How to fix Rotary in only Eight-Minutes

This time two years ago – I published a blog which asked the question “Would you Join today?” The blog post basically posed the question, if you knew then what you know now – would you still join Rotary International?

Two years on – has much changed?

Well to be honest – not really.

The organisation in these islands still seems to be perilously close to the soft sands of the beach with an increasing number of deserters taking their chances and jumping ship to find other ways of doing ‘their Rotary’ in local communities around the country that doesn’t involve wearing a tie, attending lunch or sporting a small lapel pin. In other words – doing Rotary without being a Rotarian.

So what is being done to get the ship afloat again?

Well, credit where credit is due to whoever had the idea of bringing together a bunch of individuals around a table at RotaryGBI Headquarters in Alcester a couple of weeks ago to discuss the future direction of travel for Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland.

The group was made up of a cross-section of individual Rotarians – all understood to be representing themselves and with no delegated authorities from their Districts or Clubs or other groups. It seems the average age in attendance was over 60 and around half to be Past District Governors. However, the one common-denominator in those invited to attend being that they all currently or previously held strong views regarding the way in which Rotary in these islands was being managed and operated.

Was this an internal attempt to curtail the ‘keyboard warrior Rotarians‘ or perhaps even to divide and conquer a perceived bunch of ‘mavericks’ – who knows? But let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and say that it was a positive step forward in considering how RotaryGBI will be positioned in the future.

The group was chaired by Rotarian David Hodge, Leader of Conservative led Surrey Council – himself a focus of national news surrounding alleged “sweetheart deals” on the very week of the future direction meeting. So he may have had other pressing issues on his mind over and above the management of a bunch of Rotary egos. But from all accounts – he seems to have been able to keep focussed and has been credited with chairing the reasonably meeting well.

In terms of who else attended in addition to those who received their personal invites; conspicuous by their absence was the RotaryGBI future leadership. It does seem strange on the basis that this meeting was about the future direction for RotaryGBI that some of our incoming Presidents were, well, to put it politely under-represented? Just a minor thought…if we are looking to the future would it not have been appropriate for those receiving the chain of authority to have been in attendance – even just as observers?

So understands that in a meeting which was concluded in under four hours; those in attendance were given eight minutes to make their ‘pitch’ on what they thought was needed to improve the organisation – and give it a better chance of survival as we move towards the second decade of the new millennium.

What were they hoping to achieve in such a short window? Only they will know…

Anyway, having given it some thought if I had to make an 8 minute pitch – here are some suggestions that I would have presented:

  1. Openness, transparency and accountability – there are still too many meetings and sessions taking place in camera. The world in which we now live expects and requires meetings to be undertaken in public. From our Parliaments to our local Council’s – ‘the people’ can now watch either in person or online. So should we expect anything less from a modernising Rotary? Whether interpreted rightly or wrongly – there does appear to be a level of secret-operations in what is going on behind the scenes.
  2. Operated as a business – yes, RotaryGBI is a membership organisation, but there are a number of issues around the way in which the finances are being operated. For example, how many members realise that the Annual RotaryGBI soirée – otherwise known as the Conference has consistently returned a sizeable loss? In business one may get away with that position for a year, but in year two it either washes its face/turns a profit or it’s binned. There needs to be a review in terms of how the organisation works to make sure it – at the least – breaks even.
  3. Remove the position of RotaryGBI President – the organisation already has a worldwide President, is one not enough? Is the actual Rotary International President not good enough for these islands? Why do we need our own? Does this not simply create an additional layer of administration and unnecessary bureaucracy? Have we ever measured the Return on Investment of the national President? Surely a saving to be made there…
  4. Create a ‘Board’ – part of the problem as I see it with Rotary is the fact the ‘Administration’ changes annually. In fact for those in the know, the Administration team only really have nine months to do their ‘thing’ before they become yesterday’s news. The creation of a Board that would allow longer-term governance in a more strategically structured manner – with more business and less ego involved in driving RotaryGBI forward. Oh, and one more thing – Board members should be the right people for the job, not those who have previously held senior positions in the ‘old guard’.
  5. Let District Governors run their Districts – Number 4 removes the need for a General Council of District Governors. Let them play with their own District and leave the national positioning and strategy to the Board, dovetailing with other Rotary International worldwide initiatives.
  6. A clear membership strategy – Not some gimmicky initiative which on paper looks like a success but out there doesn’t actually put more ‘bums on seats’. We need  rethink about how we can engage communities and individuals to make them want to become part of Rotary again, which leads me perfectly onto my final point…
  7. Allow Rotaract to become part of Rotary – This is probably the one for which I would have made the strongest pitch.If Rotary is to survive then we must look to the younger generations. And unlike many other membership organisations, Rotary has a ready-made organisation right under our noses – It’s called Rotaract. However, all too often, Rotaractors are ‘kept down’ or patronised as ‘the youngsters’ by the Rotarians who are actually trying to support them in other ways.Isn’t it interesting that for a meeting looking to think about the future of Rotary that there were absolutely no Rotaractors at the table a couple of weeks ago? Why?I spoke with someone earlier in the year about the role of Rotaract in the future of Rotary – and they were keen to have them at them involved – but only as an observer! Really? Yes, why not bring them along, let them watch how the ‘adults’ do it and they can learn from us. They can observe but not contribute! How very patronising…I’m not sure I know many Rotaractors who would sign up to this ‘non-participative’ position. The Rotaractors I know are actually more into ‘doing’ than most Rotary Clubs.

There are many more issues (as you’ll find trawling through previous blog posts) but those would be my thoughts in terms of the key priorities to take the organisation forward.

The meeting referred to earlier in this post took place the day before a General Council meeting – and it is understood a report on what was discussed was then issued to District Governors at their meeting the following day. What impact can a ‘hot off the press report’ make to a General Council meeting? Will the notes/minutes be revisited in the future? I guess what becomes of the original meeting remains to be seen?

So, I’ll end as I started – and will say well done to those who made the effort to have the meeting and for having the courage to look to the future of the Rotary Product in these Islands. Well done for ‘fessing up face-to-face with some of Rotary’s more vocal contributors who have actually been critical of some of the ‘Establishment’ sitting in the room. What happens next? Who knows.

And anyway, does it really matter? Do the Regular Rots out there actually care what is going on beyond their own Club providing Rotary survives? In all honesty, probably not. But that is for another blog on another day.

Either way, let’s make that first meeting in Alcester earlier in February the start of a process and not just another tick in the box, purporting to be a consultation session like many that have gone before and then found themselves ultimately destined to File 13.


Images in order of appearance by Stewit by CC

Will the last one to leave…

It’s been a while…

But I’ve been prompted to get back to the RotaryBlogger keyboard on the basis of the increasing numbers of conversations I am having with fellow Regular Rots that are giving serious consideration to making a quiet backdoor exit from what they once believed was a wonderful organisation.

Now, to put this in perspective, I’m not speaking to hundreds of Rotarians around the world who are thinking of leaving – but I am in direct or indirect contact with quite a few who are giving some serious consideration as to whether Rotary International is giving them any of the satisfaction or fulfilment it once did.

Despite the best efforts of many initiatives and the way in which the figures are presented, it seems from those in the know that net membership figures across the organisation are effectively dropping year on year.


Is it really moving towards a position of “Could the last one to leave please turn off the lights” for Rotary International?

Are we now getting to a position where the age profile of the organisation has reached the ‘tipping point‘ many people spoke of a few years ago? This tipping point being the position whereby the demographic direction of the organisation gets to a position whereby it is non-recoverable, i.e. destined to continue on the same trajectory on which it has travelled for the last number of years and nothing is going to stop it.

Take the issue of age; I happened to stumble across a photograph posted on Facebook by a Rotarian currently attending Governor Elect Training this weekend in Madrid. In a line up of eleven posers in the photo – I would have put the average of those in the gallery in their mid-sixties – and even then, admittedly I may have been a little kind in reaching my conclusions. But without equivocation there is no doubt their age profile lay within the 65-75 year old age bracket.

On a personal basis, I have slowly come to the conclusion, perhaps even realisation that Rotary is not modern enough for today’s society. And despite all efforts previously been made, only a matter of weeks ago a work colleague confirmed she still had the perception that Rotary was a retired, male-only organisation affiliate to the Freemasons!

After all this time – why haven’t we got it right?

In terms of the other equalities issues we are still way off the mark as well and it would seem that Rotary is nowhere near as diverse at it would paint itself to be or it would have the outside world believe.

Based on the UK Census Data of 2011 – 51% of the population was female (yes, you read that right – females actually held the balance in the most recent census), 87% of the UK was white and 18% deemed themselves to a long-term health problem or disability. In addition, an Office for National Statistics survey in 2013 assessed that 93.5% of the population classed themselves as ‘heterosexual’ or ‘straight’ with 1.5% being Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual (LGB) and the remaining 5% preferring not to say.

Therefore if we are talking about RotaryGBI and reflecting the 2011 census – then based on a membership of 50,000 Regular Rots we should therefore have:

  • 6,500 non-white Rotarians;
  • 9,000 with a long-term health issue or disability;
  • 750 Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual Rotarian (with the potential to be 3,250)
  • 25,500 female Rotarians

I am sure these figures would be reflective in many of the countries where Rotary is prevalent.

So as we look at the demographics of age, gender, sexuality, disability and race – it seems that Rotary International (certainly in UK and Ireland) doesn’t seem to be reflective of the changing face of the society to which it claims to be very much a part.

However, during my travels around Rotary Clubs, I have heard of potentially racist jokes being printed in Club and even District magazines; I have heard of homophobic behaviour and what I believe has recently been referred to as ‘locker-room’ chat taking place at meetings, I have even printed blog posts regarding female members being ‘encouraged’ to join other Clubs and yet little – if anything is ever done about these things [“Rotary’s Ticking Time Bomb” – May 2015].

So is it any wonder that modern, equality-savvy, feminists like myself are becoming increasingly disillusioned with what is clearly developing into a more and more out of date organisation – and therefore taking a personal decision to disengage as a member?

Only this week I read on social media a post from a positive, forward thinking and young Rotarian from Down Under who is probably one of the most enthusiastic Rotarians I have had the pleasure to come across over recent years – that they had been given a hard time by another Rotarian for apparently using Rotary for ‘self-promotion’. Reading ‘enthusiastic’s’ response you could hear that he was royally p*ssed off – but still offered a far-more, sensible and balanced comeback that the prompting comment.

But why would anyone do this? Jealousy? Envy? Keeping the youngsters down? Stop the rising stars? To be honest, I don’t know – I have no idea. But what I do know is that – such an example of this is yet another ‘tipping point‘ moment – one of those fragments in time where thoughts like ‘why do I do this?’ comes into your mind and having the potential to make an undecided Rotarian press the big red button and slip out the backdoor.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it – in 2016 there are so many ways to do ‘Rotary’ and many of those in posts and positions delegated to be making and taking decision on behalf of the Regular Rots would be well placed to remember:

  • I don’t need to endure weekly ‘corporate chicken’ to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need to pay a subscription to an organisation to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need to attend regional or national meetings to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need to be bound by outdated rules and regulations to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need a top-heavy hierarchical structure to govern me to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need to be connected to an old-fashioned and out of date organisation to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need a Rotary Club to connect with similar minds to do good in my local community.

This list could go on and on and I am sure you the reader could add your own “I don’t need to’s….” to the list as well.

So, as RotaryBlogger returns for one of the now infrequent posts – please do what this blog was created to do – and think!

Think about this decline in membership we are witnessing and perhaps at the same time as trying to attract new members – maybe think about why new members are not looking to join our organisation? And always remember it’s easier to retain a member than recruit a member – trust me, this is a very well documented fact in business.

Remember when Coca-cola unilaterally changed the formula of their soft drink. They could have done all the promotion and advertising they wanted to get their customers back – but the consumer no longer liked the product and therefore stopped buying it. It wasn’t until they undertook a bit of soul-searching and effectively admitted they didn’t know best and hadn’t necessarily got it right that things started changing for the better.

Maybe…just maybe there’s a lesson for our Rotary King and [infrequently] Queen-makers in there somewhere…

Images in order of appearance by Alexander Synaptic by CC