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Have You Conducted a Unit Membership Assessment?

Posted on September 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Barbara Buckner

 “The first problem in any situation is accepting the reality of the situation. Many organizations fail to accept that the reason they are always needing new team players is because they have a failing system that keeps running off the team players they had.” 

Sound familiar?
I have heard from Units wanting to work on recruiting new members and Wing Commanders concerned that their membership numbers have been dropping since the beginning of the year.  While we have been sharing some great ideas to start getting the “Civil Air Patrol” name out there and attract new members, let’s step back for a moment and look at the members we already have so we can work on making sure we keep them engaged.
If you recall from the Exit Survey article, some of the biggest complaints are members have – and why they have left – are:
1) Experience wasn’t what they were told it was going to be
2) Lack of activities and training
3) Lack of communication
4) Not feeling needed or appreciated
A couple of members have asked if NHQ was going to do a survey of the existing members to gauge why they stay.  Wisconsin Wing recently put together such a survey for their Cadets.  So what’s the lesson here: We recognize that we need to communicate with our members to find out what they think of their CAP experience so see what we are doing right or doing wrong…to work on fixing the problem before they become a former member.
Surveys are a great way of collecting information but not everyone will participate – on average, most surveys only net about a 10-15% response rate. At the Wing level, this shows the membership that they are interested in what they have to say….but at the Unit level, this type of “discovery” process needs the personal touch.
We have become so dependant on electronic communication these days: texts, emails, tweets, Facebook messages, etc…that we’ve lost sight of the “human” touch.  When you are trying to uncover vital information or share ideas, these methods can leave a very impersonal feeling with the recipient…hence why many don’t chime in.  Having an open discussion with your Unit members will not only get that two-way communication up and running again but will also start to instill that sense of teamwork back into their heads.
So, here’s an idea:
1) Pick a meeting in October (for some Units, there will be 5 weekly meetings that month so maybe pick your 5th meeting) and schedule 30min with all your members (include the Cadets if you have them) and have a camp-fire type of discussion.  Let all your Unit’s members know about the meeting – especially those that haven’t been showing up consistently for a while – that the purpose of the meeting is to talk about the status of the Unit and what activities/direction everyone would like to see it go towards.  
Remember: The Unit is only as strong as the members that are involved – so we want them to take ownership in its future success.
2) In November, you’re going to help work on two angles: 
a. Work with the Command Staff to put together a preliminary schedule for the next calendar year.  This isn’t a meeting-by-meeting calendar – but more of an overview of what Unit training schedule could be set up, when will the window for o-rides be open, when will there be Wing/Region/National activities that they could participate in…things that will help your members start to look forward to and start planning their next year with the Unit.
b. Work with your PAO to gather photos and new releases from activities that your Unit has already participated in this past year…highlights that will be used to show (and remind) your members what benefits they have had for being part of your Unit.
c. Take both sets of information and now you are going to create a PowerPoint presentation that will be used in December.
3) Pick a meeting towards the beginning of December, before everyone starts to take time off for the holidays, and host a “Year in Review” party – focus = “Where we are now and where we are headed next year.”  Invite all your members…and their family and friends…and share with them that PowerPoint that shows what the Unit has already done this year and then have the Commander take over the second half of the PowerPoint to talk about what ideas/activities the Unit has discussed and will focus on in 2015.  
This is all about Unit Pride – the reason why you include family and friends is to not only show them what their member has been doing but so they understand why CAP training and activities may take them away for periods of time…that the end result of their participation is a much bigger result.
What does your Unit get out of this?
1) Communication between leadership and the members gets open again.
2) The Unit puts together a game plan for 2015 that they can now build upon
3) The Unit will have more training and activities to help attract – and keep – new members when you try recruiting
4) A renewed sense of accomplishment and pride will be instilled in your current members – reminding them why they want to stay in CAP
Yes, there are a lot of things that need to be fixed and changed at the Wing/Region/National level to help, but if every Unit starts with focusing on itself and wait for the other needed changes, a shift in retention can start…just take it one step at a time.
Maj Barb Buckner
National Recruiting & Retention Officer
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