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Increasing Membership and Publication Sales: Experiences From Italy

Shera Lyn Parpia
LLLI Board of Directors
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 43 No. 3, July-August-September 2007, pp.66-67

The La Leche League International Strategic Plan has an aim of increasing the number of Leaders and members in the organization. This goal means increasing the number of Leader Applicants as well as retaining current Leaders. One possible benefit of having more members and Leaders is an increase in publication sales. Another benefit of increased membership is that more women will have the opportunity to find out about the LLLI philosophy of mothering through breastfeeding.

This objective is highlighted in the Strategic Plan and is intended for LLL throughout the world, In fact, some Areas have already been successfully working toward this objective for the last five to six years.

La Leche League Italy is an Area with 145 Leaders and 1050 members. (Note: 1050 members is over 7.2 members per Leader of LLL of Italy, which far exceeds the overall average in LLLI. The Strategic Plan has set a goal of increasing memberships by 25 percent over two years to an average of two members per LLL Leader worldwide.)

Italian Leaders contribute to the good reputation and financial health of LLL by carrying out their work enthusiastically and in many varied ways. This article shares some of the things that have been done that have contributed to the growth and well being of the organization.

La Leche League Italy recently published the second Italian edition of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, and Leaders have sold over 5000 copies in two years. The retail price is 26 euros ($36 US), half of which goes to the Group treasury. LLL Italy also publishes Italian editions of Nighttime Parenting and THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK and is about to publish an Italian edition of Mothering Your Nursing Toddler. It has also published a book on weaning written by Italian Leaders. The quarterly journal, Da mamma a mamma ("From Mother to Mother"), concentrates on two or three topics and back issues are available for sale at meetings. Despite the fact that buying back issues is significantly cheaper, subscriptions (which include an additional sum to support the work of the organization) continue to grow.

Over the years while I was an administrator of LLL Italy, I noticed how some Groups have consistently good finances and how others either fluctuate wildly or are constantly in the red. At times it is a question of where these Groups are, but at times I have been extremely surprised to see, when a Leader retires or moves away and another one takes over the Group, how quickly and dramatically things can change. So I am convinced that changing the way we work can make a difference.

The last few years have been a difficult time economically for most Italians, yet our sales have been above average.

The annual Italian Conference usually has one or two sessions dedicated to finances and ways to encourage mothers to become members. Leaders have a chance to share information and brainstorm about the ways they can help mothers.

I decided to speak with a few Leaders from Rome who lead Groups with consistently good attendance, who raise enough money every year to pay for their expenses including participating in the annual Conference, and have enough left over to buy books for their Library. I asked them what they did to sell books and subscriptions.

Martina Carabetta (Rome East Group, Italy) told me, " I don't sell books, manuals, or subscriptions. That's not my way of looking at it. I offer mothers and fathers the chance of having their own copy of a special book, a book written by other parents who have lived through the very same experiences that these parents are having. And having it means that they have the information and support they need, whenever they need it. I really believe they are getting something precious and worthwhile."

Antonella Nazzaro (Rome Acilia Group, Italy) explained that THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING sells itself. "I know the book from cover to cover and the newest edition is really beautiful. The stories are mostly Italian and so are the photographs, but really they are universal." At meetings, she often chooses to complement her responses to mothers' questions by quoting from the manual, reading out information from the appropriate chapters and pages and often illustrating it with a mother's story. She lets the mothers know that this book is available if they want it. She tells them what it contains. Most mothers do buy copies for themselves and often for their friends.

Romina Daccomi (Central Rome Group, Italy) also prepares for the meeting topic by reviewing the relevant publications beforehand. She starts the meeting by reading a paragraph from the manual and prepares to supplement this with other publications, including Da mamma a mamma, according to the topic that is being discussed. This also encourages mothers to send in their own stories.

Another thing that many Groups do is to hold meetings at times of day or on days of the week when mothers find it easier to attend. While most Groups hold meetings on weekday mornings, many also hold them in the afternoons and evenings and others choose weekends. Antonella Nazzaro and her co-Leader, Petra Voskamp, hold meetings of the Rome Acilia Group on Saturday mornings once a month. This makes it much else may be free to take them (the mothers) to the meeting. Sometimes it's the baby's father, sometimes it's the grandmother or grandfather or a friend. Some of these parents come from as far away as 200 km (124 miles), a drive they can only do on the weekend. Fathers are welcomed at these meetings and often contribute to the discussion.

Francesca Greco (Rome Colosseum Group) is hostess to Sunday afternoon meetings. Often there are just a few people -- two or three couples, but as Francesca says, "They are people we probably would never see otherwise, so I am really happy that we can meet their needs. For me it's a good time to hold meetings because I am no longer at home during the week."

Over the last three or four years, Italian Leaders have been contacted by mothers in areas of Italy where there are no Leaders and that are far away from places where meetings are held. While one or two mothers have made the effort to come to Saturday or Sunday meetings, for most of them it is impossible. So with the help of local mothers, Leaders from Rome have organized four or five Series Meetings each in Naples (230 km, or 143 miles, south of Rome), Catanzaro, Italy (on the toe of Italy's boot, over 600 km, or 373 miles, away) and Pescara, Italy (200 km, or 124 miles, northeast of Rome, on the opposite side of Italy) and have taken turns to go to these places. Some Leaders from other parts of Italy who go on holiday every summer to these areas also hold summertime meetings in these places. We hope that these excursions will help local mothers and inspire some of them to apply to become Leaders.

Maria Rita Inglieri (Central Rome Group, Italy) takes time to explain during her meetings how important it is for Leaders to have the support of mothers. She tells them that she is a volunteer, because she believes so deeply in the importance of mothering through breastfeeding. She explains how Leaders work with mothers, how they keep up-to-date on breastfeeding information and what happens to the money mothers give to LLL. Many mothers are happy to give when they know that their money will help Leaders keep up-to-date, or that it goes to LLLI where it is used to support the work of the organization as a whole.

We hope that other Areas will share their stories of what has worked for them towards fulfilling the Strategic Plan objectives.

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