October 21, 2013

Make sure the message you send is the one you want to be heard

The Arizona and California South Districts of Optimist International held a combined district meeting this past weekend, October 19-20, 2013. It took place in Yuma, Arizona and Optimist International president-elect Ken Garner was in attendance. According to newspaper reports, he was there to speak about "how the philanthropic organization can carry out its mission of serving youth."

Ken Garner, President-elect, Optimist
International speaks in Yuma
Unfortunately, the article in the Yuma Sun didn't really explain how the organization accomplishes its mission and the reader is left uncertain what Garner's proposed actions for the future might be. It clearly stated, however,  that one of the biggest challenges for the organization is attracting new members. During the presentation, Garner further explained that individuals in the Gen-X and Millennial Generations are a priority for the organization to recruit.

This kind of message always concerns me. Yes, recruiting young adults is important; and yes, recruiting members is a challenge for any service organization. But really, do you want to tell that to the newspaper reporters?

Once aired, that message can take one's mind and writing in many different directions. An unfortunate result might include an exposé about declining memberships in service clubs and their lack of relevance in today's society, the very rumor that we in leadership positions work courageously to dispel.

Gaining media attention is important. Scoring an article, with pictures nonetheless, is what public relations is all about. However, delivering a message that furthers your cause is critical. Instead of creating awareness about a deficit, the speaker must explain how that void will be filled.

Based on what was said at the meeting as described in the Yuma Sun, I think the message delivered should have been, "Optimist International values a diverse membership, made up of individuals of all ages. Knowing that those in the Millennial and Gen-X generations need an extra push to be involved in service clubs, we've created the $30 under 30 program. The $30 under 30 program makes it easier for young adults to volunteer their time with an Optimist Club."

Optimist International delivers leadership training through the district meeting format. In that setting, it is appropriate that real concerns, like membership, come to light; but it is equally important that plans be made to address concerns. When bringing together such a unique and caring set of leaders, one must listen to them, talk to them, and open channels for two-way communication to take place. Most of all, one must respect that the answers to most questions that trouble the organization probably lie within such groups and understand that they will take what they heard at the meeting and share it through their local channels at home.

If you tell them that membership is declining; that is what they will believe and report. If instead you tell them that membership will be increased through particular strategic methods, they will believe that, report that, and work to make it happen.

Photo credit: Yuma Sun

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