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Members and Money

Generally a member is someone who pays dues or makes some financial contribution--even if very small--to the group. All organizations, except the most Informal, at some point in their life, will need some money to keep going. It may not be much, but if you ever want to get things done, you are likely to need some money.

Ask for Money up Front

It helps to talk about money at the start. If you intend to try to ask for money, it is harder to bring It up later.

Even if it is only a dollar for cookies or copies of the flyer for the next meeting, ask the group to pay for It. Pass the hat. People who start organizations are often reluctant to do this. But if you pay for it, it becomes "your" organization. If the members pay for the group, it becomes their group.

People will value what they pay for. If they pay for it, they will own it. They will expect something from the group.

When the issue of dues is raised, people often ask, "But, can't we just volunteer our time?" A colleague replies: "Can you volunteer at the telephone company to take 411 calls to pay your phone bill?" If not, and you want a phone, you will need money. If you want stamps, paper, paper clips, transportation or staff you will need money. You will have to get it somewhere. If your members pay for the organization, they run it. If someone else pays for it, they are likely to have a big say in what issues it focuses on and how it is run.

Where you get your money also says a lot about your organization. The old saying, "He who pays the piper calls the tune," still rings true.

An anti-drunk driving group received most of its money from a beer company. Will they compromise their actions because of the source of their money? One might think so. A civic group received money from City Hall. Would that affect its actions and attitudes toward the City government? Most likely it will. If the members pay for all or most of the organization's expenses, the members decide what the organization does. If the money comes from the government, there will be strings attached.

A college educated organizer tells the story of starting a community organization in a low-income community. When time for the dues discussion came around, he thought, since the people were low-income, dues should be low. He suggested $10 a year. The members, however, many of whom were on welfare or worked at minimum wage jobs, wanted to pay $25 a year. They said that by paying $25 instead of only $10 they would value the organization more. By paying a more significant dues, they said they would expect more from the organization. By paying the higher dues, the members have in fact higher expectations and more involvement with the group. When the staff doesn't do what the members think they should, they get annoyed and let the staff know.

Think about it yourself. If you pay good money for something, don't you expect a return? The amount you set for dues will have an impact on how your members think about the organization.

Note that the IWW has a set dues rate, but it may be to your group or branch's advantage to ask for voluntary contributions and assessments above and beyond the standard dues rates.

Why People Join Organizations

If you want to learn how to get people to join and get involved in your group, you need to understand why someone would join.

The first thing to recognize is that most people you want to recruit are like you In their willingness to join and get involved in an organization.

So think. How did you get involved in a group?

Think of some time, any time in your life (it could be far back in your childhood or last week).

  • What group or groups did you join?
  • What led you to join? What was the immediately preceding event? Think of how you heard about it, from whom or in what way.
  • If a person asked you to join, how did they ask you? Was It in person? Over the phone? By letter? What did they actually say?
  • What else do you remember about what happened just before you joined?
  • If you are like most people, you joined a group because someone asked you to. And not only someone, but someone you knew and trusted And s/he asked you in
  • person.

I have asked this question of hundreds of people. About 80% say they joined a group because a person asked them. A smaller percentage Joined a group after reading a flyer or newspaper ad. But most people joined because someone they know asked them. Face to face, eyeball to eyeball. This is an important finding.

It means that if you want people to join your group you have to a them. In person. This is whet works. Person to person. One on one.

You can try other things. Letters, flyers, newspaper ads, sky writing, computer generated direct mall, public service announcement' on T.V. or radio, and other "media" extravaganzasbut what works, over and over again, is one person asking another person. Your group will likely be no different.

If you are not sure, ask a few friends why they joined some group any group. It can be the Girl Scouts, the Marines, the bowling team, a reading group, the church or temple. You'll find it's most often because someone they knew asked them.

Again, think back to your own experience. Why did you loin that group? What happened Just before you joined it? Who was it that asked you? You will likely remember his/her name, even if it was a long time ago.

Now you have learned the most important lesson about recruiting:


You may wonder. Isn't this very slow? It may seem slow, but it gets you members --faster than anything else. It is what works. We may be so bombarded by T.V., billboards. magazines and newspapers that we think that personal contact is not effective, that we need more "modern methods." But ask yourself, how do you feel when someone you know asks you to do something? As opposed to how you feel when you see an ad on the T.V.? Which group will you stick with? You are not selling toothpaste. You are asking people to make a meaningful commitment.


Another point about asking people is that you have to go to them. You can call a meeting, send out a flyer, but you will wait a long time for people to come. You have to go to people to get them involved. You have to show up in person, face to face, look them in the eye and ask them to help, to come to your meeting or join your organization.

What's in it for Them?

Although it is generally necessary to ask someone to join, asking is not enough. And, although simply asking may get someone to join, this is not likely enough to keep them motivated and involved for very long. If they know and like you well enough, they may join as a favor to you.

But it won't keep them involved for very long. They need to join for their own reasons and needs.

Again, think back to why YOU joined some group. The deeper reasons you joined are likely to be the same reasons others will stay involved. So, think. What was and is in it for you?

Remember, most people you are trying to recruit will be like you. They will want and need to get something out of being part of the group. But what is that? You need to learn what is in it for them. This is complex. People join for many different reasons.

Think back to all the things you may have gotten from a group you joined. Some may be quite personal:

  • A chance to enjoy the company of others.
  • The feeling that people appreciate your ideas.
  • A chance to express your ideas.
  • A chance to use your skills and abilities.
  • An opportunity to grow intellectually or spiritually.
  • A chance to sing in a chorus.
  • A place to meet a mate or a new friend.
  • A chance to be with someone you really like.
  • A chance to feel some sense of power in your life.

Others may be more related to conditions where you live or work:

  • A chance to make a difference in the problem of drugs, AIDS, crime, etc.something that really bothers you.
  • A chance to get to know the neighbors you don't really know. You just wish people were friendlier. You think it would make the street safer and you would just feel better knowing the people on your street.
  • A chance to lower taxes or a utility bill, or get better medical care, higher wages, better working conditions, better schools, etc.
  • A chance to clean up a park, or cut down the noise in the neighborhood.
  • A chance to do something about things you are angry aboutthe trash in the street, the way the garbage is picked up, the lack of city services, the fumes from the tire factory, the air quality in your workplace, the way you are treated on the lob, your lousy health plan at work, the way you and your fellow students are treated in school, etc.

Do any of these reasons sound like yours? Do you have other reasons? Are there other reasons you joined and stayed?

Real Issues and Real People

Many of us have limited knowledge of why other people will join a group. It is easier to understand your own reasons. We may think that others are only interested in the "issue" the group is pursuing. The immediate issue may be better garbage pick up, higher wages, lob security, better health insurance, affordable housing, better schools, cleaning up a stream, getting rid of a drug problem, getting a traffic light put up, stopping some nuisance in the neighborhood, getting better treatment for your group, etc. But you will miss much if you treat people as interested only in "the immediate issue." In fact, if that is all they are interested in they are not likely to last long in your organization. If you don't look beyond the immediate issue as a reason people want to join, you may not be able to keep them in your group. You need to be able to get under their skin: to know what makes them tick.

What Makes them Tick?

Aside from asking them in person to join or help out with the organization, you need to learn what makes them tick. You need to learn what there may be in it for them.