Are you being nice or are you being kind?

Posted On: Friday, 23 February 2024

It makes a big difference in membership 
An American Legion Auxiliary unit’s answer to the question of being nice or being kind can hold the key to attracting new members — and to retaining those who’ve been with the organization for years.
“Those two words — nice and kind — aren’t synonyms,” said Minju Witte, an Indianapolis-based etiquette expert and trainer. 
Being nice is just that — it’s nice. And while that’s important, being kind goes a step further.
“Nice is being pleasant, polite, and civilized,” Witte said. “But I would argue that to make somebody feel included and welcomed, it also takes kindness. Kindness is about being thoughtful, caring, and considerate. There’s a difference.”
Karen Toll, 2023-2024 ALA national Membership Committee chair, said for the organization’s units, exhibiting the type of kindness that makes people feel valued and included is critical. And that means doing more to welcome new members while also reminding existing members about why they’re important to the organization’s mission.
It means being nice, telling newcomers hello and welcoming them to the group. But it also means being kind — going the extra mile to build relationships and encourage inclusivity among new and existing members alike. 
These behaviors pay dividends for an entire organization, as groups whose participants feel appreciated and connected are more likely to attract and retain members.
So, how can ALA units extend this membership-building kindness to their new and existing members? Here are four tips from Toll and Witte:
1. Explain the details. Toll, a member of ALA Unit 203 in Latonia, Ky., said communication is the cornerstone of kindness for Auxiliary units. And nowhere is that more apparent than during new member onboarding. Too often, she said, “we get new members, and we’re very excited to sign them up, and then we just drop the ball.” 
Toll recommended conducting periodic new-member sessions to outline the ALA’s mission and programs, as well as encouraging attendance at Mission Training meetings. Another source of information that can connect members is the American Legion Auxiliary National Membership Group on Facebook. Additionally, assigned mentors can be a resource to shepherd new members through the basics of ALA membership. 
2. Offer to help. Kindness includes taking the initiative to assist those who might need it, Witte said. To do this, she recommended paying close attention to any specific needs a member might have, such as those related to disability issues. Then the group should ensure that its practices — from offering lower tables to accommodate wheelchair users to providing up-front seating for people who are hard of hearing — address those concerns. 
Toll suggested establishing a committee to answer questions, offer rides, and connect members to the resources they need for assistance.
3. Make it personal. Witte encouraged ALA members to look for opportunities to learn about new and existing members’ interests and concerns. “Go out of your comfort zone,” she said. “Make conversation with others and get to know them.”
And that personal connection shouldn’t stop there, according to Toll. One opportunity to continue that outreach is through general membership announcements, like events information or holiday greetings. She suggested occasionally including a separate message just to the recipient. “It’s a personal touch,” she said. “I’ve been a member for 26 years and I enjoy getting that.”
4. Plan a gathering. Social activities, such as cookouts or picnics, are great for encouraging kindness among members. Events that include members’ families present an opportunity to build connections — and even get the attention of relatives who might become members. In fact, Toll said, allowing members to bring friends and family to ALA events can be a great way to showcase the organization’s mission and value.
Toll also suggested asking those who attend these ALA functions to wear nametags, noting that they do more than identify the people wearing them. They also put people at ease when reaching out to others whose names they might not recall. Random seating is another way to encourage connections between people who otherwise might not have gotten to know each other.

The bottom line, Witte said, is for members to challenge themselves in all ALA activities, thinking about whether they are being nice or being kind.
“Kindness,” she said, “is action-oriented and authentic. Your number-one goal is trying to meet the needs of others.”

ALA Mission

In the spirit of Service, Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.