The American Legion Auxiliary is launching a new academy training program this year in response to a member survey that encouraged the organization to develop more leaders as part of the ALA's 5-Year Centennial Strategic Plan.
Under a new academy training program, the American Legion Auxiliary is providing all members with the tools they need to help grow the organization as a team.
Since its founding in 1919, the women who make up the American Legion Auxiliary have experienced significantly different lifestyles, challenges, and societal norms. Back then, women had just won the right to vote under the 19th Amendment.
Conveniences like automobiles, refrigerators, radios, telephones, and movie theaters were just becoming mainstream. When ALA members, the vast majority of them housewives, showed up to meetings, they were dressed in “ladylike” clothing they purchased from local stores or the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. Many women at that time shunned the flapper style of short hems and bob hairstyles.
It’s clear that times have changed. Technology is part of everything we do — from dining out to communicating and learning.
Today, most ALA members have been voting since the age of 18. Many have gone to college and have been in the workforce much of their adult lives. Most members now carry smartphones, using technology to contact fellow ALA members, read the latest news, watch movies, and make online purchases for ear buds to the jeans they’ll wear at their next ALA service project or meeting. And, hopefully, members who shop online at www.Amazon.com have signed up at AmazonSmile and selected the ALA Foundation, so that every purchase generates a .5 percent donation to the ALA Foundation!
It’s definitely a different America than the one experienced by our founding ALA members; yet, remarkably, the mission they joined to support has not changed. ALA members continue to work hard to honor the promise to care for our military, veterans and their families — whether they live in small rural communities or urban centers across the United States.
While today’s ALA members have many more conveniences and freedoms, they also face a more challenging time in keeping the American Legion Auxiliary alive to serve its mission for generations to come.
Like many other organizations, the Auxiliary is struggling to keep its membership numbers strong. The ALA must discover new ways to reach a younger generation of Americans who are not familiar with the organization’s history and mission. The ALA is competing with a wide range of varying interests. Women have many options for how they spend their precious free time.
The ALA also must communicate differently than people did even five years ago, let alone generations ago. Faced with a steady decline in ALA membership over the past decades, we came to grip with the reality that the ALA must change and become relevant and engaging to women and girls who lack the time or interest to become involved in the traditional ways.
The ALA learned from our national public awareness campaign that interest in the ALA exceeded expectations as women responded favorably to the ALA commercial that aired on television channels across the country.
We also learned we needed to become much more nimble and quick to engage women who express interest.
The realization that the ALA wasn’t able to fully and consistently take advantage of the heightened awareness and interest led the ALA leadership to develop a 5-Year Centennial Strategic Plan, and the ALA national governing board to establish five critical strategic goals and allocate resources sufficient to enact the strategies necessary to improve the ALA.
ALA then learned from the nearly 9,000 ALA members who provided in-depth input into the ALA Organizational Effectiveness Assessment that members wanted more opportunities to learn how to serve the ALA mission with training that is convenient, consistent, and simple.
To address the disturbing decline in membership, the ALA took the significant step of hiring a professional organization to help us take a hard look at our ability to achieve the five strategies needed to remain viable for future generations of veterans.
In 2015, Johnson, Grossnickle & Associates (JGA) conducted a study and survey of 8,849 ALA members about the organization’s capacity to deliver on its mission. That 40-page study, which you can read in its entirety at www.ALAforVeterans.org, is called the ALA Organizational Effectiveness Report, and it pointed out numerous problematic areas, including the following:
Too much focus on meeting structure. The survey revealed a need to be more flexible about what constitutes an active member. Angela White, the CEO of JGA and an Auxiliary member, suggested being more open about making changes to accommodate different lifestyles. Many young mothers, for example, may not have the time to attend a one-hour meeting each week or month but may be willing to donate to fundraising events.
"We're not flexible and relevant enough to attract new members,” White said.
Too many ALA members dropping out. While many units and departments focused on efforts to recruit new members, the survey revealed that the ALA needed to address how to retain the members it already has. Nearly half of new members leave the Auxiliary within the first three years after joining, according to the report.
Too much negativity. The study showed that negativity contributes to some members not wanting to stick around, White said. “The responses showed that there is a prevalent and widespread culture of unkindness. It’s the biggest obstacle to implementing the ALA Centennial Strategic Plan,” she noted.
Other concerns revealed in the report included the need for more diversity, simplifying membership metrics, and better use of youth programs to generate interest in ALA membership.
One of the major initiatives under the 5-Year ALA Centennial Strategic Plan, Goal 3, is to Develop Leadership at All Levels. In response to that goal, the Auxiliary has committed to developing a leadership training program, using the expertise provided by Briljent, a national training development company.
Through its collaboration with Briljent, ALA has been working on a curriculum that members can access online. The tutorials, which members can access starting in spring 2017, will cover topics ranging from leadership fundamentals, public relations, and marketing to effective listening, strategic thinking, team building, and handling conflict. The training sessions will include online courses, workshops, webinars, and guides to make sure the information is easily accessible.
Using the ALA Organizational Effectiveness Report and the 5-Year ALA Centennial Strategic Plan for guidance, the ALA addressed the need to better train members about the ALA so that membership becomes more meaningful to women and girls. Training needs to be fun, easy, and truly useful!
The training is designed to help members learn as part of a process that includes learning the information, sharing it with others, practicing their new skills, and, eventually, making those new skills a habit.
There will also be plenty of opportunities to engage with other ALA members as you learn how to make our organization even stronger. Stay tuned for more information on the ALA training in future issues of Auxiliary, and from your unit and department.
ALA 101: For a new member or perhaps a member who hasn’t received information on the fundamentals of ALA membership, this module will provide an overview of the organization’s mission as well as an understanding of the commitment ALA members make to veterans when they join. It also will provide tips on how to use the resources ALA National Headquarters provides members through www.ALAforVeterans.org, Auxiliary magazine, and monthly enewsletters.
Leadership Basics: This section will focus on defining and demonstrating ALA’s leadership principles. It also will address building trust and loyalty by defining trust-building principles and actions and reviewing the Auxiliary’s vision.
Effective Communication: Reaching out to others in today’s society has become a complicated business, with options including phone calls, traditional mail, email, social media, texts, instant messaging, and more. This module will help ALA members understand how to be effective listeners and communicators in modern times. They also will learn how to use social media to help fulfill the mission, whether it’s announcing a fundraiser or a special memorial event.
Strategic Thinking: As part of this session, ALA members will learn how to become more effective at identifying the components of an effective process, creating a process, and more effectively sharing ideas and visions with other members of their team.
Marketing Leadership: Recruiting new members requires getting the word out, whether through a face-to-face basis or launching a membership drive. Either way, it involves some type of marketing. This session will help members with their efforts to recruit new members, as well as develop and manage fundraising campaigns to help carry out the Auxiliary’s mission. Marketing is essential to accomplishing the ALA’s vision on many different levels.
ALA Culture Basics: In this session, members will learn how to demonstrate the ALA’s culture principles, as well as receive guidance on how to lead and conduct culture-building activities.
Diversity: ALA members will gain a better understanding of what diversity is and learn the techniques for embracing diversity in their outreach and day-to-day activities. The session also will provide tips on working with multi-generational members.
Team Building: To build a more effective team, members will learn about the different types of team members in a strong organization and how to manage their weaknesses as well as their strengths. They also will learn the techniques for building an effective team and empowering team members.
Handling Conflict: Dealing with conflicts is a challenge every organization faces. This session will identify different conflict reaction styles and how to manage them. It also will teach ALA members how to create a plan to help them effectively handle a conflict situation.
Mentoring: Through this session, members will explore different ways to mentor others and the principles that guide those methods. They also will learn tips on how to develop a mentoring plan that takes into account different personalities.
Managing Change: Acknowledging that change can be difficult, this module is designed to help master techniques for managing change, creating a change management plan, and helping others embrace change.