How to fix Rotary in only Eight-Minutes

This time two years ago – I published a blog which asked the question “Would you Join today?” The blog post basically posed the question, if you knew then what you know now – would you still join Rotary International?

Two years on – has much changed?

Well to be honest – not really.

The organisation in these islands still seems to be perilously close to the soft sands of the beach with an increasing number of deserters taking their chances and jumping ship to find other ways of doing ‘their Rotary’ in local communities around the country that doesn’t involve wearing a tie, attending lunch or sporting a small lapel pin. In other words – doing Rotary without being a Rotarian.

So what is being done to get the ship afloat again?

Well, credit where credit is due to whoever had the idea of bringing together a bunch of individuals around a table at RotaryGBI Headquarters in Alcester a couple of weeks ago to discuss the future direction of travel for Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland.

The group was made up of a cross-section of individual Rotarians – all understood to be representing themselves and with no delegated authorities from their Districts or Clubs or other groups. It seems the average age in attendance was over 60 and around half to be Past District Governors. However, the one common-denominator in those invited to attend being that they all currently or previously held strong views regarding the way in which Rotary in these islands was being managed and operated.

Was this an internal attempt to curtail the ‘keyboard warrior Rotarians‘ or perhaps even to divide and conquer a perceived bunch of ‘mavericks’ – who knows? But let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and say that it was a positive step forward in considering how RotaryGBI will be positioned in the future.

The group was chaired by Rotarian David Hodge, Leader of Conservative led Surrey Council – himself a focus of national news surrounding alleged “sweetheart deals” on the very week of the future direction meeting. So he may have had other pressing issues on his mind over and above the management of a bunch of Rotary egos. But from all accounts – he seems to have been able to keep focussed and has been credited with chairing the reasonably meeting well.

In terms of who else attended in addition to those who received their personal invites; conspicuous by their absence was the RotaryGBI future leadership. It does seem strange on the basis that this meeting was about the future direction for RotaryGBI that some of our incoming Presidents were, well, to put it politely under-represented? Just a minor thought…if we are looking to the future would it not have been appropriate for those receiving the chain of authority to have been in attendance – even just as observers?

So understands that in a meeting which was concluded in under four hours; those in attendance were given eight minutes to make their ‘pitch’ on what they thought was needed to improve the organisation – and give it a better chance of survival as we move towards the second decade of the new millennium.

What were they hoping to achieve in such a short window? Only they will know…

Anyway, having given it some thought if I had to make an 8 minute pitch – here are some suggestions that I would have presented:

  1. Openness, transparency and accountability – there are still too many meetings and sessions taking place in camera. The world in which we now live expects and requires meetings to be undertaken in public. From our Parliaments to our local Council’s – ‘the people’ can now watch either in person or online. So should we expect anything less from a modernising Rotary? Whether interpreted rightly or wrongly – there does appear to be a level of secret-operations in what is going on behind the scenes.
  2. Operated as a business – yes, RotaryGBI is a membership organisation, but there are a number of issues around the way in which the finances are being operated. For example, how many members realise that the Annual RotaryGBI soirée – otherwise known as the Conference has consistently returned a sizeable loss? In business one may get away with that position for a year, but in year two it either washes its face/turns a profit or it’s binned. There needs to be a review in terms of how the organisation works to make sure it – at the least – breaks even.
  3. Remove the position of RotaryGBI President – the organisation already has a worldwide President, is one not enough? Is the actual Rotary International President not good enough for these islands? Why do we need our own? Does this not simply create an additional layer of administration and unnecessary bureaucracy? Have we ever measured the Return on Investment of the national President? Surely a saving to be made there…
  4. Create a ‘Board’ – part of the problem as I see it with Rotary is the fact the ‘Administration’ changes annually. In fact for those in the know, the Administration team only really have nine months to do their ‘thing’ before they become yesterday’s news. The creation of a Board that would allow longer-term governance in a more strategically structured manner – with more business and less ego involved in driving RotaryGBI forward. Oh, and one more thing – Board members should be the right people for the job, not those who have previously held senior positions in the ‘old guard’.
  5. Let District Governors run their Districts – Number 4 removes the need for a General Council of District Governors. Let them play with their own District and leave the national positioning and strategy to the Board, dovetailing with other Rotary International worldwide initiatives.
  6. A clear membership strategy – Not some gimmicky initiative which on paper looks like a success but out there doesn’t actually put more ‘bums on seats’. We need  rethink about how we can engage communities and individuals to make them want to become part of Rotary again, which leads me perfectly onto my final point…
  7. Allow Rotaract to become part of Rotary – This is probably the one for which I would have made the strongest pitch.If Rotary is to survive then we must look to the younger generations. And unlike many other membership organisations, Rotary has a ready-made organisation right under our noses – It’s called Rotaract. However, all too often, Rotaractors are ‘kept down’ or patronised as ‘the youngsters’ by the Rotarians who are actually trying to support them in other ways.Isn’t it interesting that for a meeting looking to think about the future of Rotary that there were absolutely no Rotaractors at the table a couple of weeks ago? Why?I spoke with someone earlier in the year about the role of Rotaract in the future of Rotary – and they were keen to have them at them involved – but only as an observer! Really? Yes, why not bring them along, let them watch how the ‘adults’ do it and they can learn from us. They can observe but not contribute! How very patronising…I’m not sure I know many Rotaractors who would sign up to this ‘non-participative’ position. The Rotaractors I know are actually more into ‘doing’ than most Rotary Clubs.

There are many more issues (as you’ll find trawling through previous blog posts) but those would be my thoughts in terms of the key priorities to take the organisation forward.

The meeting referred to earlier in this post took place the day before a General Council meeting – and it is understood a report on what was discussed was then issued to District Governors at their meeting the following day. What impact can a ‘hot off the press report’ make to a General Council meeting? Will the notes/minutes be revisited in the future? I guess what becomes of the original meeting remains to be seen?

So, I’ll end as I started – and will say well done to those who made the effort to have the meeting and for having the courage to look to the future of the Rotary Product in these Islands. Well done for ‘fessing up face-to-face with some of Rotary’s more vocal contributors who have actually been critical of some of the ‘Establishment’ sitting in the room. What happens next? Who knows.

And anyway, does it really matter? Do the Regular Rots out there actually care what is going on beyond their own Club providing Rotary survives? In all honesty, probably not. But that is for another blog on another day.

Either way, let’s make that first meeting in Alcester earlier in February the start of a process and not just another tick in the box, purporting to be a consultation session like many that have gone before and then found themselves ultimately destined to File 13.


Images in order of appearance by Stewit by CC

Turning Rotaractors into Rotarians – Guest Blog

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.


This week’s Guest Blogger – James Lovatt

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!

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