David McKay Wilson 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Clubs Grow Membership in Innovative Ways When Julie Crawford joined the Encinitas Lions Club in suburban San Diego in 2002, she discovered it had just seven members and met at a single table in a crowded restaurant. That disappointment, however, did not discourage her. She became the club’s membership chairperson and embarked on a recruitment effort. Seven years later, the club has 55 members and meets twice monthly at the well-appointed Encinitas Ranch Golf Club. Crawford has boosted membership by raising the club’s profile on social-networking sites and in the local media, sponsoring events to showcase the club’s commitment to community service and offering chances for prizes to those who bring in new members. Each quarter, the club sponsors a raffle for such items as a weekend at a member’s fabulous oceanfront cottage. Tickets for the raffle are $10 each, three for $25. Members who bring in a new member receive three free tickets for the drawing. “We make membership our top priority,” says Crawford, now first vice president of the Encinitas Lions Club. “You have to get new people to your meetings. And when they come, if they see you are having fun, have good service projects, have good meetings where members like to see each other, you will get them hooked.” Crawford’s campaign to build the Encinitas Lions is one of hundreds of efforts across North America to recruit new members. Interviews with Lions from Calgary, Canada, to Somers, New York, found a broad range of strategies to re-energize local clubs by recruiting new members, forming alliances with other organization and developing programs to address local needs. Many successful clubs are also focusing on recruiting both men and women. Since Lions Clubs International Began accepting women members in the 1987, about 21 percent of the Lions worldwide are women. In Edgar, Wisconsin, where membership rolls have recently grown by one-third to 45, Mark Lacke says recruiting both sexes has been a crucial part of the club’s strategy. “We recruit women as much as we recruit men,” says Lacke, the Edgar schools superintendent who has been a Lion since the late 1970s. “We recruit couples. We’ve found it very important to include spouses. If the husband is too busy to help on one event, that doesn’t mean his wife isn’t available. And if she’s busy, he could be able to help out. You really limit yourself if you just go after one gender.” The effort to build the club in Edgar, a small rural village with a population of 1,500, has picked up steam in recent years. Lions have done it by developing a fundraising and charitable-giving program that focuses on local needs but includes consideration for the Lions statewide and international programs. The Edgar club supports the Wisconsin Lions Camp on Lions Lake in Rosholt, which has been serving disabled children from around the state for more than 50 years. And they contribute to the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, supporting the organization that links donors with the visually impaired across the state. The club’s local program, however, is the glue that holds the Edgar Lions together and serves as the foundation for growth. The Edgar Lions support the local Boy Scouts. They provide scholarships for seniors graduating from Edgar High School. They hold a free dinner for the village’s senior citizens. They support Edgar parks projects, the postprom party at Edgar High and the local food pantry. “We knew that if our organization was going to be viable going into the future, we needed to get new people in the club,” says Richard Wirkus, the club’s secretary and a member since the 1970s. “We needed to change its personality. We were getting to be known as an old people’s club.” The recruitment effort was led by Lacke, a longtime Edgar resident and an established local leader, having served in the Edgar School District for 37 years including 21 years as high school principal and the last eight years as schools superintendent. Two years ago, he convened a breakfast meeting with four other Edgar Lions to brainstorm about who they thought would like to join. When the club had an interesting speaker scheduled to appear at an upcoming meeting, he wrote letters to prospective members, sent them by mail and then followed up with a phone call. One such meeting featured a woman from South Carolina who had gone blind while raising several children and felt like her world was spiraling out of control. Then the Lions club in her town provided her with a guide dog, and her life turned around. Her tale detailed the reach of Lionism, and served to inspire residents of Edgar to join. “It doesn’t take much,” says Lacke. “It seemed like some of the people I invited were waiting to be asked but just hadn’t thought about it.” Personal Touch The personal touch is key to recruitment campaigns. George Mohrmann, a retired lobbyist for the defense contractor Lockheed Martin, moved to Forest, Virginia, four years ago and joined the Forest Lions Club after a neighbor invited him to a meeting. Now he’s heading up the effort to build a club with 17 members. He launched the fall membership drive with press releases to local newspapers inviting people to attend an upcoming dinner meeting. The club had hoped to double its membership by Christmas, when the club sponsors its annual Christmas tree sale. The club quickly added one member and Mohrmann was still talking with three others who had shown interest. Meanwhile, the club is promoting affiliated memberships, which allow membership with a much lower expectation of participation. Affiliated members need only attend a few monthly meetings and can’t serve as a club officer. But they are encouraged to participate in club activities, such as the tree sale, and the club’s annual club raffle, when the club sells 250 tickets at $100 each and the winner gets $10,000. As the tree sale approached, the Forest Lions were working with the parents and players of two high school sports teams that were to benefit from the sale. In return for filling some of the tree-selling slots, they’d receive funding for the sports programs. The parents would also be approached about joining the Forest Lions. Getting the high school students and parents to help on the tree sale was essential. The trees are between eight- and 10-feet tall. “Some of our members are getting older, and they can’t haul those trees and put them up on top of a van,” says Mohrmann. “So the students help with the trees, and the older Lions collect the money and promote Lionism.” Ethnic Connections The Calgary Northeast Lions Club, located in Canada’s fifth-largest metropolitan area, has grown its membership from 50 to 70 in recent years by appealing to young professionals interested in becoming involved in their community. Christina Pond, immediate past governor of District 37-0, says younger members of the club have challenged one another to reach out to friends and colleagues. Club meetings, which include dinner, are limited to two hours, and speakers are chosen to appeal to a broad audience. The club, which has many members from the city’s Filipino immigrant community, also stresses its work with the elderly at the Carewest-Dr. Vernon Fanning Centre, a longterm care facility for seniors. It’s the club’s signature local project, and the work has resonated with the Lions volunteers. “We go there twice a week,” says Pond. “It keeps us together. It keeps us grounded. And it gives us a way to serve our community.” High Profile In the northern suburbs of New York City, the Somers Lions Club has long been one of the town’s strongest organizations. But just after the turn of the century, the club’s roster began to dwindle as older members passed on. When it got as low as 60 members eight years ago, the club began to recruit new members. But it didn’t do it through a recruitment campaign. The Somers Lions grew their club by doing what the Lions do best: taking a leadership role in the community. Today, the club’s membership is up to 103 and climbing as the club continues to take a leadership role in many community events. It runs an annual carnival on Fireman’s Field, organizes the pancake breakfast for 1,500 at Somers High, runs a regional high school track meet and heads up the town’s July 4 celebration at Reis Park, which attracts up to 5,000 residents. The club was also responsible for building the pavilion, band stand and children’s playground at Reis Park. In 2006, the club raffled off a Mercury Mountaineer to support the family of Glenn Anderson, a father of eight who died that August in a motorcycle accident. The club raised enough to pay off the family’s mortgage and helped complete the home renovation that was underway before his death. “Your membership drive is what you are doing in your community,” says Vinny Liscio, president of the Somers Lions Club. “You do these things, you wear your Lions shirts and people see that you, their neighbor, is having a great time raising money for the community, the extended community and for an international charity. The most important this is that we are visual. We aren’t just a check-writing club. We do hands-on projects that help in big and small ways.” On the Saturday after Thanksgiving the club scheduled a “Brush with Kindness” day at the home of a woman who had adopted children with disabilities. She had lost her full-time job teaching math and her home was in disrepair. “I sent out an e-mail on a Monday at 11:30 in the morning and by Wednesday I had 20 guys [and women] who wanted to help. Another eight or 10 will just show up. One guy heard about it and wanted to come and join [the Lions],” says Liscio. “That’s how you build membership. If you’re not showing yourself, when you do a fundraiser or raffle, why should people support you if they don’t know what you do?” The club’s high profile in the community is augmented by its Web site, which lists its twice-monthly meetings at the Heritage Hills Country Club and includes a photo gallery from Lions events and links to Lions Clubs International programs. You can buy a $100 ticket to the club’s Corvette raffle online and download a membership brochure to learn more about the Somers Lions Club. Among its newest members is Michael Ross, an executive coach from nearby Mahopac. Ross attended a couple of Lions meetings with his friend Dan Sullivan, who invited him to join. He has been interested in vision issues and said he wants to get involved in the club’s support for vision programs. “I met Dan and his wife five years ago, we’ve slowly gotten to meet their friends, and the common denominator has been the Lions club,” says Ross. “The meetings and dinners have been enjoyable, and it’s a way for me to get involved on the vision issue.” Community Leader Becoming a major community presence has helped as well in Tigerton, Wisconsin, where the Embarrass River Lions Club has become a major player in the tiny community of about 800 residents since it was founded in 2001. The club now has 37 members including five new members inducted in October and two more in November. That’s close to 5 percent of the town’s population. The club holds a Christmas party for local children, runs the funnel cake stand at the Old Car Show, raises money for residents facing huge medical bills and helps Sponsor turkey dinners for a dozen Tigerton families who are scraping to get by. The club collects eyeglasses and pays for eye exams for children whose parents can’t afford it. The club cleared brush and debris from the overgrown Forest Home Cemetery, helped restore Morris Town Hall and hosted the recent Lions District 27 B-2 convention, with more than 200 Lions coming for a three-day gathering. “Our motto is that anything we take from the community, we give back to the community,” says Cathy Jensen, president of the Embarrass River Lions Club and one of the club’s founding members. “People like to join when they see people actually doing something. We’re not a club that just gets together. We get together to get things done. And that keeps us moving forward.” Among her new recruits is the Rev. John Hielsberg, pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Morris. As he became increasingly aware of the club’s involvement in helping the less fortunate, he decided he wanted to be part of the community effort. “I saw that the Lions club members were living and walking the faith that they professed on Sunday,” says Hielsberg. “It’s a group that gives without any anticipation of being repaid. This is good stuff. And I decided to become part of it.”
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