Guest blogger – James Lovatt
This week’s guest blogger is Rotarian James Lovatt, who is more likely to some of the blog readers as one of the team at Rotary International in Great Britain & Ireland (RIBI) Support Centre in Alcester having worked across both the marketing and support teams from 2013 to early 2016. Now a former member of staff, James recently left the UK to work on his other passions, Human Rights and Democracy and now resides in Bangkok working to support the movement in Burma/Myanmar.
James makes it clear that RotaryGBI was one of the most supportive and enjoyable workplaces anyone could imagine working. He left a job he enjoyed purely because of his desire to work overseas in the human rights field from an early age, and he credits RIBI for a fantastic growth experience of working within a loose “NGO-type” structure.
However James’s journey in Rotary goes much further back than his office time; having first joined Leamington & Warwick Rotaract in 2010 and then rising to become the Chairperson of Rotaract in Great Britain & Ireland in 2013/14. Subsequently James took the plunge into the deep waters to become a Rotarian the following year and that forms the reason behind today’s guest blog piece from him.
Turning Rotaractors into Rotarians – Guest Blogger: James Lovatt
Funnily, I’m starting to write today’s blog whilst having a conversation with a good friend of mine from my past Rotaract club and it’s for exactly the reasons that he decided not to join Rotary when he hit 30 years of age that brings me to one of the most important Council on Legislation (CoL) decisions we’ve seen made in a long time – the reversal of a decision at the 1989 CoL not to allow members of Rotaract to also be members of Rotary (not surprisingly when a decline in both organisations started to occur of which the impact was then started to be felt 10-15 years later).
So after this week’s decision, Rotaract members can also be members of Rotary! Something I know many Rotaractors have been looking to do for a while.
For anyone that has been following the CoL sessions over the years you will know they can be very dry as well as very “political” as it normally boils down to whether the turkeys want to vote for Christmas or not. But this year seemed different…sure, not all the decisions were perfect, yet we seemed to have a bunch of district representatives there this year that was more gender mixed, aged mixed and voting on decisions that almost made you think Rotary was looking at its own legacy realising they didn’t want to be the last ones left on the boat.
Rotary in the 21st century has arrived, and now our clubs needs to take action to make sure our membership reflects this.
So for that reason I’m not going to go into the other decisions, because I don’t want to darken the waters through distracting ourselves with any of other results. Instead I want to lay out clearly some strategies for implementing this one decision that would’ve made my transition into Rotary all the more easier, and no doubt would’ve helped many other young adults in Rotaract to join Rotary too, instead of seeing them fall out the organisation sooner than they should. This change is believed to be able to increase the conversion of only 5% of Rotaractors to Rotarians currently, to something more like 50%. Now it doesn’t take much imagination to see how this would also change the demographics of our clubs too.
So my first strategy – make it easy to join.
How? Well here’s some questions…
- Do you think it’s already easy to join, or does your club actually never ask?
- If you put yourself in the shoes of a young adult would you reconsider your answer?
That person is probably waiting for you to lay the cards on the table unless they are very forthcoming and do so themselves. Also, you might want to find a method to ease the financial burden. This doesn’t necessarily mean them paying less, but my first experience of being a Rotarian allowed me to pay my subs through a standing order at a cost of £6.25 each month. That’s very affordable to a young person; and most could probably afford it if it went up to £10 p/m!
Most clubs can deal with cash flow to implement this, and if not, maybe ask for 6 months up front if it’s a must (but why would it be?). Without talking about other CoL decisions, you don’t need to charge an admission fee any more either! If all else fails, be open and welcoming. If you think you already are, put yourself in a young person’s shoes once again and critically assess if you really and truly are?
Strategy two – get them involved
But listen to what they want to do. Caused-based charities are thriving at the moment because young people have particular causes they are passionate about. It makes them less “loyal” to an organisation like ours, unless you can push home that the six areas of focus include that cause. My human rights interest perfectly lends itself to ‘Peace and Conflict Resolution’, so now I’m a Rotarian for life. So find out what causes they are interested in and work with them to find a local or international community project that the club can undertake as a whole if it doesn’t already fit into a current project. Whatever you do, DO NOT go straight to that person and force them to essentially work in a silo almost like they have a second job. If others in the club can’t help, then re-assess. Young adults like to work in teams; it’s how the office place still survives.
Strategy three – don’t push it.
Lay the opportunity out for them and encourage/empower them so they know they can join at their own pace, but remember attendance rules will work against you if you wish to implement them, and think about counting some of their Rotaract time against that attendance. If you must measure attendance, measure it against work on the ground and impact, not eating meals.
Strategy 4 – meals!
Have you ever sat down at a table not feeling hungry and everyone else is eating?
Yes, everyone around us might say it’s ok, but you feel awkward all the same. Well even when Rotary clubs are open to people that don’t force the purchase of a meal it does still feel strange to be the only person not eating. So if you can’t go a meeting a month (for example) without a meal, then consider a different meeting type all together almost like a satellite club. It might just work.
Strategy 5 – patience!
There is no “one solution” that is going to work overnight. In fact it might not even work in “your” Rotary year. But hopefully your club doesn’t think in this way and will realise there is no such thing as “your year” regardless of how rightly proud you are to be in whichever role you might be.
Together your club can lay the foundations for a successful future if it doesn’t have a yearly mentality. You wouldn’t run a business with a long term vision AND implement major changes every 12 months, so I know you don’t need me to tell you this either (but I hope the reminder sticks all the same).
All of these things together set the foundations to make your club ready to accept young adults and (possibly) as a result add some vibrancy and energy to an already successful club no doubt.
Try one at a time if it less but remember however strong your club is, think about your community and make sure the options are available to anyone in it to have a Rotary option. Don’t think someone else will do it, and don’t be afraid to talk to neighbouring clubs if needs be. In my current home of Bangkok, there are many successful and large clubs. However they have taken their eye off the ball as they now dismiss the need of a solution for young, English speaking, professionals with no option to meet in an evening or without a meal. I know this first hand.
Pragmatically, I want your clubs to go out there and implement as much of this as possible, and remember that the people we are talking about here are adults who want to give back to society, through project based activities mostly. Together we need to develop a way to keep them interested in long term membership too – which I hope I’ve highlighted by talking about our selling point – the six areas of focus.
There is no need for a condensing approach when it comes to this group of young adults. Many have already achieved a lot. Your guidance is what will make the difference, much like it did for me when I was 23 years of age and trying to launch my own business. I was naïve and inexperienced, but my Rotaract experiences and Rotary guidance from my district (namely Past District Governor Lorna Beedham) are what lead me to when I am today (with further to go too).
The room I still have to grow I hope will still be fed by Rotary based experiences alongside my professional career too, and I know from past experiences that our organisation provides that pathway.
Good luck and I will follow the comments on this blog and respond according if I can add anything else. I’ve turned this blog idea around in less than 24 hours, so no doubt I’ve missed other successful strategies too, but I hope my top 5 are useful. Please add yours if you have them!
You can follow James on LinkedIn: https://th.linkedin.com/in/jameslovatt