Ohio resident Mike Nichols had no intention of joining Kiwanis when he attended the Berea Arts Fest in the fall of 2010. But when hunger pangs struck, he stopped by the concession stand run by the Kiwanis Club of Beria, Ohio, for a hotdog and a bit of information about the organization selling them. He got both, courtesy of former Berea Kiwanis Club President Jodee Ward, who happened to be handling customers that day.
"She's got an outstanding personality," Nichols says of his Kiwanis sponsor. "I said to her, 'This looks like fun…what does Kiwanis do?' She described to me some of the club's activities, and I asked what it took to join."
The deal was sealed before Nichols got his hotdog (with extra mustard and onions). Ward invited him to a meeting, and shortly thereafter he joined. Now that he's been in Kiwanis for a few years (and is his club's president-elect), he's got some advice for other Kiwanians seeking to bolster membership: always keep an eye peeled for folks who might be interested, and never miss an opportunity to approach them in a friendly, low-pressure way.
"I like to say that all of our members are on the membership committee," Nichols says. "I think it's a lot more effective to draw people in rather than try to push them."
Ward—herself a former club president and current member of the Ohio District membership committee—couldn't agree more. A retired salesperson, she's used her deal-closing talents to bolster Kiwanis membership. The Berea club, for instance, has in recent years grown from roughly 70 members to approximately 110.
The trick, she says, is simple for some but difficult for others.
"You have to learn to talk to people," Ward advises. "You have to open your mouth and ask. And to me, 'ask' stands for 'Always Say Kiwanis.' One way or another, always mention Kiwanis. Plus, in my sales career I've learned that you can say almost anything if you do it with a big smile on your face."
Ward certainly isn't timid about singing Kiwanis' praises, having chatted up candidates everyplace from her grocery store meat counter to, of course, the group's charity concession stand. Nichols credits her sunny personality and gift for gab with turning him into a Kiwanian.
"I was interested in doing something," he recalls. "I was ready. The ground in the garden was prepped for planting, and Jodee just poured the seeds right in."
Ward is the sort of gardener who never misses a chance to plant those seeds. Sometimes they prosper, sometimes not. She never knows until she tries. And tries again.
"A hundred percent of the people you never ask are never going to join," she says. — Sam Stall
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