Roaring Success: Lions Club Anniversary Grows New Members

The Lions Club International, one of the world’s largest service organizations, recently turned 100. To celebrate, Lions planned an anniversary party recognizing and incentivizing membership.

Membership is a tough job. Sometimes it can feel like you’re stuck in a rut, struggling to keep members excited and engaged about your association’s work and mission. If you’re trying to break the membership monotony, why not throw a little party?

That’s what the Lions Club International did to celebrate a major milestone—its 100th birthday. Melvin Jones founded one of the world’s largest service organization on June 7, 1917, in Chicago, so it was only fitting that the Lions celebrated their birthday last week in the Windy City with a convention, including a keynote speech delivered by former UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon.

The Lions Club anniversary is a multiyear celebration of epic proportions, a party four years in the making. Monday night, the Empire State Building was lit with the club’s signature blue and gold colors. The U.S. Mint designed a commemorative coin. And post offices around the world have released limited-edition stamps to celebrate the anniversary.

Maybe your association can’t get the Empire State Building or U.S. Mint onboard with your party, but you probably can take a lesson from some other ways that the Lions Club has successfully engaged and recruited members as part of its Centennial Celebration.

“We wanted to include as many members as possible, so we established some goals that would engage our Lions wherever they are,” says spokesperson Dane LaJoye. “And we ended this past year with the most members we’ve had since 1998.”

We never emphasize membership for the sake of gaining new members. We equate membership with being able to serve more people.

The Centennial Celebration was organized around several legacy projects, activities that local clubs and members can easily get involved with and that other associations can likely replicate for their next anniversary or milestone moment. Here’s a look at a few of the Lions’ projects.

Membership as Service

Today, more than 1.4 million Lions belong to about 47,000 clubs in more than 200 countries. Lions share a common bond and commitment to service, and the Centennial Celebration was a chance to align the club’s members on messaging and recruitment, LaJoye says.

First, the Lions Club developed several communication templates, including newsletters and member toolkits, to spread a consistent message about the value of membership. “We never emphasize membership for the sake of gaining new members. We equate membership with being able to serve more people,” LaJoye says. “So we created a formula that says for every new member that joins, the organization can serve 70 more people per year.”

Doing the math and establishing a set formula also helped the Lions to plan for the future. They created a goal to serve 200 million people per year by 2021. And as part of the Centennial Celebration, they challenged members to serve 100 million people by June 2018—a goal they’ve already far surpassed.

Incentivizing members with the right message and challenge can spark action during an anniversary moment, LaJoye says. In addition to setting broad service goals, the organization established a special category of membership designed specifically for the Centennial Celebration.

With a centennial membership, anyone who joins or recruits new members or starts a club during the anniversary period receives special rewards. For instance, if an existing member sponsors a new club and inducts at least three new members, that member is recognized as a “World Class Centennial Lion” and receives a banner patch and plaque, recognition at the International Convention, and a virtual banner icon.

“Those incentives mean a lot to Lions, because unless you joined or recruited in this four-year period, no one else in the organization has the designation of being a centennial member,” LaJoye says. To date, the organization has more than 441,000 centennial members and more than 3,900 new clubs.

Impact From the Bottom Up

One of the biggest secrets to the Centennial Celebration’s success has been the Lions’ commitment to fun. The organization is challenging its clubs to think creatively about legacy projects that both commemorate the centennial and add fun to service. That’s an important takeaway for associations, especially those with chapters they can leverage on the local level.

Individual clubs are working on projects that will make a lasting impact on their communities, LaJoye says. “Maybe it’s a new park that the community can benefit from, a mural, or the beautification of a town square. It was important to get the impact down to a club and member level.”

Club activities are featured prominently on the Lions Club Facebook page and are shared using the social media hashtag #Lions100.

Lions Club members thrive on social interactions and engagements—it’s in their DNA, LaJoye says, which is why it makes sense that new social networking tools are being used. Even something as simple as a selfie wall can show the rich history, legacy, and faces of Lions Club membership.

thrive on social interactions and engagements

“We try to make each membership-focused project fun and personal,” LaJoye says. “I think it’s important to openly embrace and celebrate your members, because a lot of times it will spark action and incentive them to lead in the future.”

A shot of the Chicago skyline, lit up for the Lions Club. (via the Lions Club's Twitter page)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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