Effective Local Pharmacy Association Practices and Tools

Here are the practices and tools I consider to be most effective for local pharmacy associations.

How can we create a thriving local pharmacy association? As a member of my state association’s committee that assists locals, I’ve been asked that question many times, and after deciding to start the process of reviving a dormant local, it’s a question I also found myself asking.

In September 2010, I began reactivating the Genesee County Pharmacists Association (GCPA). The most time-consuming parts of the process were developing a website and compiling a list of potential members.

In February 2011, we held our first meeting, during which bylaws were approved and 12 members volunteered to serve on the board. With a few additional steps, we were ready to apply for reactivation with our state association. On May 17, 2011, we were once again granted active status.

The reactivation process involved a lot of trial and error. We’ve established some standard practices that seem to work well, but we’ve also discontinued others that weren’t a good fit. Some tools we couldn’t operate without, while others were ineffective or too costly, so we had to eliminate them.

Here are the practices and tools I consider to be most effective for local pharmacy associations:

Effective Practices

Communications

Communicating with your local membership can be a challenge. First, you have to make sure you’re reaching the right folks. Second, you have to make sure you’re using the right channels and not overwhelming members.

We limit our communications to a weekly news blast that highlights upcoming local and state events in a single page. This communication goes out via fax to all pharmacies in our territory and via e-mail to members and nonmembers. We believe that the weekly blasts convey information frequently enough without being overwhelming for readers or authors.

We previously published a quarterly members-only newsletter that included more in-depth reviews of past events and greater detail on upcoming events. However, we found that only a small percentage of recipients opened it, and it was very time-consuming to create.

We try to limit physical mailings to save costs, but when we do them, we’ve found that a lot of money can be saved by using a postcard instead of a letter. Our holiday party save-the-dates cost us less than $60 to mail to about 150 members.

Legislative Events

Bringing legislators and local members together may seem intimidating, but most legislators truly want to hear from their constituents.

We held our first legislative event at a local conference center and provided a catered breakfast. Although it was a great venue and we were able to discuss many pharmacy issues, it was too costly to hold as often as we wanted. Therefore, we decided to take a note from other professions and hold legislative coffee hours instead.

Our first coffee hours took place 1 Friday morning at a local Coney Island restaurant. Nearly every legislator we invited attended, and each was very receptive to our concerns. Plus, picking up the check for breakfast for about 5 legislators was much more affordable than a catered breakfast.

Educational Offerings

Offering continuing education (CE) to your members is a great way to provide value as a local association. We’ve learned that offering 1 to 2 hours of live CE every quarter on a weekday evening seems to be the best fit for our members. Providing free dinner probably helps draw members, too.

When providing CE, there are 3 main costs to account for: 1) speaker honorarium, 2) CE processing, and 3) food/venue. We usually budget $250 to $500 per speaker, $7 per hour of CE per person, and $12 to $15 per person for dinner.

We’re fortunate to have a local workplace that allows us to host the CE programs at no cost. On the high end, these programs can cost up to $1000 for an hour of CE for approximately 25 members. However, there are ways to significantly reduce your local’s costs.

First, look for speakers who may be willing to present for free or at a reduced cost. Pharmacy interns and residents are often willing to present for little to no cost, as it can be worked into their curriculum or enhance their curriculum vitae. Local members are sometimes also willing to present for no cost or a very small honorarium.

Another strategy is to offer booths outside of the event for sales representatives to reserve. If the program is related to their products, it’s not unreasonable to charge $250 to $500 per booth.

With a reduced speaker cost, booth sponsors, or both, a local can bring its cost down to $300 or less per CE program.

Member and Nonmember Fees

In some states, locals receive a portion of the funds members pay to the state association. In other cases, members pay the local association directly. These funds are meant to offset at least a portion of the expenses related to member offerings.

For nonmembers, we charge at least the per-person cost of putting on the event. With a little persuasion, nonmembers may decide it’s better to join than continue paying this premium, so bring membership applications to these types of events.

State-Level Involvement

If your state pharmacy association supports your local, it only makes sense for your local to return the favor.

My local has supported a number of our state’s events, such as by sending a cook to compete in the Michigan Pharmacy Foundation’s annual chili cook-off or donating items to the foundation’s silent auction. We also support the Michigan Pharmacy Political Action Council by sponsoring a hole in its annual golf outing. By co-promoting local and state associations, the value proposition for membership is elevated.

Effective Tools

Google Apps

Google apps allow us to centralize our local’s e-mail correspondence, contacts, calendar of events, photos, and documents. These tools make transitioning boards at the end of each term a matter of sharing the Google password.

Keeping your contacts organized in Google simplifies communications. You can easily create groups, which makes e-mailing multiple contacts much easier. You can also store member addresses, so when it comes time for a physical mailing, you can export the current addresses of your members and make address labels.

We keep our meeting minutes, proof of incorporation, bylaws, newsletters, and every other GCPA document on Google Drive. The calendar feature is great for not only organizing and advertising events, but also attaching your Google documents (eg, agenda) to a particular event and invite your Google contacts or groups.

Fax Tool

When we decided we wanted to expand our local reach via fax, we looked at many different services. The one we settled on was Nextiva, which allows us to fax up to 500 pages a month for less than $60 a year without having a fax machine.

For a pharmacy with 555-555-5555 as its fax number, for instance, we can create a Google contact for that pharmacy using the e-mail address 5555555555@nextivafax.com. We group all of these pharmacies together, so when we have a document that we want to fax out, we simply attach it to an e-mail and send it to this group. The pharmacies receive the flyer right on their fax machines.

Social Media

I recommend taking full advantage of Facebook and Twitter because they’re free and relatively easy to use. You can link multiple social media accounts, so you really only need to manage one while letting members decide which platform they’ll follow.

A Facebook page can almost replace the need for a website because it shows up in searches and has an “about” section, a place to keep photos, and an events section. The only downside is not all members are on social media. Therefore, be sure to use other routes of communication to connect will all members.

Form-Building Software

To collect information and payments, we needed to find a form-building software. We found JotForm, which allows us to build forms very easily and allows our members to quickly click on a link, sign up, and pay for our events.

The free version allows you to create unlimited forms and accept up to 100 submissions and 10 payments per month. If you’d like the option to accept up to 1000 submissions and payments per month, you can upgrade for $19.99 per month.

E-Commerce

If you’re going to accept payments, the money has to be processed and routed. With JotForm, there are several options, including PayPal and Google Checkout. The one I prefer is Stripe.

With Stripe, payments made using a JotForm form are automatically transferred to our bank account every 7 days. Each processed payment costs $0.30 plus 2.9%, which is pretty standard across all payment processors. This may seem like a big cut, but by offering this convenient way to pay, we’re able to attract more registrants and manage our payments much easier.

Conclusion

These are some of the practices and tools my local has found helpful. Of course, each local is unique and there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for success. What will ensure success is trying out the available options and sticking with what you find to be effective. Hopefully, these tips will serve as a starting point.