National Membership & Post Activities Committee chairman Denise Rohan has a different approach to drawing members into the Legion. Photo by James V. Carroll

Keep it interesting

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.


  1. Dear oldyaker, Sometimes people get stuck in an old but familiar rut that says theirs is the only way to do something even though it might not be. They tend to keep newcomers out. Unfortunately, that attitude only stunts an organization. Times change, people change, and techniques change. The invention of the computer is an example of that. It's time for you to become an officer. Enough of the good old boy stuff. Your post is going to start hurting if it hasn't already started. You need to get it on the right track. Bring in some friends to help you and can really make a difference. You can do it! The best part is you know what it's like to feel uninvited. Now, as a leader or even a member, do everything you can to avoid duplicating that on someone else. Get them involved. Get with any old members and new members who want to join you. Start up some new projects or activities to support veterans or help someone in the community. Keep talking about your project, your plans and your successes. Do this internally within the post and externally. People, because of your enthusiasm, will start to rally behind you. You may feel some resistance from the good old boys, but don't get discouraged. Just turn up the volume on your project and keep going. You are beginning to create and develop a new that is revitalized. One that will continue and live way beyond the days of the good old boys. The world needs good leaders. In becoming a leader, learn about The American Legion. You can apply what you learn to many other parts in your life. For example, get a copy of the Officers Guide and Membership Manual (two different books). I believe you can even access these manuals on this website for no cost. Learn about the Robert's Rules of Order on how to conduct a meeting. You can Google this on the web and they have cheat sheets availble. Basically, that's all you need. Something to use as reference. Enroll in The American Legion Institute and learn everything you can about the Legion. The course is done via home study and is available through the Emblem Sales. It only costs a few dollars and it is well worth it. Pass the test and you get a certificate for your wall that says you know what you are talking about. It's an amazing course! Finally, attend some conventions. In Wisconsin we have what is called a "Mid Winter Conference." It's the best thing I've ever attended because you can pick and choose various classes to attend over just one weekend. Plus, you get to brush elbows with VIPs who really care like you do. They too want this to be a good American Legion and are willing to help with some ideas and suggestions. They sometimes help you network. It's a positive experience and that helps a lot. Frankly, I think you would make an excellent leader and you should seriously consider it. Use the Preamble as your guide and the use it again as your honor and platform for becomming an officer. You'll win big time and so will your post. Like the NIKE commercial says, "Just Do It!" Thanks for serving!
  2. After joining a post over 20 years ago I quit because the current officers wanted tight control and did not like newcomers volunteering giving new members cold shoulder. After returning again as someone talked me into I joined the same post again. The culture was still the same if not worse as some of the good old boy crowd was still in control. This was not a post of all members but just a few members. After transfering post I had a better experience. You can't keep interested if a controling body doesn't want you. When a Commander is elected into a post with no managerial experience and a good old boy mind set is in place, nothing good comes out of it. Directed from National thru State and District, a method needs to be looked into to make a mediocre or even poor post turn around so new members are welcome and even welcomed to volunteer. A post is only good as the officers who manage it. Good posts attract new and keep current members. Crack these cliques to keep and attract members.
  3. I have been paying dues for more than a year have not heard from anyone wanting me to attend meetings, that makes me thank you want the dues more that attendants.
  4. Unfortunately, your perception about not feeling invited is not isolated. Other members feel the same. Posts need to man up and get their act together. The correct way to bring in a new member is to have them sign up and once accepted, send them a "Welcome" letter that explains all about the post and its activities and and then inform the member when the meetings are held. Tell them that major dicisions are made at the meetings and their voice is important. THEN, at least once a year, your post should have a new member initiation night in which all new members are invited to participate. This is one of the biggest events of the year for the post that requires a major social gathering afterward. Food and beverages should be served. The new member's family and friends should be invited and join in the celebration. Some of them may be eligible veterans wanting to join your post! The new member should be applauded. After all, he or she has just joined the largest and most powerful veteran's organization in America. We are happy they are a member and we thank them for joining us. Now that's how you make someone feel invited. To any post that is doing it like that, keep up the good work and probably have a huge and very happy membership.
  5. If meetings are conducted more to the guidelines to be entertaining (Post Operations Manual), etc., there should not be a problem inviting a potential member to a general meeting. As far as listening to minutes, great way to get info on what the post has been doing, financials, how the organization is spending their monies, not to mention meeting other members of the Post. Enthusiasm should be the key with positive attitudes and excitement. Many, many posts don't have that many "events" and if meetings were addressed, particularly from the National level, to be a positive thing, perhaps membership participation would increase, not to mention membership recruitment.
  6. This article enhances my feeling that the national-level leadership of the AL doesn't represent the majority of local posts. Proudtobe touches on the paradox. You need excited, motivated members to hold events, but there are few or no events because nobody is excited. I wrote our National Commander a personal letter asking him to use his position to encourage local leadership to hold to the traditions, ceremonies and ideals expressed in the official manuals. I used many personal examples of posts where few if any members even knew there WAS a "Post Operations Manual". Instead of the positive effect his actions could have had, Mr. Foster passed that confidential letter to Mr. Sean Sparks, who sent it to my current Department where it worked its way down to my Post. Mr. Sparks did not know that my examples were from a different State. The "excitement" this caused from top to bottom where I live now is not the kind that leads members to invite others to participate.
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