The Mission Statement of The American Legion tells us,
"The American Legion’s success depends entirely on active membership, participation
and volunteerism. The organization belongs to the people it serves and the communities
in which it thrives."
If you talk with the leaders of a local American Legion post about active members, you will soon hear them tell you, "We want more!"
Wanting and wishing, hoping and praying won't get us more active members. There is no magical way to get more. It takes focused hard work using every method and opportunity we can, to talk with as many post members as possible. We need to ask more of our post members if they would like to help, in as many different ways as we possibly can.
Active Members are precious resources to a post, that are all too often in very short supply. A member who is never seen at the post is not thought of as an active member, although they do have value to the post.
We know it is not easy to find Active Members, so here are a few ideas we know will help. Transforming inactive members into Active Members is major and real challenge.
In the Membership Team Training Guide-published by The American Legion is a quiz about membership. Question 15 in that quiz asks,
the correct answer is:
"Meet the new member – greet the new member and involve the new member in those functions in which interest is shown."
This is very good advice, but we should not be limited to just new members. The large majority of our post members do not get involved in the operation of the post. However, it is possible to increase the number of member who become actively involved in the post. If a member has not been asked recently to help, it may be a good time to ask for their help.
If The American Legion advises us to involve members in the things they are interest in, how do we find out what members are interested in? This leads us to the topic of what do we communicate?
As we start the discussion of how to get more active members, every post should understand that seeking more active members is a constant process. It is always a good time to find new active members. Post leaders should develop a goal to increase the number of active members and then write out plans to achieve that goal.
Post leaders will need to use considerable skill to find the active members they want and need. Post leaders should also be ready to hear a number of members say "No thank you." when they ask them to help. But as all seasoned salespersons know, every "No" brings you closer to the next "Yes."
When you think about how many Active Members you would like to have in your post, keep in mind the 80-20 rule. According to the 80-20 rule (also known as the Pereto principle or the law of the vital few) around 20% of your membership (at best) will be responsible for 80% of the work done in your post. Having 20% of your membership actively involved in the success of your post would a big improvement for most posts.
Active Members - are a precious resources to a post, that are all too often in very short supply. It is the work of Active Members that makes your post a success.
A member who is never seen at the post is not thought of as an active member, although they do have value to the post.
Active Members contribute to the success of our posts in many ways, including working as active participants in post activities. They also provide the energy needed for our post's success. Post leadership is provided by Active Members. Leaders bring elevated levels of enthusiasm and dedication to the post as they serve in honorable and noteworthy service as post officers, chairmen, committee members and support any number of post functions.
Your post roster is where new Active Members will be found. Finding which members are willing to serve as Active Members tends not be an easy task. It will require the current active members in a post to put forth an honest effort to succeed.
However, do not fear, expanding the base of active members is a very achievable goal, American Legion posts, our good strong posts, do it all the time. That is how they stay strong -they are more effective in cultivating active members!
For more details on how to crest a SMART Goal visit the Leadership of Membership page.
How you find more active members is what we hope to help with. Having a good plan is an essential part of success.
Failure to plan, is planning for failure.
Develop a plan, work the plan.
So here is some basic information on how to write a good plan.
For those leaders who are writing the plan to increase the number of Active Members, consider using the 4 W's of effective planning. Define the Who, What, Where and When of how the plan will help reach your goal. There is more information on the 4 W's of Planning in the 2015 Officer's Guide in the section on First Vice-Commanders.
(on-line version 2016 Officer's Guide)
Having a written plan will help you find and keep active members. It is not easy, if it was easy, we would already have all the active members we need right now. You can also find more information on the process of Planning on the Leadership of Membership page.
What if you could communicate with all your members and let those members interested in helping tell you what they would like to help with? That would be nice. Having that communication with each member in out post may be too big a challenge, at this time.
Consider sending a survey to all your post members. You may be surprised with the results. There may be members of your post just waiting to be asked to help. When a member responds to your survey and tells you where they would be willing to help, it is very important that the member be directly contacted as soon as possible by a post leader. The longer you wait to contact the member showing interest the less likely you will engage that member as the active member you seek.
A good place to start your plan is to develop a written survey that allows your members to tell you how they would prefer to be active in your post. List and define the areas in your post operation where you need more support. Make sure you only list the areas that you already have in place.
It is difficult to bring in brand new members to work on and support a program that does not currently exist in your post. Here is an example of what your member survey could look like.
A member survey can be a pwerful tool to hear what post members are saying. The survey results can help guid post leaders, if they listen well to what post members want.
On The American Legion web site you will find this statement on sending surveys:
"It’s always a good idea to send a survey to new members. Leadership can learn what new members are looking for in the post and how they want to get involved. The welcome committee can also contact new members for in-person surveys. New members will feel a personal connection to your post."
Here are some thoughts on how to put together an effective survey.
Do not expect a large percentage of members will respond to your survey. A low (single digit) percentage return rate is most likely. If you get a higher percentage returned, just smile and accept the blessing of more responses.
Those who do respond to your survey are PRIME candidates to convert into engaged and active members.
Use the survey to update and complete your records for each member. Basic information like name, address, phone number, date of birth, branch of service and service era need to be up to date and accurate in a well run post. An accurate and working e-mail address is important to have on file.
Doing a mail merge of your post membership data (current member data is available via mylegion.org ) (Test roster only 7 records) into your survey form is a good way to ensure you have on file accurate and up to date information for your members who respond. Doing a mail merge is more complicated and takes more time to prepare, but the updated member records you get are important.
If you need help developing a survey for your post or setting up a mail merge from your member data, contact the Department of California, Web Team and we will do our best to help.
Ask members to help with those general needs you have for volunteers in your survey. A statement of general needs is less restrictive making it easier for members to consider that option.
Include an option for 'Other' to give flexibility in your member's response.
Be careful about including any committees in your survey that do not currently exist in your post. As an example, if your post does not currently have an active public relations committee, don't include it in your survey. It is rather difficult to get a new member involved in starting a whole new program in your post. Get the member involved in other aspects of your post operation, get them some training about the Legion and in time work towards starting the new committee.
Send your post survey to your members by traditional U.S. Mail.
Pre-printed envelopes with your post's address look better. Using an address stamp will also work.
Hand write (or print) your member's name and address on the envelope. The personal touch of a hand addressed envelope is important to getting the mail being opened.
Include a pre-addressed return envelope for the survey to be returned. Whether you put a stamp on the return envelope is a decision for you post to make. Using the stamp may increase your return rate, but it will also increase the cost of doing the survey
Who should you survey? Surveying all your members is a good choice if your post records are not up to date or missing important pieces of information, like phone numbers or email addresses. However it might be better to select a smaller group of your post membership to survey if you are primarily using the survey to find more active members.
Consider sending the survey to:
Post Korean era veterans.
This would include Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Operation Just Cause, Panama, Persian Gulf and the current War on Terrorism veterans.
New post members of the past 2-3 years.
These members will not need to un-learn ideas about how things "used to be done" and they may be easier to develop into members willing to do things according to any new post plans you may develop. But it may be a rather small group if you have not brought in many new members in recent years.
By sending a survey to a smaller group may give you more and a younger set of members responding to your survey. Younger members have more energy, younger families and are more comfortable with new technology. They are also more likely to be working and have limited time to devote to helping with the Post. But keep in mind The American Legion, almost 100 years ago, was built by young veterans fresh off the battlefields of World War I. The younger veteran can find the time, if they feel their time is valued and directed at serving our brother veterans and their families.
More and more Vietnam era members are reaching retirement age and have more time to devote to post activities. They may also have more health issues that limit some involvement. Still, the over 9 million Vietnam era veterans in America are an important group to bring into the ranks of Active Members in every post!
When you send your members a survey, this may be a good question to include.
"If you had the desire and time to help our post, what would you like to do?"
This question or one similar to, when used in your survey, can give you some very specific responses that directs you to the question(s) you should ask to get members involved. As an example, if in a member survey you were to ask each member such a question and you got this response,
You would then ask a member indicated they are interesting in recruiting and taking pictures to join your Membership Committee and/or ask them to take pictures at posts activities. If they say yes to your specific question about helping with the Membership Committee and/or taking pictures, they are in essence agreeing to helping out and that they do have the desire and time to help.
If you decide to not survey your membership about what areas in post they would like to help out or they do not respond to your survey or you have a new member since your last survey was sent, how you should ask a member to join the ranks of active members will evolve.
Asking the right question becomes more of a challenge when you do not use a survey because the right question is more dependent on your relationship and knowledge of the member you plan to ask about becoming active.
Once you know enough about a member that you are ready to ask them that important question to become active, it helps if you Just Ask SMART. This idea of Ask SMART is developed from taking the elements of SMART Goals and applying them to asking a good question to get members involved.
Your Ask SMART question should include:
Invite your member to help with a specific event versus all events. Ask them to help with a specific BBQ, instead of asking them to just help with BBQ's in general.
If you ask a member to support the post? How do you measure if they did support the post. A question to help by collecting the money at the next post BBQ is something you can measure.
Asking people to help with a task they can do is important. General tasks can generally be done by most members. More specific tasks that depend on specific skill sets require knowing the member better so the most appropriate question can be asked for each member.
An example of a non-relevant question, asking a member to help with a political campaign for another member running for elected public office is not relevant to the mission of The American Legion. "Policies Not Politics" is Legion policy.
Ask for help with a specific event. "When you get some free time, come help with our BBQ's" will not get the a timely commitment. Instead ask about "We have BBQ next Saturday, the 3rd Saturday of the month can you come give us a hand?
Using a post BBQ as the focus of your Ask SMART question, it might look something like this:
"We have a post BBQ on Saturday, August 13 and some members will be going down to the post for a couple hours earlier to help get things set up. We plan to arrive at the post around 9 a.m., why don't come give us a hand?"
Developing a good SMART Question to ask a your members if they are willing to help, really does increases your chance of getting a "Yes" in response.