and attend meetings. For every group and organization (storytelling and other) to which I belong has this same concern. Two respondents to the thread had such great ideas, I asked if I could share those ideas on this site. Both are active storytellers, and as you will discover, incredibly creative and dedicated to storytelling and their storytelling groups.

Storyteller Angela Davis from New Orleans suggests the following fun activities:

  1. Host a winter or summer solstice storytelling get together. Every member must bring a dish to eat and a story that goes along with the dish. Or my favorite - host a meeting at someone's home and everyone brings a dish.
  2. Sponsor a storytelling pioneer day. Invite storytellers who have been instrumental in your community in storytelling's resurgence. Honor the pioneers with certificates. Take pictures. Our group put together a list of folks who'd been telling for 20 years or more or sponsored an early storytelling festival. Allow tellers in the guild to give the awards at a banquet or in combination with a local storytelling festival.
  3. Produce a storytelling guild tape. Each member should contribute $100 to the cost of the tape or CD. Provide each teller with at least 10 copies of the CD/tape to sell once the project is complete to recoup the $100 outlay. Guild should get the profits for the sale of the CD/tapes - after an agreed upon number has been given to the guild’s members.
  4. Write a book with each teller contributing one story. Write (Angela) for more details.
  5. Offer rewards for members who: (a) Bring in the most non-members to a meeting. (b) Attend three meetings without being absent one. Get community businesses to donate the rewards. Borders Bookstore gave our group $10 gift certificates. A local restaurant offered a two for one meal.
  6. Invite storytellers visiting the city to speak at your group. This one's tricky, but can be done. You have to scour the newspaper and talk to arts groups to find out who's coming to town. Sometimes you can offer an honorarium to the visiting storyteller.
  7. Invite a librarian to speak. She will have lots to say and may offer a suggestion to you for her topic.
  8. Invite a news reporter to a meeting. Suggest s/he speak on a colorful story s/he has covered in the news.
  9. Advertise your meetings and special invitees.
  10. Have a phone tree. Each person is responsible for calling a number of people in the guild to remind them about the meeting.
  11. Have a jar during meetings. Members will dispose an agreed upon amount into the jar each meeting. At the end of a designated time period, either award the winnings to someone for special work done or treat yourselves to a cup of coffee.
  12. People are busy. So host your meeting where food is easily accessible.
  13. Have a mystery person. Tell the group there will be a mystery person at the meeting. Hold a contest to see if anyone can guess who it will be.

Hope these ideas help and open up a channel for your own creative ideas to flow.

Note: You may e-mail Angela Davis, The Yarnspinner, at or visit

Storyteller Mary Grace Ketner from San Antonio shares the following ideas:

Our group, San Antonio Storytellers Association is 12 years old, and I think that the part I may have contributed to its success is to always have the (secret) goal of training and recruiting not just members, but leadership - that is, the leadership among the membership. Never having wanted to be "president," I was nonetheless "president by default" for many of the early growing years, which meant that I did a lot of the tedious, everyday work of keeping a group going PLUS had to be the public face of it. I still do a lot of both, but I'm not doing it alone anymore. (The "training," of course, is on-the-job training.)

Another thing I/we have consciously done is to find venues for beginning tellers - especially those volunteer requests that seasoned tellers get tired of dealing with. When someone calls and asks for a storyteller for a certain event, we say "How about three storytellers?" then ask for three volunteers to tell one story each in a half-hour or hour venue. Maybe one will be fairly experienced and will emcee and coordinate, and the other two will be telling their "one" story. The overall program will be terrific, with the experienced teller and the newer ones all gaining experience and moving up the ladder in their skills.

Sometimes that works like a tree: Borders wants three "volunteer" tellers at four sites; we ask someone to coordinate it, and s/he asks for volunteers, then asks the most responsible to be emcee/coordinator and together (as needed) they fill out their program with other volunteers. We are also lucky to have some established tellers who often say "I'll come if you need me."

We have long passed around the emceeing job at our swaps. We have many very capable emcees.

Recently we added a 20-minute mini-workshop to our monthly meeting. We did this because we had a few newcomers who seemed a bit intimidated by seeing so many seasoned tellers. This does two things: it gives Storytelling 101 training (and courage) to beginners, and it gives mid-level tellers a place to learn how to do workshops.

So, I guess my "advice" is this: Focus on finding ways for every level of storyteller or storytelling interest to learn and grow so that members won't just "flow through"; they won't have to leave you to increase their storytelling skills, their exposure possibilities, and their leadership skills. They can stay right where they are and have plenty of opportunities and challenges to grow and develop personally as storytellers and plenty of reason to want the organization to flourish.

Note: you may e-mail Mary Grace Ketner at or visit her website at

A huge thank you to both of these talented and creative storytellers for sharing their ideas!

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