CWRT Congress: How Are Your New Members and Visitors Treated?

Library of Congress

By Carol VanOrnum, Vice President, Civil War Roundtable Congress

An anonymous comment was posted at the conclusion of our article of November 27, 2022 for the Emerging Civil War, and, to say the least, it concerned the Board of the CWRT Congress:

“It is unfortunate that so many CWRT’s are failing. Equally unfortunate is that some CWRT’s are their own worst enemy. I recently moved to another state and joined the local CWRT. I attended four meetings, and nobody, including the president, made any effort to speak to me or to make me feel welcome. I tried to start conversations with other members with no success. I felt like the unwanted guest at a family dinner. So, I stopped going and will never go back.”

It was followed by this post from another reader:

“Had the exact same experience in my various moves during my military career … members were uniformly unfriendly and clubbish … didn’t seem to care if they had new members or not.”

This lack of awareness and care was a wasted opportunity to sustain, or even expand, their organization.  A leader’s care and consideration for new members and visitors should be a top priority.  Their experience, upon their first visit, should be a show of appreciation – a “we’re so pleased that you came” moment – from the leadership of the organization.  This can conveniently be done during a social period prior to the program to encourage fellowship.

Janet Whaley, President of the Pasadena CWRT, shared, “Now that we’ve returned to in-person meetings, we’ve had very good luck at having two designated Board members serve as the official “greeters” for the Pasadena CWRT. They greet all attendees at the door and make sure they are on our mailing list to receive future meeting notifications.”  This is a good move.

There’s much more a CWRT can do:

  • Officially register all meeting attendees and track that information.
  • Introduce new members or have them introduce themselves with a few words about who they are at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Follow up with visitors and new members, inviting them back with special invitations informing them of meeting dates, notices, partner events, etc.
  • For new members, provide them with an orientation packet that includes, but is not limited to, a board directory, a written history of the round table, calendar of events, social media information, and a checklist of volunteer opportunities.
  • Take their photos and post the pictures and bios in the next newsletter.
  • Present them with a welcoming gift.

Get them involved right out of the starting gate.

All of these suggestions are found in the CWRT Congress’ Sustainability Challenge, specifically in Modules four through six.  There’s more there, and we invite you to explore the Challenge.

Bill Miller, President of the Williamsburg CWRT and Treasurer of the CWRT Congress, offered this: “It boils down to this simple phrase: ‘This is my last chance to make a good first impression.’ My personal philosophy has been successful, and I continue to work very hard to follow my mantra every minute of every day.”



5 Responses to CWRT Congress: How Are Your New Members and Visitors Treated?

  1. Being a member of the Williamsburg CWRT, as mentioned above, that is headed by the esteemed Bill Miller, I can attest that he does practice what he preaches. An excellent president of an excellent CWRT.

  2. A very much needed topic for discussion, an excellent summary of the problem, as well as an outstanding list of recommendations. This should be required reading for all members of all CWRTs, not just the president. Once the great freeze dissipates, and winter weather changes to spring, an excellent time for recruitment of new members across the country will avail itself for in person meetings. Here in Houston, we are following several of the guidelines for welcoming new members, but retaining them requires those additional efforts. I truly believe that a strong interest in the CW and its aftermath in America continues to exist, and it’s up to us to exert the effort to cultivate it.

  3. Excellent and timely article on “How are Your New members and Vistors Treated?” Have done many of these at the Twin Cities Civil War Roundtable I can attest that they produce results. Yes, you only get one first chance to make a lasting impression. Thanks

  4. Great comments — totally agree. One important item in the ‘making them feel welcome’ basket is to engage them in conversation relative to how they found out about the CWRT, their interests, general background without being too intrusive, share with them some of the activities of RT, future events planned, and maybe sponsor them for their first dinner or field trip. Bringing them ‘into’ the group is more than glad handing but the beginning of developing a true relationship. Might even assign a member to walk them through their orientation. Joe Boslet, Past President – Harrisburg CWRT

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