Is Rotary now a ‘negative’ adjective?

As many readers of this blog will be aware, I along with many others have been becoming increasingly disillusioned by the organisation known as Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland over the last year or so – and through this blog have attempted to prompt constructive discussion regarding the bad and ugly of the association.

I have been a Rotarian for over around 10 years, having been proud to have played a role at a Club, District, National and even a short-stint at an International level – and of course the important role I undertook as a Regular Rot.

Could prospective members be influenced by the use of ‘Rotary’ as a negative adjective?

However, during this time, I have witnessed the membership decline to an all-time low.

During this time, I have perceived an increase in reluctance to embrace the workings of the modern world and a changing society.

During this time, I have witnessed and experienced a change in the way the public now perceive Rotary.

As an individual, I have been becoming increasingly concerned being associated with an organisation viewed in public as negatively-positioned to sit alongside descriptors such as, “racist pub bores”, “golf club sexists”, those who sneer at “food bank users” or physical examples where calling a female Rotarian “little girl” is viewed as acceptable by the person making it.

So it was interesting that an article in The Guardian by Paul Mason titled “A simple people’s Brexit plan can replace May’s flawed strategy” was brought to my attention due to the Rotary references contained therein.

Mr Mason is described by The Guardian online as “writer and broadcaster on economics and social justice” and although his article makes some really interesting points about the upcoming UK General Election and the issues voters may be considering such as Brexit; it is not this part upon which that I wish to focus spotlight. But more the way in which some Regular Rots (and even our National President) has reacted to the Rotary reference in the article.

You see, in his piece Paul Mason states,

“As we face the coming election, then, whose galaxy do you want to be in? What we are up against is not just the antics of the Tory negotiating team – May, Boris Johnson and David Davis – but also a galaxy of pub bores, Rotarians and golf-club sexists.

The reference to Rotary has prompted a letter to the Editor by Eve Conway, President of RotaryGBI in which she attempts to highlight the counter-position, detailing the work or Rotary and at the same time informing the Editor that the article was a “disappointing read” and not reflective of what Regular Rots stand for. Read Eve Conway’s full response here (while link is available).

Now, as one would expect – Eve Conway as National President has herself been lauded by some of social media for having stood up for the objectives of Rotary. She should be congratulated as in the main her response hits all the marks. [That said, I’m not sure I would have been as brave to try to portray the image of a diverse membership with different ages, backgrounds, cultures and viewpoints, all working together on one common ethos. I’m not sure that is as factually correct as she may think as outlined in a previous blog called, “Will the last one to leave…”]

Going back to the article itself – Paul Mason surrounds Rotary’s reference by words associated with many other attributes contrary to the accepting,  modern, multi-cultural country in which we live. And for Rotary in these islands…that should be a worry.

The problem for the Rotary establishment is that they need to urgently open their eyes as to how people ‘out there’ view the organisation. I have undertaken a fair bit of my own ‘anecdotal research’ as to where Rotary is sits in the minds of modern working people – and I am being polite when I say the responses I receive are not particularly well placed.

Well done to the National President in trying to clarify the position with her reply. She has been brave to stick her head above the parapet when other research and anecdotal evidence may easily counter to her claims.

I wonder whether this ‘word association’ with Rotary Clubs and Rotarians in these islands is one that is prompting individuals internally as well as prospective members to consider whether they wish to be associated with an organisation that is used as an adjective to describe the less socially acceptable aspects of society?

It’s definitely had an impact on me.


Images in order of appearance by R~P~M by CC

58 thoughts on “Is Rotary now a ‘negative’ adjective?

  1. says:

    Another good article James.
    As Membership Chair of my club I too am trying to look at Rotary as others see us, and the view is not good.
    Our club recently conducted a survey amongst members and there were some very positive views and those who wanted change, but there were also those who wanted to retain the status quo. Nothing wrong with that per se but in my opinion that will not bring in new members, but if we bring in radical change some of our older members will leave, so escalating the demise of a club that is still doing good locally and further afield, a fact we should never lose sight of.
    The final question in our survey was ‘do you think our club will be around in 5 years time?’ The majority said ‘no’, which is sad for a club that has been in the town since 1932, but times are changing in most organisations where commitment is needed.
    Hopefully the establishment of satellite clubs may help, with the satellite eventually morphing into the existing club. The problem is do enough members of clubs with an average age in the mid 70’s have the appetite and energy to try to make this happen?
    We shall see.

    1. Thanks Ron – interesting comments about your Club Survey. As you say, hopefully satellite clubs will supporting the necessary (in my view) changes to Clubs as they develop and bring in the much needed new professionals into Rotary.

  2. Paul Hickson says:

    I think it would have been helpful to this blog if a further letter to the Guardian had been included so I attach it here

    This is written by those who understand the benefit and impact Rotary can achieve. Presumably they didnt have to write to the Guardian but wanted to correct an impression left by the original article.
    RIBI is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and this blog ensures it is held to account but before we continually lambast them and ourselves can we have slightly more of a focus on the ‘good’ rather than the bad and ugly.
    Can I suggest that rather than accept Paul Masons article Rotarians write to the Guardian and indeed other national newspapers providing examples of the amazing work we do across the UK and internationally or perhaps more constructively we invite Paul Mason to a District or National Conference so he can gain a better understanding of what we really do stand for so he might write a further article. That might help address our image challenge far more effectively than continually beating ourselves up

    1. Thanks for taking time to read and comment on the blog Paul.

      Appreciate you posting the other letter to The Guardian as well. This further letter in effect further enhances what Eve Conway said in her letter – neither the blog nor I dispute what is being said, but the point being made is the use of ‘Rotary’ as a negative adjective – and let’s be honest about it, Paul Mason’s article isn’t the first time this has happened.

      This blog wasn’t about further lambasting RotaryGBI – they’ve probably had plenty of that through this blog and other social media platforms already. However, they need to be aware as to the words alongside which ‘Rotary’ is now being placed in the media – written by some well respected journalists/reporters with massive social media followerships.

      It will however be good to see how your ‘Save our City’ project develops and what the net gain of membership directly attributable to the initiative.

      1. Paul Hickson says:

        Whilst accepting we must always change and be aware -perception is always reality- I think the best response to Rotary being perceived in a negative light is to continually find ways to portray it in a positive manner.

        By the way it is Mike Harvey’s club who is looking to create new links with a common objective to ‘Save Our City’ and it is heartening to see that he is remaining positive about Rotary as well

  3. says:

    Also I am the incoming Membership Chairman and if asked the same question “will you still exist as a RC in 5 years time?”..the answer is “Yes-we are not going to die”. Lets be positive.We are planning to partner up with a group of local businessmen who are trying to save the City ,increasing footfall ,the length of stay in the city factors and rejuvenate our community.These people are young businessmen and women.It means we will have a new regular access to the younger b people trying to run their businesses in the City. We will be able to talk with them ,invite them to come and see what we do in Rotary and eventually get newer younger members….a recipe for the future growth of Rotary in our area….a win-win partnership -our human capital combining with their challenges to grow their business and get together…..go go go ! “We are not signing a suicide note-why should we “?

  4. I had dinner last night with a friend and he is coming up to retirement in a about four years time and he said he was thinking of joining a gentlemen’s club in the city to network.

    I suggested he might like to think about Rotary and he dismissed it totally out of hand saying it was outdated and boring … we had a discussion but it was not an easy conversation as he would not change his viewpoint … I concluded he was not suitable for Rotary of the future so I gave up ..

    Tthe point here is that it is difficult to change a perception once set even with someone who knows me and how I do Rotary!!

    Even though Rotary in moving towards a more diverse and progressive organisation in some quarters, it still has a legacy of members / clubs that reinforce the journalist’s comment with regalia, loyal toasts, grace and hierarchical rules and “silo” thinking. Not helped by posts that attack the Journalist as peddalling “lefty claptrap”.

    1. Thanks Martin – These are very real challenges you refer to, and like you I have had similar conversations with individuals in business. Rightly or wrongly, our reputation is either non-existent; linked to the Masons or not not offering anything of worth as a business networking organisation.

      I think the key point you make is the difficult in changing perceptions about Rotary by those who are perhaps not as well versed in its activities.


    I too highlighted this reference to Rotary to Rotary and no one responded, however I think it may just been an off the cuff remark by a man who writes passionately, sometimes with vitriol and with a degree of negativity that belies the actuality.

    RIBI may have had its day and my last trip to America where I met Rotarians in 20 states reinforces that for me….they manage very well with districts, zones and RI and the level of dissension over there is hardly audible….and they are far more diverse than RGBI clubs. There is less emphasis on a single cause (Polio) and a wider grasp of what can be done locally and internationally. There is a much younger demo graph.

    In America and Canada Rotary is Cool! It is despite what anyone says religious (grace before most meals) It is by it’s very make up political (different views) and it tends to be patriotic to the country it is based in singing anthems or toasting kings, queens or presidents. The one common toast is still Rotary and Peace the world over, often dropped by clubs in the UK (sadly).

    I visited clubs with 300 members and they still managed to work together and develop and contribute to their communities.

    Your club may be having ‘problems’ but other clubs ‘appear’ to have none. That cannot be the case. Every club has some issues.

    This week I was informed the next move is to drop the word club from the title. I assume people will ask me what ‘group’ I am from rather than what club. I am now a member of Vectis Sunrise Rotary (yuk)

    Let’s face it so many of us are dying off or falling by the wayside because so many were from the bulge generation which has not been replaced. It really is as simple as a numbers game and frankly you would think we were the ONLY service organisation but there are hundreds, Lions and Freemasons are obvious choices even the scouts and guides association are a service group doing amazing work. Anyone looked at the work WI do? We are not exclusive, although so many think we are. We are competing for the hearts of humanitarians…

    Smaller, leaner and more cohesive, that’s what we need to be, Stop chasing numbers, stop chastising ourselves and grow with a new approach. RGBI, maybe it is time to stand back and Eve or Dennis or Donna or Molly become UK district governors a lot more AG’s. Have you seen the size of some of the other districts around the world…?

    I have issues, with club members, clubs, RGBI even RI but ROTARY IS COOL, do not let anyone tell you any different. That should be our strap line ROTARY IS COOL!!! (and do not change it every blinking year)

    PS. Oh ye still time to sign up for the 2017 Dome Walk on 23rd May…

    1. Thanks for reading Adrian – great points well made.

      It’s interesting how Rotary Clubs differ around the world – it seems that what you are saying is that locality is important and Clubs and Districts are allowed to be different and therefore develop.

      The point you make about stop chasing numbers – as you say, in so many other walks of life it is about quality not quantity. I often ponder whether in 10 years Rotary will be a qualitative organisation of 20,000 people doing humanitarian and other work around the world as well as in their local communities.

      The only issue I would perhaps pick you up on is the fact that the word ‘cool’ is no longer ‘cool’ – or so I am told by the younger generation…

      1. oh yes oh yes oh yes….COOL is still cool in any language and across the age divide. My daughter uses it as an expression, running in mid thirties, my grandson uses it at 11…thing is everyone knows what cool is which is IN fact in itself COOL!! if Only the debate re rotary was about a single word, possibly hyperbolic, if only…BE COOL ROTARY BLOGGER…I know you are!!!

        1. says:

          If we are talking about a ‘strap line’ as you call it there’s only one for me.

          Rotarians – ‘Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’

          This gives people the chance to ask ‘what sort of extraordinary things do you do then?’, and you’ve got them hooked. Now THAT’S cool!.

    2. Good one Adrian – maybe you didn’t see my tongue planted firmly in my cheek when I said that cool was no longer cool.

      As for Ron Duxbury’s comment about the streamline – the ‘Extraordinary People’ has always done it for me.

      1. your tongue was positively changing the shape of your cheek…..Ron is right….but Rotarians I meet are in fact extraordinary as well……………….and COOL!! (can’t do Emojis on your blog but smiley would be appropriate….)

  6. Anon says:

    I feel the few comments are all missing the question. Is Rotary a negative adjective? Well, I’m a young Rotarian, and each time I explain to friends and family what Rotary is, I see their reaction in the face and even before they reply, I’ve started to defend the work of Rotary and start stating the stereotype isn’t true… So here, in the UK, my answer is a definite yes!

    Elsewhere around the world I suspect it varies, but it certainly has a different stereotype elsewhere of being an elitist organisation, and so even with my friends overseas, I’m also trying to change viewpoints almost immediately. So again, the answer is a yes!

    Is this the reality, well that is a different question, and that’s what others are answering above. But it’s not the question asked here is it? Some of us know of a minority of clubs or members that also meet the stereotype in Paul Mason’s article. And too many people have been aware that it is happening for far too long. Is it accepted or acceptable? No. Are those who are responsible (the districts firstly) doing enough to “eradicate” this bad behaviour? Definitely not or it wouldn’t be happening years later.

    The problem is Rotary needs to wake up and be radical. And I mean every single club. Those progressive clubs that still have meals, wear chains, and give the royal toast – you’re not progressive, not kidding yourself just because you have 10% young members and a better than average gender split! What you are is progressive compared to other clubs. But what you aren’t is progressive in the real world.

    So, the question posed is again one I’ve considered. To the blogger. You, me, us; we have a choice. We know the potential of our organisation as a humanitarian-based service organisation. And we’ve both undoubtedly got a lot personally out of the organisation. But now. Do we stay and keep fighting to change when we know too many other parts of Rotary are dragging their heels? Or do we say sorry; Rotary has too much racism, sexism and general prejudges for us to stay in this modern world. Other organisations have the same problems, but the difference is they address them. When will Rotary?

    1. Thanks for picking up on the question – and interesting that you have pretty much hit the bullseye in terms of what I was attempting to relay in the body of the blog. (And not just because you are agreeing with me – as most readers/commentators will know I am more than happy with a differing of opinion on this page – it was partly what the blog was designed to achieve.)

      I have to say, I love your passion and enthusiasm in terms of the definition of ‘progressive’ – they way in which you describe it is absolutely bang on the buck as many would say.

      It is interesting that you mention Rotary has too much racism, sexism and general prejudices (all of which by the way can be evidenced) for a modern progressive organisation.

      Once again I pose the question, is the organisation the kind with which modern thinking, progressing and inclusive young businesspeople wish to associate themselves. It is with deep sadness and regret that I am now beginning to question this…

      Thanks again for your contribution.

  7. says:

    Changing perception – good or bad – is nigh on impossible. Millwall are still portrayed as hooligans despite the wonderful work they do in the community and picking up the EFL award for Best Family Club a few weeks ago. West Ham apparently play attractive football although you have to back to the 1960s when it may have been true. And so it is with Rotary. The new Madness song, the derogatory likening of the FA board to Rotary by Henry Winter, and now Paul Mason’s lazy and inaccurate piece all have one thing in common. It is a view that is out of date, or at best, just looks at one section of older Rotarians (not all older Rotarians are resistant to change). I disagree with RotaryBlogger as I believe there are huge changes afoot. The rule book has been thrown away in an effort to embrace modern working practices. Networking opportunities need to come to the fore as a positive benefit of belonging to Rotary as younger people have less free time these days. We need a radical approach and we face a difficult struggle but let’s give innovation and flexibility a chance before asking the last Rotarian to turn off the light.

    1. Thanks for dropping by for the first time Stan and I appreciate your comments and views.

      I’m not sure that Paul Mason would agree with you that his writing is ‘lazy and inaccurate’ – in fact I’m not sure that I agree with that. Mr Mason’s has decided to use Rotary to describe a certain group of people in society. That would apparently be his own opinion and/or perception. And as I have said many times through the blog – perception belongs to the owner…rightly or wrongly.

      I am interested in your views that the ‘rulebook has been thrown away in an effort to embrace modern working practices’ – I (and I’m sure many others) would be really interested to understand how you reach this position and how it could be demonstrably evidenced. Or perhaps, this is just your perception…?

      One thing is for sure, I know people are becoming less accepting of being associated with some of these adjectives for being a Rotarian. The author is one of them….

      1. says:

        Rotarians part of a galaxy populated by those who worry about the hijab… where universal human rights is alien… sneer at those who queue for free food. That is simply not true. It is “alien” to Rotary ideals and that’s what I mean by inaccurate and lazy journalism. Rotary is an easy target because that’s Mr Mason’s perception. Don’t let the facts get in the way of the story.
        As far as embracing modern working practices I feel the issues are being addressed. Clubs where ties are no longer de rigueur, clubs which don’t have meals, the relaxation in attendance rules, venues such as coffee shops, eclubs. I could go on but these examples are probably just as alien to Rotarians a few years ago so change is happening. Whether it’s too late is another story.
        Some things are subjective – perception – but I think these facts demonstrate a more accurate picture of Rotary trying to adapt.

        1. The trouble with facts Stan is that perceptions get in the way but dominate … it is not reality that gets you in the end … it is the perception of that reality (facts) that kills.

          Ask anyone who has been incorrectly described in the press. Ask any politician who has been wrongly accused. Ask any voter about their view of the opposing party to their view …..

          You cannot change the other person’s view … all you can do is change how YOU deal with it.

        2. I agree with Martin’s response to your comment Stan – perception belongs to the owner.

          Mr Mason has decided to use ‘Rotary’ as an adjective to describe a certain type of person – and one which isn’t particularly socially acceptable in modern society.

          I think it is a shame that many have had a pop at Paul Mason personal (on this blog and on social media) instead of thinking about how he has used the word Rotary in his article.

          I guess in this case perception is a bit potato or should I say potato…?

  8. says:

    Interesting post. Paul Mason’s article should be a wake-up call to all Rotarians. While it was appropriate for RIBI President Eve Conway to counter Mr. Mason’s article, her response brought out what has, for the last three decades, been the crux of our membership problem, particularly in developed legacy markets: Rotarians, therefore the public, do not know Who Rotarians Are.
    In Rotary Blogger’s post, the statement that caught my eye was, “The problem for the Rotary establishment is that they need to urgently open their eyes as to how people ‘out there’ view the organisation.” This is true, but ‘they’ (who is actually ‘we’), including many of our leaders, do not know Who “we” Rotarians Are. People “out there” view Rotary through Who “we” Rotarians Are in our local communities.
    Ms. Conway’s response, in the second paragraph, leads off with “The primary focus of Rotary is to provide humanitarian relief across the world, and with changes in the economic climate, our place in society is more important than ever.” The latter phrase, beginning with “our” is true. Unfortunately, the first part of the sentence is simply not correct, but it isn’t Ms. Conway’s fault. This has been Rotary’s focus for almost three decades; a focus that has led us in the wrong direction; a focus that is slowly changing.
    The primary focus of Rotary is to create Rotary clubs and assist them in creating Rotarians because Rotarians make the world better, one community at a time by advancing the Object of Rotary, starting locally and spreading globally. How Rotarians are viewed locally is a product of local Rotarians and what they do, professionally and through Rotary. If local Rotary clubs choose to age out of existence, it is Rotary’s administrative districts’ responsibility to create new clubs, but that, to, has its problems. May I suggest Rotarians read this Rotatorial:

    If those who have read this far would like to see how people is Sarasota, Fl USA, view Rotarians, please flip through the Rotary Club of Sarasota’s magazine:

    1. Thanks for looking by Jim and for taking time out of your own blog to post a comment on RotaryBlogger.

      You make a number of great points particularly how local communities are responsible for the portrayal of rotary in their own area.

      I would urge people to click on your own blog and take a read of your own Zone34 Retention Central blog.

      1. says:

        Stan Keller is right. Changes are taking place, but changing customs and practices that have developed over three decades is difficult and time consuming. The basic fundamental that is now taking place centers on accepting the fundamental that the only true measure of an effective Rotary club is its ability to attract and retain members. This begins with continually ‘developing acquaintances’ which is networking. New skills and professions that help make each community better are continually popping up everywhere. Are existing Rotarians recognizing this and seeking to attract and retain these new professionals? If not, it is up to the Rotary’s administrative district to start a new club that does attract and retain them. Unfortunately many district leaders are neither trained to start new clubs or supported in locating underserved demographics. That, too, may be changing.

        Thanks for recommending that other caring Rotarians read the Rotatorials on Retention Central.

        1. says:

          Interesting post Jim.

          In Barrow-in-Furness we established the Furness Club and then the two clubs got together to form Furness Peninsula, so that we now have around 100 Rotarians in the town.

          Your post set me thinking about this constant drive to get new members as though it’s going to solve our perceived problems overnight, whereas it could be counter productive by attracting people who don’t fulfil the Rotary ethos.

          Maybe we should accept who we are and what we do, and try to work better and smarter to make sure that we are still effective in providing help in our own communities and further afield, no matter how large or small our club.

          When I was DG I visited many clubs who had between twenty and thirty members and some a lot fewer, even down to less than ten in one case, but they were still going and still doing good.

          Another negative about the constant drive for new members is that many clubs have Presidents or PEs and/or PNs who know very little about Rotary and will have to learn fast if they are to lead from the front. Maybe it’s better for the club if it’s in the the hands of Past Presidents for a year or two before they climb the ladder.

          Our motto has always been Service Above Self. Maybe it should be Quality Above Quantity.

          1. excellent observations….anyone can join apparently if you got a hundred quid and as for knowledge of rotary history or even procedures, lack of mentoring negates the opportunity to learn how things have been done and how they could change in a modern world.

          2. says:

            To assume that anybody in any community can be a Rotarian is a mistake. One of the up and coming leaders at Rotary International, at a recent district conference, said, quote, “We need to encourage each club to look carefully at their culture, what characteristics make them exceptional and most desirable to others. Once we recognize our unique club services and benefits, we focus on them, and we seek those men and women in our communities who share similar characteristics. Let me be conclude by throwing out one more current philosophy that is being bantered out there by Rotarians. They are saying that the problem is that we do not “engage” members when they join the clubs, so that is why they leave. I disagree. We are focusing on getting members in the club, then either changing them, or the club, so that they gain a positive membership experience. What we need to be focusing on, with pin-point accuracy, is who we attract. Don’t attract with a wide net, collecting numbers of people, hoping they fit. Search out, with pin-point accuracy, who you want…and who wants you. Spend your time and effort at the front end, making sure there is a match. This is very much like dating. You might have to go out with many prospective mates, until you find that one, who has all of the right characteristics, and at the same time, who feels the same about you.” unquote.

            If legacy clubs fail to adapt, then start a new club. But always remember that Rotarians Make the World Better, One Community at a Time, by advancing the Object of Rotary, starting locally and expanding globally.

          3. says:

            I was nominated to be Vice and subsequently President after being in the club for two years. At the time I thought it was an honour. Now I realise that the other older, more experienced members of the club just couldn’t be bothered taking on this post, and were quite prepared to let me, as a new and inexperienced member sink or swim. More, they were only too willing to criticise my efforts, emphasising that I didn’t, after all, know how things were done in the club.

          4. says:


            Sorry to hear about your experience. Here in Sarasota, Fl our club, the Rotary Club of Sarasota, has a little over 100 members. We send our club presidential chain to the Rotary Leadership Institute and give them a generous allowance to attend the International Convention. In doing so, we tend to have an adaptable club as long as everyone realizes that our primary purpose is to retain and attract members by advancing the Object of Rotary. That way, our members who are operating new businesses can benefit from the experiences of us old folks, and us old folks can keep up to date with changes in industries, new businesses, etc. Our retention and attraction rates are sufficient that we generally have some potential members in the pipeline to replace those who leave, primarily for reasons our club has no control over.
            Anytime you are over Florida way, feel free to contact me and come visit our club.

          5. says:

            Sorry to hear about your experience. Our club, the Rotary Club of Sarasota Florida, has a bit over 100 members. We send our presidential chain to the Rotary Leadership Institute and give them a generous allowance for they and their partner to attend the International Convention. We also will pay for any members the registration fees when they attend the Rotary Leadership Institute. That way we keep newer members in our club who keep us long time Rotarians up-to-date on new businesses, technologies, etc, and they can learn from the experiences we who have been through the mill can share. If you ever come over this way, please contact me and visit our club.
            In the meantime, when you get a chance, flip through the on-line version of our club’s quarterly magazine, Eye into Why.

  9. I am responsible for promoting Rotary in District 9465 Western Australia. I have yet to see a TV Ad, or heard a Radio Ad that made me think “I should join a Rotary Club”. So over the past year, I have used our PR funds to promote Rotary by sponsoring various Business Networking Group functions.

    I have a Rotary presentation geared around “What’s in in for me?”. Now in each person’s case, the WIIFM will be different. I try to offer all aspects of that, from International and Local Community assistance to the business and community networking opportunities.

    I have now presented to over 500 business people and without exception (unless they have had a prior connection with us) their view of Rotary is of a bunch of old men sitting around having an evening meal and all kicking in $20 each for fund raising.

    This year we have encouraged 15 new members – all under 45 – to join Rotary with another 2 visiting clubs next week and another 10 being followed up. District 9465 had a positive increase in membership last year and we will increase again this year.

    1. Thanks for commenting John – appreciate you taking time to read the blog.

      The stuff you mention is absolutely spot on. You are grasping the thistle and looking at new ways to promote Rotary to new people.

      You approach is similar to those organisations/businesses (Clubs) that are now paying for advertising on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and reaping rewards as opposed to those who are trudging on with organic posts on their pages and wondering why nobody is liking or even seeing them.

      Great post and would be great to hear more about your initiatives….Guest Blog perhaps?

      1. John Stockbridge says:

        Happy to chat about our approach. We also run several other initiatives including Facebook ads and getting prominent business people to talk to other business people, all Rotary sponsored.

        The presentation approach works best though. I can only think of a very few of my fellow Rotarians who joined Rotary after being invited personally.

        1. John Stockbridge says:

          Sorry, last statement should have read “I can only think of a very few of my fellow Rotarians who joined Rotary without being personally invited”

  10. Peter Davey says:

    I must say that I am concerned that Blogger has formed the impression that people see us as “racist pub bores”, “golf club sexists”, those who sneer at “food bank users” or physical examples where calling a female Rotarian “little girl” is viewed as acceptable by the person making it”. Thankfully most people don’t see us that way but rather as a group of people that they can trust with their money when we ask for it and who do good in the world and locally. We all know that we need to be more diverse in our membership in many respects but already, like any group, have diversity of opinion. Thus discussion about topics must be expected. A club may well discuss, for example, the wisdom of supporting a local food bank and, during that discussion, views will be expressed. What is important is that we all remember the Four Way Test, the Objects of Rotary and the Rotarian Code of Conduct. These require us to act with fairness, integrity & high ethical standards, to deal fairly and honestly with others and to build goodwill. Of course inappropriate comments are viewed as acceptable by the people making them but they are certainly not and we must all deal with them at the time in accordance with our values. Too often we just shrug and ignore the damage that they do. Perception is important and how we are perceived is dependant upon how we all, as individual members and collectively as a club, behave. We can not accept sexist, racist or any other socially unacceptable behaviour – it is for all of us to stamp on it when we come accross it. Where our image needs changing we will only change it by living our values, openly and with pride. We all know that we need to recruit and retain members; people will only join and stay members of a club where they can be proud of their membership, value it and enjoy it. Those who fail to live our values put our very future at risk and none of us should allow that.

    1. …. and your point Peter?

      Your comments can push those who are teetering on leaving over the edge.

      We know that we have many clubs that are in need of care and attention .. I am glad that you [presumably RIBI too] are prepared to stamp on uacceptable practices, behaviour and attitutes. Lets hope we can be proactive with the all male clubs [especially if any incoming DG’s are in one!] and make it quite clear that this is unacceptable and their charter will be taken away if they do not make inroads into changing this.

      There are still some Rotarians in clubs that are like a row of rusty nails hammered into a mouldy 2×4 [The Rotarian Aug 1956] … happily this is changing little by little!

      1. says:

        Hi Martin
        Not too sure about taking away the charter from all male clubs. Our club is all male and we have no objection to women joining us but it hasn’t happened yet. We are still trying and a recent survey of members reinforces the view very heavily in favour of inviting ladies to join.
        Could be the problem mentioned earlier that we are seen as an old mans’ luncheon club, which of course we are not.
        For me one way to encourage ladies (and men) to join is to put on a display of what Rotary is and what it does rather than inviting would-be members to a meeting they may find boring.
        The other solution could be setting up a satellite club.

        1. I agree that one solution would be to have a stab at setting up a satallite club .. that way it is a demonstration that the club is doing something positive and proactive towards improving diversity.

          My old club always voted to have women in the club [for the whole of the 16 years I was in the club!!] but when it came to it they did absolutely nothing to encourage this … I accept that there are some all male clubs that are trying [such as yours by the sound of it] but we all know the ones that are suspect. [as it happens they are no longer a Rotary club]. On a positive note these clubs are dimishing and this will help.

          We have only 6 clubs now in our district with more than 30 members that are all male and I think this is where we start … any club with more than 30 male members and have not been active in recruiting members from all areas of the community in which they operate should have a discussion from the membership chair to see if help can be given.

          Clubs with less than 20 members probably have more issues to consider that are akin with declining membership organisations anyway so they can be helped to sort out the whole thing.

          Unless we proactively seek to redress diversity challenges we will just plod on regardless never changing this perception.

          For example if a DG is in a club that is all male with over 35 members and many are brothers in other organisations then this should be tackled by the DG BEFORE standing for the job! A plan should be evident that they are determined to do something about it.

    2. says:

      We should never ever lose sight of the fact that this is a people organisation and each should treat others as they would expect to be treated. Sometimes people do forget that. When you get to the position of quoting the 4 way test and Codes of conduct the battle has been lost already. Changing me=inds as well as hearts is a long and arduous journey but every one of should embark on it. Only that way will we change perceptions.

    3. Thanks (I think) for once again picking up on the blog Peter…

      I’m not sure I do see the organisation in the way that has caused you concern – what I am saying through the blog is that others’ are beginning to. Hence the question, is Rotary a negative adjective?

      Sure, many of us could site examples of racism, sexism, misogyny etc. and I am aware of some who have tackled these issues head on. But where the perpetrator cannot see their comments as being offensive and the matters are effectively left unresolved – it leaves a sour taste in the mouth or any complainant or offendee.

      You mention that “Those who fail to live our values put our very future at risk and none of us should allow that.” which is all very admirable – but again unfortunately the evidence is there on numerous occasions where inappropriate actions are allowed to take place, nigh on condoned by the organisation.

      On a very mild example, why should someone speaking to hundreds of people at a conference, encouraging them to come to Rotary Convention be focussing on the fact that the location has “lots of great shopping venues for the ‘wives'” – there are at least three points of offence in this comment – but yet HE is allowed to say this in a senior position in the organisation, from the stage to an audience of hundreds.

      The point I make is – the comment is accepted and at times condoned. I won’t go into the examples to which reference could be made.

      As ever I appreciate you, as one of the senior office bearers in RotaryGBI coming out to make comment on the blog. Hopefully, you may be able to get some of your colleagues to view the comments by Paul Mason constructively, focusing on the context of his reference to Rotary.

  11. says:

    It’s quite interesting reading the Rotary Blogger as ever and in many aspects alarming reading the replies.
    Paul Mason, as I have said before, is a much respected national journalist who works very hard trying to get his message across. Like most of us he has an opinion and it is well left of centre as can be seen in his articles for which he has a sizeable following.
    The national President countered the perception in the article by writing to the Guardian trying to correct his perceptions of Rotarians grouping them with other adjectives he used associating us with pub bores and golf club sexists. After that what I found amazing and somewhat disappointing was that a Rotarian attacked his article as “leftist claptrap” along with a member of the RIBI Public Image committees labelled him lazy in his choice of adjectives.
    Now I do not agree with Paul Mason’s politics but I do listen to him and respect his opinions and he has a right to express them and not be attacked in the way that he was. It only serves to reinforce his perceptions as put forward in his article.
    What is even of more concern is that these members and probably along with many others from their input don’t really see that there is anything wrong in his perception of the organisation and think he has got it totally wrong.
    In an article in the Times a couple of years ago another respected journalist, David Aaronivitch, likened Rotary to a secret society. Another perception of the organisation that our colleagues would not agree with but in all fairness that is the way in which we are viewed, right or wrong.
    We should be working very hard to counter these perceptions by ensuring that the world outside of Rotary sees our achievements and recognises them as “doing good in the world.”
    Rotary Blogger is then taken to task for trying to bring such perceptions to our notice and not wanting to be associated with them. Basically he is flagging up something we have talked about for years and that is changing the public image of Rotary within the UK and Ireland. It will always be a long hard initiative to achieve this and some of us do try. The path along the way will be long and harduous but we will achieve nothing by attacking minds and not attempting to change them. However, the first step in that journey must be to face up to the facts that perception just might be reality.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Allan.

      I am pleased that you have taken the context and intention to the blog and appear to have picked up on the crux of the question I was posing.

      You mention The Times article – which I can also recall reading with interest. My interest was enhanced because previous, in September 2014 I had published a blog called, “It’s no secret…Rotary is not the Masons” (link attached at the end of this comment).

      I think the key message to pick up, as I have said in previous comments, is the one you make about ‘perception’ – we have to accept that individuals own their perceptions – and that ultimately to them their perceptions are the truth.

  12. says:

    Interesting Blog with as ever interesting commentsand great to see that Eve’s concise and persuasive reply has been published by the Guardian. Like others I have also written to the Guardian (as a regular reader) expressing my disappointment at Paul Mason’s hackneyed and largely out-dated view of the vast majority of today’s Rotarians.
    I have long held the conviction that although agreeing with much of the (positive) content of the lively debates that are always part of this blog, that we seriously risk destroying all the hard work that goes in to bring Rotary into the modern era by being so public about our dirty washing. Huge progress has been made in the last few years and we have a number of highly influential partners to prove it, not to mention exciting, hard-working and dedicated new members (young and older) coming on board who just get on with the job of creating better futures in a highly persuasive and imaginative way. The last two RIBI Conferences were inspiring and showed very clearly that change is indeed well on the way. Similarly, despite the usual difficulties any big voluntary organisation can have, our District Assembly this weekend was well attended with lots of ‘new faces’ keen to get on with the real job of Rotary: being ACTIVE and doing their bit to make the world a fairer more equable, safer, healthier and peaceful place.
    While it may be healthy for the public to know that Rotary in GB&I take self assessment in the name of relevance and progress seriously, I remain convinced that there are better ways of achieving this than having (the very necessary) debates in the public domain. What’s wrong with discussing in a forum such as a Linked In group?. I still strongly feel that washing dirty linen is boring to most people and offers a golden opportunity to those lazy people with passionate political beliefs to use cheap and misinformed jibes to make their points in a sensational manner.
    Of course we’re not perfect, but would be a lot further down the line of positive change if genuine and active reformers were not constantly alienated by negativity. We need to emphasise the Positive to eliminate the Negative. Well done Eve and others who know how to do it properly! High time we got on with things and stopped continually staring at our navels.

    1. Thanks for your comments Liz – appreciate your candour.

      I was drawn to your comment about the fact “[Rotary] would be a lot further down the line of positive change if genuine and active reformers were not constantly alienated by negativity.

      I am sure many people see as a thorn in the foot of the elephant. I know this, as recently I was contacted to be reminded that the blog is entitled “The good, the bad and the ugly of Rotary International” and that there wasn’t much good being posted. This is a fair comment, and also something I have thought hard about and will be addressing very shortly in another blog.

      In relation to the ‘washing our linen’ issue – I make no apologies for encouraging online discussion with many Regular Rots both in on and beyond these shores. If the discussions have prompted any form of through processes by those in power and authority in this organisation or those considering going into positions of authority – then so be it.

      Rotary needs to accept that discussions (like the ones on this blog) in a modern society can now be undertaken in public fora – where people can contribute and comment. Interestingly, reverting to the this actually blog post – we don’t need to hang our own washing out – it seems that some of our respected reporters and journalists associated with mass-sale daily newspapers are already pegging our soiled-undergarments to the line without the help of anyone from a Club.

      I would agree, to most people publicly washing your dirty linen is boring – but interestingly this blog received a fairly enviable number of hits as blogs go; a decent amount of subscribers; reasonable amount of comments and a number of off-line communications from individuals. So there is definitely people out there who are interested in our how white we can get our whites…or not.

    2. Anon says:

      Trouble is, Liz, the closed facebook fora (membership and MPRC) are neglected by the relevant national committees and leadership. Often our suggestions and constructive comments are met with censorship and defensiveness etc, sometimes to be very quietly implemented later on. Even at the Annual Business Meeting there were classic examples of angry defensiveness, hiding behind the RIBI staff, plus the same casual “failure to attend”, and grumpiness in the Membership/PI part of the showcase.

  13. I make a concerted effort to buck the trend and counter the negative image of Rotary. Our club doesn’t fit the perception and neither do I, yes we have a lot of retired members but at least half of our members are still working. We care not for anyones profession, race or gender and as such we are varied, yes we have a doctor, some legal professionals, teachers and business people (and far too many accountants/bookeepers) but we also have shop assistants and bus drivers, even a former croupier in our midst. Until recently the women were outnumbering the men and we have many couples as well as singles in our club.

    We are a dinner club but we understand when people can’t make it, one member struggles with meetings but is always available at weekends for service and fundraising projects. One member works weekends so takes a cashier role at meetings to make up for it. 2 members spend at least 6 months of the year travelling. We have a number of golf players and are proud of their achievements for our club. They are a minority group though.

    We work with other clubs in our area and we are clearly different to them, we are (in general) younger and more diverse, one club in our area has no women at all (their meetings must be so dull.) But we work from within to buck the trend. Our future plans include a satellite club which will meet in a community coffee shop, with kids play area, once a month and we hope will encourage younger members with different financial pressures a chance to find out what Rotary can do with them on board. In fact, not 30 mins ago I was having a discussion with someone who runs the community space about how we could help her set up a programme for sanitary wear and making recycled sanitary towels to save the planet!

    As a club we are active on social media, although many of our members are still suspicious of this, but more have embraced it as time passes. I go on about social media more than the golfers talk about balls. But we have a facebook page, twitter feed, Instagram and a YouTube account. In fact my Hon Sec (a retiree) has recently realised that if he whats app’s me he is more likely to get a reply than to an email which goes into a bursting inbox.

    We can’t always be different, next years president is a (recent) retiree with gray hair – he may look the part but he is very young at heart and enthusiastic. As this years president I’m the right side of 50 and have sported Purple (for polio), green (by accident) and pink hair this year. When I introduce myself as a Rotary club president people are surprised and it makes them re-think their stereotype. As others have said we need to drive change from within. As a past president I am hoping to have extra time to drive this change and help to change the negativity into a more positive vibe.

    1. says:

      Fantastic read Kathryn. Your club is fortunate to have such a positive person as President. We do need some positivity as we mustn’t lose sight of why we are here.
      There ARE clubs that are full of average age Rotarians of around 75, but as you say age is just a number. We must stay positive and young at heart.
      We also have to remember that some of these ‘old guys’ may not do so much now due to old age etc. but they have no doubt served Rotary well when they were more able.
      If they want to come and have a cosy chat every week with their pals why should we stop them getting together in this way which may be the thing they most look forward to?
      To encourage them to keep coming and sharing a meal and the craic is surely part of being a Rotarian as much as fundraising!

  14. Well I have come in to a inbox full with comments, excellent and concise. This is my last comment in this blog which is to say that when I visit clubs to make my Roll Out the Barrel presentation, I stress and demonstrate JOINED UP ROTARY. With passion I promulgate what a great organisation we are and what we achieve together (sum of the parts) internationally and locally without anecdotes. I believe in Rotary, I try to enthuse members to look and believe in Rotary and themselves so they are confident and proud enough to get others to believe…Less soul searching and more searching for souls…..I repeat ‘ROTARY IS COOL!’ Did I say that already…no apology…(smiley face)

  15. An International Business Speaker & Consultant says:

    My father was a Rotarian so it was with a sense of tradition that I attended a meeting as a guest at his old club (in the UK) with a view to joining. In my early 40s, I was the youngest there by 10 years. They were relatively welcoming and several expressed that they needed new blood… like me. I was wearing a smart suit, no tie, as I do in the UK and internationally for business.

    At the end of the meeting, I was singled out and fined for not wearing a tie. It may have been a joke and I was not upset at being singled out – I can handle myself – but if anyone thinks this is the way to encourage new members or encourage diversity, they are sadly mistaken. Even if the rule is “ties only” (very old school, particularly given I was “smarter” than most), this should have been quietly explained etc.

    Suffice to say, I have never returned.

  16. says:

    Sorry to hear that you are leaving your club because you feel that Rotary delivers a negative adjective.
    In Sarasota Fl USA Rotary is not a negative adjective. The Rotary Club of Sarasota is in Rotary District 6960, Rotary Zone 34. After years of losing members, D-6960 has a four year history of membership growth. Zone 34 has a three year history of membership growth, not including having the ABC Caribbean Islands joining the zone. It is the ONLY zone in North America that has this record. If Zone 34 can do it, so can RIBI.

    The question is how did Zone 34 do it? Since 2009, Zone 34 has stressed that the only true measure of an effective club is its ability to attract and retain members, with emphasis on retention. It also stressed that Rotary International and its member districts have only one purpose: Create and support Rotary Clubs as they create and support Rotarians. The objective of doing so is to advance the Object of Rotary. Did Zone 34 have obstacles? Of course, but leadership stuck to fundamental principles. Rotary clubs do not serve the community. They serve and support their dues-paying members, who are the ones that adopt the ideal of service in their personal, business, and community lives.
    The Rotary Club of Sarasota has 101 members. It is a lunch club and meets weekly. It started a weekly dinner club nearby that is growing. It is now laying the groundwork for another nearby club that will meet 2 times monthly, normally in the evening. Consider looking at the Rotary Club of Sarasota’s web site and clicking on the logos that are streaming across the bottom.

    Also consider taking a look at the web site from Australia

    And, of course, Zone 34’s Retention Central

    1. Hi Jim – thanks for taking time to stop by on the final blog on

      I know that we have shared a number of communications regarding your zone34retentioncentral blog. I wish you well with that and hope that you continue to develop your own ideas over there on the other side of the big pond.

      All the very best fellow-blogger.

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