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Minnesota Soybean Business

A legend in his own time: In a digital world, MSGA director recruits members with pen and paper

This article originally appeared in the January-February 2017 issue of Soybean Business. It has since been updated. 

Robert “Bob” Nelsen is a recruiting legend with both the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and American Soybean Association.

“Bob’s positive attitude and outlook toward membership is contagious,” said former ASA Chairman Richard Wilkins. “He is quite the charmer, and we sure appreciate his steadfast dedication. He’s a big reason why Minnesota is one of our most prominent membership organizations.”

For the fourth consecutive year, Nelsen earned ASA’s top recruiter award in 2016.

“Every time it’s been an honor to win the award, even though I don’t think of recruiting as a competition,” Nelsen said from his home in Westbrook, Minn. “I’m proud to do it on behalf of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and Minnesota soybean farmers.”

In 2016 Nelsen recruited 183 members, helping MSGA increase its membership by the highest percentage in the country.

“Minnesota sets the standard for soybean membership, and has for a long time,” he said. “I hope it always stays that way.”

MSGA President Theresia Gillie says Nelsen sets a high benchmark for membership recruiting, and has taken many recruiters under his wing.

“Bob has been a phenomenal mentor to me and so many others at MSGA,” she said. “He totally understands the value of a membership, and is a vocal advocate. He has literally been the innovator of recruiting new members.”

Nelsen recruits in-person near his home, and at Minnesota ag trade shows like Farmfest and MN AG EXPO. He’ll even bring his wife, Sally, and granddaughter along to the trade shows to help with recruiting.

Whether they’re neighbors, fellow farmers or strangers walking around MSGA’s booth at Farmfest, Nelsen sees them all the same — as potential members.

“All you have to do is talk to people and explain to them how important it is to be a member of MSGA,” he said. “We keep our members informed on the issues, and with the benefits we have, heck, it’s a no-brainer to become a member.”

Nelsen’s preferred recruiting tool is in the form of homespun, handwritten letters he pens to current and expiring members, and non-members throughout the state. Nelsen personalizes the letters and thanks the farmer for being a member; he might also reference family members and extend holiday greetings.

“It’s important to show people that you care and don’t just want their money,” he said. “I like to show and explain what they’re getting from their membership out of the back end, too.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Nelsen-Robert-200x300.jpg
Bob Nelsen is old school. He recruits MSGA membership by handwriting letters to farmers asking them to join.

Nelsen estimates he pens about 300 recruiting letters every year, most of them addressed to soybean growers in counties in southwestern Minnesota.

“I think people appreciate the time I put into those letters,” said Nelsen, who was awarded a lifetime MSGA membership in 1999. “They know it comes from the heart; I even get thank you letters back from some people.”

MSGA Director Corey Hanson met Nelsen about in the early 2010s. Hanson was struck by his dedication to recruiting, and his passion in communicating what MSGA achieves for its members.

“Bob’s commitment to membership is infectious,” Hanson said. “Recruiting is essential to membership, and we’re going to need more people like Bob in the future. But I find it motivating to have great leaders like Bob taking the time to bring people into the organization and showing how recruiting is done.”

Even the most decorated recruiters need someone to bring them into the fold. Nelsen recalls a neighbor convincing him to join MSGA during the organization’s infancy in the early 1960s.

“I think I’ve been with MSGA pretty much from the start,” says Nelsen, who also helped found the Murray County Corn and Soybean Growers board. “The organization has come a long ways.”

Nelsen has two grandsons who farm, and plans to continue recruiting.

“I’ve got the time to keep doing it,” he said. “It’s nice to win awards, but it’s not why I do it. When MSGA does well, we all win.”

Nelsen was honored at ASA’s 2017 Awards Banquet in San Antonio during Commodity Classic.

“It’s amazing that Bob still takes the time to do that one-on-one contact,” Gillie said. “He is the rock star of MSGA membership.”

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