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

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