Let’s go Younger

Tony Scaife

This post’s Guest Blogger is formerly a librarian and lecturer now retired. Tony Scaife had barely heard of Rotary until 2008. Since joining the organisation he has served as Club Secretary, President and now Executive Secretary. He has also been an active member of the District 1040 Visioning team.


Let’s go Younger

Sadly, the majority of RIBI members are of an age when they can remember what to do with Button B.

Ironically the rotary dial phone itself was being phased out just when Rotary experienced its last membership boom in the 1980s with the polio eradication campaign launch.

Whilst Rotarians appear to have blossomed with the disappearance of the rotary phone they have clearly floundered in the decade of the smart phone.

But  I am pleased to see that this year’s RIBI President Denis Spiller in his Rotary Talks: Rotary 2 challenges us to regenerate and sets us the task of increasing membership – especially from the thirty to sixty years old. But he argues “life style and social expectation changes” present us with major hurdles.

Now one way to evade the challenge is to argue that Rotary can survive and, to some extent, thrive by largely recruiting new members from the nearly or recently retired cohort.  Given the present make up of Rotary it is inevitable and indeed desirable that we do recruit from those most willing to join us. But there are two existential dangers for us if we continue to evade Denis Spiller’s challenge of recruiting from the prime working age population.

Firstly, like so many I was recruited into Rotary from the nearly retired cohort and whilst my fellow recruits have many excellent qualities we cannot offer the decades of service previous generations of Rotarians did. Neither are we perhaps as ‘on the ball ‘and responsive as we once were. For example, whilst our membership has declined in the last thirty years all business organisations and the professions have changed dramatically. Maybe if we had recruited more prime working age people earlier  we would have had a vigorous and experienced cohort of Rotarians   spurring us on to regenerate and revise our arcane rules much sooner than 2016?

Secondly   over these last thirty years mass public support for disasters and crises have increasingly been ‘fronted’ by younger people and driven by social media. I’m thinking of bucket challenges, flash mobs and crowd funding events. These efforts are laudable but older eyes may see them as often   quite arbitrary and superficial. Ignoring the established long-term work of Rotary with Shelter Box, Aqua Box, Polio Plus and Stroke Awareness etc. But Canute like we cannot turn back this tide of public misperception.

Invercargill (NRG: New Rotary Generation) Club – no formality, no meals but lots of fun and projects – with all business undertaken on their smartphones

This is an image conscious age so, even if they are ever published, pictures of elderly Rotarians handing over cheques just reinforces a public image of Rotary as a doting, but largely forgotten, aged relative. An endless source of completely obligation free sponsorship money in time of need. But quite irrelevant to everyday life where even the cheque itself is disappearing.

The present Rotary model is demonstrably unattractive to younger people. By and large it’s for older people, slow, boring, outdated, and expensive. Now we know it’s a travesty that blinds the public to the inspiring work Rotary does. But public perception shapes   the battlefield we face. Rotary must adapt its structures, operating styles, and costs if it is to attract new members and grow again.

I’ve looked to an impressive younger Rotarian to explain what she expects from a Rotary Club and, with some amendments for a British audience, tried to capture her thoughts.

Jenn McKenzie is 29 years old and has been in Rotary/Rotaract for ten years. She is now President of Takapuna Rotary Club in Auckland, NZ D9910. She offers these tips to attracting younger members into Rotary and working with younger members once they’re in.

Jenn thinks a few things could be done about club membership and stresses the point that young members need to work with older members and vice versa together.

  1. Stop just writing cheques to organisations or people with little or no action on the part of the Rotary club. Younger members have more limited time so want to make a difference through hands-on projects, they might not able to be there every meeting but they want to be involved making a tangible difference.
  2. Let’s embrace younger members with a young perspective and young attitude, try something different and be open to new ideas (that goes both ways) Offer new and younger members opportunities to serve on boards and committees
  3. Mix it up, change your membership structure and cost of your meetings
  4. Try social media advertising its low-cost and high impact.
  5. Remember why you joined Rotary and remind each other – to serve others. Make this world a better place. Don’t always get “sad” stories as guest speakers younger members want to hear inspiration and motivation – work with other clubs for more joint meetings or use TED talks
  6. Embrace technology –  aim to use technology to minimise the administrative burden
  7. Be enthusiastic and passionate about your membership and your club and Rotary – the passion will translate. Wear your Rotary badge with pride and ask like-minded people to join.” [ Jenn McKenzie Feb. 2017]

From my discussions in District 1040 and in New Zealand some additional factors seem key to recruiting younger people.

  1. Recruitment from RYLA and Student Exchange alumni – Australia and New Zealand tend to send candidates aged 21-25 on RYLA programmes and so don’t lose them as they go off to university.
  2. Recruitment from the children/grandchildren of existing Rotarians but into a distinctly different club environment / structure that they are comfortable with.
  3. Strong emphasis on hands on projects and early opportunities to lead projects. Cooperation with other Rotary clubs on projects is a popular option. Additionally, in some cases, seed corn funding can be provided from District so that the projects the new young Rotarians feel passionate about take off quickly.
  4. Very flexible, appropriately timed club meetings with virtually no formalities, relatively low costs and maybe crèche facilities if we are serious about recruiting working age Rotarians with child care.
  5. Using social media and the website as the sole Club communication tools. For our target population smart phones dominate. I observed members using smart phones to book a project venue, complete a risk assessment and create an online sign in sheet. Hence  the project was up and running before the meeting ended … and not a committee in sight. These members expect the administration of the club to be as fast and frictionless as an app can make it. Including paying club dues electronically.  I doubt in fact that many of them had cheque books at all.
  6. Opportunities for age relevant networking events, within a club or between clubs, based on the universal use of social media.  An antidote to the perception that older Rotarians who may have known each other for decades often inadvertently monopolise club events.
  7. A willingness to pursue   joint membership Rotaract/Rotary or indeed direct recruitment into Rotary for those in their early twenties.

As Denis Spiller recognises reversing decades of membership decline is going to be a challenge. Clubs must urgently take full advantage of the new flexible rules to look at ways of reviving their existing club or sponsoring a satellite club.

One size does not fit all.  I have seen flexible but long-established Rotary clubs able to recruit younger members by being very dynamic, well led, task focused and relatively cheap. A common model here is to run additional meetings that are timed, structured and costed to meet to meet the needs of younger working members. Whilst the traditional meetings continue and both groups get a Rotary club that meets their needs.

Alternatively. I have also seen new initiatives, like Melbourne Park Rotary Club, sponsored by an older club but designed for younger members and successfully run by them. Where, with an average age range around 30 and a majority of female members, they are delivering their own projects and also working collaboratively with other Melbourne clubs. Closer to home Wendy Aldred, AG (D1190), is currently helping an area based initiative where four clubs have agreed to start a Satellite Club – which will be sponsored by one of them

Though I have also seen a large, more traditional, relatively expensive breakfast meeting club that is very successful in attracting our target of younger, ethnically diverse working members. But the key here is that these young people are joining a club with a balance of age ranges. There are older members but many are still working as senior professionals. Thus, there are real and obvious mentoring/ networking opportunities for young professionals. Together with early opportunities to add credible project management skills to their portfolio.

I am writing these blogs to help me clarify my own thoughts about the regeneration of  Rotary. I base my views on presentations I’ve heard at recent Rotary conferences in District 1040, RIBI and New Zealand together with discussions I have had with the members of 27 Rotary clubs across District 1040, Australia and New Zealand.

 

Images supplied courtesy of Guest Blogger

Was that the Presidential Q&A…?

It was promoted as a live Q&A on Facebook with RotaryGBI President Eve Conway but turned out to be a half hour of Rotary Presidential promotion followed by more of a situation where the President ‘Avoided the Question and answer what she liked’.

The Facebook Live session this evening was hosted by Rotarian Kaz Aston, a Rotarian and member of the RotaryGBI Marketing and Public Relations Committee who it would appear was clearly well-rehearsed and primed to offer the national President every opportunity to talk about all the things that she wanted to.

The session (from a room that looked like and had the acoustics of a small yellow broom cupboard) experienced a few technical issues in terms of sound. With one participant claiming that his sound dropped every time the interviewer moved her arms – so he must have missed most of the broadcast – as she did a lot of moving her arms all the way through the Live session. [To be fair the tech guys sorted the sound out after about 15 minutes.]

When the sound was working, the first half hour of the Facebook Live session witnessed the audience receiving a lot about polio; about the President’s visit to India; about national immunisation days; about National Women’s Day; about Youth competitions; about Young Citizens Awards (created by the President herself); about Rotary Foundation and about Conference (have to say Eve’s way of spinning this year’s Conference was excellent – with not even a single mention or question about a certain Welsh female singer star).

So almost 30 minutes into the Question and Answer session Kaz Aston presented the first question of the evening from a participant which focussed around the use of Facebook across RotaryGBI and Rotary International. This prompted a response from the President which basically talked around the importance of using social media in Rotary and receiving full affirmation and endorsement of the interviewer – but yet still not really answering the question.

GRILLED: Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland President Eve Conway takes part in the first ever Facebook Live session on 28th February finding herself being interviewed by Rotarian and RotaryGBI Committee Member Kaz Aston

The second questioner asked the President what single major thing she would change in Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland?

The President said that change was important and then quoted Paul Harris the founder of Rotary. However, she answered that she felt Rotary needed more women and more diversity in the organisation – to a whoop, a cheer and a one-woman mexican-wave from Kaz Aston as she threw her hands in the air to celebrate the President’s response – sadly for one participant probably cutting of the signal again…

The next question was a follow-up by the same person and asked about the legacy Rotary will hand over to the next generation?

To be honest, I’m not sure the question was actually answered directly. The President did talk a lot about the new way to do Rotary, citing some new Clubs that seem to be doing things well and attracting members. But the interviewer then took the conversation away from the question and prompted the President to start answering questions about general Rotary clubs. And although not answering the question asked, Eve Conway did sum up as if she had by saying about Rotary in these islands,

We’re adjusting to the way that people live today and giving them options.”

A further question came from a participant who was watching the Live Cast asking why the dedicated President’s Facebook page is no longer being used. To which the incumbent effectively said, it was nothing to do with her – but a decision taken by the RotaryGBI Marketing and Publicity Committee. Outlining that the RotaryGBI online strategy is for all communications to go through the main Facebook page.

The President was then asked what should change about the Presidency? To which she responded that it should be outward facing – and then went on to outline a list of her achievements – and most definitely not answering the question at all. Probably the most body-swerved question of the night – with an occasional nod back to the question and reiterating her position that the President should be outward facing.

The final question came from another online participant asking for a definitive answer as to the definition of a satellite Club?

Kaz Aston again got quite excited about the fact her Club had a satellite Club but was then put firmly in her place by the President who told her that in fact what she thought was a Club was in fact a satellite group. However, the interviewer got her own back by firmly (albeit slightly excitedly) speaking over the President and demanding that she therefore explain the difference between the two.

I have to say that by this point in the question I had lost the will to live as the answer was once again in true-politician style the response that Eve Conway wanted to give and not really an answer to the question that was asked.

In amongst all the comments made throughout the hour-long session there was no real references to:

  • Membership initiatives;
  • The structure of RotaryGBI;
  • How the organisation may look in the future;
  • Involving Rotaract in the future of Rotary;
  • The finances of RotaryGB
  • And there was certainly no mention of ‘The Ten’ meeting in Alcester about the future of Rotary…?!?

The President was asked to finish (well kind of) the session by summing up Rotary using only one word which she described as ‘inspirational’. Which was kind of ironic in terms of the Live Cast.

…and that ladies and gentlemen was effectively it.

This was a great experiment – and there was a lot of information about Rotary given over in an hour. I’m not sure as a BBC Journalist Eve will be overly happy with the way in which the final interview will look when she plays it back. Yes, she got all her points across and answered the questions in the way she wanted – but it all got a bit messy at stages with the interviewer talking over the President throughout and not enough time allocated to ‘questions from the floor’.

Perhaps that was why there was a little bit of confusion as to who was going to take control at the end to wrap the interview up – who knows? But ultimately President Eve got the last word…

So in my humble opinion, or as the social media chaps say, IMHO this was not really a proper Q&A session. Far too much of it was about Rotary in general; the President; about her year in office; about her key topics and interests (such as polio) ergo insufficient time was given to the actual Question and Answer session.

You can watch and judge for yourself by watching the Live Cast here. Just a word of warning; try to ignore the interruptions, the increasingly annoying affirmation sounds and the signal-cutting hand-waving and fidgeting then you may enjoy it. However, I’m not sure you’ll learn anything or hear anything new.

Well done to those who organised this Facebook Live session. Great to see the technology being used in this way lets hope it’s not the last one we will see.

RotaryBlogger.co.uk ratings:

Information about Rotary in General = 8/10

Information about President Eve Conway = 9/10

Response to questions = 2/10

Enthusiasm of presenter = 10/10

Expectations met = 3/10

Use of social media/technology = 8/10

OVERALL EXPERIENCE = 4/10

Despite this, if the session was to be run again, I’d definitely tune in – it was a great starting point with improvements to be made and lessons to be learned.