Is Rotary a unique opportunity?

In this the first of a series of blogs we ask the questions that every member of the organisation will ask in their journey through one of the most prestigious organisations in the world.

The other week I met with a good friend for lunch. One of the first announcements he made was that he had left Rotary and he said it was like a weight being lifted from his shoulders.  Now this was a person who had helped start a new club and over the years had been involved in taking part in reviews for RIBI so he had a good idea of the organisation and the system. We did not really go into the precise detail for his leaving we had many discussions over the months, and he had spoken with colleagues and I did not want to go over old ground. In our discussions over the months he had  left me in no doubt that he had become disillusioned with the organisation and it’s ability to adapt to the changing world. I came to the conclusion right or wrong that he reckoned he had done his bit to try to bring about change had got his ideas knocked back so many times that he felt the battle was not worth it. He had found lots of other things to do using his extensive experience in business starting companies and using his marketing and sales skills and I knew he did not give in lightly.

I came away from our lunch somewhat concerned . Here was a good Rotarian who had a lot to offer, had a lot of respect for the organisation and was  still supporting the Rotary Foundation but could see no future requirement for his skills and talents and as we talked even less for the organisation within the UK and Ireland. Was he right I wondered to give up and move on? What was so wrong with the organisation from his point of view to bring him to this decision?

In recent discussions with other Rotarians in a similar position I realised that his and their thinking was along much the same lines and some had not taken high office they were members of clubs who could see their club failing and were disheartened.

He had left Rotary and he said it was like a weight being lifted from his shoulders.”

As you do, if you are concerned about something you think further and speak with a few people to balance your view. Should I be alarmed.

Time and again sadly I came up against the same opinions, some members were taking over being President of their club for a second or even a third time but had no club members to take other posts. Others turned up at meetings now when there was a good speaker, some turned up each week because they had friends at the club and just enjoyed a chat and a meal once a week. There were others who would turn out to shake a bucket or help with a charity event but that was as far as  their involvement went. All of them realised they needed new members to freshen the club and all of them like myself think it’s a great organisation that needs to modernise fast to make it relevant to modern day living.

How many others will take flight and offer their skills and expertise to other organisations outside Rotary?

So on their behalf I did some more thinking and came up with a few thoughts and of course questions.

Is the organisation changing, is it adapting to a changing world, do the people leading the organisation see the need for change and understand what needs to be done? Indeed do they have the vision, courage, leadership skills, enthusiastic devotion and organisational ability to bring much needed change about?

Some of us have been asking these questions for years now and the more we ask the more urgent our questions become.

Before suggestions are made it is perhaps worth reflecting on Rotary the organisation in the United Kingdom and Ireland referred to as Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland RIBI. The structure is unique within the Rotary organisation in that there is an association of clubs forming various committees and groups at the top of which is a General Council consisting of the District Governors representing the clubs across RIBI all led by an elected President with a team around them.

This structure is administered by a team based in Alcester known as the Secretariat.

With such a unique organisation and structure come unique opportunities not on offer anywhere else within Rotary. So in many respects members of Rotary within RIBI have two bites of the cherry. They can engage the facilities of Rotary HQ in Evanston Illinois and also what’s on offer at RIBI.

With these unique opportunities comes a responsibility to engage and add value for members within their field of support. RIBI have various committees within their remit to facilitate many aspects of the Rotary Clubs activities within these islands.

“With such a unique organisation and structure come unique opportunities not on offer anywhere else within Rotary.”

Unquestionably the most important of these committees is Membership Development and Retention closely followed by Public Image, then The Rotary Foundation, Community Service, International Service, Vocational Service and Youth Service.

Within all of these committees/groups/teams call them what you will are truly devoted and passionate Rotarians tasked with supporting Districts, Clubs and Members within RIBI. They are or should be tasked with changing mindset and lifting morale, enthusiasm and motivation. I reckon this support is required more now than ever but I’m struggling to find it. The line of communication is from the committee to district then to club and of course the most important person in Rotary the grass roots club member.

I believe if we were to ask many club members, who are the backbone of the organisation but have never been called to high office, what value RIBI adds to their experience as a member and if as a result they would be more engaged in the organisation the answer would almost always be a negative.

So lets face it, the stark truth, something somewhere is wrong and not working, something is fundamentally wrong.  Is it in the execution of the plans of these committees, is it the communication from RIBI to the members after all the chain is long and a link could easily break, result: information and engagement lost. Does RIBI have a pragmatic communication plan, is it planning new and innovative ways to alter mindset to open minds of present members to accept new ideas in the second decade of this century?

Something somewhere is wrong and not working, something is fundamentally wrong.”

So I return to my friend who I had met for lunch and of course discussed Rotary. He is no longer part of the team but he so wanted to be to play his part to help Rotary grow. He was never in a competition for recognition for himself or his club he just wanted to get on and do a good job for Rotary but let’s face it he was rejected and dejected and if you are reading this I am sure you will be concerned as there are so many like him in the organisation. He was a talent we could ill afford to lose, there are a lot more like him so it is beholden on us to try and keep such members, to engage and motivate them to spread the Rotary message of doing good in the world. We say we are people of action but that begins at home so let’s see if the people of action can take the right actions to keep good members, enage the present ones and be attractive enough to encourage people to join us.

This blogpost was written by Allan Berry, a Rotarian from District 1080 and former Editor of RIBI’s National Magazine. In a future blog Allan will take a look at ways and ideas of engaging members present and prospective.

If you are interested in writing a one-off post or become a regular contributor to RotaryBlogger.co.uk please feel free to get in touch. (Please note that anonymous posts or posts under pseudonyms will not be published.)

 

Images in order of appearance by David Bush by CC

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