Justine Hirsch, Gainesville, Florida, USA,
Tori McIntosh, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA
What does it take to grow a successful Group? The answers depend on who you ask and the needs of potential participants in the local community. However, there are some common practices that successful Groups have in common. Leaders from two Groups with high levels of participation share some of the strategies that helped them build a following prior to the pandemic and continue to support engagement in the era of video-based meetings.
Justine Hirsch, a Leader in Gainesville, Florida, USA, started LLL of Gainesville as a lone Leader in November 2017 and saw it grow to its current 30 members. Between 12 and 15 parents attend each meeting.
Meetings are held at the local library and at a local obstetrician’s office, both of which provide space free of charge. Although the Group has moved to Zoom meetings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they had already put in place several approaches that were helping them grow.
An active social media presence helps mothers stay connected between meetings. LLL of Gainesville stays active on social media (Facebook, Instagram) and by newsletter (Mailchimp) and Eventbrite (an online event management and ticketing service), and by keeping its website up to date. Each month, they have a “Mama Spotlight” featuring a different mother and her breastfeeding journey on the public Facebook page (shared with the mother’s permission).
“Eventbrite integrates with Facebook and our website, so I only have to create the event once,” Hirsch said. “When I first started the Group, I shared the Facebook event in other local mom groups. We send an email once a month with all of our meeting information included through Mailchimp.”
For Zoom meetings, LLL of Gainesville posts the meeting time and date publicly but sends the Zoom meeting link and password via email and the private Facebook group.
“I post a lot of pictures,” Hirsch said. “For the first several months of opening the Group, I always took photos at meetings (with permission) and posted them in our private Facebook group. Seeing a Group of smiling moms is encouraging to a mother who might be nervous about a new setting.”
Community outreach is another area in which LLL of Gainesville has worked hard. From putting up meeting flyers in the library and around town, to connecting with local midwives, doulas, lactation consultants and others who support mothers and babies to participating in community outreach events, LLL of Gainesville has a visible presence.
“Any time I meet a nursing mom, I encourage her to attend a meeting and remind her how valuable her experience would be to other new mothers,” Hirsch said.
Monthly play dates
Beyond attracting new attendees, LLL of Gainesville also pays close attention to fostering friendships among its regulars. They host monthly park play dates, host an annual breastfeeding recognition ceremony, leave time at the end of meetings for socializing, and whenever possible, a Leader reaches out personally over text or Facebook to new moms after meetings.
Group Jobs are another area that has kept attendees coming back. One mother helps with social media. Another plans the monthly play dates in the park. Still others are greeters, help with room setup or perform other functions.
“It helps the moms feel invested so they are committed to coming to meetings,” Hirsch said. “Plus, they help the Group grow in a lot of ways!”
In Michigan, USA, Tori McIntosh has been a Leader since 2016 and helps lead LLL Royal Oak-Ferndale, which merged the Groups in the two neighboring cities in December 2019.
Daytime and evening meetings
To help reach as many families as possible, LLL Royal Oak-Ferndale has historically held both daytime and evening meetings. For some time, a local church and a play space for children allowed them to meet free of charge. When the church became no longer available due to space issues, they began meeting at the library.
“I believe the move to the library appealed to more families and our attendance improved, which for us looks like four to eight moms depending on the month,” McIntosh said.
Prior to the pandemic, organizers publicized meetings up to a year in advance, brought toys for babies and toddlers at each meeting, and maintained a visible presence in the community. The Royal Oak-Ferndale Group also maintains an active email list and an active Facebook presence.
Video-based meetings during the pandemic have continued to be well-attended with between eight and ten participants at each one.
“Everyone has got a lot out of them, and I have to wonder if we should keep this as an option after things open back up,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh began her journey toward leadership when her second child, now six, was a baby.
“The process of helping other moms has been so rewarding and important,” she said. “And humbling. While we’ve gone through periods of low meeting attendance and Leader changeover, every time I take a call or email I am reminded of why we continue to do this, and the important work we do. And finally, I’m so grateful for the relationships that I’ve made with like-minded mothers!”
Tori McIntosh lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, USA, with her husband of 11 years; children, Josephine, nine, Parker, five; and a newly rescued dog, Teddy. She has been a Leader for nearly five years, but started attending meetings almost ten years ago.
Justine Hirsch is married with two children; a six-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter. She has been a Leader for over four years, currently co-leading the Gainesville, Florida, USA, Group with co-Leaders Rachel and Tricia. Her mother was an active member of her La Leche League Group in Miami, Florida, in the early 1980s. Justine attended her first LLL meeting as a mother herself when her son was five weeks old, and she fell in love. Two years later she became a Leader.