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Growing Younger

August 3, 2009

Let’s face it.  The crowd at your typical fraternal meeting—from local lodges to quadrennial conventions—tends to be a bit, how shall I say this, more “mature” than most gatherings.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Seniors are an incredibly vibrant part of American culture, make up a large percentage of community service volunteers, and have an enormous impact on public policy decisions made by state and federal legislators, simply because the vast majority of them vote religiously.

But if our societies are only composed of elder statesmen, you can write the last chapters in the fraternal story without too much imagination.  Where is the next generation of members going to come from?

Woodmen of the World/Omaha Woodmen Life Insurance Society (WOW) is making a targeted effort to find out.  At its recent convention, WOW conducted a Youth Forum in which one young (typically 14- to 16-year-old) representative from each of the society’s jurisdictions participated.  Because WOW operates youth camps, the society had a built-in reservoir of prospective participants. 

But the Forum wasn't a junket for these young people.  For two full days they participated in professionally facilitated workshops and focus groups on such topics as building trust, setting goals, and tackling complex problems in creative ways.  At the end of the session, Youth Forum representatives elected one of their own to deliver a report on their discussions to the full convention.

I had the opportunity to listen in on a couple hours of these sessions, and let me tell you I was impressed—by the quality of the young folks that participated in them; the innovative ways that the WOW staff elicited their feedback; and the spirit of teamwork that infused the entire session.

Everyone took this very seriously—after all, we're talking about the future of the fraternal system here—but they all had fun in the process.  If there was a bottom line to the Forum it was this: let’s get meetings out of lodge halls and gather in a place where we can do the most good—and have some fun while doing so.  From the mouths of babes...

I'll be writing more about the WOW Youth Forum in the coming weeks.  WOW's John Manna, Sharon Warga and their team that ran the session promised to send me the final report on the meeting, and I can’t wait to share it with you because I think it not only can provide useful information to all NFCA members, but also serve as a blueprint for other societies who might want to conduct similar events.

In the meantime, congratulations to the entire WOW team for having the courage to invest in this initiative and to really listen to what these teenagers had to say.  And hats off to the teens who participated in the program.  Your insights just may help the fraternal system grow younger.

Anyone else out there doing this sort of thing?  I'd love to hear about it.  Post your comments below.

NFCA is conducting our own "youth" workshop at the upcoming Annual Meeting on Friday, September 18, from 2:00 - 3:15 p.m.  Giving Generations XYZ a Seat at the Table will give examples of how fraternals are adapting to the expectations of new generations and how your society can develop programs to engage young adults and grow new fraternal leaders.  Be sure to attend this session if you're interested in retaining and engaging younger members.