The membership dilemma

Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) brings the membership challenge up time and again. Where are we now after all the initiatives to increase membership in the UK and Ireland?

At a club meeting recently John Hewko the General Secretary of Rotary International addressed the members. During his talk he mentioned that there is a concern over falling membership numbers in three countries they are USA, Japan and United Kingdom. The overall membership number of 1.2m was being maintained by an increase in membership from the developing countries. So the United Kingdom is grouped with the countries raising concern on membership but should it be?

There is a concern over falling membership numbers in three countries they are USA, Japan and United Kingdom.”

In the last Blog I looked at the unique position of Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) and the opportunities that should be on offer to the members within these islands. The committee structure is unique within Rotary International and is the envy of the rest of the world. So why the falling membership, and what of the initiatives trying to halt the rush to the door, and the projects attracting and welcoming prospective new members.

I also mentioned I would look at membership within RIBI and look at what could be done. Rotarians like myself and along with a few colleagues are genuinely concerned at the falling numbers and even more concerned at the falling interest in the activities of RIBI. In talking with members of clubs it becomes apparent that there is a big disconnect from RIBI to the Districts and the Clubs and ultimately the members.

shutterstock_41190025.jpgNow I can envisage the members of “The Establishment” raising their eyebrows and scratching their heads and telling themselves that this observation is incorrect. If they take this stance I would ask them to think again, step back and look objectively at the situation because all the initiatives and projects you have planned, spent a lot of time and money on are just not working. You need to sit up and smell the coffee and take some real constructive and meaningful action.

Before we move on to some suggestions lets look at what has been done and worked or not worked.

A few years ago we had the campaign from RIBI “We’re for Communities” A lot of  thought and money went into the announcement and implementation. Some things were missing from the launch like a Press Conference and PR related announcements but the campaign and strapline went well. The enquiries from prospective members came in quite large numbers but never materialised in terms of new members. It was thought that the prospects enquired with raised expectations only to be let down at District and or Club level.

In the meantime Rotary International had engaged  one of the largest and world-renowned brand specialists to look at the organisation and they came up with the strapline, “ Join Leaders, Exchange Ideas, Take Action in your Community”. This initiative also embraced a new look Rotary logo and was presented in a Style Guide for District and Club use. I think it would be no exaggeration to say that almost 4 years on this project has just about touched the grass-roots members. But inevitably we move on and the Strapline “People of Action” has appeared from the ether.

However, whilst all this was going on the RIBI membership committee were presenting projects of their own. A grant of $60k was received for an ambitious membership plan with objectives like  “ Vision to implementation of strategy and training” and Club growth” as well as “Rotary GO phase three” to pick just a few. There were targets set against all of the actions running to 8 pages in all. As an aside it would be good to know what happened in Rotary GO Phase 1 and 2?

The question I would ask is if all this time, effort and money was spent in a productive way, where are the results?

It has not worked whichever way it is looked at and we would be kidding ourselves if for one minute we think it has”.

So what needs to be done?

The flexibility offered by Rotary International to members and clubs should be jumped on, embraced and driven forward at lightning pace. I would advise the RIBI Membership Committee to draw a line under the last initiatives and really get to the grass-roots of the organisation here. Please don’t pick up on the ideas and projects as in the past. Presenting without thinking but tailoring them to local levels and needs.

Many would say that is why they failed.

Really reach the members and motivate them such that they can see what value they are getting out of RIBI.  So think out of the box and that involves starting new clubs, satellite clubs, eClubs, or almost any type of club  right across the country. They should meet the local demand and present clubs should be enthused to practically help them along their selected road finding the project exciting. However, not like the old plan just telling what should be done is pointless tell the clubs and members how it is done. Enthuse them with plans for the new club and give them advice and support. How do they publicise the fact they are setting up a new club and how do they reach prospective members. But does the RIBI Membership committee have the people of vision and action to bring these proposed changes about? Their track record to date is not convincing. Putting a plan on paper is the easy part, implementing your plan is yet another challenge.

shutterstock_89720617.jpgAs a result of this Blog and others like it we have members and clubs and also districts popping up saying we have a new club and or we have inducted x new members recently. You know that is to be lauded from the rooftops. But we should ask the question, “ How did you do that and what did you do to attract the new members?” There is a benchmark exercise there somewhere.

So where does all this leave us? I’ll go back to the time I spent speaking to Rotarians on the telephone trying to clear queries for magazine articles. On occasions they thought I worked for RIBI and when I told them I didn’t I got a tirade of what they thought of the set up and some could be pretty outspoken. Some in quite senior positions as District Governors were open in their criticism of RIBI, some gave the set up a few years in existence.

Whatever happens and whatever changes are brought about the reasons ideas and thought should bring the members along with the organisation. It’s always good to remember the sale is made in the client’s mind which means that selling is not telling. Show the members they can get value for money and effort and that way change will come about.

This blogpost was the second guest-blog written by Allan Berry, a Rotarian from District 1080 and former Editor of RIBI’s National Magazine. In a future blog Allan will offer his views and opinions of the work and results of the RIBI Marketing, PR and Communications Committee.

Is Rotary a unique opportunity?

In this the first of a series of blogs we ask the questions that every member of the organisation will ask in their journey through one of the most prestigious organisations in the world.

The other week I met with a good friend for lunch. One of the first announcements he made was that he had left Rotary and he said it was like a weight being lifted from his shoulders.  Now this was a person who had helped start a new club and over the years had been involved in taking part in reviews for RIBI so he had a good idea of the organisation and the system. We did not really go into the precise detail for his leaving we had many discussions over the months, and he had spoken with colleagues and I did not want to go over old ground. In our discussions over the months he had  left me in no doubt that he had become disillusioned with the organisation and it’s ability to adapt to the changing world. I came to the conclusion right or wrong that he reckoned he had done his bit to try to bring about change had got his ideas knocked back so many times that he felt the battle was not worth it. He had found lots of other things to do using his extensive experience in business starting companies and using his marketing and sales skills and I knew he did not give in lightly.

I came away from our lunch somewhat concerned . Here was a good Rotarian who had a lot to offer, had a lot of respect for the organisation and was  still supporting the Rotary Foundation but could see no future requirement for his skills and talents and as we talked even less for the organisation within the UK and Ireland. Was he right I wondered to give up and move on? What was so wrong with the organisation from his point of view to bring him to this decision?

In recent discussions with other Rotarians in a similar position I realised that his and their thinking was along much the same lines and some had not taken high office they were members of clubs who could see their club failing and were disheartened.

He had left Rotary and he said it was like a weight being lifted from his shoulders.”

As you do, if you are concerned about something you think further and speak with a few people to balance your view. Should I be alarmed.

Time and again sadly I came up against the same opinions, some members were taking over being President of their club for a second or even a third time but had no club members to take other posts. Others turned up at meetings now when there was a good speaker, some turned up each week because they had friends at the club and just enjoyed a chat and a meal once a week. There were others who would turn out to shake a bucket or help with a charity event but that was as far as  their involvement went. All of them realised they needed new members to freshen the club and all of them like myself think it’s a great organisation that needs to modernise fast to make it relevant to modern day living.

How many others will take flight and offer their skills and expertise to other organisations outside Rotary?

So on their behalf I did some more thinking and came up with a few thoughts and of course questions.

Is the organisation changing, is it adapting to a changing world, do the people leading the organisation see the need for change and understand what needs to be done? Indeed do they have the vision, courage, leadership skills, enthusiastic devotion and organisational ability to bring much needed change about?

Some of us have been asking these questions for years now and the more we ask the more urgent our questions become.

Before suggestions are made it is perhaps worth reflecting on Rotary the organisation in the United Kingdom and Ireland referred to as Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland RIBI. The structure is unique within the Rotary organisation in that there is an association of clubs forming various committees and groups at the top of which is a General Council consisting of the District Governors representing the clubs across RIBI all led by an elected President with a team around them.

This structure is administered by a team based in Alcester known as the Secretariat.

With such a unique organisation and structure come unique opportunities not on offer anywhere else within Rotary. So in many respects members of Rotary within RIBI have two bites of the cherry. They can engage the facilities of Rotary HQ in Evanston Illinois and also what’s on offer at RIBI.

With these unique opportunities comes a responsibility to engage and add value for members within their field of support. RIBI have various committees within their remit to facilitate many aspects of the Rotary Clubs activities within these islands.

“With such a unique organisation and structure come unique opportunities not on offer anywhere else within Rotary.”

Unquestionably the most important of these committees is Membership Development and Retention closely followed by Public Image, then The Rotary Foundation, Community Service, International Service, Vocational Service and Youth Service.

Within all of these committees/groups/teams call them what you will are truly devoted and passionate Rotarians tasked with supporting Districts, Clubs and Members within RIBI. They are or should be tasked with changing mindset and lifting morale, enthusiasm and motivation. I reckon this support is required more now than ever but I’m struggling to find it. The line of communication is from the committee to district then to club and of course the most important person in Rotary the grass roots club member.

I believe if we were to ask many club members, who are the backbone of the organisation but have never been called to high office, what value RIBI adds to their experience as a member and if as a result they would be more engaged in the organisation the answer would almost always be a negative.

So lets face it, the stark truth, something somewhere is wrong and not working, something is fundamentally wrong.  Is it in the execution of the plans of these committees, is it the communication from RIBI to the members after all the chain is long and a link could easily break, result: information and engagement lost. Does RIBI have a pragmatic communication plan, is it planning new and innovative ways to alter mindset to open minds of present members to accept new ideas in the second decade of this century?

Something somewhere is wrong and not working, something is fundamentally wrong.”

So I return to my friend who I had met for lunch and of course discussed Rotary. He is no longer part of the team but he so wanted to be to play his part to help Rotary grow. He was never in a competition for recognition for himself or his club he just wanted to get on and do a good job for Rotary but let’s face it he was rejected and dejected and if you are reading this I am sure you will be concerned as there are so many like him in the organisation. He was a talent we could ill afford to lose, there are a lot more like him so it is beholden on us to try and keep such members, to engage and motivate them to spread the Rotary message of doing good in the world. We say we are people of action but that begins at home so let’s see if the people of action can take the right actions to keep good members, enage the present ones and be attractive enough to encourage people to join us.

This blogpost was written by Allan Berry, a Rotarian from District 1080 and former Editor of RIBI’s National Magazine. In a future blog Allan will take a look at ways and ideas of engaging members present and prospective.

If you are interested in writing a one-off post or become a regular contributor to please feel free to get in touch. (Please note that anonymous posts or posts under pseudonyms will not be published.)


Images in order of appearance by David Bush by CC