It's 7:30. You were looking forward to this meeting. There is so much to do. You look around the room. The same faces. You had flyers up all over. You had an ad in the paper. Where are those people you thought were going to show up? You can see the disappointment in the faces of the few people who always show up. They probably see the same expression in your face. You wonder if they are thinking what you're thinking. 'Why aren't there more people at our meetings? Why is it always the same few?"
If these words have ever passed your lips, welcome to the club. If you have ever wanted an answer to this question, this is for you. What matters is building the organization, not the kind of organization it is. It may be a neighborhood group, a union, a PTA. a coalition to deal with community problems, a community, religious, or civic group--any kind of group that needs people. You want to know: How do you get people to join and stay involved?
This is geared toward people who want to deal with immediate problems and think they need to get a group together to do it. This is for people who want to build a democratic. member-run organization. as opposed to a group that has a paid staff that does all the work and has members who only contribute money. Here you will find methods that have worked for many organizations.
You want to know how to get people involved. First you need to ask yourself why do you need to recruit? The answer may seem obvious. But don't overlook it.
Some people think they already "have their members." They think they don't need any new members. They don't go looking far them. These people create troubled organizations. They may not look troubled right away. But organizations that are not always bringing in new members lose strength. That's something all volunteer organizations have in common.
What about your organization? You know yours best. If you are trying to get more members--Congratulations! You're on the right track. So let's get moving.
Why are you asking people to join? Why do you need them? Take a few minutes. Be quiet. Then take some time to answer these questions. Why are you doing this recruiting? What does the organization need?
Some reasons often given are:
There's strength in numbers.
With more people we can get better ideas.
We can have more skills.
We need a "critical mass" to be effective.
Those in authority won't listen to only a few of us.
It makes us more powerful.
I can't get what I need from the "system" by myself. I need the group.
Those are organizational or public oriented reasons. They are important. There may be other reasons, more private and personal for you to recruit. I know that I like to recruit because:
I like to hear people's stories.
I enjoy with people.
I generally get a new idea when I talk to someone else.
I know other people think differently than I do and they will help me see things in ways I can't.
I like the sense of "community" that comes from the group. People know who I am and ask for me when I don't show up.
I can't do it all myself. I need the organization.
You may get other personal benefits from recruiting? What is in the recruiting for YOU? What do youget out of recruiting?
Take the time to reflect on your reasons and look over your answers to the questions asked. Make sure you have not left anything out. It will help you later when you hit the bricks. Remember them. Write them down so you can look them over some night when you are wondering why you are bothering to recruit.
It will help you when people question why you're spending so much time on recruiting. You will need to remember the organizational reasons, as well as your own personal reasons.
There will be times when recruiting will seem hard. People will not return your calls. They won't meet with you. The people you do meet will not do anything, or worse, will say they will and then not follow through.
Then, other times recruiting will make a lot of sense.
One such time might be the election day in your community. If you are trying to "get out the vote" you know you have to contact by phone or in person 5,000 people the evening of election day. No matter how fast you dial you can't do it by yourself. If you recruited people ahead of time, you have 100 people. Each person can call 50 voters election day. You reach your goal and win the election. if you did not recruit well, you have only 10 people. You can call only 500 or 1,000 voters. You will not reach the 5,000 people you need to win. You lose the election. In this case, the need to recruit and the capacity of one volunteer is clear. It is easy to see the need and benefit of recruiting.
Build the Organization
Other times it may not seem so clear. You may not have an election coming up with a big and obvious need for volunteers. It may seem like you can take care of business better and more quickly if you do it yourself. But that does not build your organization It does not build community. In the long run it does not build efficiency. You will burn out when the tasks pile up and there is no one around to help. In the short run, it may seem efficient to "do it yourself." In the long run it is deadly to the organization--and to yourself.
Organizations That Are Not Growing are Dying
Organizations need to always recruit to replace the members lost. Members die. They move away. They develop relationships that are more interesting than the organization. (In fact, someone may have joined the group looking for a relationship.) People burn out. Almost all organizations experience some regular fall off in membership. If you are not bringing in new people, your numbers decline.
The community changes too. New ideas will be needed to meet changing times. Organizations that have only veteran members may not be interested in trying new technologies, methods, or strategies that may be needed to meet current challenges.
Being able to recruit new members shows your organization still means something to people today. Recruiting people is in a sense a test of an organization's worth and present importance. One well established fraternal organization was losing members for years. But it would not change its basic appeal. It refused to recognize that men in the 1990's were not interested in the same activities that interested men in the 1950's. The headlines in its newspaper read like the obituary page. Its most important news were its dying members.
Another tenants organization in large development had 100 paid members one year, but only 10 the next year. This was in spite of the fact that it had hired a full-time organizer. But the organizer was spending most of her time in the office, doing errands for the "leaders," or going to meetings downtown In the past, a small group of leaders had gone door to door to collect the dues. The organization could be on its way to losing the support of the people in the development.