Despite the pandemic and virtual meetings for the past year, Owatonna Business Women is booming.
OBW has had an increase in interest in the last year with 25 new members join during the 2020-21 fiscal year. Typically the organization sees only a handful of new members per year.
“It’s not uncommon to have a handful of different guests come throughout the years, but to have new members join, I would say at the absolute most, five,” said recently elected OBW President Lauren Kozelka.
OBW connects, amplifies and empowers women by offering educational and civic awareness opportunities, while providing personal and professional development. The group was hovering around 60 members total this past year, while in years prior, that number sat around 40, according to Kozelka.
Members may have joined knowing they needed a way to still connect with people throughout the pandemic. Joining gave women the opportunity to still be a part of an organization, network and experience some professional development in “a crazy COVID year,” Kozelka notes.
It was a year of new opportunities and programs for OBW, like virtual coffee talks via Zoom, virtual happy hours and inviting featured speakers to connect online. OBW’s leadership and development chair hosted LeanIn Circles over the lunch break to really focus on personal development or professional development depending on the topic for that month.
Hosting the Women of Achievement event in a virtual format this year may have had a bigger influence on getting people involved in the organization, Kozelka suggested. OBW has also been more active on LinkedIn this year, she added.
“It’s been so awesome every single time I’ve seen an email come through my inbox that says, ‘We have a new member,’” she said.
OBW Membership Chair Rachel Blaedorn has some ideas about why the group saw an increase in membership this year.
Common reasons new members decided to join this year include personal and professional growth opportunities, the chance to build new relationships with women in the community, making a positive impact, and supporting and encouraging other members. In the face of the pandemic, these characteristics in an organization were more important than ever.
“There’s a couple of main trends as we were going through asking our new members why they decided to join Owatonna Business Women and a lot of it just boils down to wanting to have a place to connect with other women in the community and gain relationships,” Blaedorn said. “With COVID happening last year so many people felt isolated, and so we continued to have our monthly meetings, even though they were virtually and I think that that helped a lot of people connect.”