Leading from strength: MARSP chapters have a strong message

Have you ever thought about the nature of leadership and what it takes to maintain a vital and robust organization? I’ve been considering it a lot lately, after participating in a series of training workshops with dozens of chapter-level MARSP leaders throughout the state.

In June, I met with 130 participants representing 50 MARSP chapters at workshops held on consecutive days in Kalamazoo, Auburn Hills, Gaylord and Escanaba. It’s an exchange of ideas on how to meet the needs of current and potential members that occurs every other year.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that we continue to grow MARSP and ensure Michigan public school retirees have a loud, collective voice in protecting the health care and other benefits that they worked so hard to earn during their careers.

My key takeaway from the workshops: While we certainly need to adapt and evolve to ensure we’re communicating with new and potential members in the way that they prefer – whether it’s a brochure sent through good old-fashioned snail mail or by social media outreach – there’s still no substitute for face-to-face interaction.

For example, it’s important for MARSP chapters to maintain a physical presence in their local school districts and buildings to cement relationships with future retirees. We’ve long accomplished this by staging retirement planning workshops at the local level. But we don’t need to wait until public school workers are nearing retirement to make our presence known.

Consider how the MARSP Foundation Inc. recently funded the classroom project requests of more than 60 teachers across the state through DonorsChoose.org. The $10,000 donation benefited 62 teachers in 54 different Michigan schools from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula, in projects that ranged from buying books and art supplies to bugs and flexible classroom seating. In total, we were able to fund 65 projects that benefited more than 3,300 students. It was a cost-effective way to make a big impact in classrooms.

And as an offshoot of the effort, we were able to make connections with a sizable number of potential future MARSP members – potentially further strengthening the organization for the collective benefit of all current and future Michigan public school retirees.

No matter our role with MARSP, it’s in our best interest to help potential members understand the importance of banding together and strengthening our voice in Lansing as the organization advocates for policies that best serve public school retirees. We shouldn’t shy away from directly asking current or former public school employees to join MARSP and making them aware of the sacrifices that previous generations made to gain the benefits they now enjoy, including by going on strike at the risk of their own livelihoods.

To avoid sliding back and losing hard-earned benefits, we must continue to look forward. For MARSP chapter leaders, that might mean adapting the latest communication techniques to ensure we are effectively reaching younger potential members on social media platforms.

The good news is that, while we might want to change the delivery method, we don’t need to change our messaging. It’s as true now as it was then: For more than 60 years, MARSP has been the only organization totally dedicated to promoting and supporting the rights and needs of retired public school personnel and serving as their legislative voice.

That’s a message that I’m confident will still resonate when the next round of leadership workshops are held in 2020.

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