History repeats itself

I want to share the following statement from a report given by The American Legion’s National Membership & Post Activities Committee: ‘While we appreciate and recognize that 55,000 of our members die each year, and while the pool from which we can draw grows smaller and smaller, yet we are somewhat confused when we look at the situation and find that there are still some 20 million veterans eligible to belong to The American Legion. We in this organization enroll approximately one-eighth or 12 percent of the eligible’s, and we feel as your M&PA committee that we are hardly inclined or are we moved to accept the figure and we ask ourselves why? Why do we continue to suffer an annual decrease in membership?’

The report is from 1964, which shows me that history repeats itself. Because here we are, nearly 50 years later, facing the same problems and having the same mission.

The report went on to identify the following membership issues:

  • Decline in eligible members;
  • Lack of programs and activities within posts;
  • Lack of post participation in communities;
  • Lack of communication from posts, districts and departments about their struggles and needs;
  • Limited leadership training at all Legion levels; and
  • Inadequate membership filtration in most urban centers. And in most urban centers and non-urban centers, there are not a sufficient number of posts that are strategically located to attract and hold the needed membership.

As a result of the committee’s findings, they asked each department to develop a membership plan that would encourage a culture of growth and membership sustainment for another 50 years.

For the next decade, the Legion experienced a membership growth of more than 100,000 members because Legionnaires recognized the problems, and they had a plan to overcome them. Departments need to work their five-year membership plan sincerely, positively and enthusiastically. And I’m confident that when we meet again next year, you will have stopped the slide in membership and started the climb. It starts with each one of us setting the example of being participants, not just spectators.

Additionally, when you engage new members, explain the great things that the Legion accomplishes for veterans, military personnel and their families because of its membership.

For example, discuss the claims backlog. The American Legion is helping to reduce the backlog by working with VA to interview claims processors, review claims files and identify best practices at each VA regional office. Additionally, more than 2,600 Legion service officers are filing claims for veterans and helping them receive their benefits in a timely manner.

Also, talk about licensing and credentialing. The Legion has been lobbying on licensing and credentialing for 15 years, pushing for legislation that would allow military training and skills to fulfill requirements for professional certifications. Thanks to lobbying from national staff and Legionnaires within each department, the Legion has scored noteworthy victories in several states where credentialing legislation was introduced and passed, resulting in jobs for veterans.

Show new members what we are doing now and how we are continuing our legacy of improving the lives of America's veterans.