Legatus’ original chapter employs a strategic growth plan – and it’s paying remarkable dividends
Tom and Karen Dillon knew Legatus was right for them the first time they went to a Genesis Chapter meeting.
“We recognized or knew probably half the people who were there already, so it was very comfortable. We decided this would be good for us,” said Tom Dillon, Managing Partner of The Law Firm of Shumaker, Loop, & Kendrick in Toledo, Ohio.
Soon after, the Dillons became the eighth member-couple to join the chapter in 2015, making it Legatus’ third largest with 72 member-couples.
Such growth in what is considered Legatus’ oldest chapter came not by accident but through a targeted approach of identifying prospects, inviting them to meetings and maintaining contact — all in a way that gives potential members time to discern membership.
“Quite honestly, it may take two to three years, but we don’t give up on people and we don’t badger them every month,” said Richard Faist, the chapter’s 2014-2015 president and former membership chair.
Faist and his wife Kathy joined Legatus in 2009, several years after they were first asked to consider joining. “We’d gone to maybe two meetings over two or three years and knew a lot of the people, and we just decided then was a good time.”
To grow its membership, the Genesis Chapter employs a number of strategies — including building and maintaining a list of prospects, some of whom are referred by pastors of the four largest parishes in the Toledo diocese where the chapter is based. Small groups of Legates meet regularly with the pastors of those parishes to identify parishioners who may qualify for and have an interest in Legatus.
The chapter also sets growth targets. For example, they wanted to add nine new member couples in 2015, which would have meant 10% growth. Despite falling one couple short, Genesis is still ahead of the 58 member couples it had at the end of 2011.
Sinking Deep Roots
In the quest for new Legates, the Genesis Chapter — so named because it was formed by several members of the original Michigan Chapter — believes in involving its entire membership.
“It takes the effort of a lot of people,” Faist said. “We constantly tell all our members to think about prospects, bring them to a meeting and introduce them to Legatus.”
The chapter also encourages members to make sure their pastors attend a Legatus meeting at least once a year. “It’s very important that the pastor knows about Legatus and knows our members,” Faist said. “He’s a good person to identify potential members so we always want our pastors to be up to date on what we’re doing and our programs.”
In addition, the chapter relies on its chaplain, Monsignor Michael Billian, as a resource for finding prospective members in parts of the diocese outside the Toledo metropolitan area.
Chapter coordinator Mary Beth Schoen also plays a pivotal role, maintaining a list of prospects who have come to a meeting and who invited them. “She updates the list every month so we don’t forget about people,” Faist said.
Nancy Haskell, director of Legatus’ Great Lakes Region, said the chapter, the largest in the region, is effective in reaching out to prospective members and making sure they have a positive experience at their first meeting.
“One of the great things about the Genesis Chapter is that it’s always so alive when you go into the room,” Haskell said. “The membership includes people who are under 40 all the way to those in retirement. Everyone who comes is embraced by all those age levels and the chapter does an excellent job keeping them all engaged.”
Bob Savage, one of the chapter’s charter members, said building membership has been a priority from the beginning. With fewer than 30 couples in the initial group, he said, “we knew we needed to grow. We all decided we would make a commitment to really try to look around town and bring in people who were Catholic and qualified. We’ve continued to emphasize that.”
Savage said members know it’s important to keep their eyes and ears open for prospective members wherever they are, whether it’s the Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce.
When it comes to inviting someone and his or her spouse to be guests at a meeting, he said, “there’s never any pressure.” Savage sometimes broaches the idea of Legatus membership with someone at a breakfast meeting even before inviting the prospect to a chapter event. Once a prospect does attend a meeting, someone always follows up to see if Legatus might be a good fit for the person.
Besides focusing on new members, Faist added that Genesis has paid attention to renewals as a means of solidifying its membership.
“We always talk about getting new members, but to me a very important piece is making sure you get a high percentage of renewals,” he explained. “It’s hard to get a new member so you really don’t want to lose a current member.”
Schoen, he said, keeps a master list of members and their meeting attendance for the board to review each month. “We can tell very quickly if there’s a couple who has not been to a meeting for awhile. Is something wrong? Do we need to be concerned? We identify someone who knows the couple to contact them. We don’t just wait until dues billings go out and all of a sudden they hear from us.”
The most important factor affecting renewals, Faist said, is if members have a good experience at monthly chapter events.
Dillon, one of the chapter’s newest members, said he and his wife appreciate that meetings begin with Mass.
“You’re running around all day and you just get there and you can breathe and relax, so starting off with Mass is a great idea.”The Dillons’ decision to join Legatus, he added, was made in a large part because they saw it as something that would foster their spiritual lives.
Faist said for him and his wife Kathy, “Legatus has brought us closer together, closer in our faith. It’s been very positive and reassuring that, despite all the things you read in the paper and all the bad things going on in the world, there are still a lot of things to be thankful for and to feel positive about — especially when you know your fellow members are here in your own community and share your concerns and beliefs and support the Catholic Church.”
JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.