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A Success Story--Promoting Membership, New Zealand Style

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 6, December 2001-January 2002, pp. 140-141.
Mary Roache
Dunedin, New Zealand
Rosemary Gordon
Taupo, New Zealand

Almost two years ago, the membership of La Leche League New Zealand was declining sharply. Numbers fell to just 315 in January 2000, a ratio of only 1.5 members to every Leader. However, by June 2001, we have struggled our way back up to over 430 members, an increase of about 35 percent in 18 months. This isn’t a huge number, but if LLLI worldwide experienced this sort of increase, it would be significant. New Zealand has a population of just under four million, a smaller pool to draw our members from. How did we do it?

The impetus probably started when the LLLNZ Board developed a Strategic Plan and decided to focus on one aspect of the plan each year. The most pressing issue seemed to be our falling membership. It was obvious that although membership had been declining steadily over the last 10 years, Leaders were making as many “contacts” per Leader as ever. Moreover, LLLNZ had been acknowledged by a government funding agency with a small operating grant. Our status as a key community organization in the area of infants and young children seemed to be increasingly established.

However, if we didn’t do something about the declining membership, we would be in danger of disappearing! New Leaders come from the group of women who purchase membership—and the drop in membership had indeed been accompanied by fewer Leader Applicants and thus, fewer new Leaders. It also seemed to us that if we couldn’t develop our membership base, our chances for funding would also decrease, as would our profile. As numbers declined, the relative costs of each copy of Aroha, our publication for members, increased, putting it in danger of being too expensive to produce without a large rise in the cost of membership.

The Board was aware that Leaders were often more reluctant to ask for or promote memberships than they had been in the past. Many Leaders believed that mothers could not afford membership; others were too embarrassed to mention money or didn’t value membership themselves. Yet Groups that were very successful in getting memberships couldn’t really pinpoint what they were doing “right” except to say that they always mentioned membership and most mothers who attended meetings were members; therefore there was an “expectation” or “culture” of membership, which encouraged newcomers to join. Membership breeds membership in fact!

Our approach to the problem has been multifaceted. The Board spread the word to all Leaders that it was critical to increase membership—through Board Meeting reports given verbally by Area Board Members or written in Mosaic, our publication for Leaders. Mosaic also always contained at least one article on successful ways to increase membership. Some were written by LLLNZ Leaders, while others were reprinted from the “Promoting Membership” column in Leaven. LLLNZ Office Memo, “Keeping Abreast,” which goes to all Leaders every two months, charted the membership decline, not with a downward graph but with a bottle! The milk dripping out of the bottle represented our membership dripping away. It was a shock tactic. We said, “Here’s something you never thought you’d see in a La Leche League publication. If it has caught your attention—GOOD! If this trend continues, the ‘bottle’ will be empty and La Leche League won’t be able to help breastfeeding mothers.” As soon as membership started to increase, the bottle disappeared and an upwardly mobile line graph replaced it!

Workshop sessions and Chapter Meetings offered an opportunity to exchange ideas on how to increase membership. Area Coordinators of Leaders (ACLs) and District Coordinators (DCs) also played an important part in encouraging Leaders to keep working at promoting membership.

A variety of membership handouts were developed. Although LLLNZ had adapted LLLI’s “Membership Matters,” Leaders often said that it was too wordy. Leaders can now choose a different approach at each meeting, based on different handouts—“Ten Good Reasons to Become a Member of La Leche League,” “MEMBERSHIP,” “Why La Leche League,” and “La Leche League Needs You!”

The Leader Accreditation Department now ensures that all Leader Applicants keep their membership up to date, as it was apparent that some Applicants had let their membership lapse completely or were very slow to renew. Every quarter the LLLNZ database is checked and Associate/Coordinators of Leader Accreditation (A/CLAs) are notified of late renewals. The first time this was done, one A/CLA discovered that none of the Leader Applicants with whom she was corresponding were current members, although they had been when they initiated their application. At Preview, every Leader Applicant answers a question/situation relating to increasing membership.

Our New Leader Pack contains a handout on increasing memberships to ensure that all new Leaders are reminded of the importance of asking for memberships.

LLLNZ has added a sixth responsibility for Leaders—to encourage membership. LLLNZ began issuing membership cards for the first time— for Leaders and all categories of membership (we also have over 200 Professional Supporting Members). Some Groups arranged for local shops to offer a discount on goods when the membership card is presented. Every two months, the Listed Leader of each Group receives a current list of the members in that Group and the expiration dates of those memberships—to confirm the number of members in that Group, to check on the accuracy of our records, and to notify members to renew and to reinforce the reminder already sent from the LLLNZ Office. Every six months, ACLs receive a breakdown of membership for each Group in their Areas so that they can see which Groups have a flourishing membership and which do not.

The LLLNZ Office follows up with members who do not renew by sending them an Exit Survey three months after their membership has lapsed. The survey asks various questions about membership and prompts a fair number to renew!

It is hard to pinpoint any one particular factor in our increased membership. Credit must go to the Leaders who have asked for membership at every opportunity, who have asked positively and unapologetically, and who believe in the value of membership. None of the other strategies will work if Leaders aren’t supporting them. Our increase has occurred nationwide and there are few Groups that have not had an increase. Many have achieved 100 percent membership. In addition, the support of the LLLNZ office has been invaluable in obtaining and distributing on-going information as part of the membership drive.

While we have not totally conquered the problem of too few members, and we certainly don’t have all the answers, at least we are no longer in a downward spiral. The next challenges are to maintain our rate of membership increase, to attract more women to our meetings and therefore widen the potential membership base, to ensure our increase in membership results in a corresponding increase in new Leader Applicants and new Leaders, and to target women who don’t necessarily attend meetings, but who might wish to support LLLNZ or receive our publications. For example, our Leaders take about 6,000 telephone counseling calls each year, without even mentioning all the “unofficial” contacts they have given breastfeeding information. At the moment, these rarely result in new memberships, so mentioning membership or sending membership information to all telephone counseling calls is an untapped area. After all, our nearest neighbor, Australia, with a population of around five times more than New Zealand, has a breastfeeding organization, the Australian Breastfeeding Association (formerly NMAA), which has a membership of more than 12,000! Now if only we could “bottle” their “formula”!

Mary Roache is currently the Administrator of Leader Accreditation for LLLNZ, a member of the Leader Accreditation Department International Council, and a member of the LLLI Review Network for the Chaordic Initiative. She has been a Leader since 1988 and lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, with her husband and five children. Rosemary Gordon is currently Director of LLLNZ. She has been a Leader since 1985 and has held a number of administrative positions in several departments. She has three adult sons and lives with her husband and youngest son in Taupo, New Zealand. “Promoting Membership” is edited by Connie Boord. Send ideas for a future column on any aspect of membership promotion to her at 4417-78th Ave. N., Brooklyn Park, Minnesota 55443-3405 USA or cboord at earthlink.net (email).

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