Sustaining a membership organization in today’s times of social media and the changing needs and wants of new generations is difficult. Sustaining a photography oriented organization, especially in the age of digital cameras and camera phones is even more difficult. One might think that sustaining a photography group dedicated to Leica, which has faced its own need for change, is impossible, but I’m optimistic, and here’s why.
Just two years ago, a new LHSA management team developed new goals and a new strategy to reinvigorate your organization. We were losing members in part because we had not done enough to keep them, and losing members meant we needed to dip into accumulated savings to keep going and pay our bills. Without a major change in direction, we were on a trajectory that would lead to our demise in a few years. We, therefore, embarked on a transformation plan to make your Society sustainable far into the future. This was and remains a tall order, but we have made great progress in those two years.
For sure, LHSA had some great strengths. There were deep historical roots established nearly 50 years prior to 1968 by original and surviving members, Rolfe Fricke and Jim Lager, and the Society had attained a position of great respect. The task was to identify our strengths and build from there, using social media platforms more effectively and rebuilding relationships with Leica US and Leica AG. We have made some big strides, and we are thankful for our members, whose continuing support will be needed if we are to succeed. Here is what has been going on:
In the Spring of 2016, LHSA hired Sociality Squared, an NYC social media firm with a history of working for Leica USA/AG, to provide the following:
We got busy developing goals and strategies to define our Mission and Vision; learning what our members and targets want; forming mutually beneficial alliances with Leica USA, Leica AG, and Oberwerth Bags; building our Events into self-sufficient, meaningful experiences; and raising Brand awareness in the photography community. You can go to our website to read about our Mission Statement and future Vision definitions.
In the 22 months since our new beginning, we have added 150+ new paying members, and we have gained approximately 500+ new free trial members thanks in large part to a collaborative Leica USA/LHSA membership drive last Spring. Our next step is to work on converting them into paying members. You have heard the terms “touch points” and “value propositions” in the past, and now we are going to put them to practice. Those free trial members will need to be led through our website and see that we can solve their problems along their Leica Journey. Richard, our Executive Director, and I will be working on updates for our website that provide those answers and help create those experiences and present them in a visible way for those free members to want to become paying members. Sociality Squared will also be helping with this exercise.
We have also reduced our attrition, leveraged social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) that have increased our visibility and engagement greatly. Part of this engagement includes an extremely popular educational video series. We’ve created the LHSA Sweepstakes, produced an English translation of the German book about Oskar Barnack, held a successful LHSA 50th Anniversary Oberwerth Freiburg Bag sale, and put on an extremely well-attended fall 2017 event in Chicago, the beginning of our 50th Jubilee. Lastly, LHSA has also given back to the community by establishing a Philanthropy Fund which raises money for our annual grant for emerging photographers.
Looking ahead, this year we will start off with the retro, limited edition Commemorative LHSA APO 50mm lens with members to get ordering preference, more programs with Leica USA that benefit our entities, and a renewed agreement with Sociality Squared. In October, we will have what should be a legendary annual meeting in Wetzlar – with the full support and participation of Leica AG.
There is renewed enthusiasm, energy and commitment from many of our members, and a feeling that we will achieve the sustainability we all want so we can continue to be ‘the place to go for all things Leica’. There is more hard work ahead, but we think we are on the right track.
I am grateful and encouraged with these trends, and I hope that you are also and that you will participate in our efforts in any way possible so that we can all be proud of our Society.
We will focus on the programs outlined above and introduce a few other ideas this year into the mix, all focused on membership and fundraising.
Stay tuned, and please participate in your Society.
Gary Hough, LHSA President