By Dennis Neary
In March of 2018 the three active members of Oakland Hills Toastmasters were asking themselves this question. The club had been strong and vibrant in the past, but that was no longer the case. Except for these three, no other member had attended a club meeting since November, and it was rare for all three to show up at the same time. When two members showed up, the meeting usually became a strategy session on finding new members. When only one member was present they usually just went home after 15 or 20 minutes. But that wasn’t the worst situation.
It is always darkest before the dawn. – Thomas Fuller
What do you do when you are the only member present at a meeting and three visitors show up? How do you convince them that this is a viable club that they should join? Here is a great opportunity to recruit the new members that you so desperately need, with no clear way to take advantage of it.
Nobody was willing to pay $45 just to sit alone in a room for 15 minutes and then go home, but nobody was willing to let the club die if there was any way to save it. They all agreed that they would not renew their dues, but they would make a special effort to have all three members present at each meeting and conduct a quality meeting in case there were visitors.
As a result, come April 2 the club had zero paid members. With zero paid officers the club lost access to club central. Over the 95 year history of Toastmasters very few clubs have survived after being reduced to zero paid members. Maybe this was time to give up. But the members were not ready to do that.
When you’re up against a bruiser and you’re getting knocked about – grin! – Robert Service
In April the club acquired a group of three or four visitors who attended meetings regularly, but were not ready to join. The decision to make every meeting a quality experience paid off. With a larger turnout and enthused visitors the meetings were more attractive to new visitors. In May Patrick announced that he wanted to join the club. We gave him an application form but then realized that we didn’t have a club for him to join. We had no club officer to process his application. The three unpaid members got together and decided to renew and take the offices of President, VPE and Secretary, so that the club would be somewhat viable and could access club central to process Patrick’s application. Patrick was the hero that brought the club back to life. Having zero paid members was not the death knoll, it was merely strike one.
The club grew slowly and by September had seven members. All seven renewed early and we were doing well. Unfortunately, we were not doing well enough for World Headquarters (WHQ). They notified us that this was the second renewal period in a row that we had less than eight members and they immediately pulled our charter.
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm! – Winston Churchill
There are two situations where it is almost a given that a club is dead. One is when the club gets down to zero paid members and stays there for over a month. The second is when WHQ pulls your charter. We had managed to hit both of these situations in a few months. This was either the end of the club or a very wicked strike two.
WHQ gave us several options to regain our charter. Most were time consuming and expensive. One was to have a new member join effectively in September even though it was already October. Then they could renew, the previous period would have eight members, and we would be back in good standing. The day that they pulled our charter Karthik stated that he wanted to join the club and he was willing to pay the extra $7.50 for September membership if it would save the club. The other members said, “No you won’t! With your membership we have eight members. We will each throw in one dollar and the club will make fifty cents on the deal.” Karthik was the hero who saved the club. This was merely strike two.
The club continued to flourish and things were looking positive until December. In December the club President announced that due to personal and business considerations he was moving out of the district. Losing the Club President can be a devastating blow to a club. We had survived strike one and strike two. Was this the dreaded strike three?
The club responded with a resounding “No!” This was just a foul ball. We were still alive. With our President gone it was time to elect new club officers. We had been limping along with just four officers. We revised the officers list and elected all seven officers. The club actually grew from this experience. Nate, the Club President who moved to Portland, was the hero who gave us the impetus to fill out our officer list.
Everything is hard until it gets easy. – Anon.
At that point we realized something. Up to now our entire focus had been on keeping the club alive. No thought had been given to the Distinguished Club Program. If your club was reduced to zero paid members, had your charter pulled by WHQ and lost the club president, the club was not going to be distinguished. End of discussion!
Except – it was not the end of the discussion. Along the way we had submitted our officer list on time, meager as it was. That gave us half of Goal #10. Although we had only four members in June, we got four officers trained. In December – February we got seven officers trained and the eighth member attended officer training to prepare for next year. The senior members of the club had submitted two educational goals that gave us two DCP points. When we got our ninth member we had our net gain of five and goal #7. We were well on our way to being Distinguished.
Most of the members had only a vague idea of what the Distinguished Club Program was. When it was explained to them they did not want to try to just be Distinguished this year. By unanimous vote the club decided to become President’s Distinguished this year.
I would be willing to bet that in the entire history of Toastmasters International there has never been another club that suffered the three setbacks that we did and still became Distinguished that year. To attempt to become President’s Distinguished that year would appear to be an insurmountable goal. And yet, on June 4, 2019, Oakland Hills Toastmasters submitted an advanced leadership award for one of the members and achieved President’s Distinguished status. Michelle was the hero who made the club President’s Distinguished.
Never give up! Never give up! Never, never, never give up! – Winston Churchill
So, when is it time to give up? NEVER! It is never time to give up. No matter what the situation, the club can come back, thrive and do great things as long as you just don’t give up! We have the proof!!