Leading Legates talk about building and revitalizing membership and their chapters . . .
In business there’s an old saying that if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Legatus has always prided itself on growth, spurred by the vision of founder Tom Monaghan and his mission to “spread the faith.” As a result, Legatus’ membership has increased nearly every year since its founding in 1987.
Legatus’ executive director John Hunt says the hallmark of the most successful chapters is their attitude toward service: They treat their responsibilities as a sacred honor to fulfill well.
The following are some of Legatus’ leading membership builders offering insights into growing new chapters and breathing new life into existing ones.
Marching Baton Rouge
Ending 2012 with 94 member couples, Baton Rouge is Legatus’ largest chapter. Membership chairs Joe and Paula Melançon have played a major role in building it up from 20-some couples since taking on the role in 2007. But Baton Rouge does have something extra special going for it, says Paula: “Catholicism is in the bones of the people in Louisiana.”
Martini magic. To build momentum in the early days, “we hosted small cocktail receptions at home and invited friends,” remembers Joe, a member of Legatus’ board of governors. “Our chaplain, Fr. Miles Walsh, and other members were present. There was a lot of one-on-one conversation.” The majority of prospective members would join on the spot or down the road.
Just say ‘no’ to no. Joe continues: “My motto is that if someone says no to joining, they really don’t mean ‘no,’ they just mean that I or someone else hasn’t done an effective enough job convincing them. I usually say that right now may not be a good time to join, but ask them if it would be appropriate if I followed up in a year or two. Nobody has ever turned me down. We’ve often had members join a couple of years after being introduced to Legatus.”
Toledo’s silver touch
When the Michigan Chapter moved to Toledo and renamed itself the Genesis Chapter, “there were only 24 or 27 members,” remembers chapter president Bob Savage, one of Legatus’ founding members. “As of now, we have 63 paid members and we continue to grow.” The move to his native Toledo “reinvigorated” Savage, who brings more than 25 years of chapter-building expertise to the table.
Talking points. Great speakers not only enrich chapter meetings, Savage says, but energize members, attract new ones, and build Legatus’ influence within the local church. “Our formula is that each year we have seven months covered by: 1) our bishop, 2) our chaplain who prepares us for Advent, 3) two priest panels on different topics, 4) a panel of high school principals or seminarians, and 5) two local practicing Catholic CEOs — not necessarily members — who form a relationship as they learn about the chapter. With this formula we have seven months covered and virtually no expense.”
Evangelical calling. Savage adds that members “owe it to the Church to be evangelical” about Legatus. An effective outreach to clergy inspires priests to tell prospective members in their parishes about the group. (Guests at a recent meeting included 58 priests and religious.) This approach benefits the chapter, but is also a boon for the local Church. “We need to remember that Legatus doesn’t exist for itself, but to be active in the local church, too.” It’s important that local church leaders know that in Legatus they have “a pool of successful, committed Catholics whom they can call on to serve the Church’s needs.”
Striking gold in California
Tim Busch, a member of the Orange County Chapter, has spearheaded the founding of most California chapters and is busy helping to launch another in Santa Barbara. “It’s been a joy having brought in hundreds of members through the grace of the Holy Spirit,” says Busch. “I know Legatus has changed my life, so it’s an easy sell.”
Sell the vision. Busch’s bottom line: “Sell to people that Legatus is their path to salvation. Tell them they’ll learn proper formation through the routine of monthly meetings, but also bonding and socializing with like-minded people who, over time, will become their inner circle.” Because America is evicting faith from the public square, “committed Catholics need to know they have to develop their faith by associating with people whose faith is critical to their survival. You need to evangelize each other, and then the unchurched and fallen-away Catholics. And you can’t count on your parish on Sunday to adequately form you because it’s serving a diverse population. You have to go beyond that, and the movement to join is Legatus,” he says.
Take ownership. Although just a couple of people might found and form a chapter, Busch says this is no strategy for long-term success. If those founders should leave, “you lose the culture, the momentum. So you have to have a dedicated group of people who feel true ownership of the chapter and build it over time.”
Success in six easy touches
Michael FitzPatrick, a member of Legatus’ board of governors, co-founded the Northern New Jersey Chapter in 2000. It doubled in size to 52 couples in the first six years. To evangelize new members, he recommends applying the “six touch” approach developed by Malcolm Baldrige, the late guru of organizational excellence.
FitzPatrick explains: “Baldrige believed that the first time a new idea is presented we reject it because our lives are so full to begin with. The second time we reject the new idea to affirm our original decision. The third time we’re approached, we listen to the message because someone believes we’re important. The fourth time the message is received we consider looking into the idea. The fifth time we look into the idea, and the sixth touch convinces us that this was our idea from the beginning; this is something I want to join.
“We can reach potential members in a variety of touches: a letter from a member, a follow-up letter from Legatus headquarters or the chapter, a copy of your most recent Legatus magazine, a note inviting them to an upcoming chapter event, or a note with the chapter’s annual event programs. Make a personal phone call and invite them to lunch with another chapter member. Imagination is the key; activity is the glue.”
MATTHEW A. RAREY is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.