There is a lesson here for all of us.
What can each and every one of us do to make OUR Branch more welcoming?
Every effort is being made at the Dominion, Provincial, Zone and Branch levels to recruit and retain Legion members. The media loves sounding the death knell for our organization, and we must fight it by working even harder at our membership numbers. We know many Branches have focused on this, ensuring their Branches stay welcoming, inclusive and relevant… and these Branches see growth because of this.
What we continue to struggle with is the reception people get at some of our Branches. We hear of experiences from across Canada that makes us cringe…
- An Ordinary member (in his forties) went for dinner at a Branch in a town where he was working temporarily. Upon entering, the entire place turned and stared at him, and not one person greeted him. He felt too awkward to stay, so he left.
- Another person attempted to join a Branch, and asked if he could be an Ordinary member as a Paramedic. He got a flat “No” and no one took the time to explain or offer information on any other category of membership. He left.
- A group of people belonging to a local softball club went to their Legion Branch after a game. Rather than taking what could have been a great opportunity for the Branch to welcome the team, tell them about the Legion and let them know about membership, a group of ‘regulars’ (members that occupy the same table each night) shouted at the team to remove their baseball caps the moment they walked in the door. The team turned around and left.
This kind of behaviour is creating a perception across the organization that is killing our efforts in welcoming potential new members. We must address this final and critical step of recruitment. For this organization to attract new members we must all, even the folks at “that table” in your Branch, be less grumpy. In fact, why are we not more like hosts?
Put bluntly, the Legion cannot survive on its current membership alone; to continue our mission of Remembrance, we must embrace those that walk through our doors, regardless of background, age, or profession. It’s time to get the grump out of the Legion!
Let’s start to get the word out about being a good host. Here are 6 ideas to assist your Branch in ways to welcome new or visiting people:
- Agree that if there is any member of the Branch Executive in the Branch, that it is set up that that they watch for people who look out of place and uncomfortable, and greet them.
- Put up a small dry erase board at the entrance that says: New to our Branch? We want to welcome you! The greeter of the day is: (name of volunteer) . Please ask for me.
- Talk to the bartenders and servers to approach and welcome people when times are quiet. We hear stories of people being completely ignored by bar staff in some Branches. Not ok. Sometimes they are the first people that a new person would approach and they should be personable.
- Understand that most people don’t really know how things work in our Branches or what activities are available in our locations. If we welcome our guests a bit better and make them feel comfortable with the Branch events, then it won’t be so intimidating to come in the next time – perhaps with another guest.
- Having trouble getting a new member to come for their initiation ceremony? It should be done at a general meeting, but it doesn’t have to be. Invite them to an event, or even do it with a couple of Executives hosting their visit. Have an Executive member accompanying the new member at the meeting at which they are to be initiated and explain the initiation process in advance of the event – this could make a new member more comfortable; anything that forms the relationship helps.
- Why not have some pin-on buttons made and ask some of your outgoing and pleasant members to wear a “host of the day” pin and have them welcome people? These are easy things that friendly people do well. Above all, deal firmly with the grouches and those members who “welcome” guests by yelling “remove your hat” – they are hurting your Branch.
We know that some Branches are doing an extraordinary job of being friendly and welcoming from the minute a guest opens the front door. So if you are doing it right and having success, or have good ideas to welcome your visitors, please share them with Dominion Command so we can start conversations across the organization.
Let’s show Canada just how friendly the Legion can be!