UMATILLA, Florida – Saw it with my own eyes. The Elks, that would be the Benevolent Order of Elks, are recruiting members and advertising themselves with Yahoo banner ads. Good job.
In our Bowling Alone era, most hereditary and benevolent societies are struggling, and none more struggling than what were traditionally male benevolent groups. All of these groups still play a strong part in our culture, millions of members, though they are mostly forgotten by the media. If you read The New York Times, you wouldn’t even know they exist. But the Jaycees, Rotary, Kiwanis, Sertoma and Knights of Columbus all still soldier on, though members are getting older and these groups must attract new members to stay viable.
Creating awareness and momentum is an important step to turning around the image of Elks, and the others. My guess is that that if you said Elks to many under age 30, you might just think it’s like the club that Barney and Fred go to in The Flintstones. And frankly, if it were like that, I think we all would like to hang out there.
So check out their website.
And to you other social and fraternal organizations, here are some freebie tips.
- Do get on the Internet. You’ve got to create an identity for yourselves with guys under 30. Do what the Elks have done and start building an image online. Frankly, the person you get to do your marketing work might just be a future member, eh?
- Recruit teens and pre-teens. Start young. Future members are young. Kids this age need role models and thrive on adults who take them to do sports and activities. Parents need this support too. The Elks have recently revived their Antlers club for kids. Getting the youth to know your club will help out sooner than you think. And if the programs are fun enough, you might just get the dads too. And by the way, the antler logo is COOL.
- Don’t change too much. Last week, I heard of some teens just last week who decided to go to a ballroom dance class at a Florida community center. Oh how Willford Brimley, eh? Yes, it was a bit like Cocoon, but they found the dance steps hilarious and the oldsters a lot more interesting than many peers.
- Ask younger men to join. You need to ask people to come to a meeting, and when they come you need to have something they might like, including REALLY good food and decent beer. Carefully consider what a new member event might look like. Make sure you don’t have too many dying people on the podium, and don’t drag out your meeting with a recitation of who died last week. Ask these new members what they do for a living, let them talk about themselves; don’t bore them too much.
- Rethink hours, times and purpose. If you have a club that’s all retired guys, what 30-year-old Ray Romano is going to be able to join a two-hour lunch meeting if he has a working wife and three kids? He can’t join, unless there are activities that support the way he lives. If you have a meeting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, that won’t cut it. You need to be able to help him, career-wise, not so much by business connections, but by supporting the whole family unit.
- Ease up on the do-gooder. Of course, these groups can point, with pride, that they raise millions for important causes, and that work should continue. That gives all of this a reason. But there is an important role that these organizations need to address, namely supporting community in general, and family life in particular. It does little good to build up pure charity when sons and grandsons are in single-parent homes. No Gen X or Gen Y can rightfully spend hours in meetings thinking about ways to raise $500 on some raffle cookout. It might be a nice thing, but they can’t do it.
- Don’t forget about the Boomers. It is very likely that many Baby Boomers have been ignored, and the reality is that they are going into retirement age. The boomer sensibility would seem to be disinterested in fraternal groups (that whole Vietnam authority thing) but actually, this is about the time they start to appreciate the things their parents did.
- Men’s and women’s groups still need their gender identity. While courts and social changes have opened up men’s groups to women, de jure, that doesn’t mean it needs to be accepted de facto. Let’s get real. Men don’t want to join what were once women’s groups, though some women join men’s groups because they are influential. So the women’s groups suffered, and the men’s groups suffered too, as the men wanted some place without women. The solution? While the law can’t be changed, members need to recognize that this change damaged their cause, and need to work around it in a pleasant, agreeable way.
- You need to attract some leaders. In fund raising and development, you always need some people on your board or party committee who attract other people who you want involved. So target these folks carefully, and they can bring others along.
- Consider speakers as a form of outreach. I’ve always been impressed with the groups like Rotary that have brought me in to speak to them. Look at the community around you and ask younger folks to come in and talk to your group. They just might want to stick around.