JQ Magazine: North American Alumni Regional Conference Advances JETAA Initiative

Delegates to the 2014 JETAA Regional Conference at the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University, Jan. 2014. (Courtesy of Tim Ogino)

Delegates to the 2014 JETAA Regional Conference at the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University, Jan. 2014. (Courtesy of Tim Ogino)

By Tim Ogino (Akita-ken, 2011-13) for JQ magazine. Tim returned from Japan last summer and immediately became involved in NEJETAA as communications coordinator/webmaster. After spending two wonderful years in Tohoku, he returned to Boston to attend graduate school and is excited to remain involved with the Japanese community, looking forward to the day he can return to the land of festivals, kiritampo, and karaoke.

With New Year’s goals and resolutions firmly prepared, 34 JETAA delegates from 15 chapters across North America gathered for the 2014 JETAA Regional Conference at the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA from Jan. 10-12 to discuss ways to improve their JETAA chapters. The New England JETAA chapter played host to this year’s conference and organized a series of discussions, workshops, and seminars under the theme of “Membership Management.”

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-ken, 1988-89) of MIT. Their kind remarks emphasized the importance of membership in JETAA as well as the presence of Japanese culture and art in America, setting 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-ken, 1992-94), 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-ken, 1988-89) from CULCON and Laurel Lukaszewski (Kagoshima-ken, 1990-92) from the US-Japan Bridging Foundation.

Previously discussed at last year’s JETAA National Conference, the JETAA Initiative 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-ken, 2000-03), 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 including Teach for America Alumni Affairs’ Amanda Seider, University of Michigan Club of Greater Boston’s Brian Love, and AmeriCorps’ Brian Moses (Fukui-ken, 2010-11). 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 JETAA New York Vice President Pamela Kavalam (Shiga-ken, 2007-09). 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-ken, 2005-08).

The final two workshops outlined a strategic plan for increasing membership through a membership pipeline model, which included a brainstorm session for transnational initiatives between the U.S. 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 for 2014. JETAA members should continue to look forward to some exciting changes to come in the future of their chapters.

For JQ magazine’s recap of the 2013 JETAA USA National Conference, click here.