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

Is Inner Wheel the ladies equivalent to a men-only Rotary Club?

I have to admit that all through my Rotary career I have really struggled to come to terms with the concept that is Inner Wheel and it is unlikely that I ever will.

Having joined Rotary ‘post men-only’ and at the point where females were now being [mostly] welcomed into the organisation with open arms I could never really see the point for what many others viewed as ‘Ladies Rotary’. And even now I have to be honest and say I still don’t get where Inner Wheel sits in a modern society any more than those all-male Rotary clubs that refuse to admit ‘lady members’.

Now I realise that Inner Wheel is neither affiliated nor under the auspices of Rotary International. But any web-search for the background to Inner Wheel will undoubtedly mention Rotary within the first couple of paragraphs, therefore it seems they will remain inextricably linked by way of their history.


One of the ways to join Inner Wheel is having a ‘connection’ with a Rotarian. So is it right that Rotary is allowing itself to be used as a condition of joining a single-gender organisation?

Time-travelling back to the 15th November 1923 it was the meeting of a group of Rotarians’ wives in the Deansgate Turkish Baths (!!!) which effectively catalysed the organisation that would grow to become known as Inner Wheel.

As time has progressed and the Inner Wheel rolled on for the last 90 years, it has moved on to become an international organisation that is active in over 100 countries and attracting 100,000 members throughout its 3,900 clubs. In the RotaryGBI territory these figures are transposed to read 19,000 members over 730 clubs throughout the 29 Districts.

With these figures, there is no doubt that Inner Wheel is a membership organisation that is worth paying attention to in the sense that they have a large number of members who are actually all surely potential Rotarians are they not?

Despite what we may be told, my feeling is that back in 1923 Inner Wheel was set up by Rotarians’ wives on the basis that if their husbands had their own Club then so should they – and at the time…rightly so as times were different then. They set up their organisation with very similar humanitarian objectives to those of Rotary and have continued to retain them ever since. However they have also remained tenuously linked through their terms and conditions to Rotary International. One only has to look at Inner Wheel’s logo to see the Rotary roundels acting as the wedding rings that hold this marriage together.

Today, according to their website Inner Wheel welcomes members who have a connection with other Inner Wheel members or those who have a connection with a Rotarian. What exactly ‘a connection’ is remains to be seen, but I’m sure somebody knows. But hold on wait for this – they also welcome other women who have similar ideals providing that the new prospect receives the club’s consent. Is that not the most antiquated-Rotarian phrase you have ever heard…in effect – we’ll let you in if you’re one of us and the rest of us approve!

Now, I’ve been unable to find any information on the actual membership number of Inner Wheel; but anecdotally RotaryBlogger has heard that similar to Rotary, they are also struggling to maintain their membership numbers.

I appreciate the excellent work that the many Wheelies will have done across their communities and I expect them to continue to do so. Therefore, before I say what I am about to I accept their charitable position across the globe and all the humantiarian support they have offered – and I’m absolutely not knocking any of that.

However, is there still a place in the world for a ‘sister’ organisation to Rotary when there is no reason for them not to join their brothers and become part of the Rotary community?

Looking at the facts, difficult as it may be for some of my female colleagues to see past the old, grey and affluent public perceptions and actually sign up to Rotary; I would say that it would nigh-on impossible to get them to complete the application form to become an Inner Wheeler. With no offence I simply cannot imagine any contemporary, modern business-woman with a desire to become a Wheely.

Only a few weeks ago guest blogger Nisha Kotecha wrote about her membership organisation considerations when she turned 30 and left Rotaract and at no time throughout her post did she give any inclination or indication that she would want to join Inner Wheel. Was it even in her radar…I doubt it!

The fact is that in this day and age of the Equalities Act where generations of women have fought for the democratic right to be treated as equals with their male-counterparts. It would seem that society is saying there should be no place in a modern society for men-only Rotary Clubs therefor equally there should be no place for a female-only equivalent of the organisation.

And don’t forget the ironic contradiction in the fact that so much work has been done to ensure equality across Rotary throughout these islands and the rest of the world. Yet Rotary allows its name be one of the contractual obligation in an ‘all-lady’ organisation. Surely this cannot sit easily or correctly in terms of the organisation’s commitment to equality and gender balance? Has anyone actually thought about it this way? Or does anyone even care?

I’m sure I have taken my life-in-my-hands in presenting this post – but at a time when RotaryGBI is looking to attract new members wouldn’t one positive option be working with other similar organisation rather than competing with them for the same potential new recruits. And surely the one we appear to have a link with and the organisation apparently closest to us would be the easiest? So the big question would be: On the basis ‘ladies’ are now welcome in Rotary – what is the point of retaining an organisation that is publicly perceived as being the female-wing of Rotary when women have now been welcome to join the organisation for decades?

An additional 20,000 new Rotarians would all-of-a-sudden halt any actual or perceived decline throughout the organisation in these islands and be a welcome addition to many Clubs who could certainly do with some new members.

So while many of us [ included] criticise male-only Rotary Clubs then surely we cannot sit back and condone a link with an organisation which is equally and even more overtly gender-imbalanced.

Image by Sascha Grant by CC