What Has Worked and What Hasn’t

By: Jeff Forker; Chapter 29

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We need to learn new tricks, all of us, in all things, not just SFA. Learning and adapting is essential to living and if we of the SFA want to remain in existence we need to be adapting. Our chapter, Chapter 29, in Kansas City, has tried various things in the past few years to energize our chapter, make our presence known and attract new and younger members. Below are some of the measures and projects we have tried in our chapter and our lessons learned.

Guest Speakers – SUCCESS

Speakers is an easy, beneficial and fun event that any SFA chapter can arrange and leverage. Speakers can be anyone and about anything, not just SF or military, although those are preferable topics. Our chapter has had numerous speakers from the SOF Cell at CGSC at Ft. Leavenworth. Speaker events can be opened up to guests and even the public. Recently we had two guest speakers who are Hmong and veterans of 15 years of Special Operations in Laos throughout the 60s and 70s. Speakers bring out members and non-members.

ROTC – SUCCESS

Each chapter should select annual awardees from local ROTC programs. Most chapters select ROTC programs at colleges or universities. Some form relationships with high schools. There are pros and cons with each. That is up to each chapter to explore and discuss. The purpose is to spread SF awareness and to propagate community interaction. There is also the possibility that such efforts will identify young SF candidates who can be tutored and groomed. The earlier the better.

Tracking Rosters – SUCCESS

I am the Membership coordinator for our chapter so I keep the membership roster for our chapter. Today we have 71 members “in good standing,” which means Life or Annual membership and renewed for 2017. We have 14 members who have not yet renewed for 2017.

I also keep several other rosters, such as the 20 former members who have not renewed for at least two years. I also keep track of 26 SF guys who are not SFA members who live in the KC metro area. The Total for all those is 131. I also keep a roster for non-SF SOF vets in KC. But, that is a different matter.

It became clear several years ago that the need exists to energize and incentivize the chapter in order to attract those former and non-members to join, and to be clear on why they should join. And this is not just about younger members. One of our recent new members, who I found on Facebook, went through the SFQC in 1976.

Video Interviews – FAIL

We realized that we needed to capture stories of our older guys while that was still possible. The best way to do that seemed to be videos. The challenge was that good videos require crews, an interviewer, a cameraperson, producer, etc. To solve that I contacted all the colleges and universities within 200 miles of KC, by email and them some follow-up by phone. Three were interested. I contacted some companies, and all were interested, but the cost was prohibitive.

We chose to go with Kansas University and the William Allen White School of Journalism. It was the wrong decision. Things started out well. I was invited and went to speak to the class at the beginning of the semester, to share what I had in mind. They seemed ready to go and we agreed on six interviews that semester, more the following semester.

Procrastination by the students, and particularly the professor, was the problem. The professor did not manage them. They ended up getting a video interview from two of the 6 and two interviews from two younger members which they said they needed for practice and orientation to SF. The students and more so the professor deceived us. I still think that colleges could be good partners in such projects, and that all professors and students would not be as unreliable and incompetent.

Chapter Newsletter – SUCCESS

Our newsletter proves to be an easy and effective way to inform and connect chapter members and non-members. Most chapters do not have a newsletter. It requires writing, editing and information harvesting skills, or the financial means to outsource it.

I do our newsletter by myself and it takes me about 15 to 20 hours every two months to get it ready to send in an email. Here is the link to our newsletters: http://www.sfa29.org/news/index.htm. I get a lot of submissions and suggestions from chapter members for content, stories and tips. Some issues are better than others. The page count is rarely the same.

Web Site – FAIL (so far)

Every chapter needs a decent to good web site. Few SFA chapters have a good site and even fewer maintain their web sites. We are guilty of that. Ours is in major need of updating. The problems are skills and funding. If every chapter had a web savvy member this would not be an issue.

Chapter 78 is an exception in that they have an excellent web site and newsletter. Check out their outstanding newsletter and web site, here: http://specialforces78.com. Keep in mind that Chapter 78 has an editor, but outsources most of the set-up and publishing required for both the newsletter and web site.

One concept is to sell SF items, such as pins, or Kevin Knapp’s SF brass belt buckles, through each chapter web site and take a cut of the revenue. This could be a win-win for all SF involved.

Rucks – FAIL & SUCCESS

I and some of our younger members, and other area SOF vets, have been successful doing fundraiser rucks. Our rucks are from 5 to 18 miles and 2 to 8 hours. The younger guys love doing them, acting as cadres for the ruckers. We have done five long rucks in various places in Kansas and 2 each 5-mile Christmas fun rucks, and several other 5 mile rucks. These require some planning and guys who can still ruck, but are a lot of fun. The chapter decided not to support the rucks, due to legal concerns, so it has benefited minimally, financially, from the rucks.

If a chapter wanted to do rucks, or something similar, they could reach out to and partner with organizations that already exist and are doing such events, and would be more than happy to partner up on same, and provide the legal coverage that chapters require. And it is my opinion that every good ruck needs a good G chief, thus a role for older guys who can no longer ruck.

Bumper Stickers – SUCCESS

Several times I have been approached by people asking about my SFA sticker. Several of them have led to new members. Old school? Sure. But, they work. You don’t have to load up the back of your vehicle with your 201 file. But a simple, and smaller, SFA sticker can get you noticed by SF guys who don’t even know that your chapter exists locally.

Beer and Coffee – SUCCESS

One of the generational issues is planning morning vs evening events. This is often seen as old vs young and coffee vs beer. Younger SF guys, married and single, generally prefer to meet up at bars in the late afternoons or evenings and older SF guys tend to want to do breakfasts. Both are good, and there is no reason a chapter cannot do both. Our chapter hold monthly chapter breakfasts about eight months annually.

Last summer we tried doing monthly happy hours around the city. Caveat: We do not hold meetings or monthly events during the summer. So, this was experimental. One of the happy hours was successful, with a dozen guys at the table, lots of chatter, and some were moderately so, with 5 people who showed, and one was a bust, with just me sitting at a table eating nachos by myself. (However, I did make fun, and interesting, new friends.) We also have ad hoc happy hours.

Celebrating SF Dates – SUCCESS

We did an ad hoc Menton Day happy hour last year, 2016. The problem was that 5 December fell on a Monday. Lesson learned: Never schedule a happy hour on a Monday. This year we are doing it on a Friday.

The list of possible dates to celebrate is long – group activations, operations (Son Tay Raid was 20 NOV 70; ODAs 555 and 595 infiltrated on 19 OCT 01 in the opening move of TF Dagger), birthdays, deaths (Aaron Banks died 1 APR 04), the list is long. Celebrating such dates keeps us connected and informed and reminds us of our common SF culture and history. I maintain an SF dates calendar.

KC SOF Formal – SUCCESS

We here in KC each year host the KC SOF Formal. We started it in the mid 1980s. It is a big event. People fly in from all over to attend. We see members there each year who we do not see much the rest of the year. We co-host this event with the CGSC SOF Cell.

Our other celebrations are an Octoberfest party and a Christmas party. Until last year one of our members, Ross Worley, hosted an annual SF picnic which was a big event. Twenty, and often many more, attended each year. Each chapter should have at least one big event, a party, a picnic, a range day, a jump-fest, a combination of all, at least once a year. It doesn’t have to be elaborate.

Facebook – Success

Every chapter should be constantly leveraging Facebook. How is that done? That is a topic for another article or conversation. But, many of the guys on my rosters I found on Facebook, or were found by other members. Find out who in your chapter is on Facebook and ask them to create a page for your chapter, or your city or AO, and to be your Facebook liaison.

Partnerships and Alliances – Success

Each chapter needs to have partnerships and sponsorships with companies and other veteran non-profits. We of chapter 29 have a relationship withe the SOF Cell at Command General and Staff College on Ft. Leavenworth. Some chapters have a relationship with the Green Beret Foundation. Our chapters interact with various other organizations and companies in various capacities. Corporate and private financial support are crucial to funding the SOF Formal each year. Colleges and Universities, to include ROTC programs, can be a critical relationship for chapters, sources for honor guards and attendees to and support for various events.

Other Chapters – TBD

Other chapters have used sky diving, range days, hunting, fishing and motorcycles to good effect, to energize their membership. I tried in the past to plan coordinated events with other chapters, such as a pheasant hunt with Chapter 4-24. The concept was that we would meet halfway, in western Kansas, for pheasant hunting. I can think of all sorts of interesting ideas for joint-motorcycle-rides involving two or more chapters. Florida, Texas and California have the weather and terrain and a plethora of chapters to explore this concept.

T-shirts – TBD

Each chapter should sell T-shirts and hats, at the minimum, through their web site. This can be a big project and is beyond the capacities of most chapters. Our chapter offers shirts now, as do a couple other chapters, but revenue is next to nothing. New approaches and designs need to be explored.

SFA national could facilitate this effort by partnering with T-shirt companies. There are several such companies owned by SF guys. Three of them are Bert Kuntz, of Peacemaker Shirt Company, Tu Lam, of Ronin Tactics, and Dave Maestas, of Maestro Strategic Solutions and Ranger Apparel. If SFA could form a partnership with one or more T-shirt companies that would allow the chapters to each have a unique but similar design or logo, such a project could be very beneficial for numerous reasons.

Such projects would require the right operations model and would have to be mutually beneficial and profitable to all parties, and probably not require chapters to store and ship shirts. Most importantly, it would require some creative and kickass shirt and hat designs.

Gotta Move – SUCCESS

A universal rule of non-profits, military units and commands, businesses, sports teams, you name it, is that you have got to do something…something, in order to drive membership, donations and revenue. Do something. Even if it is wrong. This is true of individual health just as it is in small unit tactics. Move or die. Recon lots of ideas and concepts. Reconnaissance doesn’t always deliver the results we want. But any chapter must see what is out in front of them, and around them. Need ideas? Look around. Interact. Move.

Chapters are not alone. There are various operational models and concepts that would allow chapters to collaborate with other chapters, with all chapters, and with SFA National, and other organizations, on many of the concepts in this article, and many not in this article.

Show Me The Money

Measures and ROI, being able to define how successful an event or project has been is easier than you might think. Track attendance at events, chapter revenue and account balances. But, other factors have to be factored in, such as communications, message traffic and comments on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. But, it takes members and sometimes money to stage events and to host web sites and to buy beer and coffee. The only two sources are donations and revenue, both of which are driven by member participation.

The veteran community is flush with non-profits and military organizations. That means lots of organizations competing for members, sponsors and relevance. For any organization to compete and remain relevant today, even the SFA, decisions and adaptations must be made.

Decisions

I have heard many times, within our chapter and others, disagreements about what SFA should be, that SFA is not a service organization. Fine. But, keep in mind that businesses that do not adjust to their changing market do not stay in business. Armies that do not adjust and adapt to the changing battle-space do not win battles. And SFA and its chapters need to adapt to the ever-changing military and veteran environments. SFA, and all of its chapters, can be many things, to many members. We can set a large table and cast wide nets. If we want to.

Summary

There are still many SF guys here in the KC area who do not know about the rest of us and are not on my rosters. To reach and engage those guys we need to be active, moving, doing things, as does all of SFA. We need to set a big table and cast big nets to connect with as many brothers as possible, and with other organizations and veterans. This requires creativity and being open to new ideas and methods. All this must also be efficient. SFA can’t be a full-time job for most of us. But, it can be done. And we can do it. We have to.

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