The last couple of years have been ones of incredible growth for Manor House. It started as a passion project for Peggy Grieve, the woman we all now regard as our "DAR Mom." She saw the potential in this small but historic chapter and made some strategic and brilliant decisions that set us on a great course for growth. She asked the existing members if they would be open to changing the time and location of monthly meetings so that they would be more convenient and accessible to younger, working women. And she also encouraged those members to continue to participate.
Peggy also worked closely with the State Membership Chair to identify prospective members who might be a good fit for Manor House and reached out to us directly. She worked closely with us on our applications and made us feel like someone really cared that we were joining the DAR. She also instilled in us that there was a future for this chapter if we wanted there to be.
Manor House sees the value in not just signing up new members, but of helping each member get invested and becoming leaders in our own right. We try to get to know each new member and focus on why she joined DAR and what she was passionate about… Was it literacy? Genealogy? Service members and veterans? Did someone have a gift for hospitality? Organizing? Communications?
Instead of letting us sign our papers and move on with life, Peggy got us involved while we were at the height of our interest. For every new member who wants to get involved, we find a way to engage that individual and teach them how to pursue the issues and projects they care about.
I know Manor House continues this example set by Peggy and we think the key to this has a lot of do with making the personal ask. DAR, its history and its pomp and circumstance, can be a little intimidating to new members, particularly those who are younger. They might be hesitant to pipe up and volunteer or ask for more responsibility. But that doesn't mean they don't want it. When a chapter leader personally and quietly asks if they would be willing to help out, take on a project, or learn how to do something, it makes them far more likely to say yes.
Manor House has also found a way to make sometimes stuffy traditions and rituals feel more fun and inviting. We find the humor and embrace it – because really, grown women wearing all white in the winter in order to serve as the assistant to an older woman has to make even the most prudent Daughter smile.
We do new member appreciation ceremonies that, as 2014-2016 Chapter Regent Sarah Milligan calls it, are based off the TV faux drama, “The Bachelor.” Handing out flowers to new members and asking them to share stories about what they learned in their application process is clearly more meaningful than the silly TV show, but it makes light of what could be seen as a routine ceremony, and allows us to add a personal touch to the ritual.
A wine and cheese social before every meeting instilled a convivial atmosphere that, though more casual than your average DAR meeting, is the perfect environment to make friends and build the relationships that would sustain the chapter in the long term. We invite all meeting attendees out after each meeting, which is an opportunity to catch up with each other and get better acquainted with the prospective members.
However, that doesn't mean that we Juniors weren't regularly schooled in parliamentary procedure to make sure everything we did was acceptable. We benefitted greatly from an associate member (Sarah Voll) with decades of DAR experience who also happened to be a former state regent and national executive officer.
Today, the junior members, like myself, who learned at Peggy’s knee, are the leaders of our chapter. We hold office, lead committees, plan events and recruit members. And we all continue to benefit from the wisdom and experience of our members who have been a part of DAR for many years. We'd be nothing without their perspective, yet they don't force us to do things a certain way. Sometimes I like to think of Manor House as an experiment in the gentle evolution. DAR is not a vestige of times gone by - it has the capacity to grow and flex as we move into the future. We can adapt and still remain true to the vision of our founders - and bring the next generation of Daughters along with us.
And that brings me to my last– and possibly controversial point: We don’t all wear our pins at our chapter meetings. In the beginning, Peggy knew that almost none of us had any DAR pins, but also didn’t make a big deal about it. While the DAR pins are a very important tradition and meaningful in so many ways, they are honestly very intimidating. To a twenty-something, everyday woman who is worrying about affording her rent, her bills, and even her fashionable work-wardrobe, the pins represent an added cost. We talk about the pins at meetings and help educate about what they stand for, but we do it in a way that shows that pins are not a requirement to membership or involvement. Instead, we focus on what the pins represent.
I asked other members of our chapter to share their thoughts on what makes our chapter successful:
- Advertising and promoting our events and meetings through social media and e-mail definitely attracts a younger crowd.
- We have a member that helps with the application papers.
- We enjoy and appreciate each of our members and we grow in a circle of sisterhood.
- Manor House is flexible yet traditional. We're innovative and old-school.
- The Chapter is about fun and friendship first and DAR second. When prospective members come to our meetings for the first time, we connect with them personally and learn more about their backgrounds and THEN talk about how much fun DAR is! Similar to how most large groups can be intimidating at first, I think Manor House does a good job of making DAR more intimate, social, and fun.
- Manor House and DC DAR Juniors host a wide variety of events which in turn attracts a wide variety of members. Each person can find her "niche" in DAR, whether it is Honor Flights, happy hours, or genealogy.
- One thing that I love about Manor House is that it does outside activities that cater to many different interests like the Free Minds nights, the Honor Flights, participating in the Christmas Walk, volunteering at the Food Bank, visits to Walter Reed, Wreaths Across America… I could go on and on.
- All of these events follow the ideals of the DAR, which is why we are able to promote them, but they also give members another social outlet to do service in the community. Members get to go out and meet other people and follow their passions, which I think is very important for keeping younger members engaged. You want to give them more opportunities and events they can relate to, while still encouraging DAR fellowship.
- Mnor House works so tremendously well because while it's centered on volunteerism, it's truly doing what you can. It's not who can do more, but how we can all come together to help the community.
- Our members are excited about their experience and enthusiastically talk about it to others.
Peggy Grieve gives credit to others who were willing to reevaluate the direction the chapter was taking. In her words:
“We made sure we were having a bit of fun and making a difference! We’ve always put the emphasis on helping others. Boxes to the troops has been a Manor House staple. Everyone can contribute and feel good about doing something for someone else. You must do both! Meetings have to have value to the members and be easy to attend. Since most members work downtown, we meet downtown in the early evenings. The most important thing is to keep looking for potential leaders, guide them, set them up to success, then let them take the ball and run with it!"
Thank you Catherine for sharing Manor House Chapter's revitialization success story. I am sure you all will continue grow and become even more successful.
I hope you will use some of these excellent suggestions to help your chapter grow stronger. Please consider the following questions:
- Are your meetings convenient?
- Are your meetings fun?
- Are prospectives and members made to feel welcome?
- Are the meetings worth their limited time?
Please consider sharing your chapter’s success story!
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