Attracting and retaining new members is a key reason for holding the congress in Adelaide in October.
As Canberra/Goulburn Territory Council President Warwick Fulton points out, membership ‘is a problem everywhere’.
‘We’ve found that there is no single strategy that works, so you have to try a range of things.’
A Canberra/Goulburn congress in 2013 documented five criteria for addressing the needs of others in the community:
- Make a difference
- Innovate and grow
- Attract new people, especially young people
- Build the capacity of our members
- Be good at change
Four years later, practical measures are underway to address these criteria.
A pilot program aimed at attracting new members in five conferences is being trialed—these include Temora in the NSW Riverina region, Yass in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, Bega in the south-east of NSW, and North Woden and Aranda in Canberra.
For new members to be recruited at the locations, a 10-point checklist must be satisfied to show that the conference is ‘recruitment ready’.
It includes making sure new members feel welcome and are given something to do straight away.
Participants at the 2013 Canberra/Goulburn congress determined that being ‘good at change’ requires taking ‘reasonable’ risk. This includes saying ‘no’ to the status quo and trying new things.
Narooma on the NSW south coast, for example, was down to two older members at a parish where only about 25 people (mostly elderly) were attending mass. A traditional response to the problem was unsuccessful in encouraging members of that parish to get involved. Instead, an advertisement was placed in a newspaper, and eight people from the local Anglican Church were recruited.
We are a strongly lay Catholic organisation, but that doesn’t mean new members can’t come from other faiths that share the Society’s vision, Warwick says.
‘We can’t just look within the parish.’
The 2013 Canberra/Goulburn regional congress also found greater flexibility was needed in terms of when and how often conference meetings take place.
‘A meeting held at 2.30pm on Tuesdays automatically excludes people with fulltime day jobs,’ Warwick says.
‘As do home visitations carried out during the day. Members with day jobs should be given an opportunity to do visits after work.’
Warwick is also aware that some people simply don’t enjoy the formality of meetings, and if this is preventing them from getting involved with the Society’s work, then associate membership might be a better option for them.
The Canberra/Goulburn Territory includes 25 shops, 12 special works and 50 conferences. Geographically it takes in the ACT and surrounding regions, as well as parts of the NSW South Coast, from Batemans Bay down to the Victorian border.
ACT homeless facts
The ACT has around 1800 homeless people—a figure that rarely fluctuates. Of these, around 100 are sleeping on the streets.
Others are couch surfing or staying temporarily in motels.
Warwick says it is not uncommon for some people who turn to the Society for food to have as little as $20 a fortnight to live on, after paying rent.
He knows of over-crowded households where two families with children are sharing a two-bedroom flat.
‘It has implications for schooling and health,’ he says.
A lack of government-funded emergency accommodation on the NSW south coast means conference members are only able to provide motel accommodation for people who are homeless for a couple of nights.
‘Housing is key to solving people’s problems,’ Warwick says.
‘If you give a person a home they have a chance of finding a job and looking after themselves.’