Recruitment of women and girls eligible to join the American Legion Auxiliary is only part of a successful strategy for revitalizing Auxiliary units which are losing members. Retention is also important. Units must find ways to retain newly recruited members as well as current ones.
The consequences of not working on retention along with recruitment can be dire for any membership-based group. Even as the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, the American Legion Auxiliary has seen dramatic drops in membership through the years.
While we can’t control whether people leave our organization, we can strive to offer them good reasons to stay.
It starts with us keeping in mind that members are humans. People tend to want to be in places and situations where they feel valued and respected, are able to contribute to a greater good, and find fulfillment … maybe even enjoyment. Having a shared vision, along with meaningful shared experiences, with peers is also motivation to remain part of a group.
That has been part of the reason why recently recruited Cristy Orr maintains her membership and is active in her unit. Orr belongs to Unit 243 in Mt. Vernon, Texas. Within weeks of becoming a member, she was contributing — alongside her fellow Legion Family members — to a mission-oriented activity: a fried-fish dinner her post home hosted for veterans from the VA Medical Center in Bonham, Texas. A member of the Sons of The American Legion Squadron 243 asked Orr if she would assist with frying the fish, and she stepped up to help out.
“The experience left me with an overwhelming sense of gratification directly stemming from our motto Service Not Self,” Orr said, adding that she was grateful to have the opportunity to work with the Legion Family to prepare a meal for veterans.
“Everyone has something they’re great at. It is important to find out what each member does well and incorporate that in their service,” Orr added.
Orr was one of many new members recruited over the last year, explained Vicki Pollard, president of Unit 243. Of the new members, nearly 20 of them consistently participate in ALA and Legion Family events, mission-oriented outreach activities, and unit meetings since joining. This is a stark contrast to times when the unit was barely able to get more than five members to attend a meeting, the unit president added.
Pollard shared why she thinks Unit 243 is doing well with retention: “We give our members something to do. And it’s not busy work; it’s a true contribution. It doesn’t have to be something that involves a lot of knowledge about, or experience with, the ALA. It’s work that has something to do with why we are all here, [which is] to help and appreciate our veterans.”
Listening to members who voice ideas and opinions, and making sure they know how to contact her, are other parts of Pollard’s effort to retain members. All of this applies to the unit’s longtime Auxiliary members, as well as the newly recruited ones, she explained.
Here are some other suggestions, many of which were shared during a 2018-2019 ALA Mission Training session, that might help with unit membership retention:
- Educate new members and remind longtime members about our organization’s mission.
- Remind members that they don’t have to work on all of the ALA’s program areas; they can choose the areas that appeal to them.
- Try not to immediately give new members too many tasks or a unit role that involves too much responsibility. Otherwise, the new member may experience burnout while still feeling obligated.
- Host casual gatherings so unit members can get to know one another.
- Make meetings interesting — even fun, at times! But don’t stray from the business at hand. In general, be efficient and productive. Keep meetings short and to the point.
- Remind members it’s OK if they aren’t able to attend meetings. Ask them how they would like to contribute to fulfilling the ALA’s mission, and be ready to offer suggestions if they ask for them.
- Remember: ALA Juniors are members too. Find opportunities for your unit’s Juniors to participate. While they shouldn’t handle money, Juniors can do nearly everything else adult members can do. For more information, consult the ALA Junior Activities Handbook which is available in the Members Only section of the Auxiliary’s national website: www.ALAforVeterans.org.
- Regularly thank all unit members, including Juniors, for joining. They made a commitment and devotion to the ALA mission and those we serve. Remember that a little gratitude can go a long way.