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Lessons from Lions…

We've all heard of the Lions Club.  Many of us know them as the group that collects used eyeglasses for those who can't afford them.  I'll bet more than a few of you are active members of the club in your home town. 

The Lions are a service club, not a fraternal benefit society.  But like almost every membership organization in the U.S., they are struggling to adjust to societal changes that have resulted in a declining membership and a struggle to remain relevant to the next generation of members. There are many parallels between fraternals and the Lions, and there is much we can learn from them.

In an effort to revitalize the organization, the Lions are jumping head first into blogs, YouTube postings, and member-generated content on its Web site.  According to Lions Club Executive Director Peter Lynch, "this approach helps ensure (1) you are talking in contemporary ways and keeping up with the times, (2) moving faster to rapidly communicate with chapters in bottom-up ways, and (3) stressing the fact that the organization is the people who belong to it." 
Here are some key points from a recent conversation with Mr. Lynch:

  • Lions Club membership in the United States the last 30 years has gone from 600,000 to approximately 400,000, but in the last few years they have seen membership growth, especially globally. They are seeing major growth in China and other Asian countries. Currently, Lions Club has 45,000 chapters and 1.3 million members around the world.
  • They are seeing the most growth in chapters who have carved out a niche: women; younger people; gardeners, etc… any kind of group that shares a common bond.
  • They have much more membership success when they create a new chapter vs. trying to energize flat chapters.
  • When recruiting young people, they have found much greater success when the strategy is to recruit groups at the same time (like 5-10 people) vs. one person at a time.

Peter suggested a number of "must read" items:

  1. White papers on the rebranding and consolidation of the Girl Scouts to WAGGS – World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides (www.wagggsworld.org) and how they successfully merged duplicative and inactive independently-governed chapters to streamline operations. We're working on getting copies of the white papers that we can post for member societies to read. There’s also an interesting story on the topic from the Washington Post.
  2. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More

The six main themes of the book are:

  1. In virtually all markets, there are far more niche goods than hits, as a result of improvements in the basic tools of production (i.e., the Internet).
  2. The costs of reaching these niches are now falling dramatically thanks to digital distribution, search and a critical mass of broadband technology.
  3. There are a range of tools – from recommendations to rankings (think search) that help to shift demand down the long tail, and help people find useful/relevant niches.
  4. The effect of all of this is that the demand curve will eventually flatten, with the hits becoming relatively less popular and the niches growing in popularity.
  5. All of the niches add up to comprise a market that rivals the hits.
  6. The Internet can reveal a natural shape of demand, undistorted by distribution bottlenecks, scarcity of information and limited choice of shelf space.

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