"Once upon a time, there was a man who was hungry and had nothing but an ordinary small stone" starts an old fable, one that speaks directly to the issue of how the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks can address the state of membership retention and development. Weary from his long journey, the wanderer came upon a small village where he hoped to find shelter, nourishment, and companionship. There, however, the wanderer found that the villagers were also hungry, a harsh summer having destroyed their crops.
But the wanderer--noble hearted, sworn to charity, and ever resourceful--told the villagers, "I have a magic stone that will feed you all. But for the magic to work, I need your help. First, place an enormous kettle filled with water in the center of town. Then, go to your homes and bring whatever you can; a single carrot, a chicken bone, a parsnip, a bit of potato. I will place my magic stone in the pot and each of you will do the same with what you bring. The magic of the stone will make enough soup to feed us all."
The villagers did as they were told, each bringing to the kettle what they had; a stalk of celery, a sprig of parsley, an onion. The wanderer added his stone to the kettle. A fire was lit, and in time the villagers saw that it was as the wanderer had promised. There was enough soup to feed them all.
How does the tale of stone soup apply to Elks membership? First, several officers and members of subordinate Lodges, many state membership committee chairmen, and GL Membership Committee Chairman Dr. Aaron Walter, like the wanderer, are passionately concerned about the well-being of those around them. They have worked diligently to discover the ingredients to a successful recipe for membership gains.
Second, the villagers, without knowing it, already had what they needed to take care of themselves; they just needed a catalyst, a "magic" stone, to draw it out. For the Elks, that catalyst can be Grand Lodge and state association incentives, media campaigns, or simply an ongoing commitment to a Lodge's charitable activities and the involvement of both family and community. Certainly there have been membership losses, as indicated in the annual report of the Grand Secretary, but that trend has slowed because subordinate Lodges throughout the country have found the catalyst that has unleashed the skills and talents with which they can address the issue of membership.
Finally, the end of the fable is symbolic of all that it means to be an Elk: coming together as a whole to help someone who can never pay you back.
Publicity and Public Relations
One of the most important ingredients that a subordinate Lodge can bring to the membership kettle, as Walter states, is publicity. "Publicity is our best recruiting tool," he explains. "We have so much good to offer, but we haven't been telling anyone about it. We need to blow our own horn."
By now many Elks know that media campaign plans have been developed and are available from the Grand Lodge. Tacoma, WA, Lodge found interesting ways to adapt these programs to fit its needs, thereby making publicity its own magic stone. Discussing the meeting of Tacoma's officers that led to the Lodge's media campaign, "Dud" Brown relates that "the main item agreed upon by the entire committee was that Elks do so much charity work. However, how many people, other than Elks, really know what we do?"
To combat the problem Tacoma Lodge used posters, bumper stickers, signboards on the local bus transit system, radio spots, billboard messages purchased from the Grand Lodge, and other forms of advertising. As a result, the Lodge is anticipating the reinstatement of more than 300 members by the end of the month.
For some Lodges, a media campaign of this magnitude might appear too expensive to mount, but Brown says that Tacoma Lodge was able to find ways to offset the costs. For every signboard the Lodge purchased, the transit system matched it with another signboard; a local company donated the funds to lease the billboards; posters were displayed in Lodge members' places of business; and rather than paying for expensive advertising in the area's main paper, the Lodge purchased advertising in the Nickel Want Ads.
Understandably, not every Lodge can conduct a media campaign on such a grand scale, but there are still many ways for a Lodge to blow its own horn. "Public relations is the key," insists Boulder City, NV, Lodge Secretary Garth Phillips. "In smaller towns there should be almost no reason not to build a rapport with local editors." Boulder City Lodge makes sure its activities appear in the local newspaper every week. And keeping the community informed about a Lodge's charitable activities and youth programs is the heart of a successful membership campaign. "When they [the people in the community] find out about our good, giving heart, the people get involved," Phillips explains. "That's why it is critical to get out what we do."
Florence, KY, Lodge, which last year had one of the highest percentage increases of new members, also considers developing public awareness among its top priorities. PDDGER and Lodge Secretary James Mirick attributes Florence Lodge's success to "promoting what Elkdom can do for the community." Lodge activities regularly appear in community, city, and county papers and were also featured in an article in a local magazine. "We have a lot of good people who take pride in what we do," states Mirick, "and that's the main thing--taking pride in what we do for the community."
No matter the size of a Lodge, a good publicity program is critical to reaching potential members. "You need to make the program fit your Lodge," urges Walter. "You have to tailor the programs to fit your needs."
The magic of stone soup began when the wanderer encouraged the villagers to work together, uniting for the good of the community. When a subordinate Lodge focuses on its own community involvement, new membership increases and lapsation decreases. "The first page of the membership application," says Calabash, NC, Lodge Secretary Hugh Coulter, "that's what Elkdom is all about--charity, brotherhood, and community service." Coulter suggests that one of the main reasons that Calabash Lodge has been so successful in recruiting new members is directly related to community involvement. "The types of programs we run--Americanism, charity, Flag Day--people see them and are impressed." Impressed enough to join. In a town of about 1,200 people, more than half that number are Lodge members, which accounts for Calabash Lodge's dramatic growth.
Bringing the community into the Lodge building has also increased the membership ranks for several Lodges. Mirick notes that when other civic groups use Florence Lodge's facilities the members of these civic groups often join the Lodge. PER Paul Botkin of Laramie, WY, Lodge, who was recognized at the 133rd annual Grand Lodge Convention for his outstanding recruiting efforts, suggests that one of the reasons he has been so successful in attracting new members is because Lodge facilities are often available to the community. "Laramie is a college town and college students have a social outlet at the Lodge." What started as a "social outlet" has snowballed into increased membership. Botkin points out that when the college students and others use the Lodge they become aware of the Lodge's efforts with drug awareness, the State Major Project, the Elks National Foundation, and other charitable endeavors, and they want to join. For Walter, the image of the Elks involvement in the community is what is vitally important when trying to recruit potential members. "We need to get what we do for the communities out to the public."
Open houses at the Lodge and "Meet the Elks Night" have been successful in attracting new members for a number of subordinate Lodges. These open houses give a Lodge the opportunity to bring the community into the Lodge, meet its members and officers, learn how the Lodge is directly involved in the community, and inquire about the process of becoming a new member.
Whittier, CA, Lodge PR Chairman W.J. "Bill" Wallis has just begun another interesting way of using the Lodge's community involvement to attract new members. In the press releases the Lodge sends to local publications, Wallis has added a tag line reading, "This is only one of the many charity projects in which the local Elks Lodge participates throughout the year. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks primary mission is charity within the community through its members. If you have ever thought of becoming a member of this great organization and participating in this type of community service, please call the Lodge office at . . ." The rest of the tag line includes the Lodge's phone number and whom the caller should ask to speak with to express interest in becoming a member.
And not surprisingly, the World Wide Web has been yet another way for Elks at every level of the Order to publicize their involvement in the community. With many state associations and subordinate Lodges now maintaining web pages and with the availability through the Grand Lodge for each subordinate Lodge to place its calendar on-line, the information regarding a Lodge's charitable and civic activities is just a modem and a mouse click away. The California-Hawaii Elks Association's (CHEA) cyberspace presence isn't just a means to publicize the association's activities. CHEA's home page also has established an on-line membership inquiry, which allows individuals interested in becoming an Elk the ability to leave information on how they can be contacted by CHEA. That information is then directed to the nearest Lodge in the person's area, beginning the recruitment process.
Just as getting the entire village involved was necessary for the making of stone soup, getting the involvement of the entire family is important if membership is to grow. To increase membership, Walter suggests a Lodge must "concentrate much more deeply into family involvement." In an era when two incomes are a necessity for many households and it is difficult for parents to spend as much time as they'd like with their children, it is crucial for Lodges to develop programs involving the entire family. For the future of the Order, a Lodge's commitment to total family involvement is urgent. "The organization that comes up with the best way of helping the family will be the one to survive," says Walter.
Fayetteville-Springdale, AR, Lodge member Michael Wilson says creating a Lodge that is a "wholesome place to have a good time" is one of the things responsible for swelling its membership ranks. The Lodge's strong youth programs, Sunday morning buffets for local church groups, and playground make the facility an excellent gathering place for young families. Fayetteville-Springdale Lodge has one of the highest percentages of new membership and attributes much of its success to this idea of family bonding.
Richard Budd, DDGER for the Southwest District of the Maryland, Delaware, and D.C. Elks Association, explains that the Lodges in his district (including his own) are successful in attracting new members when they offer something for younger families. Youth activities such as Scouting, baseball, soccer shoot-outs, and Elks "Hoop Shoot" programs have resulted in drawing the parents and coaches of the participants into the folds of the Order.
With women now enrolled as Elks, many husbands and wives are joining Lodges as a family. Maine State Elks Association Membership Committee Chairman Richard Carver says that many Lodges in his state have as members both husband and wife. "People like the camaraderie," Carver notes. "Maine is a bunch of joiners."
A Strong Lodge Membership Management Team
Teamwork is one of the most significant ingredients for the membership recipe. The fable's stone soup wasn't made with vegetables and chicken bones as much as it was made through the villagers' coming together under the direction of the wanderer. That holds true for the Elks as well. According to Walter a Lodge's indoctrination, investigation, lapsation, and Lodge activities committees should work together as a team under the supervision of a chair officer. This ensures that all functions of the Lodge are represented on the membership committee. The Lodge is then capable of addressing any issues pertaining to membership.
A Lodge's membership management team should be a whirlwind of constant activity, dealing with everything from reinstatement to new membership. Walter suggests the lapsation committee of a Lodges' membership team should be actively engaged by the first of May. New Mexico Elks Association Membership Chairman Kent Hitchens agrees. Hitchens is responsible for devising a system of monthly reports that tracks lapsation better than ever. This report, a statewide compilation that charts gains and losses against the previous year, is provided to the subordinate Lodges and makes them accountable for the status of their membership. "Accountablity is the key on the state level," Hitchens says. It's the sense of accountability that Hitchens's monthly reports provide that have helped cut New Mexico's membership losses in half in one year.
PDDGER and Illinois Elks Association Membership Committee Chairman Mark Strange stresses the need to keep the reinstatement process short and the notification of new members prompt. Strange warns that "people are waiting too long to get in and these people are languishing." That's part of the reason the Illinois Elks Association has been working to shorten the notification process of its Lodges by one-third. For Calabash, NC, Lodge, which also has had a dramatic percentage increase in new members, a quick response is part of the picture as well. Lodge Secretary Hugh Coulter cautions against keeping the potential member hanging. "When they apply, don't let them sit on the wire."
Managing Lapsation and Reinstatement
When it comes to retaining membership in the Order, a strong Lodge membership management team's key ingredient is personal contact with Lodge members. Walter believes, as do many others, that once you're an Elk, you're always an Elk, and to get reinstatements personal contact is crucial. Whether it's a handwritten note praising the hard work of a lapsed member, a personal phone call, or taking someone to lunch, Botkin always stresses it is important to tell that particular person that the Lodge would love to have him back and to remind him of the good work he has done for the Lodge. Phillips agrees, stating "the personal approach works very well." By May, Boulder City Lodge's Laspsation Committee is already in high gear, sending personalized letters to any lapsed members. The initial May letter is followed by another letter in June. Instead of sending one of the form letters included in the membership manual, Boulder City Lodge's letter is written specifically to each lapsed member and is signed by the ER. If the ER knows the member, he adds his own note. A lapsed member might eventually receive four letters and will more than likely be visited by another Lodge member.
For someone who's shy or even someone who's just afraid of being shot down, working on reinstatement and making personal contact with lapsed members might seem like a daunting, terrifying task. But it doesn't have to be. "Pick the easy ones first," suggests Walter. "Go to your Lodge office and pick out the ones who will be easy to convince to reinstate--the members you know." By working on reinstating familiar Lodge members, Walter explains, it will become easier to reinstate strangers and even recruit new members.
Finding the Elks Magic
At the end of the tale of stone soup, the real magic was discovered--the inventiveness and imagination of the wanderer and the charity and benevolence of the villagers. The magic of the stone soup wasn't in the stone, it was in the encouragement and leadership of the wanderer and in the villagers bringing what they had to the kettle for the benefit of everyone.
Successful membership growth in the Order is about that, too: working together to bring new members to our Lodges. With enthusiasm and good fellowship, we can all move forward to exemplify the guiding principles of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks--charity, justice, brotherly love, and fidelity--and to strengthen our communities through selfless deeds of compassion.