Volunteerism: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
I have written often about our organization’s ongoing pivot toward membership for the reason of volunteerism and more specifically about our need to redefine ourselves as the “Elks – The Premier Patriotic and Volunteer Organization for the 21st Century.” To that end, I will share a few thoughts about managing our volunteers and our volunteer activities and I will end with a very exciting announcement about a new volunteer opportunity for our members with our state association and our state charitable projects!
Presently as our lodges vet new members, we evaluate their worthiness based on their belief in God, their lack of any felonies in their past and their stated desire for membership! Generally, prospective members have been invited to membership by another member and their interest in the lodge has been piqued by the tangibles they see: the bar, restaurant and building. Little attention is given to the volunteer opportunities in the lodge until after the membership commitment has been made by the prospect and little concern has been expressed during the recruitment process as to the prospective member’s inclination or ability to volunteer! I wonder if this is because we are embarrassed by the volunteer opportunities we offer to our new members. Think about it! Volunteering to sell tickets, cook and clean, attend meetings, serve on committees, and become an officer are not high on anyone’s volunteer list I am sure! Understood, these are all necessary positions in the lodge of today, but shouldn’t those jobs be given to those who have developed a better understanding of the needs of the lodge and their ability to work with others? Enter the need for our lodges to develop volunteerism on a different level and thus the need for our recruitment to change from bar/club loyalists to those with a desire to volunteer on a more traditional scale.
Our recruitment must include the evaluation of a prospective member’s willingness to volunteer and that willingness should be supported with a resume of successful volunteer accomplishments. Membership in the Elks should be for persons looking to take their volunteerism to the next level.
We must be willing to reject prospects whose only motivation is to patronize and promote the bar/club! The social benefits of membership should be shared with those like-minded individuals who have the best interests of the lodge and community at heart! Our cheap drinks are earned through participation; they are not a given right! If all you are promoting is a bar/restaurant in your lodge, then deliver the services and charge the prices other establishments charge and become profitable!
We must develop volunteer opportunities that are community-based and project-based! Volunteers need to feel good about what they are doing and who they are helping. Stringing along a money-losing bar/restaurant with volunteer help is not sustainable and will never be! The bar/club jobs are not entry level jobs for new members! Therefore, new members immediately tasked to those jobs join and never come back. These new members didn’t join to be enslaved; they joined to be included and respected. We must do this!
Does your lodge use your list of committees as your list of volunteer opportunities? Many do and it must stop! These positions should not be entry level. They require a more thorough understanding of the Elks and what we do. No one is knocking on our door to become a member of our interlodge visitation committee or membership, orientation or ritual committees. So why do we hand them the list and ask them to pick a committee? How about instead have them give us a list of their interests and skills? Then we might discover that a new member has carpentry skills and could assist with building a wheelchair ramp for a disabled veteran. Maybe we will find a new member whose hobby is reading books and we could get them to start a mentoring program for disadvantaged youth in the community! Maybe we have invited an elderly person to membership who has limited capabilities. Wouldn’t they be the perfect volunteer to make phone calls to coordinate volunteers or call Home Depot to solicit a donation of paint for a home the lodge is painting for a needy member of the community? Amateur photographers could help promote and record community activities and teachers are great at managing activities and dealing with volunteers. The possibilities are endless if we just get creative in how we promote what it is that we do! If we bring them in and start them off right, then the carpenter could fix that door that sticks at the lodge, but don’t recruit them for that reason! The book reader could curate a book exchange program for members of the lodge, but don’t recruit them for that reason. The elderly member could call delinquent members, the photographer could assist the lodge with marketing and PR, and the teacher could assist with drug awareness education and the Americanism essay contest and they could coordinate and organize large group activities, but DON’T recruit them for that reason! Learn about their interests and likes and dislikes and get them volunteering on community-based projects and then allow only those who have earned the right to progress to the much harder positions within the lodge!
I have offered this before from my days in the fraternity but why not have each new class of initiates perform a small lodge or community service as their first act of becoming a member? Allow them to think it, develop it and perform it all on their own and with little oversight! This concept serves multiple purposes, the least of which is to get them working together and making friends with fellow new members from day one!
Our volunteers deserve a bill of rights to protect them from the practices that exhaust even the best-intentioned new members! We must protect them from those whose intentions are to enslave them into the work of the bar/club! Selling 50/50 should not be a rite of passage for the new member! Are you more inclined to purchase from a seasoned member who has had the time to get to know you and how you wish to be approached or the used car salesman? The member who has worked their way up to the position knows that member wants to get in and find a table and get settled before being asked to buy 50/50. We make it so easy for our members to say no when the first thing they encounter upon entering the lodge is the gauntlet of well-intentioned salesmen seeking support for their up-and-coming event or activity. By throwing a new member onto a committee with seasoned members, we invite them to be told that “this is the way we have always done it,” “we tried that and it didn’t work” and the myriad of other things our members come up with to keep a new member from feeling empowered or accepted. Then we wonder why we have only been able to slow our membership decline, this year that decline passing the 25-year mark, and why we have not been able to reverse the trend. Could it be that we recruit new members for the wrong reasons and fail to get to know them or engage them in activities they can take pride in?
By simply asking a few different questions of our prospective members, changing the way we incorporate them into our lodges and by making them earn their way into the positions in our bar/club, I think we can make a huge difference in retaining members for all the right reasons. It starts by pivoting the focus from bar/club to service above self and by using development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service!
Now, the announcement!
Announcing Florida Elks Helping Hands, a volunteering program! This program will promote Elks Making a Difference in our Association & Major Projects and will be our contribution toward growing a volunteer movement.
Florida Elks Helping Hands seeks Florida Elks who wish to contribute their time and talents to the state association and our major projects by volunteering at our state office in Umatilla to assist our staff with special projects and other activities operated by the state association. Selected volunteers will spend from one to three days at a time, mostly Tuesday through Thursday, volunteering. Our helping hands will be provided with lodging at our youth camp while participating and will be afforded meals when available. The volunteer opportunities will develop over time but to get things started, we will be looking for volunteers to assist us with documenting, digitalizing, inventorying and otherwise cataloging the contents of our Florida Elks Museum. This work will require attention to detail, some stooping and bending, and a bit of walking. We will also be working to digitalize many volumes of our convention proceedings and other historical publications dating back to our founding in 1904, and we will be working to develop a brick-finder directory for the personalized bricks in our Youth Camp Walkway. These projects have been on my to-do list for 15 years now and I believe would still be there in the next 15 without this type of effort! Come work side-by-side with the staff of the state association knowing that the hands you will be volunteering will be much appreciated and that your work will stand to serve our members for many years to come! Interested individuals should e-mail me with a brief statement of your expectations and qualifications and then we will seek to match you with an activity that would best suit your needs!
Leading by example – that is our way and one we hope all our lodges would subscribe to!
My aim in these articles is to inform, educate and instill a sense of responsibility in our success. I do this by sometimes offering ideas that are not your normal run-of-the-mill thoughts and ideas. We are not perfect and sometimes we have to look at ourselves as others see us before we realize the need to improve. So how am I doing? Let me know what you think by clicking Member Login at the top of this page and then commenting below.