As part of our six-month All-American Initiative, the VFW New Haven has been looking for effective ways to reach out to veterans in our community and recruit them to join our ranks.
The All-American Initiative, which is just a made-up name for doing all the things a post has to do to reach All-American status, has given the 16-month-old post a sense of purpose and a focus. Our paperwork is tight, our mandatory programs were done before Thanksgiving, and we reached 100% in membership before Christmas. Better yet, the post members (all of whom are new to the VFW), now have a much better idea of the challenges and expectations of a successful VFW post. Different teams (committees) were given the responsibility to “complete” a mandatory program in our overall objective. The AAI has help establish “the standard” in our new enterprise. Remember, Post-9/11 veterans have not been in the VFW for 20 years and are learning about the VFW programs and traditions. In effect, even if we don’t reach All-American, we have already succeeded in establishing high expectations by the members for the post and set a president of excellence.
That said, our current focus is on recruiting and retention (it always comes down to membership). Inside the VFW, recruiting and retention comes with set goals, a token economy based on incentives and rewards (coins, recognition), and personal motivations. For example, members receive coins for signing up five new members and the rewards increase with more members. Furthermore, I have set goals and consistently report on progress. Reporting metrics allows us to track progress and show the members this goal is obtainable.
However, while it is important for a post commander and leaders in general to think strategically and set goals on the way to an objective, it is equally important to realize it is all a bunch of minutia and “inside baseball” to most members. It is especially uninteresting to prospects who really don’t give a hoot about getting a pin for their VFW cap they may buy, someday.
That is why we call recruiting and retention veteran outreach. Yes, I realize that most people when they hear the phrase “veteran outreach” they only think of needy veterans (homeless, drug dependent, financial issues, etc.). For us, veteran outreach is a more accurate and benign way of discussing recruiting and retention. It changes the conversation from “how do we sell our product” to “how do we spread the good word about our group?” One approach is sales; the other approach is more evangelical.
So, how do we advocate for the VFW and reach out to veterans in our community; specifically, Post-9/11 veterans? Here are a few ways the VFW New Haven does this now :
- word of mouth (most effective)
- social media (increasingly important)
- website (reinforces the message/post brand)
- traditional media (decreasingly effective)
- Buddy Poppy Distributions (spreads goodwill)
- tabling at events/locations (1-on-1 interactions, visibility)
- email (good for turning leads into prospects and into members)
- flyers (brand awareness, visibility)
- advertising (social media)
- business social network (LinkedIn; good for documenting post good deeds)
- parades (awareness, good for marketing photos)
- telephone (renewals, touching base with annuals)
What are some ways we could expand our veteran outreach?
- Direct mail (costly)
- Targeted direct mail (VFW shotgun list; veteran tax exemption lists)
- Advertising (traditional media, doesn’t reach target audience of Post-9/11 vets)
- Advertising (billboards, busses: effective use of resources?)
- Door-to-door (time and labor intensive; possibly very effective)
- Go to where Post-9/11 veterans go (and just where is that?)
- Membership Booths (Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, events)
How can we improve the success of our current outreach methods?
- train members in advocating for the VFW to fellow veterans
- give members marketing materials (business cards)
- make signing-up easier (Jotform, VFW app)
- urge members to share postings on social media and invite veteran friends to events
- urge members to ask friends to “like” our Facebook page
- hold public events (social/historical)
- Go to where Post-9/11 veterans go
- Be seen in the community as a “praiseworthy asset and not an irrelevant relic” (Duffy)
- Adopt a Unit
- Outreach Teams (also known as competing recruitment teams)
- Public email newsletter; printed newsletter
Duffy, Brian. “Service Equals Energized Members.” VFW Magazine 104.2 (2016): 2. Print.