Lessons in Listening From the International End of Life Doula Association

The association has taken many steps to form meaningful connections with its members. In turn, the organization has a deeper understanding of what its members need—setting it up to deliver.

Part of the job of being an end-of-life doula—a person who helps someone who is dying navigate the final stages of life, and who offers support to clients’ loved ones—is listening. So it’s no surprise that the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA) is applying that same open ear to its members.

“You don’t have an association if you don’t listen to members,” said INELDA CEO Douglas Simpson. “The only way to engage those members and bring more in is to listen and act upon it.”

One result of INELDA putting its ear to the ground is Care Partners, a class devoted to helping those who want to support loved ones who are dying (as opposed to INELDA’s doula training course). It’s just one of the outcomes of INELDA’s approach to listening, which includes focus groups, surveys, and observation. Consider these lessons from INELDA to help your own association apply its best listening skills to better serve members.

Encourage Engagement

In many ways, INELDA makes it clear that it wants to hear what members have to say and provides them with many opportunities to connect. The more chances to connect, the more opportunities your association has to listen.

New members often engage with INELDA through its training program, said Loren Talbot, who serves as the association’s newsletter editor and provides membership development. Outside the classroom, conversations continue on INELDA’s social media pages.

Facilitate Discussions

INELDA recently held focus groups with members, doulas, and people interested in the field to better understand why members engage, what’s important to them, and what they want to see from the association.

The association also dedicates four hours of Q&A sessions to its end-of-life doula training curriculum, giving members an opportunity for more live discussion. Those Q&A sessions helped the organization realize that some members were coming to INELDA for different reasons than once expected, Simpson said.

“The previous assumption was people were going to come into this work to be certified or start a business,” he said. Through these conversations, INELDA educators and leaders recognized that there was another key reason people sign up for the training program: “People are doing it for themselves and their families.”

The result of this revelation? The launch of Care Partners, the organization’s training for those who want to be caregivers for their loved ones.

Offer One-on-One Time

INELDA’s line of work deals with the heavy reality of death, so naturally some discussions may be difficult to have, especially in a group environment or in the association’s Facebook group, where comments aren’t anonymous. Simpson said that when speaking one-on-one, there’s generally more trust and openness. To that end, Talbot said the association has worked to engage more people by reaching out directly to new members.

“I’m responding to emails all the time,” Talbot said. “So one thing I’ve been thinking about is, ‘Oh, hey, three people joined today. Reach out to them.’ I want to make myself accessible, let them know how we can aid them, and get to know them.”

Go Beyond Digital for Deeper Connection

Another way to create personal connections: Pick up the phone and call. Talbot finds that she can connect more easily with people and get a sense of who they are when having real conversations, which leads to a better understanding of what members need. It also demonstrates a level of authenticity and care that is crucial in INELDA’s field.

“We don’t think of everybody as members, but as the person who is standing before us,” Talbot said.

Even when members share that they are leaving, the organization sends a real written response reminding them that they’re always welcome back. As a result, the organization has received useful feedback that comes from former members, too, as the relationship is still intact.

Take Action on Feedback

After focus groups, surveys, and discussions, Simpson and Talbot compile feedback, take that information back to the organization’s strategic plan, and see where they can fill in gaps. From there, they make an addendum to the plan to address new needs and concerns they’re hearing from members. If your members see that their voices are really being heard, they’ll be more willing to offer feedback in the future.

“We have the feedback; we have that onus to do something with it,” Simpson said.

For example, Simpson said members often ask INELDA where and how they can apply their new skills once they complete end-of-life doula training. As a result, the organization added a refresher course to its curriculum to help guide them. And in the future, Simpson hopes to create a volunteer directory to further assist members in using their skills in their communities.

(SDI Productions/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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