Tamworth RSL sub-Branch’s membership success story

Here’s how the Tamworth RSL sub-Branch is using the Member Recruitment Toolkit and engaging the local Reserves regiment to promote family-friendly events and drive membership growth.

By Chris Sheedy

At a glance:

  • Family-friendly activities have helped Tamworth RSL sub-Branch grow from 158 members to 213 members in 12 months.
  • The sub-Branch has promoted their events using free marketing collateral in the Member Recruitment Toolkit.
  • At an open day organised by the nearby Army Reserve regiment, President David Howells encouraged serving members who didn’t realise they could join the RSL to sign up.
  • “As we attract more younger veterans, we have to stay in touch with what they want from us,” says President David Howells.

Over the last year, Tamworth RSL sub-Branch has grown by 35 per cent. It’s nothing to do with luck, says President David Howells. Instead, it’s due to the sub-Branch’s family-first strategy, as embodied by the RSL NSW Strategic Plan 2021-26.

Late last year the sub-Branch held a horse-riding day at a property just outside of town. There were activities for all ages, from kids to the elderly, including riding lessons, electric buggy tours of the property and a petting zoo. A barbecue was laid on, with food and soft drink provided for attendees.

That event attracted 50 people, including both members and non-members. It was reported by local media and resulted in several people signing up for new memberships as those in the community realised RSL NSW was more relevant to them than they had previously thought.

“It cost us about $2,000 to put that on, and we were limited with our funds, so we had to carry out fundraising activities,” explains Howells. “We do the ANZAC Appeal and Bunnings sausage sizzles. We have a member who is very good at woodwork who made us a beautiful coffee table with resin insets, which we raffled.

“But importantly, it’s not just about raising money. It’s about educating the public that the RSL is not about beers, parmies and pokies. We’re not that RSL. We’re a charitable organisation.

“That’s an important thing when you’re talking to people, to remind them that’s what we are. That’s what we remind new members of. We’re not a Club. We’re a sub-Branch that offers services to the veteran community and their families.”

Events such as the horse-riding day, Bunnings barbecues and other fundraising activities also offer sub-Branches the opportunity to showcase the branding resources included in the Member Recruitment Toolkit, says Howells.

Through the toolkit, sub-Branches can print posters and flyers that are pre-populated with QR codes that make membership application immediate and easy for people who are interested in joining up, he says.

By organising family-friendly events and utilising marketing collateral from the toolkit, the sub-Branch has grown from 158 members to 213 members in 12 months. For the four years before that, membership had been declining.

Communicating charitable purpose

When the 12th/16th Hunter River Lancers, an Army Reserve light-armoured regiment, held an open day recently, it attracted hundreds of people, both military and non-military. They came to see the Bushmasters, armoured trucks, displays, weapons and more.

The Lancers invited related organisations, including the Tamworth RSL sub-Branch, Defence Force Recruiting, Open Arms and Legacy.

“We were there with our gazebo and it proved very valuable for us because it had a number of effects,” says Howells. “It was good to talk to the serving members, who didn’t realise they could join the RSL. They thought they had to be out of the Army Reserve before they could join.

“We could educate veterans who came through about the services we offer, like advocacy and wellbeing services. And with the general public, we could educate them about the fact that we’re not the RSL Club. We provide for veterans and their families.”

Importantly, the sub-Branch’s efforts at the open day were supported by materials from the Member Recruitment Toolkit that had been printed and laminated. The materials helped provide a consistent message for those who were only just discovering the true purpose of RSL NSW.

“That’s a really important part of what we’re doing here in Tamworth: getting our name out there and reminding people of who we are and what we do,” says Howells.

Friendly to families

Over the last 12 months, Howells and his leadership team have overhauled many of the sub-Branch’s meeting and event practices to make them more family-friendly.

The Christmas party used to be at lunchtime on a Wednesday. For the younger working families, that meant they were unable to attend.

The solution was simple — it was moved to a Sunday at the local West Tamworth League Club, which offered the venue for free with discounted meals.

“By moving it to Sunday, we’re now getting better patronage,” says Howells. “Before, we might have only had 40 people. Now, we’re getting close to 100.”

At the annual luncheon after the AGM, where awards are given out to deserving members, a new award was instituted this year – the Shanahan Shield, named in memory of past President Father Tom Shanahan, which is awarded to a member who has done amazing work behind the scenes for the sub-Branch.

“This year, the Shanahan Shield was awarded to a member who absolutely did not expect it, and it really meant a lot to him,” says Howells. “It has kept that member going. He was speechless.”

“As we attract more younger veterans, we have to stay in touch with what they want from us. The only way we can do that is by spending time with them.” – David Howells

Some meetings have been moved out of meeting rooms at Clubs and instead have been made a part of family-friendly events. Recently, the meeting was moved to Chaffey Dam, about 40 kilometres out of Tamworth.

“You probably think it’s mad in the wintertime to go out to Chaffey Dam,” says Howells. “But we had about 40 people turn up because it was a family fun day.

“This is an integral part of what we’re doing now: making it more family inclusive. We all went out there, and people took their dogs as well. We had some of the new members there. We had people who weren’t members, but they’re going to become members.

“Hopefully, out of our Chaffey Dam visit, there will be four new members, all younger veterans.”

The sub-Branch’s outreach reflects the family-friendly strategy to membership acquisition outlined in the RSL NSW Strategic Plan 2021-26.

New activities, such as coffee catch-ups at various cafes around town, have also been added to the social schedule.

Greater than the sum of its parts

A lot of unexpected and positive things come out of events that bring people together, says Howells.

At the coffee meetings, for example, younger veterans and their families come together with other generations and develop powerful networks.

“We have a member who has trained his dog to be an assistance dog, and he is now helping other veterans to train their dogs to do the same,” he says.

“There’s one young woman in particular whose dog has come forward, in leaps and bounds, from being a companion dog to an assistance dog.”

With a membership group that involves people from all age groups, and with an average age in the late 60s, the Tamworth RSL sub-Branch has found great success in ensuring events and communications are relevant across all generations, particularly for families.

“What we do is so important on so many levels,” says Howells. “As we attract more younger veterans, we have to stay in touch with what they want from us. The only way we can do that is by spending time with them.”

David’s top tips for attracting new members

  • Develop a close relationship with local media outlets, including print, radio and television.
  • Keep members informed about what’s going on at the sub-Branch with a regular newsletter or email.
  • Develop a following on at least one social media platform.
  • Invite members of other sub-Branches to your events, and travel to theirs.
  • Form positive relationships with local councils as well as State and Federal Members of Parliament.

A version of this article was published in the September issue of the Reveille magazine.

Whether you’ve served for a single day or decades, RSL NSW welcomes veterans of any service length and background to join the organisation. Access support services and become part of a like-minded community by becoming a member of RSL NSW.

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