Service organizations are an important part of the fabric of society around the world. Lions, Rotarians, Shriners, and many others quietly provide community service and humanitarian aid on an impressive scale. The sustainability of that goodness is threatened, however, by stagnant or declining, and aging, membership.
There are three dimensions of sustainability: service, membership, and public image. These must all be vibrant for a club to prosper. International organizations will do only as well as their individual clubs do collectively.
In virtually every American city, you’ll find parks, schools, and community programs that are largely or entirely funded and operated by service organizations like the Masons, Kiwanis, and Elks. Pull those clubs out of a community and much of what we think of as defining the community is gone. Leaders of service organizations have a sacred responsibility to their communities.
The heart of a service organization is in service. Increasing social events may not hurt membership but there is little evidence that people join service organizations just to socialize. Add service to your socials and don’t forget to socialize at your service projects, which should often end with cold beverages and relaxation.
As a club’s membership declines and ages, it may threaten the organization’s ability to give service. The financial resources of a club, hall, or lodge come principally from its members. While international foundations may provide funding for projects, that money is often tied to the contributions of the club members. Putting increasing financial burdens on a smaller group of people runs the risk of accelerating membership declines.
“Times, they are a-changing,” sang Bob Dylan, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the media. Many local papers are owned by conglomerates. Those that aren’t compete against them. Classified ad dollars ended with Craigslist, crushing news budgets. Most papers don’t have anyone to send to your club meeting. It is harder than ever for your club to make the news.
There is a tremendous synergy among the dimensions of sustainability. Here are three strategies for strengthening your club.
First – stop measuring things that don’t matter and measure the things that do. How important is measuring attendance at regular meetings? Instead, measure the impact of your work in meaningful ways. Measuring impact rather than activity starts incrementally. Over time, you can learn to measure your impact on high school graduation, crime rates in your community, or healthy deliveries in a village in Guatemala where you support a pre-natal clinic. Start today by measuring the things that get closer to the real impact you want to have.
Second – since Millennials are less prone to joining organizations, are leaving organized religion, and are distancing themselves from party politics, you need to develop specific strategies to appeal to them. One thing is certain: if you don’t plan to appeal to them, you won’t.
Third – although traditional media are more difficult to attract, it has never been easier to produce your own media. Create a club blog and post photos and stories of every activity, especially of every service project. Share every blog post via social media, both from club accounts and personal accounts. Encourage every member of your club to like your Facebook page, share the page’s posts, and post their own updates and photos from club activities.
An article buried in the newspaper may be read by only a few thousand people. If 20 club members share a photo from an event on both Twitter and Facebook, the total number of people reached with those posts could far exceed the number reading about the same event in the paper. And it could have more impact, because the people seeing the social media posts know your members and know exactly how to get in touch to ask how they can be a part of this.
Devin Thorpe focuses on helping those doing good in the world. Author, advisor, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, emcee, and trainer, Devin’s mission is to solve some of the world’s biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all. His latest book is Adding Profit by Adding Purpose. @devindthorpe www.DevinThorpe.com
This article is reprinted from Issue #8 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
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