Fly on the wall – Guest Blogger

Ron Duxbury was named as a Paul Harris Fellow at his club’s charter in 2007 and went on to become a District Governor in the Rotary year 2011-12

Ron is retired having spent a lifetime in financial services with NatWest, Britannic Assurance, Abbey National and Standard Life.

He joined the Rotary Club of Barrow-in-Furness in 1992 and took part in a variety of club activities and eventually became club secretary, a post he really enjoyed.

Ron became District Governor of D1190 (Cumbria and Lancashire) in 2011-12, a roll he threw himself into with enthusiasm. “Even though I was DG I was no different to any other Rotarian” says Ron “we all do great work in our own way to help others.”Asked what he gets out of Rotary he says it’s the fun, fellowship and banter at his club. “Unfortunately there are fewer of us now, and it’s a situation we have to acknowledge and resolve if we can, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Take a look at Ron’s hypothetical ‘water-cooler’ chat following a modern-day businessman’s visit to give a presentation to his local Rotary Club. Or, as he asks…is it hypothetical?

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it

Picture the scene: – it’s 2.30 in the afternoon and Jim has just returned to his office. He bumps into Alan.

“Hey Jim – what’s with the tie?  Bit overdressed aren’t you?”

“Hi Alan – just got back from making a presentation to the Rotary club and they all wear collars and ties.”

“That’s a bit much in these days ​isn’t it Jim? Even our MD doesn’t wear a tie any more unless he’s meeting the big wigs of course.”

“Well Alan it seems to be a bit of a tradition in some of the clubs according to the president. He was telling me that some of the members had tried to change the dress code to something a little bit more relaxed but still smart but it was voted down.”

“So how did the presentation go?”

“Pretty well I think  Alan – only two of them fell asleep.”

“That’s pretty good for you Jim, It’s normally more than that.”

“Hey​ watch it you​.”

“So did you manage to get any of the younger ones fired up to join our company?”

“There weren’t any Alan – according to the president the average age is 74.”

​”Thought they’d have some younger ones – Rotary clubs always used to be a good mix of ages.”

“They do have younger people along from time to time as guests and some as speakers but none of them seem to want to join. They did have a possible member along recently and before he came he seemed keen but afterwards he said he was too busy.” ​

“Perhaps one of the problems is that they meet at lunchtime – it would be difficult for us to get along if we were asked to join.”

“Yeah – that’s something they discuss from time to time as well, but according to the president if they switch to an evening some of the older ones would leave as they don’t go out at night and they don’t want to lose any more members because of the contribution they make.

“I know they do a great job locally and further afield – I’ve seen some of the publicity they get, although I haven’t seen much in the local paper lately.”

“Yeah that’s another problem they have as they say they send stuff in all the time but there’s not much of it gets published. It’s not just them but the other two clubs in town are finding it the same since the new editor took over.”

“Oh there’s a couple of other clubs in town then is there?”

“Yeah and they meet in the evening but even they are having trouble attracting new members.”

“Could be an image thing perhaps. I think some people think Rotary clubs are a bit dull and stuffy.”

“It’s a shame really as the guys who were there were certainly were very friendly and there seemed to be a great craic at the tables as well.

Could this really be how conversations go when a speaker at a Rotary Club returns to the office and chats with colleagues?

One of them was telling me about something they did recently where they brought together a load of local school kids and some teachers to take part in something they call a Technology Tournament, where the kids have to make a working model from materials they are given.” Apparently there was a great atmosphere amongst the kids and teachers, and there were a good number from the club there. One said it’s one of the highlights of the year.”

“You said ‘guys’ Jim – are there no women in the club? Doesn’t quite sound quite right that but you know what I mean.”

“I asked the president about that Alan and he said they had no objections to women joining but they haven’t found one who wants to yet. They have quite a few women along to give presentations and they always ask them if they’re interested but most of them say they’re too busy.”

“Seems like they’re between a rock and a hard place Jim, and the club may die out in the course of time.”

“Yeah apparently a lot of clubs up and down the country are having similar problems Alan, although the president said there might be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel if they establish a satellite club.”

“What’s that Jim?”

“They’re aimed at everyone, but particularly younger people who can’t get to the club meetings now, or find them a bit stuffy and formal. The people who join them are members of Rotary, but they have the freedom to meet wherever they want, and perhaps only twice a month instead of each week. Some meet in coffee shops and others in pubs – it’s really up to the members themselves.”

“Sounds interesting that Jim – perhaps we could look into it a bit further. You only have to read the papers or watch T.V. to see that a lot of people still need help from groups like Rotary.”

“That’s right Alan – I thought the same myself when I was told about all the great work they’re doing now, so I told the president we might get back to him to see how we could help.”

“Sounds like a plan that, and you said they could meet in a pub?”

“Thought you’d like that Alan, especially with that new boozer in town.”

“Well you must be one of the oldest boozers in town now Jim – well into your thirties now!”

“Watch it pal. Anyway are you up for it?”

“Yeah – let’s have a chat with that president feller you keep talking about. You up for a pint or two tonight and we can talk about it a bit more?”

“I’ll drink to that Alan!”

Please note any similarity to a Rotary Club is purely coincidental.

Or is it?

 

Images in order of appearance by Dukas Ju by CC

Will the last one to leave…

It’s been a while…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images in order of appearance by Alexander Synaptic by CC