I love to sing. Love. It. I especially love those tight Barbershop harmonies.

Recently my business coach (who is helping me investigate this “work/life” balance concept) gave me some homework: contact the Sweet Adelines and find out about joining. The Sweet Adelines is an international organization of female barbershop harmony groups, and there are some sizeable chapters in this area.

Since I love easy homework, I dug in right away, by Googling “Sweet Adelines.” Their extensive website is a hard sell on the joy of becoming a Sweet Adelines member. It includes everything one would ever hope to know about the group–including arcana such as their chapter liability insurance flyer and IRS Form 990 information–but absolutely no information on the cost or process for joining.

There’s a dizzying list of membership types, a list of the available discounts (starting at 10%) without any kind of pricing, a downloadable brochure that simply repeats the same stuff you’re reading on the website, and a “learn more” link that launches your email client and creates a generic blank email to a general membership email box.

The “Contact Us” form is no better. You fill in a snail mail request, wait a couple of weeks, and in the mail comes an expensive, glossy hard copy of the same brochure you’ve already downloaded in PDF format.

Tucked into the brochure is one of those mini-CDs (the kind that was cutting edge in 2002.) And the kind that won’t in my Mac, because Macs don’t have CD trays.

It’s a shame, too, because everything I need to know to join the Sweet Adelines is apparently on that useless CD, which I threw immediately into the garbage.

It’s a several-ounce package, and the whole thing probably cost at least $3 or so to mail. $3 that went straight into the trash.

So, after spending 20 minutes scouring their website to figure out how to join, and two weeks of waiting for something in the mail, I’m no closer now to joining the Sweet Adelines than I was three weeks ago.

If the Sweet Adelines is willing to spend $3 or $4 for a mailing instead of making all that same data available online for free, I suspect the organization is something of a spendthrift and would probably waste my membership dues (whatever they may be…I still have no idea.)

The Sweet Adelines is a perfect case history on how to communicate badly, expensively, and ineffectively, while simultaneously ruining an organization’s image.

Epic Marketing Fail.

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  • Sorry to hear that. Perhaps their “marketing” does leave something to be desired. However, you generally don’t really join “Sweet Adelines” at large, you generally find and join a local chorus near you. My mother has been happily singing for years and my wife recently joined as well. Drop me a line and let’s see if we can hook you up with a chorus. You’ll love it.

  • Aubrey

    I’m guessing you are talking about the Sweet Adelines International website which doesn’t actually have dues information on it. That’s because dues vary wildly from chorus to chorus. Some choruses do fundraisers like bingo that cover a lot of their costs. Other memberships would rather pay individually than do fundraisers. The ultimate goal is to have paying gigs that cover membership costs. The chorus I am in has dues of $35/month. Makeup and shoes are not included. For this price I get a 2.5 hour singing lesson a week, the chance to work with respected coaches from all over 4-8 times a year, and the opportunity to perform with awesome women. I hope you will contact a local chorus to discuss the membership cost where you are! https://secure.sweetadelineintl.org/SAI/members_online/members/dirchap.asp?action=start

  • Kathleen Hanover

    Thanks for the offer, Ben. 🙂

    There’s a big Sweet Adelines chapter here, and it looks like I’ll be forced to call a local contact and have the uncomfortable “so, how much does it really cost?” conversation.

    The fact that Sweet Adelines doesn’t post that information online leads me to believe the figure must be huge. I could be completely wrong, but why else wouldn’t it be posted?

  • Kathleen Hanover

    Hi Aubrey,

    Thanks for the information. Your comment was more informative than all the marketing materials the organization itself sent me! And that’s what I found so noteworthy about the situation, from a marketing perspective. Wouldn’t it just be so much simpler for the website to say, “you can’t actually join Sweet Adelines here–go to this list and contact your local chapter for details?”

  • Aubrey

    I’ve sent them a link to this site it’s good feedback. And the fee talk shouldn’t be uncomfortable, it’s a fact that hobbies cost money and people that are able to usually find a way to make it work. If cost is an issue, I know our chorus has arrangements where membership is discounted in return for helping in other ways (like marketing :))

  • Dana Dunlevy

    Aubrey gave you good information. Dues does vary between chapters and regions. The value is relative –what is it worth to you? What you would pay for a gym membership? A therapist? A daily caffe mochiatto?! Much of the information that is on the disc is available free, on-line (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN52VGOlwac). It is also on the web site, but could probably be made easier to find. Your feedback has merit and hopefully SAI can improve its web-site thanks to it.
    In harmony,
    Dana Dunlevy
    Greater New York Region #15
    Sweet Adelines International

  • I’m sure it would be simpler for them to say that, and they could probably use your marketing advice. 🙂

    I encourage you to go ahead and talk with your local chapter. I’m sure you’ll discover that their attitude about it is similar to the chapter that my mother and my wife belong to, which is basically that they don’t plaster the costs over the website because they don’t want the cost to be an obstacle for anyone. I.e., don’t worry about what it costs; if you want to do it there will be a way to make it work within your budget.

    BTW some Macs do have CD trays (e.g. Mac Pro). 🙂

  • Kathleen Hanover

    Thanks to everyone for your helpful comments!

    Clearly, the Sweet Adelines is a magnet for helpful, enthusiastic and positive people. If only the organization’s marketing materials did it justice! 🙂

    It’s a classic case of web usability–having a website that doesn’t allow the user to complete what should be an easy self-service task-in this case, joining online–is almost worse than not having a website at all.

    And delivering the unhelpful information I don’t want three times in three different formats, one of which cost a lot of money? Very frustrating for the user, and wasteful for the organization.

    It makes for a great case history (and blog fodder) but it isn’t doing the Sweet Adelines any favors.

    Thanks again for sticking up for the Sweet Adelines, everybody!

  • Thank you very much for your interest in Sweet Adelines International. You make some very valid points, however, many have recently been addressed and change is in the works.

    We are extremely cognizant and careful about the ways in which we invest our members’ dues dollars. Of critical importance is presenting our organization in a way that conveys a message of professionalism and credibility without allocating large sums of money toward the efforts.

    In essence, there is a fine balance between staying on the cutting edge of technology while remaining sensitive to our entire demographic and audience. Some prospective members place more intrinsic value on receiving a tangible product in the mail rather than electronic communications. Others, like yourself, prefer to navigate through electronic correspondence with links to the video, a Web page with choruses in your area, a downloadable PDF of the brochure and quick access to additional information. In the next fiscal year, prospective members that request information will be given a choice of either electronic or printed information. This way, we satisfy both needs.

    Most of our communications are now delivered electronically, including our quarterly magazine, (http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/sweetadelines/pitchpipe_201004/#/0) and our quarterly e-magazine. (http://www.sweetadelineintl.org/FINALFEB_MARCHPPLITE.pdf) The magazine is now compatible with mobile devices and e-readers such as the iPad. Quality member education is delivered electronically through a series of Webinars, SKYPE, podcasts and more. We administer an online members only marketing center and training library with our digital assets available for download. All of these exceptional ventures are produced by the organization at a fraction of the price. The most important benefit though is that as a member, there is no additional charge for any of these e-services.

    We also have an active presence on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. Promotional videos and information about Sweet Adelines International are available on these social media sites. Soon, our choruses will be featured on Google Maps so that those searching for a local chorus can find not only the chorus’ information but also detailed locator maps that tie into their GPS. As you know, there is no better way to gain ROI in a qualitative and quantitative way than by having a strong presence in social media. This viral marketing approach gives us the advantage of stretching our shoestring budget.

    We’ve also gained remarkable media exposure through electronic delivery of our press materials. As you’ll see from the home page of our Web site, the organization enjoyed publicity on a national scale last year and even set a Guinness World Record – all again on a shoestring budget. (http://www.sweetadelineintl.org/news.cfm)

    In closing, the members of Sweet Adelines International are an amazing and inspiring group of women. I hope that your impression changes and that you give your local chorus a chance. Singing and enjoying camaraderie with a group of women that share your same passion are intangible benefits that you won’t find anywhere else.

    Thank you and please feel free to give us a call anytime. (800.992.SING, ext. 127)


    (For your convenience, I’ve pasted the link to choruses in Ohio and it looks like the chorus in Springfield may be the closest to you.)

    – Communications, Sweet Adelines International

  • Kelly Kirchoff has provided a detailed and insightful view of what Sweet Adelines has to offer. In a nutshell, joining any group requires various fees for rehearsal halls, costumes, coaching, retreat and competitions. Ask at the chorus you’re visiting. It comes down to the love of singing and forming friendships. Where else can you spread harmony around the world and have fun doing it? Good luck in your endeavors. There’s a chorus waiting for you somewhere.

  • bedrijven regio

    so much good information on here, : D.

  • Different chapters have different membership dues, so Sweet Adelines International cannot quote you a membership fee. You have to find a chapter to visit, which you can do through sweetadelinesinternational.org, visit that chapter and their membership chair can tell you how to join and what the membership dues are. Typically, your monthly membership dues go toward costumes, coaching, hotels, and a portion to International. I understand the frustration. I had to visit to get more info and you really can’t get a feel for what they are about unless you visit and/or watch a competition. It’s pretty cool.

  • Kimberley Baker

    The international dues are constant but people that are At Large ie: not in a chorus are the only ones paying just that. People usually retire and go At Large or they move and have other commitments but still sing in a quartet or want to remain active in a smaller capacity. All the choruses have different chapter dues so I guess we don’t want to get your hopes up for one price and then smack you with a new one when you go to visit a chapter. I’m involved with three chapters. I direct one and sing in two. Our monthly dues range between $20-$35. And that includes the international annual fee.

    I love how constructive this whole conversation is going. I do hope you contact that local chapter. Big choruses usually have more of there details ironed out and give you a page about what it takes to join and they should be very upfront about the cost. I hope you get past this silly stuff and get to see all the good stuff in being a Sweet Adeline! The music and the community are fantastic!

  • Allison Hengelsberg

    Right on the website there is a link for Find A Chapter. That’s where you find your local chapters and their contact information. In my experience, someone will get back to you in a timely fashion to tell where and when they meet. You don’t join Sweet Adelines from the international website.

    It’s too bad that you won’t keep an open mind, because Sweet Adelines is perfect for someone like you claim to be: someone who loves to sing, especially those tight barbershop harmonies. You really owe it to yourself to find your local chapter and check out a rehearsal. I did that 20 years ago and it has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life.