The Formula headlines

Animal attraction

Aug 11, 2014

When Marge Crouch took over two years ago as membership committee chairwoman for the Lawrence Sunrise, Indiana, Kiwanis Club, she used an oddball motivational tool to bring in an avalanche of meeting guests and new members—a bad-tempered hamster named Kiki.

Crouch, a charter member of her 25-year-old club, decided that more members needed to invite guests to meetings. So she implemented an unusual idea she heard about during a Kiwanis webinar: Purchase a hamster, then at each meeting hold a drawing among all the members who didn't bring someone. Whoever "won" the drawing had to take the tiny critter home and care for it until the next gathering.

"I went to the membership team and everybody thought it was a good idea ... until I actually did it," Crouch says.

She purchased a male hamster, food and a cage, then launched her new "If you don't come with a guest, you leave with the hamster," regime. The change was remarkable, with the number of meeting visitors skyrocketing. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to take Kiki home. Because Kiki turned out to be an ill-tempered biter.

"People would say, 'My daughter's allergic to hamsters,'" Crouch recalls. "Or that they had a cat that would eat it. We had excuses like you wouldn't believe. But I'd remind them, all you have to do is bring a guest and you won't have to take the hamster home. It was a good motivator."

A good motivator indeed. Crouch reckons the project netted between 10 and 15 new members, essentially doubling the size of the club.

Her biggest catch was her own husband, Tom. He'd thought about joining for a long time, but scheduling conflicts always got in the way. However the specter of his wife having to drag Kiki home convinced him to attend a meeting, and shortly thereafter to join. Today he's the club president.

"I was sort of a Kiwanian already," he says. "As Marge's husband I've probably attended more Kiwanis events than any non-Kiwanian in history."

Though Kiki recently went to that big hamster cage in the sky, his painful motivation for inviting others is still well remembered. Though not fondly.

"He was a monster," Tom says. "No little animal has been hated by more people."

Would the club ever consider doing again? Maybe upping the ante by getting something even less welcome, like a snake? Tom doubts it, simply because it's hard to imagine anything more unsettling than bite-prone Kiki.

"A snake would have been preferable," he says. — Sam Stall

What sort of crazy incentives has your club used to encourage members to bring guests? Tell us about them at