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Membership Makeover

In December 2006, Harlan Miller, President of the Centerville (Ohio) Elks Quarterback Club, talked with FundraisingForSports.com about how the group's successful phone-a-thon helped convince its school board to fund the high school's new synthetic turf system. (This interview may be read online, titled "Phone a Friend".)


Miller now discusses how the Elks Quarterback Club widened its identity within this community located between Cincinnati and Dayton, starting with development of a membership drive. Through the Elks' enormously popular incentive packages, the quarterback's club has expanded its volunteer base to more than 140 members strong.


In his own words:



"In the last four years, we've had a major expansion in the club, as far as the scope and reach of the number of people—and all of that was by design. Four years ago, the officers were the primary leaders. The four guys would get together, and plan a golf outing fundraiser and Value Card sales, and painted the field. It was pretty loosely run: They'd call people to get volunteers, and there were no dues or membership.


When I came into the club, the president asked if I wanted to be involved with some of this. I had been involved with other affinity organizations, professional associations and what not, so I have a background for this. (I've been a membership chair of a national association with 140,000 members and was the fundraiser member of a political action group.)


The first thing I asked the officers was if I could do something new: create a one-page newsletter, so people in the community would know what the quarterback club was doing. Then I asked how many members the club had, and the president said, 'Well, I really don't have a membership list.' I replied, 'How do you know who to call?' And he said that he would just call the parents to help out until they said, 'Yes.'


Now, that doesn't sound like fun. You call people to help out for a sponsorship, and other than the feeling that you're doing something good, there's really no tangible evidence of their involvement. Wouldn't it make more sense to set up a membership? Where they have to pay something to join and create a visible identity, like a logo, and create a value equation that says, 'If you belong to this club, you get benefits and values, plus we're going to have workers, plus we're going to have a lot of people involved.'


A lot of the time when you call people, you don't get them to work. But, if we opened it up to let people know about this organizations and let them know we're not this little exclusive organization— that we're inclusive and offer an opportunity for others to be invovlved.


So, we went about creating a logo based on the school emblem and placing the 'Quarterback Club' on it. Then we put together a value equation. Out of the four guys, two of us were in the investment field and the other two were accountants. The two accountants said it wasn't going to work if we charged members dues.


They asked why would people pay to join a club, and I said because we're going to give them something more then what they would normally get. So we charged them $10 and gave members a ballcap and a Value Card, plus we told them we would hold meetings and bring in speakers—who would be very valuable to them and their children's future—and we'd give them a newsletter. I said, 'You guys watch. By the time the picnic comes along in August (this was in January), people are going to be knocking on our doors asking us how to become members of the Quarterback Club.' Oddly enough, when the picnic came around, we had just that.


Going into the next year, the officers said, 'Let's increase the dues.' We increased the dues from $10 to $25, but I said that if we do that, we have to increase the value of what members are getting in return to a windbreaker, a hat, and a Value Card. We also brought in speakers (a college coach, and a physical trainer) and held a 'Meet the Coaches' night. These programs—designed to help parents prepare their children for college—are worth the price of membership.


We got more members the second year, and it was easier to get volunteers because on the application for membership, we had them indicate their interest in where they wanted to volunteer. So, when we painted the field, we knew we'd get a parent to help out because that's what they filled out on the form.


The other thing we had them fill out on their form was their place of business. If we saw the name of the business was the same name of the guy, we just got a golf sponsor. Because, when their kids are playing and they have a business, guess what? They're going to make sure their kids' program gets sponsored. It just increases our prospective list of sponsors.


With the third year, we (the officers and I) we said wanted to make the membership more exclusive, so we set up three different levels. We set up the entry level at $25, where members get the hat. At $35, they get the hat and the shirt, and at $50, they get the hat, shirt, and three game review films with the coach.


The membership caught on, and then we saw that some parents from the middle school's Wee Elks whose kids were going to go out for the varsity team wanted to buy one of our hats. Do we sell the hats? No—they had to buy a membership to get a hat. This opened up our membership more in the community. Then there were some alumni who just wanted to keep in contact. So we emailed them the newsletter. Then we emailed the newsletter to the middle school football parents and other alumni in Florida and Chicago. They just wanted the shirt, the hat, and still be part of this group.


Also, members of the quarterback club spoke at the middle school banquets, and we started getting middle school dads to become members. This year, we've had a couple who've said they want to be involved now because when their kids become freshmen, they want to be in loop.


So we built a structure, created a form, built an identity, the newsletter, we have a couple meetings in the spring and had speakers. We had Mike Kelly from the University of Dayton. The second year, we brought in Joe Finchman from Springfield. Third year we brought in Shane Montgomery from Miami. These coaches were brought in as a value to the parents as to what should parents look for when preparing their kids for college. It's the difference between Division I and Division III. When do they start making the call? Who do they call? What are the rules? What should they expect? They all tell a good story and they all tell a different story, and parents need to hear everything.


From a social standpoint, we have a golf outing—which is obviously more visible now with more memberships—but we also, as an appreciation, do a tailgate party that's open to public for a fee, but members are not. Interestingly enough, it was such a good deal for the public, that we had several eighth-grade parents join because their meal was worth the cost of the membership. So, now we have more members for next year's club. One of the guys came up afterward and said, 'You know, I can make videos for you.' So now we have another free service.


The quarterback club feels that communication and a value proposition is necessary to our success. We feel the fundraisers are enhanced with a broader group of people in the club. For example, a parent member—who doesn't do a lot with the club—works for AT&T and was in a sales meeting, when the company management was discussing that it was looking for new places to advertise in the Centerville area. He said, 'You know, you have to get behind this Centerville football club.' So, AT&T became a $1,000 sponsor. That probably wouldn't have happened if we didn't have the identity.


We've got another guy who is not a parent, but donates a golf sponsorship in-kind for printing, We get a cheaper printing cost, and obviously, he gets more attention for his business. It's the classic affinity club. People with a common interest put together something in a format that gives them the opportunity to participate and make it inclusive, so that people who want to contribute have the opportunity to do so, but if the only thing they want to contribute is being a member they join. If they want to do more, they can give time or money.


If you have a good structure with a good value proposition and reasons to belong, then they'll belong, and our purpose is simple: We are only assisting the Centerville football program however we can, financially or with communication and support.


All of our net fundraising goes to support the boys. Anything that has to do with membership with the shirts, the hats, the communications, all of that is paid for by the dues. We generate enough dues to provide membership benefits. What that has done is that by creating those membership benefits, it creates a broader membership for people to go to to help out on fundraising activities. As a result, our fundraising activities have doubled."



For more information on Centerville Elks Quarterback Club, visit: www.elksfootball.com.




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