Someone’s going to jump for membership

As a U.S. Army soldier during the Vietnam War, Art Schwabe never had to jump out of an airplane. Neither did Mike McDaniel, who served in the Marine Corps from 1975 to 2004. That lack of experience is bound to change after May.

At the Florida American Legion convention last summer, Commander Schwabe announced that if the state’s membership exceeds 108 percent of its year-end target, he will do something inspired by one of his favorite movies, “The Bucket List.” He will skydive. To make things interesting, he upped the ante by committing McDaniel, the department adjutant, to parachute with him if numbers pass 110 percent. McDaniel had no idea the challenge was coming, but adjutants are used to getting roped into such things. “Sometimes you have to do fun and crazy things to fire people up,” Schwabe says.

By mid-February, Florida membership was hovering around the 90-percent mark with three months to go. Orange T-shirts were made, each featuring a cartoon rendering of Schwabe pulling McDaniel out of a plane – the adjutant pleading with him, “We haven’t validated the numbers yet!” (The airport and plane have already been reserved, by the way.) Moreover, Florida Legionnaires are buzzing about the wager, signing up members and looking forward to the big jump.

This is one example of the ways Legionnaires are making membership recruiting fun and interesting this year. Last fall, the Indiana American Legion invested in a television and radio campaign that included a marketing relationship with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and booth space at Lucas Oil Stadium. One of the TV ads told the story of a post-9/11 veteran who needed help after a job offer fell through. The Legion found him a place and helped him stage a successful new job search. The young veteran happily shared his story before TV cameras, proudly wearing his Legion cap and urging others to join.

Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin are also now locked in membership bets that involve pizza, cheese, ham and NFL jerseys.

Last year, the Legion’s Membership & Post Activities Committee unveiled a five-year blueprint for growth as we near the organization’s 100th anniversary. States stepped up with their own five-year plans. And those plans appear to be working. One post in New York, for instance, stood at 268 percent of target by the middle of February. Such growth is essential to the Legion’s mission, especially now.

Nearly 1.5 million members of the nation’s armed forces will soon leave the service and come home, needing their fellow veterans. They may want assistance. They may want to offer it. Some will be interested in hitting the road with the Legion Riders. Others will help with Junior Shooting Sports, volunteer at VA hospitals, or speak to schoolchildren about military service. Many new veterans will just want someone to talk to. Whatever their interests, we need to welcome them home in great numbers, invite their involvement, share our legacy and enlist their advice in establishing a vision for the next century, which belongs to them and their own recruitment plans – with or without parachutes.