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