Joining the VFW is a hard sell to younger veterans.
Other than shared service, they have little connection to the VFW community they percieve as old, white guys, smoking and drinking themselves to death in a dingy bar. While this isn’t any sort of revelation, I can attest to this: it is easier to recruit young veterans to meet in a cold parking lot than an established post. Heck, they would take selfies and post them on Instagram and tell everyone how Billy-badass their post is.
However, the reasons many stable and senior veterans join the VFW are the same for transitioning, student, or veterans in crisis: service, community and connections.
“We thrive in community, in connection, in giving and receiving love,” Emma Seppala, Ph.D wrote in her article in Psychology Today. Additionally, social connections are critical to our health and well-being and service to others can lead to a more fulfilling and happy (and healthy) life.
That said, the social benefits of the VFW can improve the health and wellbeing of younger veterans. In effect, by fostering a healthy community where transitioning, student, and veterans in crisis can make a connection with other veterans, we continue to serve our communities and country.
Instead of thinking, ‘we need younger veterans to save the post,’ perhaps the mindset should be, ‘we need to reach out to our younger veterans save them.’
How this might translate for established posts:
- foster a mindset of spreading the good word about the VFW to young veterans
- lose the mindset of young people are lazy or they need to save the post
- young veterans spend their time going to school, reproducing, working first jobs, and (re)starting their lives–most don’t want to spend their lives running bingo.
- reach out to young veterans and go where they are (movies, Internet, grocery store)
- demonstrate the character of the post by performing good deeds (Buddy Poppy drive)
- invite young veterans to participate in acts promoting social welfare for the common good (like a seasonal monument clean-up)
- have free pizza at socials and personally invite young veterans, possibly at a local eatery
- tell young veterans their membership is contribution enough and not to sweat not attending meetings; however, tell them there are plenty of ways to get involved (Facebook maintenance, retension phone calls, visiting members in the hospital, etc.)
I’m rewriting the front page of our website and have been thinking of how to encourage more veterans to join our ranks. Guilt and shame definitely don’t work; however, community, connection and service are three of the many benefits that resonate with young veterans.