Touching lives

Membership, at its most basic level, is about numbers. But the impact made by the members of The American Legion is much more than that. Many who join The American Legion end up making huge differences in the lives of others.

During the August National Membership Workshop in Indianapolis, American Legion National Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler spoke about the organization’s many assistance programs – the National Emergency Fund, Temporary Financial Assistance and Operation Comfort Warriors, to name a few – and gave specific examples of how each of them have benefitted an individual or family.

A strong membership base is what makes those programs possible, Wheeler said.

"Membership is about ... keeping the heart of the Legion strong, so we will be there when someone less fortunate has no place else to turn," Wheeler told the more than 350 Legionnaires in attendance on Aug. 3. "This is one way we are ‘Still Serving America.’ I hope that these examples of our programs, the volunteers who work them and donate to them – and the voices of gratitude – will be remembered as we concentrate on the importance of membership."

The next member you recruit, Wheeler told the audience, could leave a lasting impact on someone else. "You never know which member you recruit will be the one that touches another veteran and makes a life-changing difference," he said.

In addition to moving into smaller breakout sessions to receive basic and advanced membership courses, and district commander training, attendees also heard from several other Legion leaders, including American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong

While thanking Legionnaires for their membership efforts during his tenure as commander – as of July 30, 54 of 55 departments had hit at least 100 percent of their membership goals when including Direct Mail Solicitation (DMS) membership – Wong said the efforts need to continue.

"Most of the departments are headed in a positive direction," he said. "The question is: What do we do from here? If you feel that you’re making headway, or if you look at it and say, ‘We’re falling down into the other direction,’ then maybe you’ve got to sit down and say, ‘What can we do to improve or continue?’ That’s important. It’s important to talk to the (department) commander who just finished his or her year to find out – good or bad, it doesn’t matter – the key things they learned, what they’ve been through, so that you can plot your course for the coming year."

National Membership & Post Activities Committee Chairman Denise Rohan kicked off the workshop by asking attendees to be both inquisitive in Indianapolis and forthcoming when they return home.

"We’re trying to provide you with the necessary tools to have a successful 2012-2013 membership year," she said. "Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences. And remember to share your experiences when you go back to your home departments."

Dan Dellinger, consultant for the National Legislative Commission and leading candidate for 2013-2014 national commander, said those who attend the National Membership Workshop carry with them a measure of responsibility.

"You are either going to make or break this year," he said. "You are between the department and the post level. Everything filters through you. You’ve had a lot of information disseminated to you. The secret here is to take it back home, share it, utilize it, because those who aren’t in this room – they also need that information in order to be successful. It’s up to you to help them out."

Looking Ahead.

Indiana Legionnaire James Koutz, the leading candidate for The American Legion's 2012-2013 national commander, told Attendees that every day is Veterans Day. In fact, that will be his slogan if he's elected to the Legion's top position during the upcoming national convention. He also laid out the membership plans he'd like the Legion to follow if he's elected.

"We’re going to turn this membership around," Koutz said. "We’re going to go up and forward. We’re going to make it work because I believe to make us heard on Capitol Hill, we need to get this membership. Wouldn’t it be great if during (the Legion’s) 100th anniversary we had an all-time high of 3.5 million members? We can work on that, and we can work on that starting this year."

Koutz’s membership incentive program, Lucky 13 & 13, will provide special pins to Legionnaires who bring in three new members, renew five more, transfer three from a department holding post into a local post, and reinstate two former members.

Also, Koutz said that, if elected, he will institute a program in which Legionnaires are given a special certificate if they recruit one member from each of the Legion’s eligibility periods: World War II; the Korean War; the Vietnam War; the Gulf War and Lebanon/Grenada and Panama; and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

Suggestions Koutz made during his presentation included:

  • Having a Direct Mail Solicitation chairman in every department;
  • Focusing on women veterans, which could include establishing a women veterans chairperson in departments;
  • Reaching out to members of Student Veterans of American, to both offer Legion services and recruit them as members;
  • Paying closer attention to delinquent dues; and
  • Advertising The American Legion by placing brochures in restaurants and hotel lobbies, and in highway rest stops, and by contacting billboard companies about placing Legion banners along highways and major roads.

"We’re going to work hard," Koutz said. "But we’re going to have fun doing it."