In 1917, Melvin Jones laid the groundwork for what would become an international beacon of kindness and service. In a relatively short time after Lions Clubs International’s founding, the organization grew beyond borders and cultural barriers, gaining members across the world. The organization today has more than 1.4 million members worldwide.

Like anything in life, membership ebbs and flows — growing in some areas, while declining in others. Prior to the 1980s, North American membership was strong, with nearly 571,000 members in Constitutional Area (CA) 1 and 54,000-plus in CA 2. Despite the best efforts of many Lion leaders, we’ve seen a steady decline in North American membership over the past 40 years.

There are plenty of factors that contribute to this trend, including lifestyle changes and overall levels of community involvement. Keeping all this in mind, the question still remains: how can clubs in CAs 1 and 2 grow their numbers, especially in the midst of a global health crisis? Enter the North American Membership Initiative (NAMI).

NAMI'S HISTORY

Dramatic change rarely comes easy, and 40 years of membership decline proved that Lions International needed to do something different to attract and retain members. That’s why in 2018 International Vice Presidents Haynes Townsend and Brian Sheehan worked together to develop NAMI to help districts in North America boost their membership. The program started with nine pilot districts across CAs 1 and 2, with chosen NAMI Champions to lead and motivate their districts.

“This is something we can achieve if we have all hands on deck and become accountable,” says Sheehan.

Today, International Vice Presidents Doug Alexander, Brian Sheehan, and Dr. Patti Hill lead the program with a Steering Committee selected for their proven skills in growing club and membership numbers. They also formed the Young Lions Task Force to help districts charter Lions clubs for young people and assist districts with recruitment and engagement of young Lions.

Together, the NAMI team is guided by three objectives to grow membership: rejuvenating districts with new clubs, revitalizing clubs with new members, and re-motivating existing members with new fellowships and exciting service.

PROCESS SUPPORT

To a degree, NAMI is not “new.” Clubs and districts all have access to a wide range of resources and training opportunities available to help them succeed. The difference is the depth in which NAMI requires district leaders to go to meet their goals. The process seems simple — but it takes focus and dedication to get the most out of the steps involved.

Build a team --> Build a vision --> Build a plan --> Build a success

Reversing a long-term trend takes teamwork. Each team creates a shared vision of what they want their district to be, analyzes their current situation, and sets goals. Then the team develops a concrete plan to achieve their goals. This is where innovation and creativity are welcomed — doing things the way they’ve been done has proven to be ineffective in meeting membership goals. Once the plan is underway, communication is vital to keep momentum, enthusiasm, and overall member satisfaction up.

SUCCESS STORIES

While some pilot districts are still overcoming obstacles, others have made great strides with the boost NAMI has offered. In Texas, Pilot District 2-S1 Champion Roger Doyle says his district is finding great success — in 2019–20, total membership has grown by 50 members. Prior to participating in NAMI, Doyle’s district had a 5-year average of losing 22 members per year.

“The process and resources are structured to allow each district the ability to tailor the program to their specific needs,” says Doyle. “With a firm commitment from our district team, we have been able to ‘hit the ground running’ and the results are evident.”

By and large, Pilot Districts found the overall structure of the program to be the key in overcoming membership challenges. In California Pilot District 4-L5, Champion Rob Manning says he’s seen the benefit of the planning, accountability, and information sharing that is part of the NAMI program.

“We are looking forward to implementing the NAMI program in all 15 subdistricts in MD-4,” Manning says.

Other Pilot District Champions share this sentiment, finding value in the collaboration needed to achieve their goals. Northern Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario Pilot District 5M10 Champion Joanne Ogden emphasized the importance of working together in analyzing their district, creating district goals, and supporting and holding each other accountable.

NAMI participation has shown great positives for members themselves. In Alabama Pilot District 34-A, Champion Ron Seybold says that while communication and interaction within his district has improved tremendously, so too has members’ involvement.

“Lions are excited because they know they are being heard, as things they suggested are being implemented.”

“Lions are excited because they know they are being heard, as things they suggested are being implemented,” Seybold says. “More Lions are becoming involved, as they see new and innovative ideas being tested to provide support for them and their club.

Seybold notes the change in mindset for his district. Rather than accepting unfavorable outcomes, he says NAMI has helped enable his members to make adjustments and take different approaches to their challenges.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR NAMI

This year (2020-21) NAMI has been opened to all districts in North America. And as NAMI grows, so does the role of our Global Action Team, who is taking the lead in communication and support with our districts. As more districts work through this challenge, we will use our collective experience to improve the program and grow our success.

To learn more about NAMI, visit lionsclubs.org/nami. To help grow membership in your district, contact your District Governor today and volunteer!