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Let’s Build a Stronger OA Community: Membership Retention Strategies

  Evan Nazareth             OA Today

connect Lets build a stronger oa community: Membership Retention Strategies

A Scout’s Ordeal experience can be a highlight of their Scouting journey, but it should not be the end of an Arrowman’s journey. The National Youth Retention Subcommittee asked lodges with the highest member retention rates in 2020 and 2021 what strategies work to retain members and where additional resources would be helpful. These discussions helped to identify major themes, best practices, and strategies for lodges to find similar success. Many of the themes overlapped and showed trends for success but were implemented in different ways.

Cultivate Opportunities, Empower Youth

92% of high-performing lodges proactively create opportunities for all youth members to serve on chapter or lodge committees.
92% of high-performing lodges proactively create opportunities for all youth members to serve on chapter or lodge committees.

After the top lodges were surveyed, we held listening sessions with lodge officers and advisers to gain insight into programs and initiatives to foster youth retention in lodges across the country. These lodges cultivate and empower their youth leadership by offering many opportunities along the membership journey for youth to be involved with increasing responsibilities for chapter and lodge committees. Top lodges make an effort to fill all of their adviser positions, which allows for direct mentoring for each youth leader. Each youth leader is properly trained. They invite and inspire new members to get involved. This improves the OA program and makes for a healthy lodge.

Welcome New Members, Focus on Fellowship 

75% of high-performing lodges credit large-scale fellowship events for improving their retention efforts
75% of high-performing lodges credit large-scale fellowship events for improving their retention efforts

Top lodges welcome new members with icebreaker activities, such as a cracker barrel, a dinner feast after the Ordeal tests and before the ceremony, and holding an interest fair to create connections. Interactive orientation sessions are used to foster excitement about the program and demonstrate leadership opportunities.

Recognize Achievements, Engage All Members

Recognize new and current members to make everyone feel important. Top lodges create recognition opportunities at fellowships, inductions, and award banquets. Your lodge can find similar success by ensuring recognition is:

  • Purposeful and Unique 
    • Tamegonit Lodge gives each new Vigil Honor member a personalized leather vest with a unique patch that features their Vigil name and the lodge totem.
    • Mikanakawa Lodge designed a custom belt buckle for those who stepped up to fill roles.
    • Muscogee Lodge provides elangomats with a series of recognition items, which keeps their members involved for more than one induction weekend.
  • Celebrates the behind-the-scenes work
    • Ceremonialists
    • Chapter officers and advisers
    • Elangomats
    • Kitchen staff
  • Recognizes everyone who completed their
    • Ordeal
    • Brotherhood
    • Vigil

Many of the top lodges have on-the-spot recognition. Lodge officers provide members with patches or use a bead system to acknowledge achievements. Recognition increases engagement. It encourages members to aspire to a similar goal, promotes interest in leadership positions, and appreciates them for their efforts. 

Use Multiple forms of Communication, CONNECT 

80% of high-performing lodges credit strong communications to improve retention.
80% of high-performing lodges credit strong communications to improve retention.

Top lodges use different strategies to connect with their members. Some of their strategies included:

  • Using QR codes on postcards and flyers to streamline event registration. Sending postcards or mailers and distributing flyers at round tables with QR codes directing members to registration information and event details.
  • Updating the lodge website frequently
  • Creating accounts and frequently posting to social media platforms 
  • Utilizing the OA Troop Representative to better connect with the unit.

Preserve Tradition While Adapting Novel Approaches 

88% of high-performing lodges have had a positive impact on their lodge's program by consciously improving their retention efforts

Despite these all being top lodges, a number of challenges were described. Wide geography can make connections difficult for lodge events as well as unit outreach. Lodge leaders and advisers often balance multiple commitments, making time an even greater commodity. Novel approaches are used, such as creating lodge positions to address areas larger than a chapter, but smaller than the entire lodge. Multiple communication streams are used for outreach to units and chapters. Lodges noted that an annual calendar was most effective when dates were established well in advance of an event and publicized accordingly. This allowed members to plan to attend events.

While these lodges demonstrate differences in their strategies for success, our core values remain the same. We can honor tradition while adapting to changing circumstances in the OA and beyond. 

We recommend the following strategies to better CONNECT with your members. Let's all work together to make all members feel like they belong, to improve our events, and to retain members. 

C - Cultivate — Develop youth leaders to inspire and grow your lodge. 

O - Opportunity — Offer multiple events with opportunities to be involved in planning and execution.

N - New Members — Welcome all new members. Celebrate them and encourage belonging.

N - Novel Approaches — Broaden your communication strategies, create new activities and events, restructure lodge operations, and add value to your lodge program. 

E - Engage — Engage members along the membership journey and after membership is sealed in Brotherhood with multiple touch points to maintain their interest.

C - Core — Focus on our purpose and core values of Brotherhood, Cheerfulness, and Service.

T - Training — Properly train your youth leaders and adult advisers by hosting workshops such as an elangomat training, Polestar: Induction Leadership Training, and training youth leadership through adviser mentorship.

Member retention is as important as inducting new members to sustain our program. Your lodge can add several touch points along the membership journey by celebrating new members, communicating in a personalized way between the election and Ordeal and also between Ordeal and Brotherhood, offering all members an opportunity to contribute, and recognizing members for their hard work and achievements. Engaging all members unites us in our mission of brotherhood, cheerfulness, and service. Every member wants to feel welcomed. Look for our OA communications in the upcoming months for more resources to enhance your lodge's retention.