TABLE TALK – 03/13/09

4 Mortal Sins of Recruitment

Vol. I, No. 05 * 13 March 2009

yu, reginald t. (table talk)By JCI Sen. REGINALD T. YU, ITF

Trainer, Inspirational Speaker and Author, Communicator

Have you not been successful in recruiting volunteers, and seem to hit a wall of apathy every time you make a sales pitch for JCI?

Are there populations you’d love to involve but who do not seem attracted to your organization?

For a movement to grow we need people who genuinely believe in that movement. Junior Chamber International keenly recognizes the huge potential of warm bodies to execute its myriad of programs.

In fact, “membership growth” has consistently been the single most-frequent clarion call by JCI World Presidents since 1983. And yet, for the past thirty years, it had seen its core base of members gradually decline from a high of more than a million regulars in 1976 to an alarming number of a little less than 200,000 in 2008.

Why is this so?

Finding members to meet your organizational needs may seem like a daunting task. However, identifying, obtaining and keeping members within your chapter may not be as complicated as you think.

For many potential recruits who probably share the same vision of JCI, the thought of joining an organization that provides development opportunities that empower young people to create positive change would be an easy decision, given the potential benefits to individual development.

When it comes to recruiting new members, it’s no secret that your current members can be your most effective salespeople in your chapter. They have, after all, experienced the benefits of membership at your organization first-hand.

When they began, they had the same questions and concerns that run through most potential members’ minds: Do I have what it takes? Will I fit in? Can I really make a contribution at this organization? What will they be like to work with?

Will this experience enrich my life?

Nothing is more persuasive or better for easing fears than the enthusiasm and reassurances of those already doing the job.

However, in my almost twenty years of active involvement with JCI, I have personally observed that many JCI local organizations fail to COMMUNICATE their movement’s goals and aspirations well enough to convince the potential member to join.

More often than not, many so-called “recruitment committees” are not prepared to market – much less respond properly – their own local organizations, vis-à-vis those who have personal prejudices against such organizations as JCI.

Allow me to list four of the gravest “Mortal Sins” of a recruitment program that I’ve encountered:


I remember two JCI officers from different chapters were once discussing their respective local organizations’ recruitment problems and asked me to look at some sample recruitment materials.

After only a few moments of review, it was obvious why potential recruits were not attracted to join.

The pleas for new members to join their chapters were filled with assumptions and insider expressions, and really didn’t communicate what the organization was about. To which the friend responded, “But everyone who sees these ads knows all about the organization already.”

What a mistaken premise!

It’s a fantasy to believe that the public is so well-informed about JCI that “everyone knows” what you do and your needs.

Even in a provincial community or a local municipal neighborhood, most people are preoccupied with their own lives and businesses. They may be aware of our organization, but unless they have a reason to pay attention, most of what they see and hear about you is only fleetingly noticed.

And in a more populated area, such as Metro Manila or Metro Cebu, the competition for people’s attention is even stiffer. Information comes from so many sources that your chapter may hardly register as a blip on their radar screens.

Let’s assume you’re tasked to represent your chapter in recruiting more members.

How deep is the public’s knowledge?

Recognizing your name or logo is a good start, but how many people can accurately explain what you do or what your activities are focused on this year? Furthermore, how many are aware of what members do within your local organization?

The larger you are as an organization, the less even the officers and members all “know” what you do.

  • Are you certain that every member of chapter could explain to a visitor what occurs in every project or committee?
  • Does everyone know what committee chairmen do in each area?
  • Has there been a new project or service start up in the last year or so?
  • What was done to explain to the rest of members exactly what it was all about?

Try an experiment.

During a committee meeting or a board meeting, ask everyone to write down the three things they feel are most important to the public about your chapter or its services right now.

Guess what you’ll discover?

You’ll find very little agreement about either the three most important elements or how they are worded. So, if the officers are inconsistent in how it exhibits its chapter to the world, why be surprised that the public is also baffled?

In terms of membership recruitment, all of this is magnified.

First, if people are in the dark about your JCI organization, don’t expect them even to realize you involve volunteer-members at all. People are hardly likely to jump at the chance to volunteer with an organization they know little about.

Further, too many invitations to join are worded vaguely, “come help us do our work” is not an effective recruitment pitch if the listener can’t picture what you do.


Whether in a brochure, on a poster, or in a speech, your choice of words communicates much more than literal meaning.

For example, what level of education is required for the JCI member assignment and what level are you implying with your choice of words? If you need members with strong verbal skills, go ahead and use whatever vocabulary you wish.

But if you are more interested in qualities of prospective members other than formal education, review your words more carefully.

If the language of your recruitment materials is erudite (with words like “erudite”), potential members without confidence in their reading or writing skills will automatically feel excluded.

This is also true for people for whom English is just a second language. The idea is not to “dumb” down recruitment material; just to consider whether you are unnecessarily implying that applicants are expected to have college degrees.

Shorter, more common words will be most welcoming.

Another turn-off is jargon.

Almost every organization evolves its own set of abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology that everyone already on board understands but becomes unintelligible to outsiders.

The best way to avoid jargons – such as “LOM,” “NOM,” “Jaycees,” “OBC,” “OTS,” – is to give a draft of your material to someone who does not work in your chapter.

The person may perhaps your spouse, your college friend, or a work colleague who is not a JCI member.

Finally, never head a poster, “Volunteers Wanted.”

What does this mean? Unpaid workers wanted?

To do what?

Instead, emphasize the benefits of being a JCI member itself.


Jing was asked to join a JCI chapter to help their subdivision’s daily waste disposal problem that the organization was setting up. As a resident of that subdivision, he felt obligated and really wanted to help.

“What can I do? I would be happy to be a helper,” were his response.

He was eager and felt that he would be happy to contact the local garbage collector, drive members to meetings, attend activities and anything else, as long as it was behind the scenes stuff.

That is Jing.

The chapter leaders said, “Great! We are excited to have you volunteer to help in our project.”

Jing went to the first meeting and said, “What do you want me to do?”

The president handed him a huge manual and said, “Oh, by the way, we ask all volunteer leaders to read this.”

Jing took it home and started to read it when the phone rang. The president said, “Oh, by the way, we are giving a test on the manual. We want all our leaders to know the JCI philosophy and what we expect from our members.”

Jing said, “I’m happy to read the manual” – actually, he was being polite, “but I’m more the behind the scenes type of person. Can I be a helper?”

The president then said, “Well, we really want the members to be leaders. Oh, by the way, we are having an eight-hour Vanguard training seminar next Saturday and want all our leaders to attend.”

Jing is conscientious and wanted to be a support. After all, two of his neighbors in the subdivision were taking part, and he felt that she should help.

Jing had a big decision to make, and it was troubling him. Should he quit, feeling guilty that he had not kept his commitment, or should he continue, hating every minute of it and feeling duped by the continuous, “Oh, by the ways!”

The classic come back for the volunteer is, “Oh, by the way, I quit! You deceived me.”

Who is wrong here? The problem is not Jing. The problem is not even with the demands — there’s nothing wrong with asking members to be fingerprinted or with asking members to attend our annual planning session.

The problem is the JCI chapter that follows the “Oh, by the way” recruiting method.

But wait a minute.

I thought that an important recruiting principle was not overwhelming the volunteer at first. Many JCI chapters find that if they ease the potential member into the job, they have better results.

If they told the potential member how many hours, some of the unpleasant tasks, and the level of commitment they expect, they wouldn’t get anyone.

After all, when people begin to join, they begin to get excited about the organization and want to do more.

So the reasoning goes — but that reasoning is wrong.

Be honest.

Tell prospective members about the time and effort the role entails, even if you think it may sound like a lot. Don’t minimize the work with comments such as, “This will only take a few hours” or try to sway people into acceptance with, “Why not try it and see what you think?”

If you need someone several hours every week, or for a full year’s commitment, or willing to drive 25 kilometers each time, say so. It may take longer to find someone willing to fill the position, but once you do, you’ll have the right person.


Throughout my years in JCI, I have seen all types of resistance from potential recruits. They come in all shapes and sizes.

“I don’t have the time right now,” “I belong to too many organizations already,” “I can’t afford to join right now,” “You just want to sign me up for the award you get or for the numbers,” “JCI doesn’t do anything I’m interested in,” “I just don’t’ want to join right now” – are just some of the most often cited excuses for not joining JCI.

However, the problem is not with the potential recruit. It lies with those tasked with recruiting potential members; because of their inadequacies of being able to read what their recruits are tacitly saying, they fall short of handling such objections from them.

Amidst the variety of objections I have come across with, I can only frame it into two kinds: minor and major.

Minor objections are defense mechanisms.

We are conditioned as children to say NO to sales people. People use objections to slow things down. This doesn’t mean that they don’t want to buy in to what you’re selling; they just want to mull things over before committing themselves. Or that they want more information before making a decision.

Sometimes people give objections to find out if they can trust you – to see if you will help them when they come to a minor setback. A condition, on the other hand, is a valid reason for not going ahead – it’s the major one. It’s not an objection to overcome, it’s a total block to the pitch that you must accept and walk away from.

So, how do you distinguish between the minor and major objections?

Just apply what I call the S.W.I.F.T. Principle: “So What’s In It For Them?

Find out what a potential recruit feels she wants or needs. Then show them how JCI could fulfill their need or want.

Most people are interested in JCI for one or more of the following reasons: free training, business networking, non-financial benefits, recognition, association, or personal growth.

Whatever the reasons for joining, the benefits to the JCI member will always outweigh the costs. Costs are what the JCI membership requires a person to give up. Most often this is personal time and resources.

Time away from family and friends, as well as, travel and personal expenses can sometimes deter potential members. However, in most successful JCI projects, the membership benefits outweigh the costs.

Remember to always be enthusiastic and courteous when asking someone to volunteer their time, talent and treasure by joining your JCI local organization.

If a person is willing to join, FOLLOW UP QUICKLY with an orientation or training session.

Above all, accept “No” graciously.

People may not be willing to make a commitment due to time restrictions or personal situations but always thank the person for taking the time to listen to your request.

In conclusion, membership recruitment in JCI requires careful thinking, planning and hard work.

However, if before you start the recruitment process, you take the time to identify potential needs of the members, write position descriptions, know the costs and benefits of joining JCI and plan a recruitment approach, finding members to meet your chapter’s needs and keeping them there will be simplified.

When recruitment is done properly, your JCI local organization and your members will most likely create a mutually beneficial, long lasting relationship.

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