A strong American Legion membership means a stronger voice in the nation's capital when it comes to lobbying on behalf of U.S. servicemembers and veterans. Financially, it means a stronger bottom line for the organization.
But a lack of a strong membership and a plan for future growth means the multitudes of Americans impacted by Legion programs may have to look elsewhere for help.
That was the general sentiment that came from the National Membership & Post Activities Committee during its Jan. 6 annual meeting in Indianapolis. Committee members discussed the role the organization played in the past in the creation of the GI Bill of Rights, its positive impact on hundreds of thousands of young men and women who've participated in American Legion youth programs, and the hundreds of families helped each year through the Legion's Temporary Financial Assistance.
Membership must remain strong, the committee said, to continue to offer services such as department service officers and effective lobbying on behalf of America's veterans and servicemembers.
"The mission of The American Legion is serving America, serving veterans and serving their families," Committtee Chairman Denise Rohan said. "When people find out what we do, it encourages them to want to become a member of The American Legion."
During the meeting, National Commander Fang Wong tasked members of the committee to poll Legion departments on membership tactics that are working or failing. He said he'd ask the Legion's national vice commanders to take a similar approach with department commanders.
"My hope ... is that we can learn from this year's membership program by understanding what has changed, what has not changed, and what has worked, what has not worked," he said. "Hopefully by the time we get to the Washington Conference (Feb. 26-29) we can get some kind of feedback as to how you're doing. In order to do that, we need to come up with some sort of standard for what we want them to tell us.
"What do we really want to know? What do you really want to know from each department? How are they doing this year so far? What have they learned, have they tried? What do they think they're doing well? Once we get that information from them ... we can do a year-end report card (at the National Membership Workshop in July). If this particular committee can do that consistently through the year, we'll build up a lot of information we can pass on each successive year to each commander as they come along. Lessons learned."
Leading candidate for 2012-2013 national commander Jim Koutz explained the membership incentive program, Lucky 13, that he'll implement if elected in September. Legionnaires who renew five members, sign up three new ones, transfer three members from a headquarters post and reinstate two former members will receive a Lucky 13 pin.
Dan Dellinger, the committee's Legislative Commission consultant and a former M&PA Committee chairman, said the way to bring recently transitioned servicemembers into the organization is to focus on their needs. "They're thinking about having a job and getting an education so they can raise a family and be a productive member of our society," he said. "
"I'm a believer in membership," Koutz said. "Let's make it happen."
National Internal Affairs Commission Chairman Larry Besson told the committee that 36 Legion departments had achieved the Jan. 19 80-percent target date goal, and that another 10 could hit the mark by the date. "We need to keep this rolling along," he said. "We need to keep energized, and we need to keep enthused."
The committee also was briefed on the MyLegion.org program (www.mylegion.org ), the newly developed American Legion Extension Institute online presence and online renewals. Greg Roth, director of Membership Support Services, said that to date, more than 120,000 Legionnaires have renewed online.