A COMMANDER’S THOUGHTS ON MEMBERSHIP
By Paul Edwards
Minnesota Sixth District Commander
2019 - 2020
In the past few years, since I became involved in the American Legion and started paying attention to things going on above the Post level, I have observed a few things. Consequently, I have also formed a few opinions, some of which might be considered heretical.
At virtually every event I attend, whether it be a rally, a conference or a convention, there seems to be an on-going litany of, “membership, membership, membership”, and folks trying to come up with new and better ways to recruit and renew members. Because I tend to be a realist, I don’t have a real problem with all of that; as far as it goes. We need dues moneys in the coffers to do the things that we do. I won’t try to mention here all the programs and projects our dues support across the country. We also need people. People to greet members and guests at our posts. People to stand honor guard at funerals. People to go out and teach children about flag etiquette. Even people to help with cleaning up after a fundraiser breakfast or dinner. Bottom line, we do need membership.
RECRUITING, RENEWAL AND RETAIN
Recruiting is pretty straight forward. Talk to veterans about the Legion and ask them to join. Be able to explain why you are a member and why it should be important to them. Renewing is both simple and difficult at the same time. Simple to tell folks that it is time to pay their annual dues. Difficult to get them to actually write the check. Dues notices, emails, letters and phone calls. I get it. Nuff said.
Where I see a problem is retaining new members and I see this as a problem to drop in the laps of the individual Posts. Ask yourself these questions, “Is my Post a Good Old Boys club? Have we been doing things the same way for many years and we like it that way? Do we go out of our way to make new members welcome?”
Here are some comments that have been made to new post members, either in my hearing or relayed to me by people I trust.
Said to a female Veteran visiting a post meeting – “The women meet down the hall.”
Said to a Vietnam Veteran when he joined a post – “Sit there in the back. We will tell you when you can talk.
Said of a stateside supply sergeant during Vietnam – “We don’t want him in the Post, he’s not a real Veteran.”
Said of a female Veteran – “She shouldn’t be a candidate for Legion office, she’s not a real Veteran.”
This is very much old school and “Good Old Boy” thinking, and it needs to be done away with. With the passage of the LEGION Act, a Veteran is a Veteran is a Veteran. We all took the same Oath of Enlistment and saluted the same flag. All Veterans deserve our respect and are entitled to every courtesy that we as Legionnaires can give them.
Today’s young Veterans are not the same as those from the 60s and 70s. In those days, typically the man was the Veteran who went to work and brought home the bacon and Mama stayed home with the kids. Dad was a member of the Legion and went there for a beer after work. Occasionally, Mom could get away to go to an Auxiliary meeting.
The world has changed. Today’s Veteran is 40% likely to be a woman. Today’s male Veteran is more family oriented and we need to make changes in the posts to reflect that reality. For example, more family events like picnics or kid’s parties. How about better advertising for Legion Baseball? How about scheduling conferences and conventions so that mom and dad don’t have to take so much time off from work? Maybe arrange childcare at those events?
I will close with this thought. We talk about the Legion being a family organization. We need to make changes at every level of the organization to make it more family friendly and welcoming to new members. If we don’t make those changes, it doesn’t matter if we go out and recruit 10,000 new members, they will vote with their feet.