Through January of 2012, Department of New York Commander Mike Bowen had brought 51 members to The American Legion, spanning several states and nearly 20 posts. Two years ago, Bowen signed up nearly 70 members.
Bowen's membership strategy is as basic as it gets, but it works. He identifies the veteran and then finds out what he or she needs. More often than not, The American Legion can fill that need.
The 43-year member of Warner-Van Riper Post 435 in Waterloo, N.Y., also makes it easy to join. Bowen's department commander business cards have a Legion application printed on the back.
Bowen, a member of the National Membership & Post Activities Committee, talked about his approach to membership.
Q: Why have you stayed in The American Legion for 43 years?
A: Because of service to the veterans. Veterans are what make this country work. Being to able to serve them and their needs kept the interest growing all the time.
Q: Are the services that The American Legion provides something that you use when you are recruiting members?
A: One of the main things – especially with the younger generation of veterans right now – is their need for veterans benefits. I probably promote the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the benefits it has for themselves and their families. Their interest seems to be intrigued. I've had them thank me for that. I've also just signed up an Iraq veteran , 26 years old, and he was enrolled in the VA system at the hospital and had never been asked to join The American Legion. I spoke with him, told him about the benefits and the fact the VA system and the GI Bill were both supported and developed by The American Legion. He joined up immediately, and he's got five more friends who he's going to let know (about the Legion) and hopefully get them in the same post he's in.
That's what they want to know. They want to know "What's in it for me?" - what we can do for them. I go by the four pillars all the way around, everything that we do.
Q: They say this generation of veterans are not joiners, but if you tell them what the Legion does, they will join, won't they?
A: That's correct. One of the biggest points that I tell them is that being the largest advocate for veterans' rights, when you turn that into votes for the politicians – the Senate, the House – they listen to us when we ask for things for the veterans. And numbers count. That's probably the No. 2 reason they join. They believe if they join, the greater number we have within the Legion, the more benefits and more services we'll get for the veterans and their families.
Q: How long are you going to be selling The American Legion?
A: The rest of my life.