Decline of ‘commitment’ organisations…why?

It seems somewhat ironic that on Easter Sunday an STV news report pops up on my twitter feed with the headline “Scottish church attendances ‘halved over last 30 years’” albeit that the statistics contained in the report came as absolutely no surprise.

You see, I remember that as a boy we would receive an occasional visit from our local Church of Scotland Minister – a man whom from memory was always dressed in black, very serious and was given extra-special attention when he arrived. (By extra-special treatment – I mean he got the china cups my sister and I weren’t allowed to touch – from the back of the cupboard in the kitchen.) TV and radio was turned off – and we had all to gather round to listen to this very solemn – albeit nice – man.

The 2016 Churches survey in Scotland results have been released revealing over 50% decline in regular attendees. Should RotaryGBI engage the same process and also make their findings public too?

I’m pretty sure if the Minister turned up nowadays, my modern-day equivalent wouldn’t even look up from their games console – and my modern-day mum wouldn’t have special cups for special people either.

The STV report about church-going in Scotland outlines that less than 400,000 regularly went to church last year compared with more than double that number in the early 80’s – with a further reduction of 100,000 attendees by 2025 accordingly the Brierley Consultants census.

Sound familiar?

This article got me thinking about Rotary in these islands which, like the church has a requirement for people to engage, subscribe and become members. I further considered how, along with many other membership organisations – online information seem to point to them all watching membership numbers decline – despite the population increasing.

More people in the country – fewer people joining membership organisations…why?

As I understand it, the vast majority of what may in the past have been referred to as Community Institutional Organisations; they appear to be seeing a very rapid decline in those signing up to their organisation. With one notable exception – that being  The WI, who’s strapline is ‘Inspiring Women‘ – they seem to have single-handedly turned the tide and witnessed a substantial increase in interest in new members and even new Clubs over the post ‘Calendar Girls’ years. And all power to them.

So does modern society no longer relate or need the set-ups offered by membership organisations such as Rotary (understood to be ~47,000 members), Inner Wheel (~17,000 members) or Round Table (understood to be less than 10,000) or for that matter the church as demonstrated in Scotland?

Through I have long campaigned for equality and diversity across our organisation – so I can accept a female only organisation no more than I can turn a blind-eye to the overtly male-only Rotary Clubs that – despite what some may say – definitely exist in this organisation.

However, credit where credit is due and therefore on the back of ‘Calendar Girls‘ TheWI has grasped an opportunity and rebranded, revamped and reinvigorated itself in a way that many other membership organisations could take lessons. Just go and take a look a TheWI website – you’ll see that starting from the ‘brand mark’ it is attractive and modern and has that ‘social media‘ feel to it – promoting the organisation in a way that is relatable to a modern online ‘campaigning’ and ‘conversational’ culture.

Speaking as recently as this week about Rotary and its challenges, someone commented to me, that a lot of the ‘old brigade’ were flattered to have been asked to join Rotary in the first place and may not wish to give up that distinction as they see it. A great point well made I thought.

Modern culture no longer expects ‘secret organisations’ (perceived or otherwise) whereby an individual’s only way of becoming part of that organisation is to be invited. They modern mind is such they think, “if I have something to give, I will offer – if they don’t want it some other organisation will.”

Millennials no longer see the exclusivity of such an ‘invitation only’ organisation as being attractive – in fact from discussions with many of them, they actually see this modus-operandi as a turn off – reminiscent of ‘the old school-tie network’ and something they would run a hundred miles from having any association. Modern professionals are under so much conduct scrutiny in their work-lives (which for many spills into their private life) that any whiff of ‘links to institutional organisations’ is now positively frowned upon.

How many modern workplace environments would allow an extended lunch to attend a Rotary meeting, have a bite to eat and a glass of wine – just because you are a member. Crikey, most workplaces have an absolute zero-tolerance to drinking during work hours – so the lunchtime club just doesn’t wash.

Interestingly, as the church in Scotland survey results created by Brierly Consultants become public it demonstrates that the areas where the decline has been stalled or in some cases actually reversed is in locations where the church has seen an increase in the immigrant populations joining the congregation.

Ironically, this is another area I have long referenced throughout this blog in terms of equality and diversity. Perhaps Rotary in GBI needs to consider a proactive campaign to look at attracting some diverse groups in our society to join which may actually help turn the membership decline tide in some communities; welcoming BAME groups in the same way the church in Scotland seems to. Who knows?

To conclude this occasional blog, I’ll return to TheWI; One thing is for certain – despite the amazing turnaround they’ve had on the back of their ‘Calendar Girls’ phenomenon and their subsequent reinvention – I am absolutely not advocating that RotaryGBI go out and find their own ‘Calendar Boys & Girls’ – definitely, definitely not…remember the desired outcome of anything we do is to slow the decline not enhance it…

So with no offence intended, we do not need to see our line up of Past RotaryGBI Presidents posing naked in a different month of a calendar with only their modesty protected purely by a strategically placed bell, badge or bear…God forbid…!

And on that note….Happy Easter, off you go and get stuck into your chocolate eggs.


Images in order of appearance by Chris Walton by CC

30 thoughts on “Decline of ‘commitment’ organisations…why?

  1. Larry Branyan says:

    Another well written and engaging article on the need for Rotary to embrace the 21st Century. If the WI can reinvent their organisation as has the Scouting organisation, then there surely must be hope for Rotary providing that the existing members are willing to accept the need for change!

    1. Thanks for reading the blog and for your very kind comments Larry. There are a number of membership organisations that seem to be hitting the targets – including Scouting, who in some areas have waiting lists for individuals to join Clubs – then you are right Rotary has to take a long hard look at itself, engage professionals and ask some really tough questions not only of its members but also of the public (as potential members).

  2. says:

    Very thought provoking blog….I must ask our neighbour Club with 50% women members why they chose Rotary instead of WI. However, thinking about WI and having attended some meetings and met the current Chairwoman Janice ,I believe they are not a volunteering organisation but a campaigning one(see below)with a penchant for developing their members skills and talents. Considering the British history for womens rights since the Suffragettes ,there is a huge market for such an organisation which in todays society is bound to grow . Rotary still has a male image . It thus has a different challenge for marketing its product. WI and Rotary have significantly different products to sell. Maybe we should look at our Marketing Plan again.
    WI Campaigns
    Women Reaching Women Women and Climate Change Fast Fashion Mission Milk Packaging and Waste Fair deal for dairy farmers
    SOS for High Streets and Town Centres
    Love Your Libraries


    1. Thanks for reading the blog and taking time to comment Mike.

      I think you are absolutely right about TheWI in terms of the campaigning – and I think I actually pick that up in the blog. Perhaps this is much more along the lines of where modern society is placed.

      Social media (and I include blogs like make it much easier to have those campaigning conversations with like-minded people – that you don’t even necessarily have to know to have commonality and shared interests and outcomes.

      There has been much made Rotary being apolitical and areligious – and I genuinely believe this is a positive position to take. However, there are humanitarian causes (albeit slightly political) that Rotary could put its weight behind and support – but don’t. Taking such a stance could potentially bring Rotary International to a market that probably doesn’t even know the organisation exists.

      It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the longer term.

  3. says:

    Thanks for am interesting blog. Well we can follow the same pattern in the Nordic countries. I just hope that the clubs dare to do something different and new. I enjoyed the decisions taken at last year’s COL. We must promote that we are allowed to change. It’s not forbidden.
    I happened to visit the Kontiki Museum in Oslo during March. Thor Heyerdahl has said ” Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard that they exist in the minds of some people.”

    1. Thanks Nicke for taking part in the discussion. I no longer think we can just live in hope – we actually have to start delivering for the organisation to survive long-term. I love your quote from Thor Heyerdahl. Brilliant.

      “Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard that they exist in the minds of some people.”

  4. David Ellis says:

    Great blog again, provoking much thought.
    The WI have been blessed with great leaders over recent years, I fear that Rotary in these islands will progress despite our leaders not because of them, controversial, yes, but sadly very true. Great leaders praise their teams NOT themselves. We have just had our national conference which was a self congratulatory fest, I did this, I did that, I started this there is no “I” in team

    1. As ever thanks for that David – and also thanks for sticking your head above the parapet. You have seem much more ‘behind the scenes’ than many other who read or comment on this blog. And I think the way in which you make your comments reflect that you are not scared to just ‘tell it like it is’.

      All too often, things become about self-congratulations and cronyistic back-slapping. You only have to look at the balance of ‘me’ and ‘you’ in the recent RotaryGBI PResident’s Q&A to see this very point in action. On reflection I wonder whether someone actually told the President before the filming that it wasn’t a campaign video and that she didn’t actually need re-electing…

      Let’s hope you are correct in what you say, however I fear that first the organisation has to stop the decline and survive before it can actually look to make progress.

      Thanks again for commenting David.

  5. says:

    I love this blog, yes I agree we need to be more pertinent to the world. I like the idea of “promoting the organisation in a way that is relatable to a modern online ‘campaigning’ and ‘conversational’ culture.”
    I feel that will help us reverse our decline. Our founder was very modern in 1905 its time we were again.


    1. Thanks Stuart – glad you enjoyed another of my occasional blogs.

      I am glad you have picked up the intent from the information I posted. As I have said many previous blogs – individuals no longer require Rotary to do Rotary; there are so many ways to be a contributor and/or activist in your local, regional and even national and international communities.

      I can go to another social media webpage – start a petition and if it gets over 100,000 of my fellow citizens – it will actually be discussed in Parliament. I can also discuss the cause with many people around the country – practically 100% of whom I will never have met. ‘Campaigning’ and ‘conversational’ – that’s the society in which we now live.

      I love your point about Paul Harris – not only was he modern in 1905, some may even have described him as ‘maverick’ in his way of thinking at that time…sometimes being out on a limb is actually no bad thing.

      Thanks again for your contribution.

  6. Rob Thurston says:

    Great thought provoking blog..

    Having been in Rotaract in the early 90’s and invited to join a Rotary Club when I was only 30, I joined and survived only 18 months or so. Why?
    1) Male only which to me in 1994 was absurd.
    2) Full of old fogies when I was in my early 30’s so no common link.
    3) Every suggestion I made was met with ‘ it’ll never work’ so I left.

    I re-joined in 2015 and found a vastly different set up albeit in a different club as surprise surprise the other club had folded. The club is still quite old with an average age of well over 60. My wife and I have lowered that ave age somewhat BUT I now recognise that in the not too distant future I will be one of those old fogies so we must as an organisation avoid that and also to welcome younger more energetic members but how to do that ???

    My one huge criticism of Rotary in GBI is lack of real publicity. There is much internal publicity and a very small amount of external but not nearly enough. Just look at the likes of Evan Burrell in Australia to see what publicity can achieve via Facebook and other forms of media. A large minority of my club do not do Facebook or any form of social media. Some do not even own a computer.

    But lastly RIBI voted for huge increases in its budgets and income from clubs this last week despite falling numbers. How that can be justified is beyond me. Our whole club unanimously voted against this and yet it was passed at conference by 76% majority. How mad is that.

    1. Great comments Rob – many of which you touch on still remain to be answered even some 25 years later.

      We are not engaging with our Rotaractors in the way we should. Unfortunately, the information I have been supplied is that the members of the Rotary Club seem to know best and can actually come across as patronising to the Rotaract Clubs. I guess to be fair, it’s a good job the Rotary Clubs are around to keep those young whipper-snappers right!

      No-one has ever been able to tell me the percentage transition from Rotaract to Rotary – which if I were looking into membership recruitment, retention and attrition would be one of the first places I would start. A quick survey to everyone who has joined in the last year to ask, “Have you transferred from Rotaract to Rotary?” will give you a reasonable %age of transfer.

      One key point you really hit upon is the link of ‘commonalities’ in a Club. If I am the only working Rotarian in a Club of say, 45 members then there is no ‘business’ benefit to me being there. We have many more business networking opportunities that have taken over, granted, perhaps what Rotary started.

      I am aware of Clubs who have surveyed their [ageing] members and found that ‘business networking’ comes bottom of the Club’s priorities for members?!?! Sure, that’s going to attract me business individuals to the organisation.

      Thanks for your comments and for picking up on some very important points.

      1. Jasmyn Stich says:

        RE: The percentage of Rotaractors transitioning into Rotary – Jennifer Jones told us, at the Rotaract Conference in Manchester, that the current percentage is 5% (on a worldwide scale).
        I’m not sure where this number comes from, but I would hope that the RI Vice-President would have accurate numbers!

  7. Tony Jordan says:

    I very much like the open discussion generated by your blog thank you.
    I have a specific area of interest, that of Rotaract and I would be interested to have your views and those of your readers as to where Rotaract as an organisation currently sits, and where you think it might best sit in the context of the future of Rotary
    Tony Jordan RIBI Rotaract Chairman 2016/17

    1. Rob Thurston says:

      As a former Rotaractor myself Tony in a district that had 19 clubs which now has none (District 1100) – a very sad state of affairs is what it is I’m afraid. And it reflects Rotary in a number of ways.

      1. says:

        It’s a great pity about Rotaract that quite a number of Districts have no clubs and D1100 is one of them. Whichever way you look at it they are the future of Rotary. I recall booking the Rotaract officer in D1100 to speak at a club meeting and the day he was due to speak he cancelled and told me he had resigned. He would her been a very good Rotaract officer, keen, motivational and inspiring. A number of clubs envision Rotaractors as the also ran and see them as a younger source of help at a events but of course they are a lot more than that. The sooner we get to grips with the Rotaract experience the better.

        1. Tony Jordan says:

          Hi Allan
          All we need to reboot & restart Rotaract in D1100 is one Rotarian in one club to have the vision to want to do so, the rest is a process that Rotaract themselves in neighbouring districts would be only too pleased to engage with and the RGBI Exec team including me would be at their service.
          Just a thought . . If you have Interact clubs in your district, what pathway exists for those Interact members to continue their commitment to service after attaining 18 years of age ? I would be very happy to talk Rotaract to Rotarians in your district. Thank you Tony

      2. Tony Jordan says:

        I recently presented the facts regarding active Rotaract clubs across the 25 districts at the regional assembly in London where Rotaract had a full day breakout session. The figures show 54 active clubs across 23 districts but a significant number of those districts have only one active Rotaract club hence the current strategy employed by me, RIBI and RGBI is to support, strengthen and develop our existing active clubs to ensure their future sustainability.
        In parallel with this we are engaging with Rotarians in Rotary clubs to establish new Rotaract clubs with over 6 having been formed in the year to date.
        There is much that can be done to recognise and promote Rotaract as a viable and valuable integral part of the family of Rotary.
        Rotaract is alive and kicking across Great Britian & Ireland and I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with this truly great group of people.
        If you’re not signed up to receive the monthly Rotaract on line newsletter then please e mail me ( to be regularly enlightened as to what Rotaractors are doing. Thanks Tony

    2. Thanks for your input Tony – and well done for being one of the few RotaryGBI Officer Bearers who are willing to enter into open discussion about our organisation within the Blog.

      I’m not sure I am placed to comment in terms of Rotaract – suffice to say that my conversations with Rotaractors is such that they do not see the transition from Rotaract to Rotary. As has been said before, the age differential between them is too great – therefore commonalities do not exist, ergo relationships are difficult to develop.

      My personal view is that a Rotaractor should automatically be classes as a member the ‘sponsoring’ Rotary Club. Let the Rotaract Club operate as it wishes, but at least have the link with the Club and not just a handful of the transition members who hang around.

      I have so many examples of where Rotarian have behaved patronisingly towards Rotaractors both in person and online. One of the primary areas for Rotary to concentrate upon is understanding how the ‘young generation’ (NB – deliberately patronising) work in modern society.

      With no disrespect to you or you predecessors Tony, look at the fact that the RotaryGBI Chair isn’t even a Rotaractor. I’ve asked the question before, why not? But to date – nobody has been able to give me an answer other than – it’s the way it’s always been done. Can you imagine how radical it would be to have a Rotaractor at the table/on Executive with a voice, a vote and full right to be there to represent their organisation?

      Example, look at the numbers who attended the national Rotaract Conference in comparison to the numbers at the Rotary conference last week. All relative? Well, no actually – the fact is that national conferences are now looked upon as passé. Why would I travel across the country when I can conduct my business online, in webinars or by other means of communication – all done from the comfort of my own home.

      If you are really interested in finding out what people think of Rotaract – and where it sits within the future or Rotary then I would be more than willing to host a guest blog for you on where you can outline your own thoughts and I am absolutely positive you’ll get some constructive feedback. The offer is well and truly open to you.

      1. Tony Jordan says:

        Thank you
        The offer is very much appreciated. I work closely with the Rotaract Executive of which I am a member and the re iprocal arrangement is that two Rotaractors ( Chairman and Chairman Elect) sit on the RIBI Rotaract Committee which I Chair this facilitates detailed dialogue and discussion on a weekly if not daily basis and with this in mind we have an audio meeting tomorrow evening at which I will propose that I accept your invite. Thank you Tony

  8. Mukesh Malhotra says:

    I have actively been saying much of what you have said
    – access the BAME
    – engage with LGBT
    – engage with a more diverse population
    – help to convey Rotstact individuals to create an satellite club which could become a new Rotary club

    Perhaps that’s why if you look at the management hierarchy
    – how diverse is it ?

    we appear to have broken the glass Cellini he with women
    – I fought hard to do this

    When do we see a colourful face ?
    – is Rotary ready for this ?

    Do we still need a “Safe pair of hands ”
    – as described by some Rotarians

    should we be looking to have someone help to “Transform” the organisation ?
    – or is it still a closed shop with a few RIBI Presidents / RI Directors calling the shots

    Let’s see if this year dates are published, Districts & Clubs share this information
    – let’s cross our fingers they do

    1. Thanks for commenting Mukesh – and yes, you have raised many of these issue before though and other social media channels.

      I think you raise a number of very interesting issues. The management hierarchy for example, looks to represents a particular classification of individual and certainly doesn’t seem to be in anyway diverse enough to be representative of the societies in which we live.

      The problem with transforming the organisation is that those running it need to want to do it. The status quo is a bit like a drug to some – it’s addictive. And we all know the in order to address and addiction, the addict needs to admit they have a problem first.

      The way in which the information surveyed and released by the churches in Scotland is a brave, honest and forward thinking way to tackling their declining membership. But can we honestly see RotaryGBI undertake a similar exercise and make it as public as the Brierley Report has? Something tells me – absolutely not.

  9. says:

    Super thoughts. Such organizations, like churches and many Rotary clubs use as an excuse that people are hesitant to join. As you demonstrate, that is really not the case. People will join as long as there is a benefit to do so. In reality, many Rotary clubs hesitate to change to deliver what prospective Rotarians would consider a benefit. Rotary International is pushing diversity. Why not start clubs that specifically deliver benefits to the under served demographics? Seems that District Governors should concentrate on starting new clubs and/or clubs should recognize that they are not really advancing the Object of Rotary locally because they are not adapting to serving the needs of under served demographics. The Rotary engine runs on over 35,000 clubs advancing the Object of Rotary in their local social fabrics. That is why Retention Central closes its recent Rotatorials with the phrase ‘Rotarians make the World Better, One Community at the Time.’ How do clubs in Britain, Scotland, and Ireland make the world better by making their community better?

    1. Jim Henry – thanks for reaching out.

      You have hit the nail on the head – in modern society there has to be an element of WIIFM – what’s in it for me – and that benefit could be community payback.

      I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, people no longer need Rotary to do Rotary.

      An average Rotarian can go online right now and make donations and gift their time to many organisations around the world in exactly the same way they currently do with their Rotary club – only this time they don’t have to sustain another plateful of corporate chicken.

      Increasingly, individuals in Great Britain and Ireland are contributing to their community by volunteering – direct, hands-on community engagement – with immediate personal rewards. Despite what is happening in Rotary and other membership organisations – community volunteering is still happening and in many cases increasing year-on-year.

  10. Brigitte Faubert says:

    Community volunteering is as vibrant as ever and the sad thing is that it is not associated with Rotary, not even by many Rotarians, who keep their Rotary life separate from their volunteering life (if they have any) Business is convinced by the benefits of corporate social responsibility in a much broader way than just fundraising and many large companies encourage employees to engage by giving them 2 days paid leave a year to volunteer.

    Rotarians that really want to make a difference will always find a way to serve and to use their membership to do so. Sadly the reality is that they need to disengage from their Club and District to do so and that Districts do not feel inclined to intervene reengage them . Many of the local community organisations that clubs support were founded and are led by individuals with the commitment that we need in Rotary but Clubs are unwilling to change to make themselves attractive to that type of can do person.. Perhaps we in RIBI clubs need to consider whether our greatest contribution should be to formalise a role of providing companionship for asocial retired men who otherwise would need their families to direct them to the local Age Concern luncheon club. But then the problem will be finding officers to run the Club.

    As a business networking organisation can we honestly say that we run our own businesses or fulfil our professional life in the same way way we allow Rotary to be run at Club, District and RIBI level? Content to put someone in a club/district/RIBI president’s job without training, resource or a team to help them? never reviewing their performance or allowing them to set their own KPIs? At Club level we find Officers who are only doing the job because no-one else will do it. At District level we appear to put bums on vacant seats without any training or support and then appear surprised when they don’t perform and the enterprise makes membership losses or doesn’t grow. Of course, we are scared that the club will fold or the District be amalgamated, so we do nothing. But can we then be surprised that those we would like to become members look at the offering and find it wanting.

    As a founding member of the Executive of the London Federation of Womens Institutes I can confirm that the WI is a campaigning organisation but they have always reflected the needs and interests of members and have kept up to date. Even they are struggling with financing their world famous training college because of declining interest in the courses it currently offers. But Rotary is also a campaigning organisation as shown by the four way test and the Objects of Rotary. Individual clubs even if they are not doing any projects at all could be out there promoting Rotary projects in general. If there is any time that we should be campaigning for peace (as a peace organisation) it is now as the world becomes more and more precarious. When I bore the pants off non Rotarians about what individuals do worldwide supported by Rotary (polio, water, disaster relief etc etc) they are always impressed about the scope of our work (or perhaps by my public speaking skills honed by Rotary) but remain unimpressed by our local image. The WI shouts about its campaigns and makes them relevant to the individual community , as do other organisations. A comment I picked up at Manchester was that ” the speakers were all very well but all they did was ask us for money”. Perhaps that all they know about Rotary because that’s all their contact with Rotary is all about. Clubs hanging on the coat tails of other organisations’ campaigns? Where were the passionate Rotarians on stage telling us about their club projects and asking for moral or vocational support?

    And in answer to the comment about increase in membership fees, we have to face up to the reality of currency rates and in particular a declining membership. the overall costs can be kept the same or even reduced, but need to be shared out between fewer members. Individual members need to look at the total value they are getting for their money, and demand that their own club provide it, so that rather than saying you don’t have to be a Rotarian to do Rotary, we can again say the only way to do Rotary is to be a Rotarian. It is acknowledged there is a demand for our USP – let’s price it realistically and package it in a way that gives value for money (and if that means fewer shorter meetings without dining then so be it). And let’s return to the old fashioned way of Rotary – SERVICE above SELF.

    1. A great reply Brigitte – almost a guest blog in itself. Thanks for stopping by and making comment.

      There is nothing I would come back on in your post.

      I absolutely love your comment:

      “Perhaps we in RIBI clubs need to consider whether our greatest contribution should be to formalise a role of providing companionship for asocial retired men who otherwise would need their families to direct them to the local Age Concern luncheon club.”

      Never a truer word has been uttered. I have had a number of people tell me that the survival of Rotary is by the organisation turning in to a ‘Lunch Club’ for those retired individuals who just want somewhere to meet and eat every week.

      Sadly for many Clubs – this is exactly what their Rotary Club is all about.

      Final point – you would be most welcome to ‘guest blog’ on the site at some point in the future. If you feel the desire – then please feel free to come back to me Brigitte.

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