If we really want to sustain the organization we are going to have to find a way to appeal to a younger audience. My homemakers and I have been discussing this issue for the past couple of years. This year, we successfully started the first new club in Barren County in more than 20 years. This club is made up of people ranging in age from early 20s to late 40s. They are all working outside of the home and 2/3 of them have children (ranging in age from 4-19). About half of the members have been previous users of Extension, through 4-H or Agriculture activities, while the remaining members are completely new to our programs.
Here are a few things I have learned in the process:
1) Existing homemakers must be committed to adding new members by making them feel valued and included.
There are many members that say “we want new members”, “we need new members” but when it really comes down to it, they want to dictate who those members are or where those members come from. The reality is, as EXTENSION Homemakers they cannot be picky about who the new members are. So, if you find that existing members are saying “we need new members that we can pick and choose” NOW is a really good time to go over the equal opportunity statement that is a part of their by-laws and explore what it really means!
2) The Membership Committee can be instrumental in insuring the success of a new club.
The Membership Committee should help to identify new groups or underserved groups that might be interested in joining Extension Homemakers. In Barren County, our committee recognized that a couple things were happening in existing clubs that might make one club or another not appealing to new recruits. The first thing is that many of our existing club meetings are two hours or more in duration. The second is that many clubs still meet in member homes. After talking to some potential new members, the committee decided that the new club needed to be committed to a short time frame (no more than 90 minutes) and that the meetings should be held at the Extension Office. Their reasoning was that busy people aren’t going to have hours and hours to devote to a club meeting AND some people are intimidated by the thought of having to “host” a club meeting in their own home.
3) Having existing Homemakers serve as mentors to a new club will foster success.
The mentors need to be carefully selected and trained to work with the new club. Make sure that your mentors are positive and can speak of the benefits of the organization. They need to be well versed in how the organization works and why we have to be open to all people. Make sure that they can explain the different components of our programs as they relate to Learning, Leading, and Serving! It is also important that they have a good understanding of the Extension Service and why Homemakers are a part of our programs. The mentors for our new club committed to having at least one of them (three have been assigned to this club) at each meeting for the first year and then serve on an as needed basis. The mentors also agreed to get the monthly lesson during the months when leader trainings were held at a time that isn’t convenient , but that hasn’t been an issue as the members have worked out a schedule so that someone will be at every leader training, either by taking time off from work, or actually attending the leader training in another county on their lunch hour (a couple of these new members work in Bowling Green).
4) There is a fine line between “meeting the needs of” and “catering to” a new club.
Here is another situation that requires the commitment and encouragement of your existing members for your new club. Begin offering lessons and programs at times that will make attendance by your new members convenient, but will not alienate your existing members. In Barren County, we are having a couple of monthly leader trainings in the evening and some special interest programs have been offered this summer after 7 pm. Because of extended daylight, we have been able to do this without making our existing members feel like we are offering programs at times when they cannot attend due to driving issues. This fall and winter, we are going to offer some programs a couple of different times, to make it convenient for all. It is VERY important that your existing members don’t feel that they are being slighted because of attempts to make events accessible to the new members. Including existing and new members on planning committees is a great way to ensure that everyone feels represented.
5) The agent must be committed to helping keeps things relevant for the New Club.
Before our new club ever started, I committed to teaching special lessons for the new club, if the lessons that the rest of the county had selected wouldn’t be relevant to their life stage or situation. Of course, I made this commitment before we knew who would be joining the new club and what lessons would be selected for the coming year. As it has turned out, the new club has found relevancy in almost all the lessons that were selected by the area, and so I will only have to teach a couple of supplemental lessons.
6) And finally, find a venue that will bring in to new members.
In Barren County, we decided that our first attempt at gaining new members would be through an open house. We crafted an invitation that highlighted some of the lessons and activities in which homemakers are regularly engaged. Invitations to the Open House went out in the newspaper, on the cable channels, on our website and facebook page and to every household with a student through the family resource centers newsletters. Additionally, every existing homemaker received an invitation to give to someone else. Everyone who came to the open house, completed a survey on which they indicated the topics they would like to study and special interest activities which they found appealing. Additionally, they received a goodie bag that contained examples of lessons from the past year, a refrigerator magnet with the evening, time and location of each meeting, and a few assorted other goodies we had from bazaar or wherever.
Where do we go from here?!!?!?
Our next attempt at recruiting new members is coming through the International Committee. They are planning to offer a special interest club – an International Dinner Club. We are still working on logistics, but when the details are worked out on that, I will share!