Echelon Engages Millenial Fundraisers

A new type of advisory board initially developed as a junior women’s auxiliary in Dallas is spreading across the nation as corps seek ways to engage millennials in Salvation Army fund raising.

During their time as area commanders in Dallas, Majors Ward and Michelle Matthews were aware of the National Advisory Board’s concern over an inability among local boards and auxiliaries to attract younger members.

The Dallas Women’s Auxiliary decided to take matters into its own hands, inviting one member’s granddaughter, Michelle McAdam, to start a junior women’s auxiliary that would engage young twenty-something women who would eventually become members of the auxiliary program.

With a $75,000 donation from the women’s auxiliary’s Christmas fund-raiser, McAdam formed held the first meeting with 15 of her college classmates. By the second meeting, the group had grown to 40 members.

After one full year, the junior auxiliary members asked Majors Matthews if the group could be expanded to include young men as well. The Matthews agreed, and from there the group morphed into a young professionals organization soon to be labeled Echelon, a name and brand developed with the help of the Richards Group.

Since then, several chapters have opened across the nation as young professionals with a desire to give back recreate the success in Dallas.

Echelon is now a fully-formed organization with bylaws and elected positions. Each position is held by both a male and female counterpart. Each chapter also includes a chaplain who takes every opportunity to bring the word into fund-raisers, volunteering opportunities and simple get-togethers.

Now in its sixth year, the Dallas chapter has seen several changes in leadership as young professionals often relocate to pursue career and educational goals. As they move onto new cities, many members have begun seeking opportunities to start Echelon chapters in their own communities.

“They had a focus from the start that this would be bigger than themselves,” Major Michelle Matthews said. The Dallas chapter paid for and developed the national website, leaving room for other chapters to add their own page. They also created a handbook with information on how to start an Echelon chapter.

The formation of Echelon was driven by existing board members and young professionals who wanted to get involved in the corps. Major Michelle said that element is crucial to the success of any chapter.

“It’s not going to be the same if it’s officer-driven,” she said. “You need young people with that passion and vision.”

For years Millennials have been portrayed as a selfish, me-centered generation. Major Ward said he found that is not the case, as evidenced by the hundreds of young adults who flock to annual events and monthly gatherings at the Dallas corps.

“They want to add meaning and significance to their lives and have found that they can do that through Echelon and still have a good time,” he said.

Both officers stressed the importance of support from existing board members who can offer mentorship and guidance as needed to the young adults who will hopefully one day take their place.

Echelon members age out of the program at 35 and many of the Dallas chapter’s founding members are closing in on this age. Major Ward suggested that they might create an intermediary group for those under 50 to keep them engaged in the middle ages as well.

“The hope is that they will join a council or board or women’s auxiliary,” he said. “You need constant renewal.”

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