March 1, 2013

Membership for all ages

I'm somewhat torn today.

Optimist International has reintroduced its $30 under 30 membership recruitment campaign. It's meant to introduce the Millennial Generation to an Optimist Club by offering them a reduced membership fee for one year. Those under 30 years of age can join from now until September 30, 2013 for just $30.

I like this program; really I do. However, I'm torn for two reasons. I don't think it goes far enough and I think it goes too far. Let me explain.

The program does not go far enough because it is a temporary program. Introduced last year at about the same time, the first program ran until September 30, 2012 at which time, everyone resumed the regular membership rates. Now for five months, Optimist Clubs have been without this recruiting tool. If they were successful at recruiting members under 30 years of age, they and their new member were penalized by paying a higher rate. That's not a positive message to send and next year, clubs are likely to wait for the $30 under 30 incentive to return so that they can save money.

An organization should never encourage its members to wait to invite others to join. That's one of the reasons that I am not a fan of offering incentives. Membership is a year-round responsibility and privilege, not something that is dictated by prizes.

I also believe that this program goes too far in its focus on young adults. Regular readers know that I believe that in service, age is not the relevant factor. As a whole, our society is getting older. The Baby Boomers are retiring in droves and suddenly, older individuals have more time to volunteer. Where is their incentive to join? Why can't they try out an Optimist Club for $30?

Optimist International should empower its Optimist Clubs to promote membership to all ages and I question that reducing dues for some is the right approach. It sends a bad signal to those who aren't lucky enough to qualify for the discount and puts the focus of membership on money over service.

I belong to an Optimist Club because I believe in the service it provides the community. I help start new Optimist Clubs because I believe in their potential to do good things in their local communities. When there is commitment to a cause, the money becomes incidental; we can always find a way.

No matter your age, please click here if you would like to find an Optimist Club in your community.

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