We reached out to Minnesota State Veterans Chair, Thomas Kramin, to find out how he and other Minnesota volunteers accomplish so much. Kramin helps oversee 20 volunteers at 13 Voluntary Service facilities, along with dozens of local and state projects. He shared his thoughts about managing projects, and recruiting and supporting volunteers.
ENVSC: How have you or your Lodge initiated partnerships?
Thomas Kramin: When it comes to getting the community involved, my experience is: If you don’t ask, the answer will always be “NO!” When we have an idea for a community event for our veterans, we find the local Service Clubs and ask for their assistance. Offering them name recognition in the advertising of it and turning it into a joint event always makes the program more successful.
Ronald Reagan once said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit!” Minnesota is proof that this quote is truth. Elks are Doers, not Talkers!”
ENVSC: What do you do to get more Lodge members involved in veterans’ events or fundraisers?
TK: First of all, approach the members with a project that you have a heartfelt passion for. Passion creates Passion.
Also, make sure you have a fluid plan on how to accomplish the project. When you ask for help, you open the door for outside opinions on how to do it. Reply kindly, with something like , “I’ll take that under advisement!”. Some ideas are much better than what you came up with, which will alter your plan and make it that much more successful.
ENVSC: How do you encourage or motivate the volunteers in your state to keep up with reporting or other requirements they may be reluctant to complete?
TK: First off, as a State Rep, appoint those who have a passion to serve our veterans. You have the power to replace those who are not. This is 95% of the battle of keeping good representation at facilities. The other 5% is the threat of losing the funds that support their passion.
You must also realize that your representatives are volunteers, working on a volunteer income. Life gets in the way sometimes and you must remember the volunteers have families and bills to take care of first. Gentle nudges for reminders work better than dropping the hammer on them for being late in the reporting. If it gets to the point that you need to continually remind them to complete their requirements, they may not be the best fit for the role at that time.
ENVSC: How would you describe the planning process someone who is interested in organizing a large event for the first time?
TK: You cannot do it alone. Find quality people to help with the project, lay out the fluid plan to them, and delegate tasks to them without micromanaging them. Present a task that needs to be accomplished and let them do the rest. This does two things; it sparks their imagination on how to accomplish the task, and gives them a sense of ownership in the project.
ENVSC: Do you have any favorite memories from the past year to encourage volunteers in their work with veterans?
TK: We did a Welcome Home Kit for a veteran a few months ago. As we walked into his empty apartment with the supplies, the Veteran started to shake a little with wet eyes. He said the contacted every service organization requesting help and the only ones who stepped up were the Elks. He said, “The Elks only asked one question, ‘What do I need to make life better?’ and here you are!”
At our Veterans Outdoor Program, where we offer a few days away from the veterans home to hunt on a National Guard Training Facility, a 75 year old Army Veteran approached me and shook my hand for an extended amount of time, choked up and said, “You have no idea how important this event is to us! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
You tend to lose sight on the impact after doing it for 12 years, but comments like that relight a fire to continue the work!
ENVSC: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Elks who are considering volunteering for veteran projects?
TK: Helping veterans is more addictive than any drug available on the market. The sense of life accomplishment and self-worth you feel in your soul afterwards is so overpowering that you want to do more. You search for things to expand on, and you realize that volunteering pays more than any paycheck you will ever receive in your work career.