Monday, August 17, 2015
‘Doable Goals’ Combined with ‘Culture of Growth’
“Our goals this year are going to be doable.”
That’s how Department Commander James Yermas opened the membership recruiting workshop for the 5th and 6th Districts in Syracuse Sunday, on the heels of conducting another workshop the day before in Shortsville for the 7th and 8th Districts.
He was reacting to some concerns that assigned membership quotas in past years may have been a tad lofty, even out of reach for some posts.
Being a proud member of American Legion Riders, his commander’s pin is in the shape of a motorcycle with the words, “Choose the Right Road” (with the right road referring to American Legion programs and untiring support for veterans and families). He has another pin with the words, “On the Right Road.” Yermas plans to hand it out during his county visitations to everyone who recruits at least one new member and one lapsed member.
He continued his motorcycle theme by reminding Legionnaires that the Riders are one of the most visible programs of the American Legion — “leading parades and walking around fairs with their vests on.”
Go after veterans who are bikers, he said. Get them involved in the Legion through the Riders.
He also urged them to focus on women veterans. “Forty thousand women veterans are being released from service in the next four years.”
Department Membership Chair Gary Schacher pointed to a number of incentives for recruiting and retention – Top Ten award (for recruiting 10 members), Silver Brigade (25 members) and Gold Brigade (50 members). In addition, the Department will pay posts $1 for every member (minus paid-up-for-life members) if they meet their quotas, including recruiting five new members.
Several leaders noted that American Legion posts need to be open to change, especially if they want to attract younger veterans – those who served during the war on terror.
Fifth District Commander Les Grossett referred to the Department’s strategic plan and a mission “to create a culture of growth.” How? “Perhaps more open houses” and “explain to prospects what the American Legion does and what it stands for.”
Crossett and 6th District membership coordinator Bob Gardner pointed to “revites,” or mini-revitalization campaigns, as an essential tool this year. “We’re going to do ‘revites’,” to spur membership spurts in posts, “hopefully in each county,” Gardner noted.
Added Department Vice Commander Mike McDermott: “You have to change your posts for the new people. You don’t change new people for your posts…Change your posts for new people. You have to change with the times.”
A new attitude is needed for a renewed effort to recruit, and to keep members meaningfully involved, Membership Chair Schacher noted, if the Department of New York is going to replace the 4200 members who passed on to Post Everlasting and add new members to the roster.
Past Department Commander (PDC) and Membership Consultant Bill Kearsing put it another way: “As (PDC) Mike Bowen used to say: Just ask. You have to ask.”
And what if the prospect says, “why?” “What do you say?”
The American Legion wrote the original GI Bill, and continued to effectively fight for veterans benefits in every war era. Membership is what makes the Legion strong, what propels an array of programs (for children and youth, for example, or veterans and families), and what maintains an effective voice before local, state and federal governments.
“By paying the dues,” Kearsing added, that’s how the Legion will be there for the next generation of veterans – as the largest veterans service organization in the country. In fact, the membership dues are a bargain, he claimed, when compared to other clubs and organizations veterans belong to – and may not have the impact in the community that the Legion has.
There is one huge initiation fee, he said, but it’s one that creates a strong bond among veterans. “To become a member, you have go to an induction center and raise your right hand and promise to risk your life for your country in war time.”