Part one in a series featuring the 2018 YPN Network of the Year recipients.
By Erica Christoffer
In November, Clarksville Association of REALTORS® Young Professionals Network in Tennessee was awarded the small YPN Network of the Year. Based on membership size, Clarksville was up against 13 other YPN groups that applied for the 2018 honor in the small category. But a few key characteristics helped set Clarksville apart, including their consistency, inclusiveness, creativity, and community-boosting events.
Deb Haines-Kulick, RCE, executive officer of the Clarksville Association of REALTORS®, characterizes Clarksville as a military town, and says their membership tends to be younger than most. Since many of their YPN members are either current or former active duty soldiers or their spouses, she says the membership carriers a sense of loyalty into everything they do.
“You see that reflected in how they care for this community and each other within the YPN,” Haines-Kulick adds.
The YPN group, headed by 2018 Chair Kayla Pierson, MRP, has been reaching out to their fellow association members by opening up and expanding their quarterly Coffee Connect socials over the past year. In 2018, they partnered with various community businesses as well as affiliate members to host events, each with a topic such as insurance, spring cleaning tips, preparing a home for the seasons, home maintenance, and more.
“Utilizing our memberships’ networking spheres helped with our success this year. Without our affiliate sponsorships we would not have been able to accomplish so much,” Pierson says.
The Clarksville YPN stays in touch with their affiliate members and regularly offers participation and opportunities to sponsor smaller social events. “This made them feel like part of the network and more connected to our association,” Pierson says.
As chair, Pierson has also refocused the network to support other committees in their association, which has also allowed them to be a part of organizing various activities and events in partnership and work to achieve common goals. New members are encouraged to speak up and have a voice in the network’s decision making. They use Basecamp, a collaboration tool, to communicate between monthly meetings with chatroom-like conversations. They could share agenda, documents, to-do lists, and spreadsheets.
“I focused on dividing the tasks to allow each member to have a little part of the big picture,” Pierson says. “By tasking and subdividing the networking events, charity work, and training sessions, I was able to keep everyone engaged and plugged into the network as a whole.”
Clarksville YPN has been successful in part, Haines-Kulick says, because they’re targeting members who are young in age, young in business, and young at heart. “They try to be inclusive of all of our membership knowing that all generations can learn from each other—as long as they are willing to learn,” she says.
Pierson attends monthly new membership meetings held at the association to welcome new REALTORS® and to discuss why being a part of YPN is an essential asset to their new business.
“Our YPN is a diverse mix of ages, communication styles, and networking connections, which in my opinion is what makes our network so successful,” says Pierson, an agent with Century 21 Platinum Properties. “Each member is at a different stage of their career, offering something unique and special to share to the group as a whole.”
Haines-Kulick calls their YPN an “accessibility path for new members to engage and make a difference in the association.” Several of their YPN members are now actively involved in other association committees. She advises other YPN groups to establish an identity and own it. Whether it’s community service, advocacy, technology, or new member engagement, make it a thread that touches everything you do, she says. It’s also important to identify a staff liaison who will be a champion for YPN behind the scenes and stand up for your group to those who are in opposition, Haines-Kulick adds.
The connections made by members of Clarksville’s YPN have led to highly successful fundraising initiatives. They hosted a Bowling for RPAC event in January and reached out to their state association for RPAC fundraiser assistance. They ended up host 32 teams of four in the bowling tournament and raised $4,521 to invest into RPAC.
Created in 2013, Clarksville’s largest annual event is called Handbags For Hope, which benefits the Urban Ministries SafeHouse Domestic Violence Shelter and their own Clarksville Association of REALTORS® YPN Mike Groves Memorial Scholarship Fund. Mike Groves was an active member of the association and champion of YPN who passed away in 2015. The YPN group awards scholarships to graduates of a school in either Montgomery or Stewart Counties in Tennessee.
This past August, YPN members gathered donated purses and handbags to be auctioned at a semi-formal Handbags For Hope event hosted at a local hotel ballroom. About 400 guests attended for dinner, a silent auction conducted on a mobile bidding platform, and a live auction. The live portion featured 16 designer handbags sponsored by REALTORS®, affiliate partners, and members of the local homebuilder association. Each handbag had a theme with items inside valued at $250 or more from sponsors. They raised a record-breaking $107,000 at the 2018 event, with more than $64,000 going to SafeHouse and about $42,000 for scholarship opportunities, an increase of $26,000 from 2017.
“They again dug in and created one of the largest fundraisers in our community, let alone our association,” Haines-Kulick says. “There have been a few lean years and some years where they struggled, but that core group believed in the mission and the four pillars of the YPN and kept going.”
In addition to other events throughout the year, the group hosted their annual booth at the association’s Christmas Trade Show in December, and they’re planning their first ever REALTOR® Olympics in 2019, featuring events like blacklight bowling, putt-putt golf, go-kart racing, laser tag, and a trivia challenge.
“The best advice I can give to those who are just starting out or reinventing their groups is to come up with an annual strategic plan and organize your YPN events around your association’s events,” Pierson says. “And, stay focused.”
Erica Christoffer is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine and manager of the YPN Lounge. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read about the other 2018 Network of the Year recipients: