As many people were creating personal goals and resolutions to start the new year, thirty-four JETAA delegates from 15 chapters across the U.S. and Canada gathered for the 2014 JETAA Regional Conference at the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA to discuss ways to improve their JETAA chapters. The New England JETAA Chapter (US 03) played host to this year’s conference and organized a series of discussions, workshops, and seminars under the theme of “Membership Management.” The conference took place from January 10th to 12th.
The week preceding the conference was filled with anticipation about not only the content of the seminars and workshops, but also the weather in Boston. Stories about the week’s now infamous “polar-vortex” surely were intimidating to JET Alumni from warmer climates. Luckily, the temperatures recovered just in time for a comfortable and productive weekend for all in attendance.
The conference began on Friday night with a Welcome Reception graciously hosted by the Consul General of Japan in Boston, Akira Muto, which featured special guests Museum of Fine Arts Curator Dr. Anne Nishimura Morse and founding JETAA member Professor Ian Condry (Miyagi ‘88-’89) of MIT. Their kind remarks emphasized the importance of membership in JETAA, as well as the presence of Japanese culture and art in America and set an ambitious tone for the rest of the weekend.
With this year’s conference being a working conference, the atmosphere of the seminars reflected a collaborative and active atmosphere. Several sessions focused on strengthening organizational structure. Featured topics included overcoming geographical challenges by JETwit founder Steven Horowitz (Aichi ‘92-’94), the establishment of subchapters, the use of social media tools like Hootsuite, Twitter, and Facebook, and the JETAA Initiative- the creation of a national JETAA USA umbrella organization, led by founding JETAA member Paige Cottingham-Streater (Mie ‘88-’89) from CULCON and Laurel Lukaszewski (Kagoshima ‘92-’94) from US-JBF.
The JETAA Initiative, also discussed at last year’s 2013 JETAA National Conference hosted by JETAA Minnesota (US 18), could potentially facilitate greater collaboration and ease communication between chapters. It would also provide several advantages to JET Alumni who relocate to another area, aid in informational exchanges such as announcements for employment opportunities, and could potentially benefit the fundraising efforts of individual chapters. The results of a recent survey for the initiative unearthed many themes that would continue to resurface throughout the weekend regarding challenges of engaging membership: targeting different demographics, simplifying the process for joining a JETAA chapter, and reaching geographically wide areas of membership.
Other sessions focused on expanding membership numbers and increasing engagement in the face of these challenges. Delegates brainstormed potential partnerships with Japan-focused organizations in their areas, listened to a case-study of the Japan Society of Boston’s “Membership Appreciation Month” led by Bhaird Campbell (Gunma ‘00-’03), and discussed targeted programming for different demographics (recently returned, alumni with children, rural, etc.).
Delegates reviewed how others approach these same topics during the panel discussion “Alumni Organizations’ Membership Management Strategies” featuring representatives Teach for America Alumni Affairs’ Amanda Seider, University of Michigan Club of Greater Boston’s Brian Love, and AmeriCorps’ Brian Moses (Fukui ‘10-’11). A common topic that emerged as challenging for all of the organizations was finding a way to keep the experience and spirit alive for members as alumni and giving them continuing value and benefit for their membership. Innovative solutions included organizing local events away from chapter hubs, using subchapters, and being an active presence for people pre-JET, during JET, and continuing as JET Alumni.
The seminars on the final day began with two breakout sessions with one group learning about supporting professional development opportunities for their membership led by JETAANY Vice President, Pamela Kavalam (Shiga ’07-’09). The other group had a discussion on effective use of Mailchimp, a tool used to organize and monitor mailings to membership, led by NEJETAA Treasurer and conference organizer Patricia Frisoli (Hyogo ’05-’08).
The final two workshops outlined a strategic plan for increasing membership through a membership pipeline model and brainstormed transnational initiatives between US and Canada.
The weekend yielded interesting and productive discussions on tips and tools for providing value to current members and reaching potential members. As is often a highlight of JETAA conferences, delegates also enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and had ample opportunity to socialize, reminisce, and rediscover many natsukashii moments of their time in Japan. The conference ended with delegates energized to bring back these new ideas to improve their membership management in 2014. JETAA members should continue to look forward to some exciting changes to come in the future of their chapters.
CN 02 Toronto
US 05 New Orleans/ Mid-South
US 11 Pacific Northwest
US 01 Washington D.C.
US 06 Florida
US 12 Portland
US 02 New York
US 07 Chicago
US 13 Northern California
US 03 New England
US 08 Heartland
US 17 Great Lakes
US 04 South East
US 09 Texoma
US 18 Minnesota
NEJETAA would like to thank our participating chapters and the sponsors that made the success of the 2014 JETAA USA Regional Conference possible: the Consulate General of Japan in Boston, the Japan Local Government Center (CLAIR NY), The U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON), Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan (MOFA), and the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies (RIJS).
We would also like extend our appreciation to our participating organizations: Teach for America, Americorps Alums Boston, the University of Michigan Club of Greater Boston, the Japan Society of Boston, NEJETAA volunteers, Ultimate Chef LLC, and Matt Willett Design for the generous donation of their time.
Finally, we would like to thank Japan Airlines, the City of Boston, Tripadvisor, This is Fukushima, and The Boston Globe / Boston.com for their generous donations.