April 12, 2024

The American Legion Department of Virginia surpassed its 95% membership target date goal at 98.11%. Its success has been three years in the making with the development and commitment of a plan that was successfully executed from the department down to posts.

The plan was initiated in 2022 under then-Department Commander Frank Hillyard who made a commitment to traditional posts that no matter the membership goal assigned by National Headquarters, his goal for posts was to maintain what they had the previous year.

“We were coming out of COVID and Hillyard wanted posts to focus on getting reopened, getting their membership back in the building, getting their programs restarted,” said Scott Maddrea, Department of Virginia’s Membership Committee chairman. “That was the approach that we took was we need to invigorate our base of traditional posts to be successful. Commander Hillyard was willing to sacrifice department success to give our traditional posts an attainable goal.”

Seven districts and 88 posts reached the goal set. Virginia’s renewal rate for 2022 was 91.63% with 2,128 new department Legionnaires – 897 more than the previous year. And the department placed 23rd in membership standings.

In 2023, then-Department Commander Richard Oertel built upon on what Hillyard initiated.  Again, before the department heard its membership goal for the year from National Headquarters, Oertel asked each post to increase membership by at least one new member.

“Like Commander Hillyard, Commander Oertel said, ‘I want to build leadership at the local level. I want to get our post active and engaged in their community, and I want to be able to spend the year going around the state giving out awards and ribbons. Even though it is costing me personally as department commander because the department is not doing to do as well,’” Maddrea said. “That’s what we did. And sure enough, our posts came through because we built the leaders the year before, and we put the programs in place.”

Virginia was 16th in membership standings for 2023. Posts brought in 2,602 new Legionnaires – 490 more than the previous year and 104% of goal.

Continuing the long-range plan “once again allowed us to get more training done, get our local leaders and membership engaged, get our programs restarted and most importantly, build confidence by letting posts achieve some success,” Maddrea said.  “There is no magic button to membership success. There is no easy answer. It takes a lot of work, and it takes team development. I compare it to college basketball coaches. You come in, you set reasonable goals and in some cases you schedule kind of easy opponents early in the season because it allows you to develop your team. It builds confidence. It builds enthusiasm. It allows you to find out who your leaders are, what’s working and what isn’t working.”

After two years of building membership, leadership and program success at the post level, current Department of Virginia Commander Sonnie Dickerson “felt confident that we had developed the department membership team to the point we could feel comfortable passing a 3% increase to our traditional posts and express confidence in our traditional posts that this was an achievable goal,” Maddrea said. “This also allowed the department to get its headquarters post at a reasonable, attainable goal.”

As of April 1, the Department of Virginia has recruited 2,021 new members, has a renewal rate of 94.32%, and has transferred 593 headquartered post members to traditional posts, which is more than double from 2023.

“It is the executive committee and district commanders and post commanders that they have had over these last three years that has allowed us to build to this point. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes a commitment to recognizing that sometimes you have to sacrifice at the department level to have that success locally,” Maddrea said. “The membership program is the same way. It takes a long commitment to a long-term vision. It takes a commitment to hard work. It takes a commitment to developing leaders. And training leaders.”

Maddrea has been the Department of Virginia’s membership chairman for three years. A commitment and continuation he credits to helping with membership success, as he has helped build on the long-range plan and immersed himself with Personify. Upon taking the role, he committed to three things:

·         Become a subject-matter expert in Personify and travel to help with membership training and assistance. The department invested in a laptop for Personify purposes that Maddrea takes with him to department, district and post meetings.

·         Provide effective and honest communication. The department has three in-person membership meetings a year during fall and spring conferences and department convention, along with regular virtual meetings. And Maddrea sends a weekly email to the membership team.

·         Be responsive to phone calls and email and use his Personify subject-matter expertise to problem-solve.

As for being responsive, a post commander was having trouble with membership on Personify. A vice commander was visiting the post and called Maddrea to see if he could answer a few questions.

“I said I can do better than that,” he said. “The post is 25 minutes from me. I’m going to cut off my stove, put on my shoes, and as long as you don’t care what I’m dressed like, I will be there in 30 minutes. We sat at the post for an hour and a half doing membership training with that commander.

“That focus on being willing to help people, creating those help desks, that’s all part of that leader development. When it comes to membership, we are really here to help you and you know, call, text, email anytime. The commitment is you’ll get a response in 24 hours or less. But that willingness to get out and travel and help people has sent a message, I think loud and clear across the department, that the department has your back and is willing to help you. That this is a team effort, and we are all pulling together for the same goal.”

Virginia is currently 3rd in membership standings for 2024 and is 685 members away from meeting the 100% membership target date in May.

“At the end of the day, that continuity, that long-range vision, that is a piece of the membership puzzle. It’s not the solution,” Maddrea said. “Virginia’s membership success is a success story of an entire department of almost 200 posts, district leaders, Executive Committee members, vice commanders and department commanders that are all on board with the same plan and course of action and are committed to doing the hard work necessary to execute it. The membership success program, and our success, are that one person doesn’t make the difference. It’s a team effort.”

Over the past three years, Maddrea has logged about 10,000 miles in his car traveling the state to help with Personify and membership. “In some cases, we’ve had a couple of districts that have set up all day membership workshops and I’ve gone and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. where we have done nothing but MyLegion and membership all day, every day,” he said. 

Virginia’s Membership Success A Team Effort!