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Membership: Concerns, Attitudes, and Approaches

Kathy Coatney
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 28 No. 2, March-April 1992, pp. 19-22

Many Leaders have conflicting feelings about asking mothers for memberships. I ought to know, because when I began researching this article, I was one of them.

When asked the reason for my conflicting feelings, I would say that the mothers in my area could not afford memberships. I am an isolated lone Leader in a rural area that depends mainly on logging for its income, and economic times are bad. Most families are barely making it financially, if they are lucky enough to have a steady income. As a Leader I wanted to help mothers find ways to economize, not add to their financial problems by asking for money. Also, when Group attendance was low and only two or three mothers were attending meetings, I was afraid of scaring them away.

However, as I examined my feelings more closely, I began to realize that there were deeper reasons for my discomfort. When I began attending meetings as a new mother, it took me a long time to warm up to LLL. Before I attended meetings, I had heard that LLL was radical, and it took several meetings before I overcame my prejudices and felt comfortable in the Group. It took even longer--a year or two--for me to feel as strongly about supporting La Leche League's purpose as I do now. Because this was my experience, I assumed that other mothers shared my tenuous feelings about becoming more involved, and I didn't want to bring up the idea of memberships for fear of driving them away before they could see for themselves how valuable the meetings and LLL could be. Also, the Leader of my Group did not promote memberships. Her example set the tone for me on this issue. I had never attended a meeting where a Leader promoted memberships, which made it difficult for me to imagine myself doing it. I wonder how many other Leaders are unconsciously influenced in these and other ways.

In talking to other Leaders, I have been surprised at the large percentage who shared my discomfort. The Leaders I spoke with gave many reasons for their reluctance to promote memberships. Some felt, as I did, that we need time to "prove ourselves" to the mothers who come to meetings before we ask them to give money to the organization. Some disagreed with a policy on LLLI's Divisional or International level, which made them unwilling to financially support the larger organization. Some said, "why bother?" because they understood there were no checks and balances to enforce the policy of requiring memberships. Some preferred other types of fundraising, because they felt the revenue their Group would receive from memberships would be too small to justify the paperwork involved. Leaders outside the US have other reasons, too. The hassle of dealing with currency exchanges, bank transfers, and a nation's regulations on sending money out of the country seems to be too much trouble.

What Leaders Gain by Promoting Memberships

When I thought about the reasons the Leaders gave for not promoting memberships--the paperwork, their dissatisfaction with Divisional and International policies, unhappiness with current membership guidelines--I became concerned about the ramifications of their decisions.

Choosing not to promote memberships because of a dissatisfaction with something within La Leche League will not bring about the desired improvement, because it does not communicate a specific message. (A letter to the appropriate person would be far more effective.) It will, however, weaken our organization, especially if many Leaders take this approach. It reminded me of the "We" and "They" mentality Hugh Riordan described in his lead article on the 1995 Campaign in the November-December 1991 LEAVEN. His article was accompanied by pictures of two donkeys tied together who were pulling in opposite directions, each trying to eat from a different pile of hay. While holding each other back, neither could reach their meal. Dr. Riordan likened this to what happens when different levels within LLL work in opposition to each other. Everyone loses. When Leaders choose not to promote memberships, it weakens LLL's financial base and cripples our ability to achieve our goals. By working together to achieve common goals, everyone wins.

Then I thought about where the membership money goes--the Group, the Area, the Division, International--and what we as Leaders gain from having a strong organization on all these levels. In order to do my job well as a Leader, I count on my Professional Liaison Leader, my Associate Coordinator of Leader Accreditation, and my District Advisor. Whether I need breastfeeding information to help a mother, clarification about Leader accreditation, or a shoulder to cry on when I'm at a low point in my Group work, my support people are there for me. In order to give me what I need, my support people often draw on their resource people on the Area, Divisional, and International levels. Other LLL resources, such as Human Relations Enrichment programs and Area Conferences, support me as a Leader and enrich me as a person, and they also depend--directly or indirectly--on revenues from memberships.

I thought about how much harder my job would be without our publications. Where would I be without the latest edition of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK or LEAVEN, NEW BEGINNINGS, and the variety of information sheets and books I share with mothers? I depend on the International organization to provide me with the latest information on breastfeeding. I need it as a Leader when I help mothers by phone and at meetings, and I need it in a form that I can share with mothers. For my Group Library and my own enrichment I also rely on LEAVEN'S "LLLI Update" and the LLLI Catalogue for access to the latest and best books on parenting, childbirth, and nutrition.

Although many Leaders outside the US may not have access to LLL's written resources in their language, this same information is shared through letters and memos and in workshops where possible. Memberships go a long way toward supporting the Around the World Division staff as they work to compensate for lack of published information in different parts of the world.

No Leader is an island. I know I could not do my job nearly as well in a vacuum. All of us--on all the levels of LLL--need each other for information and support. The ability of the Area, the Division, and International to give us what we need depends upon their financial health. Promoting memberships is one of the few ways I can financially support all levels of La Leche League at once.

Until recently, I hadn't seriously considered the impact the larger organization has on me as a Leader. Like many other Leaders, I focused on my own Group to the exclusion of the rest of LLL. This intense devotion to the local Group is a plus in many ways. It's what motivates me to give my Group my best. But I appreciate now the important role the larger organization plays in my effectiveness as a Leader.

Are We Deciding for Mothers?

A call from a mother was another major factor in my rethinking my position on memberships. This mother lived far away in an isolated area, and I hadmet with her at the hospital after her baby was born to help her with latch-on problems. We spoke several times on the phone after that, and she often expressed her gratitude for my help. However, because it was winter, she never made it to a meeting. Her home was an hour-and-a-half drive away, and the roads were treacherous.

When my Group participated in last year's Walkathon, we sent a mass mailing to all the mothers helped by the Group and this mother donated $30. I realized later (when she called me for information on starting solids) that by never mentioning memberships, I had made the decision for this mother--and probably done her a disservice! Clearly, she wanted to help the Group. Had I mentioned memberships during our first contact, she probably would have joined. And had she been receiving NEW BEGINNINGS, she would have received invaluable support and many of her questions would have been answered.

This point was driven home to me in the letter sent to Listed Leaders in January from former Executive Director and Founder Betty Wagner: "I continually hear from Leaders that the mothers in their Groups cannot afford to pay yearly dues. In some cases I am sure this is true, but I hope that Leaders are not deciding for the mother and are therefore not mentioning Membership Fees. Experience over the years has taught us that often those on limited incomes are quite proud and want to pay their fair share."

This helped me appreciate that mothers need information about memberships to make an informed choice, just as they need information to make informed choices about breastfeeding, childbirth, nutrition, and parenting. If I make that decision for them by not mentioning memberships or by downplaying them, I may be depriving mothers of an opportunity to support my work, our Group, and all of LLLI.

Although I had assumed that some mothers would be offended if I promoted memberships, I have been surprised at the positive responses I have gotten since I changed my approach. Mothers who might not have known aboutmemberships have paid willingly and told me that they are pleased to support LLL.

What Mothers Gain from Becoming Members

As I realized during my conversation with the isolated mother, NEW BEGINNINGS is an important benefit of membership, especially for mothers who don't come to Group meetings. I have heard the tangible benefits of memberships many times, but I have come to believe that the intangible benefits may be even more important. For example, a mother who invests financially in the Group will feel more motivated to take advantage of the Group's services. She will be more likely to call a Leader for help when she needs it and to attend meetings regularly. And these intangibles can sometimes bring tangible returns. If I help a mother breastfeed for just three to four weeks longer than she would have otherwise or if the health benefits of breastfeeding help her avoid one sick visit to the doctor, she will have already saved more than the cost of her membership. Even in countries where health care is free or completely covered by government programs, a mother will have saved the bother, the anguish, and perhaps the sleepless nights that come with having a sick baby. Who could put a price on the peace of mind a mother may gain from a year without a cold or the absence of the kind of diarrhea that kills hundreds of thousands of children around the world?

Another intangible benefit is the opportunity a membership gives mothers to help the organization that helped them. Carmen Vandenabeele, Director of the Around the World Division, puts it another way:

"I sincerely believe that mothers don't pay memberships for the insurance possibilities, the catalogue discount, or any other similar materialistic reasons. They pay because they are profoundly grateful for the help they receive from a Leader, and they pay because someone (the Leader?) told them that their dues were needed. Why did you become a Leader? Isn't it because somewhere deep inside you wanted to give back a little of what you had received from LLL? Even though we as volunteers want to give, we have to remember that when we inform mothers of the importance of their dues, it allows them to give back, too."

When I thought about it that way, I realized that by promoting memberships, I offer mothers the chance to feel the same kind of satisfaction I receive from helping them. Since this experience, I now make it a point to mention memberships to all the mothers I speak to on the phone. When I send information sheets and/or meeting notices, I always include Publication No. 440, "Why Join LLL?" and I am also in the process of composing a form letter to include with my mailings that gives information on donations and memberships. Current Membership Policy

In 1985, only about half of the women attending LLL meetings were dues-paying members. Because the LLLI Board of Directors knew that LLL could not continue to survive with this percentage of voluntary participation, they adopted the current membership policy, which was explained in an article in the April-May-June 1985 issue of LEAVEN. Included in the article was the new policy statement:

"The current Membership Dues will be termed a yearly Membership Fee. These fees will be required of all Series Meeting attendees unless waived by the Leader."

Anticipating Leaders' concerns, the article explained that while Membership Fees were expected, Leaders would be able to waive fees for mothers who could not afford to pay using one of the following three options:

1. The Leader could waive the Membership Fee. The mother could attend the meetings and use the library (if that option is offered by the Group) but would not receive NEW BEGINNINGS or a discount on LLL purchases.

2. Scholarships may be available from a Group, Chapter, or Area Treasury. A special fund would need to be established to cover the costs of a scholarship. The procedure for this will vary from Area to Area.

3. The Leader could offer an installment plan approach if she felt it would be appropriate. When the total amount is collected, then process as a regular membership. (Do not forward partial payments.)

The article went on to emphasize:

"The purpose of the Membership Fee is not to exclude anyone from attending LLL meetings but to emphasize the real value of the help and information from LLL Leaders and Group resources. This will also be a practical means of additional support for Groups, Areas, and LLLI."

I learned another reason for this policy when I attended the Funding Seminar at the International Conference in Miami Beach. When other organizations evaluate LLLI for possible grants, one way of measuring the value gained from an organization's services is the percentage of those helped who financially support it. In other words, the more mothers who become members, the more likely it is that LLLI will get outside funding.

Making an Attitude Adjustment

I am now making a concentrated effort to stop assuming mothers can'tafford to pay and approach memberships from a more upbeat, positive angle. I've come across articles in several Area Leaders' Letters that have helped me cultivate a positive attitude. For example, in LLL Wisconsin's Badger Briefs, Area Council members write:

"Don't underestimate yourselves and the benefits of LLL membership. LLL continues to be the best bargain in town. We are one of the most loving, understanding, supportive networks available to a new mother today."

As well as the money saved by breastfeeding and avoiding sick visits to the doctor, they also include other thoughts to put memberships into perspective: *When parents attend childbirth classes in the US, they expect to pay a fee, which is usually more than $30.

*There are books available through our LLL Group libraries that may not beavailable to the mother elsewhere.

*LLL memberships are still one of the best and easiest fund-raisers for every facet of the League. Operating expenses have increased in all parts of LLL. LLL needs income in order to continue to help mothers and babies.

Carmen Vandenabeele, Around the World Director, gives another point of view:

"Leaders in the Around the World Division are sometimes reluctant to promote memberships, because the exchange rates make memberships more expensive to their mothers and because in some countries there may be little written material available to the mother in her language. Even so, Leaders give mothers an invaluable gift--a special relationship with her baby through breastfeeding--and without the support of the Group the mother would probably be spending far more on formula."

Approaches for Promoting Memberships

How does a Leader become comfortable promoting memberships over the phone and at meetings? Being prepared is important to me, whether I am discussing breastfeeding or memberships. To prepare myself to promote memberships, I read approaches other Leaders found successful, decided on a couple that felt comfortable to me, and practiced them so that when itwas time for me to talk to mothers about memberships over the phone or at meetings, I was ready.

The 1985 LEAVEN article suggests that during our first phone contact with the mother we matter-of-factly mention that membership is expected at the first or second meeting.

"When the announcement is made at the . . . meeting, you can explain that the [$30] Membership Fee entitles a mother to a year's subscription to NEW BEGINNINGS, a discount on purchases from LLLI (Groups have the option of giving a discount on items they sell), use of the library, and that they will receive notification of all local LLL functions."

Other membership approaches that Leaders have used successfully arefeatured throughout this issue of LEAVEN. More approaches will be printed in future issues.

In addition to preparing and practicing what I will say about memberships, another approach that has helped me is goal setting. Specific goals helpmake changes more concrete and achievable. For example, I began by calculating the percentage of my Group mothers who are currently paid members and decided to give myself a year to increase my memberships by a specific percentage. Any Leader can use goal setting, no matter where she is at the moment. One Leader might decide to begin by mentioning memberships to mothers she speaks to on the phone. Another Leader might set a goal of increasing memberships from 75% to 100% by the end of the year. Goals should be tailored to you and your individual situation.

Memberships Help Determine LLLI's Future

Memberships are the life blood of LLLI, and without them LLLI would not be what it is today and what it can be tomorrow. When we believe in something strongly it shows. If breastfeeding were presented in a cavalier manner, the unspoken message would be that it isn't important. When we express the importance of breastfeeding, we emphasize our message with the smileon our faces and the confidence in our voices. The same is true with memberships. When mothers understand the importance of becoming a member, they will want to contribute for their sake and for future generations.

Memberships deserve to be approached with the same enthusiasm and importance with which we would describe the benefits of breastfeeding. Many a baby has been denied its mother's breast because of a simple problem that could have been easily solved. The same is true with memberships. Many a baby will be denied its mother's breast if LLLI is not here tomorrow to offer help and support.

Membership Diploma

Missouri Leaders Karen Hylton and Susan Stolwyk use this approach: they present a "membership diploma" to each new member. When she pays, the mother is given a list of the Group's information sheets and asked to choose two. These two reprints and a listing of all the books available from their Group's lending library are rolled up and secured with a tassel, so they look like a diploma. The "membership diploma" is then presented to the mother at the next Series Meeting, which also reinforces the importance of memberships to the other attending mothers.

The "Plant"

A French Leader devised an approach that uses Group mothers to help promote memberships. Once, after the Leader promoted memberships (which cost 100 francs in France), a Group mother added that she had recently purchased a box of formula for a friend at 70 francs and that it had lasted a week. There were five new members at that meeting. Since then, the Leader has arranged for a "plant" to mention the cost of formula right after she promotes memberships. This Leader writes:

"Although I usually mention the possibility of paying dues in installments, this opportunity is rarely seized. We live in a part of France where many young families are struggling with house payments on one salary instead of the two they counted on when signing on the dotted line. Two of our regulars' husbands are currently out of work, but these mothers pay dues, because without the help and support of LLL they would be buying formula. These mothers have convinced me that every mother who could otherwise afford to buy formula for her baby can afford to contribute to LLL. As a matter of fact, can she afford not to?"

Memberships Save Money

Pennsylvania Leader Holly Fuhrmann says at meetings:

"We hope the information at our meeting has proven helpful, and considering the cost, if we have saved you even one visit to the doctor it will more than pay for a membership."

If a mother has attended a full series and has not purchased a membership, a Leader may approach her and offer her an installment plan. Also, the Leaders have started sending all new members a thank-you note along with their membership card and a certificate for an additional 5% off the purchase of one book (a total of 15% off).

The Result--100% Membership

This approach to memberships comes from Illinois Leader Johanna Horton:

Our Group has had 100% membership since we began saying: "You can help LLL first of all by continuing to come to our meetings. The experiences you share and the questions you ask are the heart of our meetings. Without you, we would have no Group. You also help us when you purchase a membership. Our Group gets no outside funding and our Leaders are not paid. We volunteer our time, and we also pay dues. Your membership fee not only helps this Group exist, but also helps LLLI reach out to families all over the world."

Then we read aloud the benefits of membership from "Why Join LLL?" and we mention other, less-publicized benefits of membership, such as optional term life insurance, the LLLI credit card, and highlight NEW BEGINNINGS by passing it around the circle. We end the meeting by explaining membership costs and introducing the Group Treasurer.

Memberships Keep LLL Going

Colorado Leader Janie Brooksher says at every meeting:

"We are here to help mothers today because of others who came before you, and your membership ensures that LLL will be here for mothers who come after you--in the community, nationally, and around the world."

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