For the first time ever, Florida’s professional pool association is adding a staff position dedicated to member relations.

The new employee will be tasked with learning more about the Florida Swimming Pool Association’s members, and figuring out how they benefit from being part of the organization. That information then will be used to recruit new members while enhancing the group’s value for current ones.

In the past, those functions typically fell to volunteers, chapter staff and administrators, said Executive Director Wendy Parker Barsell. While existing members still will play a critical role, the member relations coordinator will be charged specifically with converting prospective associates into full-fledged participants.

“So we’re really not taking anybody out of the equation,” she said, “we’re just making someone accountable for it in the end.”

Though FSPA’s rolls have taken a hit since the recession, they’ve held steady, between 500 and 600 members, since 2009, according to Parker Barsell. That’s no small feat considering the state’s new-pool permits are down approximately 70 percent from the peak years of 2005-06.

Across the nation, it’s widely believed that most pool industry groups have seen their memberships decline or, at best, stay fixed over the past 24 to 36 months. Administrators cite dwindling funds as the primary cause — when company budgets tighten, association dues are a common casualty.

“You have so many worthy organizations and causes clamoring for limited resources that supporters often have to make tough decisions on where those are going to go,” said Michael Reed, director of professional development at the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals. “There’s more demand out there for participation and financial support, and there’s just less of that available today.”

Another factor, they say, is that many businesses have trimmed staff to the point where manpower often is stretched. As a result, more hours dedicated to the job means less time is made available to volunteer.

To meet such challenges, groups such as APSP, FSPA and SPEC are bulking up their member recruitment efforts by reaching out to companies across the industry and beyond.

In addition to courting businesses in the solar, enclosure and insurance fields, FSPA recently offered price discounts on continuing education courses for members who registered for its February trade show in Orlando.  Other groups have revised their dues structures or added new insurance coverage to make membership more affordable or attractive.

SPEC, the Sacramento, Calif.-based advocacy organization, is launching a membership and fund-raising campaign this month, with a goal of bringing in $100,000 by the end of April, said Executive Director Mitch Brooks. It’s also promoting an ambassador program, whereby representatives from APSP and the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association help bring new members to SPEC.      

“The key is to have a plan,” Brooks said, “and then have as many people as possible out there doing your recruiting. It’s a matter of people talking to people, and whether you can effectively convey the benefits of membership. At the same time, you must always make your membership so valuable that they can’t afford to give it up.”