Effective Local Pharmacy Association Practices and Tools

JUNE 23, 2016

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

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.  

Michael Crowe, PharmD, MBA, CSP, FMPA
Michael Crowe earned his Doctor of Pharmacy from Ferris State University and completed a PGY-1 community pharmacy residency. Dr. Crowe has nearly ten years’ experience in specialty pharmacy, with a foundation in community pharmacy, as well as experience in clinical pharmacy, people and process management, program implementation, teaching, and technology. He founded the Genesee County Pharmacists Association in 2011 and earned an MBA from The University of Michigan in 2013. He has served on the Michigan Pharmacists Association Executive Board for over four years, currently serving as Speaker of the House of Delegates.