In my 40-plus years in the workplace, I’ve learned at least two things: The right amount of meetings that are conducted correctly can lead to results, while too many meetings with too much groupthink tends to stand in the way of progress. It holds true whether you’re talking about the boardroom of a multinational corporation or the executive committee of an American Legion post of 50 members. Meetings are a necessary evil and can produce results. But they do not offer up much in the way of entertainment value.
Yet some Legionnaires, when trying to recruit new members, choose a post meeting as the potential member’s first exposure to the Legion. Imagine the situation: a 22-year-old, fresh off a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, sitting in the background while the post membership goes over the minutes of the previous meeting. Or, the young veteran listens to a line-by-line examination of the post budget. If that young veteran is still in the audience, what do you think his chances are of returning to the post? At that age, would you?
It’s great that you’re getting prospective members into the post, but we need to give them a reason to return. That’s why Denise Rohan, the National Membership & Post Activities Committee chairman, takes a different approach when seeking out new members. During the M&PA Workshop earlier this month, Rohan shared her strategy for bringing members into Post 333 in Sun Prairie, Wis. Rohan doesn’t fancy herself a salesperson; rather, she uses strategy instead of a smooth pitch.
“Instead of inviting them directly to a meeting, I would tell them what the Legion does, and then I would invite them to one of our events,” Rohan says. “When you get them to the event, and they see what wonderful things we do, the next step is to bring them to a meeting. Those meetings sometimes aren’t exactly the most exciting things to come to. My goal was to get people to come to an event, and then bring them into the organization. Once we got them in the door ... we listened to what they were interested in and matched them up with a mentor or chairman. Then they would be active. Then they would keep coming back.”
There’s no doubting the effectiveness of Rohan’s strategy. As post commander, she had two 100-percent membership years. It seems like a simple idea, but most genius ideas are rooted in simplicity. Why tell a potential member what the Legion is doing during the course of a post meeting when you can show him or her, in person, exactly what we’re doing? What’s the easier sales pitch?
Invite these veterans, young or old, to an American Legion Baseball game. Having a Christmas party for local children? Invite those veterans to come in and observe – or maybe even help out with the party. If your post has a Legion Riders chapter raising funds for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund, introduce some of the Riders to the potential members.
People want to belong to an organization that does some good. We do a lot. Show that fact off, and others will join.
Daniel S. Wheeler is The American Legion’s national adjutant.