CHAPTER VIII - REGIONAL GROUP ACTIVITIES
Section 1. Regional Group Newsletter
A. One of the most effective means of communicating with the members of the regional group is to regularly produce a newsletter. The newsletter need not be long or too involved, but can provide useful information to your membership on upcoming activities, VA benefits information or updates on legislative activities on both state and national levels.
B. The BVA National Office Staff is always available to assist in providing information or ideas for such newsletters and mailing labels can be obtained from National Headquarters. Be sure to always include a membership application with these newsletters as they can serve as valuable membership recruiting tools.
Section 2. Public Relations
A. Want to get something for nothing? Of course you do. We all do. It's human nature to take advantage of something that's offered to you, FREE. It also makes a lot of common sense. So if getting something for nothing appeals to you, kick your feet back and dive into this section of the Regional Group Manual. In the next few pages, we're going to discuss the one FREE opportunity available to all Regional Groups.
B. In the process, we'll lay the ground work for the biggest, most lucrative grassroots effort in the history of the Blinded Veterans Association. Have we peaked your curiosity? Read on...
C. You're probably asking yourself, "What is this tremendous opportunity?" At least, we hope your asking that. Well the opportunity, in a nutshell, is your Regional Group's public relations campaign. That's right, public relations. It's quick. It's free. And, it's easy. As a matter of fact, it's so easy that after your Regional Group does it once, you'll never really have to work at it again.
D. Let's start with just a quick overview of public relations. What is it? Public relations is the way your regional group interacts with your local community. For the most part, that will take place through a relationship with your local media outlets. Just to name a few, that includes newspapers, magazines, television (commercial and cable access), radio stations (AM & FM) and radio reading services. Those outlets are your FREE link to communicating within your regional group, publicizing your efforts within your community and, most importantly, reaching the blinded veterans who don't know about BVA or the benefits they've earned.
E. It all boils down to a concept called "name recognition." That's how you measure your success. The Association's public relations goal is to have the initials "BVA" just as recognizable as "VA", "VFW" or "IRS." That's your regional group goal as well. We know that's pretty ambitious. Just remember each and every time you have information recorded, announced or printed about your regional group, you've moved us one small step closer to our goal. And, you're potentially reaching the men and women who need our help.
F. How do you get started? Here's your first step. Look around your regional group for a volunteer with a public relations background or someone who's interested in doing the job. That's important. You have to like what your doing to stick with it and do it professionally. Once you find that person, your biggest obstacle is behind you.
G. Now, it's time to build a list of media contacts. Open the phone book and start calling media outlets within the boundary of your regional group. Ask them if they are interested in your press releases and public service announcements. If so, ask who you should mail them to. Keep a very detailed list. Make certain you note the name and position of your contact. Your chance of having a press release or public service announcement used greatly increases when you can address it to an actual person as opposed to a section or department.
H. If you have problems building your list of media contacts, you can always go to the public library. They have yearly listings of print and broadcast outlets throughout the United States.
I. If you still need help, get in touch with another area Veterans Service Organization (VSO) and ask for a copy of their media mailing list. Or, call BVA National Headquarters and talk to the Communications Coordinator.
J. Now that you have a person to handle the job and a list of contacts to mail your release to, you're ready to publicize your regional group. But, what events are actually big enough for the media to use? There is no real answer to this question. What's important to you may not be important to the editor of a local newspaper. Or even if it is important enough to print, there may not be room for it. The same holds for radio and television. The general rule of thumb is to write and mail anything you feel is important. Then, you at least present your information and have a chance to get it published. You definitely won't find your information in print or on-the-air if you neglect to write or mail it.
K. As a general rule of thumb, make sure you write about the following: 1) Regional Group meetings; 2) regional group activities and accomplishments; 3) achievements of regional group members; and 4) periodically the goals and mission of the Blinded Veterans Association.
L. The writing of your press release might just be the easiest part of your task. It's basically formula writing. Find a format your comfortable with and stick with it. Just change the information that's different from the last release. But, don't worry about retooling and rewriting it. You'll just be making more work for yourself in the long run. Believe me, your media contact doesn't mind at all. He or she just wants your information.
M. Feel free to use the following as examples for your public service announcements and press releases. Remember to follow the format shown here and keep it simple. You want to make sure that your message is clearly understood by the reader (audience) and by your media contact.
N. Remember, these are just examples. If you'll notice the last release we included is in a different format than the other five. I did that on purpose. We know the equipment you have varies from regional group to regional group. But as long as you have a typewriter and a piece of paper (hopefully letterhead), you have all the supplies you need to start writing press releases and public service announcements.
O. Here's a little tip about the format for press releases. Always double space the body of the release. And, always give the name and phone number of a local point of contact for the press release. You never know when an editor or producer might want additional information about your regional group.
P. This brief introduction has skipped many details of a public relations program. It's merely a broad overview meant to wet your appetite and get you started down the right path. If at any time you'd like to discuss your regional group's public relations program, give the Communications Coordinator a call at BVA National Headquarters.
Q. A couple of parting thoughts that might help. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to push your regional group and your regional group activities. If a school invites you to guest speak about blindness, go. If you can set up an exhibit at the county or state fair, do it. Wherever there's a chance to get involved in your community, do it and let the media know you're doing it. If someone asks you to march in a local parade, buy a BVA flag, practice drill and ceremony, just do it. And last but not least, share ideas between the individual regional groups. San Diego work with Northern California. New York share your ideas with Pennsylvania. Mid-Atlantic. find out what Washington is doing and vice versa. Any positive press we get can be duplicated in other regional group areas. That type of communication, commitment and effort will definitely help us on our way to name recognition.
R. And last but not least, keep the BVA National Communications Coordinator up to date on your regional group's public relations activities. Send in your ideas. Let him/her know about your successes and your failures. Let's work together to spread all the news generated by the Blinded Veterans Association and our regional groups.
Section 3. Fund-raising
1. This section provides guidelines for regional group fund-raising, supplementing instructions contained in Article XIV, Sections E and F of the BVA National By-Laws . Materials in this section reflect National Board of Directors and National Headquarters policy, rules and experience in considering and approving regional group fund-raising projects.
2. Regional groups are encouraged to undertake fund-raising projects with a specific purpose or need in mind. For example, raising money to help defray extraordinary regional group expenditures, or raising money to collect funds to host a BVA National Convention, or raising funds to assist blinded veterans, VIST Coordinators, etc. are all sound reasons for fund-raising.
3. However, projects to be conducted for the primary purpose of raising funds to build up a regional group's bank account, particularly when a surplus already exists, or to make investments, or for a purpose not associated with the overall mission of BVA or the regional group will not be approved.
1. Regional groups must obtain approval for all fund-raising projects as described in BVA National By-Laws (Article XIV, Section 13e) .
2. In carrying out any fund-raising project, regional group officers are responsible for protecting the good name of the Blinded Veterans Association from wrongful use or misrepresentation.
3. Regional groups may NOT engage in any direct-mail fund-raising projects, i.e., mailing solicitations or appeal letters to the public at large. A nation-wide direct-mail fund-raising program is conducted by BVA National Headquarters.
4. Regional groups are asked not to solicit bequests from members or individuals. Regional groups may accept such gifts as they occur.
5. Regional groups may apply for grants from local organizations to meet specific needs. BVA National Headquarters should be provided a copy of the grant application.
*Administrative note: Please mail or email a copy of to the Executive Director. National organizations such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other major chains often authorize there regional affiliates to support state and local organizations. If you have examples or organizations please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will compile a list of such entities and attempt to determine the procedure for requesting their support.
C. Some Good Reasons for Fund-Raising
1. Strengthening the Regional Group
1a. Increasingly, BVA regional groups are using funds to increase attendance at meetings and to support efforts to make the regional group an effective, viable organization. Regional groups are using funds to help pay travel costs of regional group members, such as renting vans and hiring drivers, and to make sure that blinded veterans can get to meetings. Transportation problems are often the main reason for poor attendance.
1b. Purchasing equipment for regional group volunteer offices is another good reason for fund-raising. For many regional groups, volunteer offices at VA Medical Centers are becoming the focal point of regional group activity where day-to-day work is done on regional group programs, and contact is maintained with members.
1c. Using funds to pay for editing and publication of a regional group newsletter is certainly appropriate, and also an appropriate reason for fund-raising. A quality, timely newsletter can do much to strengthen the regional group, as well as to bring in new members.
2. Helping Blinded Veterans
2a. More and more, regional groups are using funds to directly assist needy blinded veterans. At times, a blinded veteran may approach the regional group for help, or the group may learn of a blinded veteran in a desperate situation. For example, some regional groups have paid cab fares so blinded veterans could get to doctors' offices or VA Medical Centers. Some blinded veterans have been helped with emergency rent and food assistance, and others with clothing needed when attending Blind Rehabilitation. Many regional groups also buy canteen coupons to distribute to hospitalized blinded veterans. Projects to raise funds for these purposes find broad appeal and support among members and the public.
2b. Some regional groups are hosting Christmas parties and other events at Blind Rehabilitation Centers. Local companies and community groups often are willing to contribute to these projects.
3. Supporting the VIST Coordinator
3a. Many regional groups are now making direct grants to VIST Coordinators. This is an excellent use of regional group funds, since VIST coordinators are constantly approached by non-prosthetics-eligible blinded veterans needing help.
3b.The VIST Coordinator can provide small, relatively inexpensive items and equipment such as white canes, talking watches, and insulin measuring devices, if money for this purpose is available in the VIST Post Fund. Projects to raise money for this purpose also have broad appeal.
4. Supporting National Programs
4a. Regional groups may also raise funds to help support specific National Programs, or to provide special equipment to facilitate National Office operations. For example, the BVA National Office is often asked to help pay costs of blinded veterans desiring to attend blind sports clinics such as skiing or bowling. Funds for these purposes are often not immediately available at the National Office.
4b. Regional groups may also help other regional groups hosting BVA National Conventions. This is a worthwhile fund-raising purpose in that smaller, newer regional groups may lack the resources and/or experience to conduct a fully adequate convention fund-raising campaign.
D. Some Suggested Fund-Raising Projects
1. Regional groups are urged to develop fund raising projects that are creative, yet practical, that is, easily accomplished and involve few or no parties other than the regional group itself. Regional groups should ask other regional groups for ideas on what types of fund-raising projects have been most successful.
2. Note too, the types of fund-raising projects that have worked well for other veterans' organizations and community groups, and adopt and tailor good points to the regional group's capabilities. The following are some fund-raising ideas that have worked well for BVA regional groups:
2a. Selling raffle tickets at regional group meetings for items donated by members or Auxiliary members.
2b. Auctions of items donated by regional group members.
2c. Soliciting the regional group membership for cash and equipment donations to support regional group activities.
2d. Arranging dances or special holiday celebrations for members and charging admission.
2e. Conducting talent shows or contests featuring blinded veterans.
2f. Selling tickets to regional group picnics with food donated by members.
2g. Yard sales or garage sales of donated items.
2h. Operating concession stands or tents at fairs and selling food and soft drinks.
2i. Hosting a special dinner or banquet with special invited guests or celebrities.
2j. Arranging or sponsoring a local sports event for blind and other disabled individuals, and soliciting community and public support.
E. Obtaining Approval For Fund-Raising Projects
1. The BVA National Office needs to be advised of ALL fund-raising projects undertaken by the regional group.
2. Fund-raising projects conducted within the regional group, involving no outside group or organization need only the approval of the BVA Executive Director or Administrative Director. This approval may be obtained by submitting a letter by email or regular mail.
3. More complex fund-raising projects where the regional group is participating or working jointly with another organization such as a veterans' organization or a local community organization must have prior approval by the BVA National Board of Directors. Section 13f of Article XIV of the BVA By-Laws requires that regional groups obtain National Board of Directors' approval for fund-raising projects not falling within the fund-raising project type described above.
4. A question often arises concerning the public--is the public a party other than the regional group? For example, if a regional group conducts a yard sale, and the public at large is welcome to stop by and purchase items, does this sort of fund-raising project need formal Board of Directors' approval? In most cases, it would be required. Regional group officers should discuss the matter with the BVA Executive Director or the BVA Administrative Director for a final determination.
5. The regional group should seek the advice and assistance of the BVA Executive Director or Administrative Director in considering any fund-raising project, as well as in preparing a letter to obtain formal Board of Directors' approval when needed.
6. Obtaining approval for a fund-raising project is not difficult. The Regional Group President should send an email or letter to the BVA National President, c/o BVA National Headquarters at least 60 days in advance of the beginning of the proposed project.
7. The fund-raising project should be described in detail--why the funds are being raised, how the regional group will conduct the project, what resources the regional group is committing, who other than the regional group is involved and what is their role, who is controlling the funds and who is accounting for the funds being raised.
8. BVA National Board of Directors' approval of the project will be provided by letter. Regional group officers planning fund-raising events should also refer to Article XIV, Sections 12e and f of the BVA By-Laws .
Section 4. Regional Group Support of BVA Legislative Program
A. One of the most effective ways BVA can provide assistance to blinded veterans is through an active advocacy program. Like other major national Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), BVA has been designated by Congressional Charter as the organizational advocate for all blinded veterans before Congress and the Executive Branch of government. BVA regularly advocates for blinded veterans on Capitol Hill and before the Department of Veterans Affairs. BVA's advocacy program is based on the concerns and legislative priorities established by the membership in convention assembled each year. Resolutions introduced each year at the National Convention by regional groups serve as the frame work for BVA's advocacy efforts.
B. The BVA Governmental Relations Office may periodically send out legislative alerts to all regional groups informing them of pending legislation of importance to blinded veterans and the need for the BVA membership to contact their elected representatives encouraging their support for certain legislation.
C. In the Appendix of this Manual are lists of key Congressional Committees and the Congressional Delegation for the state in which the regional group is located. All elected representatives have offices in their districts as well as in Washington. This is important because phone calls to the local district offices can be as effective as those to the Washington office. It is extremely important to note that elected officials are more responsive to those who actually vote for them. Effective grassroots efforts supporting the BVA national efforts have the greatest impact because they represent votes to these officials.
D. In addition to the national program, the regional group can and should have their own legislative activities with respect to benefits and services for the blind and veterans in their state. The name and address of the State Director of Veterans Affairs is included in the Appendix as well as a list of benefits available in the state for the veterans. These should be reviewed. Notification of your membership through your newsletter is another way of keeping your membership informed regarding services and benefits available within the state.
E. Establishing a legislative committee within the regional group can be useful to monitor legislative issues both at a state and national level. Over the years regional groups have been very effective in influencing state legislation which directly impacts the lives of the blind and veterans.
Section 5. Other Suggested Regional Group Programs and Organizational Activities
A. The number and source of regional group activities is only limited by the members themselves. The regional group should be responsive to the needs and wishes of the membership and strive to identify those interests each year. Those regional groups that have active programs (both social and informational) and work hard to keep the membership well informed seem to be the most successful when it comes to steady growth.
B. In addition to public relations and legislative efforts some groups have engaged in numerous public service activities ranging from visiting public or private schools to educating children about blindness. Some have established speaker bureaus for this purpose. Some have actively supported other charities. One group holds an annual turkey shoot, and others dinner dances sponsored by other organizations such as the Elks. A state convention is another means of providing informational seminars and social activities. Periodic attendance at professional ball games and concerts interests many group members. Maybe the most basic activity is conducting regular regional group meetings, monthly or quarterly.
C. The most successful meetings seem to have a meal function such as dinner or lunch associated with them, as well as an active program with a guest speaker. This combination of social interaction plus solid useful information works best.
D. Sponsoring a regional group volunteer office (mentioned elsewhere in this Manual) is an excellent regional group activity. Regular hospital visitation or involvement with the VA Voluntary Services is another way of being active in a constructive manner. Providing financial and moral support for blinded veterans who are ill or having other problems can be an important activity. Basically there is no end to what a regional group can do, and the members only need to put their heads together and determine what would best meet their needs.