When I set out to write a new article, my goal is always to get our members thinking! I believe that far too often we allow our thinking to get confined to local lodge issues and local community needs and this causes us to limit our scope. By sharing with you my insights and thoughts on a scale of the somewhat bigger, I hope that we can expand our horizons and develop new solutions to the issues that affect our lodges. It is gratifying to me to be thanked for my articles by our members, but what I find most gratifying is when a member tells me that they implemented a thought or idea in their lodge and they share with me the results! It is in this spirit of seeking continuous improvement that I share with you a few of my latest thoughts and ideas!
On Leadership and the Potential of our Members
Never before in our history as Elks have our lodges been so in need of leadership! Many of our lodges have great divisions among the lodge and its members and this is a telltale sign of a leadership shortage. Why are so many of our members unwilling to become leaders in the lodge? My feeling is we make it far too hard to be a leader in our lodges which makes it too easy for them to say no! Take the Exalted Ruler (ER). Often seen as the highest of our lodge leaders, look at the many demands we place on this person that we didn’t in the past when we had paid employees. Some lodges have even gone so far as to also make the ER the chairman of the board! We must make the job of ER easier or no one is going to ever want the job. Out must go some of our old-school traditions which require the ER to be present at and lead everything. A successful lodge will foster a culture that embraces leadership and respects it across many people. I believe our lodges are still places where leadership can thrive but we must choose this for the lodge.
The four pillars of leadership are character, communication, common vision and caring. These core principles are the road map to success for aspiring leaders. We must promote to positions of leadership only those members with integrity who demonstrate strong communication skills. We need leaders respected by others and who communicate not by talking loudly to us but comfortably with us. Leaders need to keep us focused on our objectives. As Elks we already possess compassion and a common vision, two of the four pillars. So why is it so hard for us to find leaders to unite us and provide us with the guidance and direction needed to tackle our lodge challenges? Could it be we are not attracting members into our midst who are courageous and brave, members with unparalleled passion who believe in service above self? Think of the selflessness exhibited when a community unites to heal after a tragedy. No one has to be the hero or the person in charge. Instead, the community unites as human beings and they work together to get the job done! This is how we must work together in our lodges, willing to respect the authority of those we have placed in charge and confident in knowing that they were selected as leaders for all the right reasons! Election to a position of leadership should not be a right or something done to do the lodge a favor. Our leaders should consider it a privilege to serve our members!
Community Service Opportunities as a Way to Grow our Lodges
Many of our lodges are heeding the call to become more involved in their community. The benefits are many, not the least of which is exposure to potential new members. One path many of our lodges are following in this quest is the path toward supporting local charities in the community by giving them money. A deed albeit worthy of a picture in the newspaper, the enduring effect of the gesture is short-lived at best. My fear is that we will become known as the place the community goes when it needs money as opposed to the place the community goes when it needs volunteers! I believe that if we are to ever have an impact in the community that will change how we are viewed by others and result in individuals wanting to become members, we must be seen as more than just fundraisers!
Let’s look at younger members, those members we know we want to attract but don’t know how. They are not attracted to the volunteer opportunities we offer through our clubs such as cooking the fish, serving the food and emptying the trash. Couple this with having to attend our meetings, serve on a committee, work, work, work…. This is not their idea of volunteerism! Offer them an opportunity to paint an elderly person’s home, build a wheelchair ramp for a disabled vet or child, serve the homeless in a soup kitchen…now that’s fulfilling service to others and something that will grow our membership.
All of us at one time or another have been involved with youth sports. It doesn’t matter when you were involved; I doubt little has changed. The parents are the coaches, the parents lead the fundraising and obtain team sponsors, the parents run the snack bar, and the parents maintain and prepare the fields. Many an Elks lodge has become a team sponsor over the years and has had their name on a sponsor banner at the field and on the back of a team jersey. Some lodges even go so far as to have their team or the league over to the lodge for a hot dog event and occasionally we pick up a member or two from that participation. Our message to the community is that we support our youth but is there anyone who ever doubted that about us? So do the Moose, the Legion, the VFW, the Lions and every other well-meaning civic, fraternal and patriotic organization in town. This status quo is no longer cutting it for us. If we are to distinguish ourselves differently than all the others, we must do something game-changing and I have an idea!
As a youth sports parent myself for the past 10 or so years, I lived everything above and then some! I saw far too often a mom having to step out of the concession stand long enough to watch her son or daughter bat but miss the fly ball they caught in the outfield while serving someone popcorn and a soft drink. Do you want to endear yourselves to hundreds of potential members? How about the Elks volunteering to run the concession stand and rake the fields and umpire the games? Do you think that this might get the attention of a few people? The announcement would go something like this: Ladies, gentlemen, and parents. Our venue tonight is being manned by the great volunteers of the Any Town Elks Lodge located across town on 25th Street. These hardworking ladies and gentlemen have volunteered for us tonight so that we can sit in the stands and watch our children play their games. Their only request is that one day you might consider returning the favor and join them in their many community service endeavors by becoming a member! Please join me as Any Town Little League salutes our wonderful volunteers with a big round of applause!
What do you think? It is easily done, it is a tremendous service and it is exposure to countless potential new members! Young members, too! It brings new meaning to community service and we didn’t even have to write a check!
On Ways we can Partner in our Communities and not just be a Fundraiser
I have been fairly critical of our emergence as everyone’s fundraiser as I really don’t think that tactic is conducive to membership and it really doesn’t gain us much respect. However, since this makes sense to so many, let me share a way in which it does enhance our position and actually brands us as something we could benefit from being. That way is partnering! Think of how our Florida lodges partner with our Florida Elks Youth Camp and our Children’s Therapy Services projects. Of course our lodges are fundraisers for our projects and very good ones at that, but think of all the other things we gain through our partnership relationship with our projects. We gain pride of ownership, we own the stories we write through our programs, and we see daily the results of our investments. Oftentimes we get involved in the stories by chaperoning a youth group at the camp, proposing a child for therapy services, and donating clothes and shoes for campers and therapy equipment and vans for our therapy program. Partnering is the key! Similar to how we partnered with the youth sports group in my example in the previous topic, we must think of ways to partner with the charities and organizations we support. As honorable as writing checks is, we have got to start thinking about ourselves and what will contribute to our longevity and not just those things that place us in the moment! Pure, meaningful, physical, volunteer experiences are what we must seek and then we will have something to offer new members!
I would even take this a step further and propose the same thing for the Elks nationally! When outsiders think of the Elks, their impressions are all across the board regarding what the Elks are known for. I suggest we remedy this through a partnership with a well-known established charity, say St. Jude for instance, a leading children’s hospital pioneering research and treatments for kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. What do you think St. Jude would say if we offered our nearly 800,000 member organization’s support to their constituency? What it took the Shriners years to establish we would accomplish practically overnight! Then when people ask what the Elks do, our elevator speech would be quite simple; we partner with St. Jude and help children through hospitals and medical research! Is there anyone who wouldn’t feel good about this?
Leadership and Direction a Prescription for Success
We mustn’t get comfortable with the present! It is only our destiny if we choose it to be! We cannot stop growing; we cannot stop striving. When we stop achieving we become very cynical about life! We mustn’t throw in the towel on ourselves or our lodges or on the children we work so hard to serve since when we do, we throw in the towel on their dreams! We must get the energy drainers out of our lodges, the people who have stopped growing, the people who have run out of ideas, the people who no longer believe in themselves or dream. Birds of a feather flock together; we must get this type of member out of our lodges if we are to succeed. We must attract people into our lodges who are hungry, people who are unstoppable, people who want more, people who refuse to live life just as it is!
We need to work on this. We need to surround ourselves with winners. We need to dream. We need each one of us to agree to change our thought process and know that we can do this!
It’s not over until we win!