Is Rotary a unique opportunity?

In this the first of a series of blogs we ask the questions that every member of the organisation will ask in their journey through one of the most prestigious organisations in the world.

The other week I met with a good friend for lunch. One of the first announcements he made was that he had left Rotary and he said it was like a weight being lifted from his shoulders.  Now this was a person who had helped start a new club and over the years had been involved in taking part in reviews for RIBI so he had a good idea of the organisation and the system. We did not really go into the precise detail for his leaving we had many discussions over the months, and he had spoken with colleagues and I did not want to go over old ground. In our discussions over the months he had  left me in no doubt that he had become disillusioned with the organisation and it’s ability to adapt to the changing world. I came to the conclusion right or wrong that he reckoned he had done his bit to try to bring about change had got his ideas knocked back so many times that he felt the battle was not worth it. He had found lots of other things to do using his extensive experience in business starting companies and using his marketing and sales skills and I knew he did not give in lightly.

I came away from our lunch somewhat concerned . Here was a good Rotarian who had a lot to offer, had a lot of respect for the organisation and was  still supporting the Rotary Foundation but could see no future requirement for his skills and talents and as we talked even less for the organisation within the UK and Ireland. Was he right I wondered to give up and move on? What was so wrong with the organisation from his point of view to bring him to this decision?

In recent discussions with other Rotarians in a similar position I realised that his and their thinking was along much the same lines and some had not taken high office they were members of clubs who could see their club failing and were disheartened.

He had left Rotary and he said it was like a weight being lifted from his shoulders.”

As you do, if you are concerned about something you think further and speak with a few people to balance your view. Should I be alarmed.

Time and again sadly I came up against the same opinions, some members were taking over being President of their club for a second or even a third time but had no club members to take other posts. Others turned up at meetings now when there was a good speaker, some turned up each week because they had friends at the club and just enjoyed a chat and a meal once a week. There were others who would turn out to shake a bucket or help with a charity event but that was as far as  their involvement went. All of them realised they needed new members to freshen the club and all of them like myself think it’s a great organisation that needs to modernise fast to make it relevant to modern day living.

How many others will take flight and offer their skills and expertise to other organisations outside Rotary?

So on their behalf I did some more thinking and came up with a few thoughts and of course questions.

Is the organisation changing, is it adapting to a changing world, do the people leading the organisation see the need for change and understand what needs to be done? Indeed do they have the vision, courage, leadership skills, enthusiastic devotion and organisational ability to bring much needed change about?

Some of us have been asking these questions for years now and the more we ask the more urgent our questions become.

Before suggestions are made it is perhaps worth reflecting on Rotary the organisation in the United Kingdom and Ireland referred to as Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland RIBI. The structure is unique within the Rotary organisation in that there is an association of clubs forming various committees and groups at the top of which is a General Council consisting of the District Governors representing the clubs across RIBI all led by an elected President with a team around them.

This structure is administered by a team based in Alcester known as the Secretariat.

With such a unique organisation and structure come unique opportunities not on offer anywhere else within Rotary. So in many respects members of Rotary within RIBI have two bites of the cherry. They can engage the facilities of Rotary HQ in Evanston Illinois and also what’s on offer at RIBI.

With these unique opportunities comes a responsibility to engage and add value for members within their field of support. RIBI have various committees within their remit to facilitate many aspects of the Rotary Clubs activities within these islands.

“With such a unique organisation and structure come unique opportunities not on offer anywhere else within Rotary.”

Unquestionably the most important of these committees is Membership Development and Retention closely followed by Public Image, then The Rotary Foundation, Community Service, International Service, Vocational Service and Youth Service.

Within all of these committees/groups/teams call them what you will are truly devoted and passionate Rotarians tasked with supporting Districts, Clubs and Members within RIBI. They are or should be tasked with changing mindset and lifting morale, enthusiasm and motivation. I reckon this support is required more now than ever but I’m struggling to find it. The line of communication is from the committee to district then to club and of course the most important person in Rotary the grass roots club member.

I believe if we were to ask many club members, who are the backbone of the organisation but have never been called to high office, what value RIBI adds to their experience as a member and if as a result they would be more engaged in the organisation the answer would almost always be a negative.

So lets face it, the stark truth, something somewhere is wrong and not working, something is fundamentally wrong.  Is it in the execution of the plans of these committees, is it the communication from RIBI to the members after all the chain is long and a link could easily break, result: information and engagement lost. Does RIBI have a pragmatic communication plan, is it planning new and innovative ways to alter mindset to open minds of present members to accept new ideas in the second decade of this century?

Something somewhere is wrong and not working, something is fundamentally wrong.”

So I return to my friend who I had met for lunch and of course discussed Rotary. He is no longer part of the team but he so wanted to be to play his part to help Rotary grow. He was never in a competition for recognition for himself or his club he just wanted to get on and do a good job for Rotary but let’s face it he was rejected and dejected and if you are reading this I am sure you will be concerned as there are so many like him in the organisation. He was a talent we could ill afford to lose, there are a lot more like him so it is beholden on us to try and keep such members, to engage and motivate them to spread the Rotary message of doing good in the world. We say we are people of action but that begins at home so let’s see if the people of action can take the right actions to keep good members, enage the present ones and be attractive enough to encourage people to join us.

This blogpost was written by Allan Berry, a Rotarian from District 1080 and former Editor of RIBI’s National Magazine. In a future blog Allan will take a look at ways and ideas of engaging members present and prospective.

If you are interested in writing a one-off post or become a regular contributor to please feel free to get in touch. (Please note that anonymous posts or posts under pseudonyms will not be published.)


Images in order of appearance by David Bush by CC

Say “Cheese”…

So I am delighted to have been invited by Rotary District 1010 Governor Mike Halley to speak to their District today (Sunday) In Perth, Scotland about increasing the publicity in the press and media across their many Clubs. The District boss has asked me to make special reference to taking press photos – which as regular readers of this blog will know is one the many ‘bees’ I keep in my bonnet.

Therefore on the basis I have been working on Rotary research this weekend, I thought I’d turn the information I am going to be speaking to into this weekend’s blog.

So in preparation for the presentation to the Regular Rots in the largest District in RotaryGBI I undertook a fairly thorough search of the words ‘Rotary Clubs‘ and ‘Rotary Presentations‘ on Google images and, having trawled through literally thousands of images it appears the message is still not getting to Clubs in terms of how to positively present the organisation in and around the media. So it seems that the leadership in District 1010 is not only proactive but also frankly right to raise the issue once again – and therefore so should many others.


It seems that despite all the information available and the training offered by District Marketing and PR Officers the message is still not getting through in terms of media photos

Flipping through Google images I was effectively tripping over line-up after line-up of besuited men in ties and Rotary pins smiling into the camera as if recreating their primary school photo (obviously – and thankfully minus the shorts).

Then there was the competition to see how many cheque presentations (with regular, standard sized cheques) from Club Presidents Google images was willing to accept. Still so many photos of one man handing another man a piece of paper – with the picture telling you nothing other than the men (again, generally in suits and ties) like to haggle over a little rectangle of paper.

We then have the mandatory plethora of ‘grip and grin‘ photos – where we effectively have two grown men stage-managed to hold hands while they stare down the barrel of the camera pointed at them all in the name of Rotary. The point of which is…hmmm…well, erm to be honest…I don’t actually know?

I understand when Barack Obama stands on the steps of 10 Downing Street and poses in a similar stance with David Cameron – as that reflects the friendship, bond and camaraderie between both countries. But having the Rotary Club El Presidente shaking hands with the local butcher doesn’t quite have the same effect when it happens at the front door of the local hotel.

But the big one – and still the out and out winner – is the number of photos where the President absolutely has to, without question wear his bling! Whether rightly or wrongly in contextual terms of the photo – you’ll generally find one of the men with the big gold and shiny medallion slung around his neck. Every opportunity, there it is swinging there on his chest…I’m sure some Presidents would even insist on wearing it if they were doing a Swimarathon photoshoot in their speedos!

What is it with the necessity to wear ‘bling’ in every photo opportunity?

If you check out some of the Rotary images searches, there’s more jewellery on show than you’d find in a Cartier retailer outlet. Why? Is it because they’re President and they should wear the bling at every opportunity? Or could they just be proud to wear the jewel of office? There are likely to be many answers – but in terms of a press photo shoot – there really needs to be serious consideration as to whether the regalia is required – and my advice would be – in most cases, it’s probably not!

Just as bad as the bling is the fluorescent hi-viz tabards and waistcoats? Yes, I get the fact that they are emblazoned with the Rotary Wheel; but there are so many other ways of getting the brand image into a Club’s publicity. Strangely, when doing the Google news search – loads of images of Rotarians in hi-viz came up, and to be frankly truthful they just looked like a line of local authority workers having their photo taken by the side of the road.

Rotary is more than just hi-vis traffic management operatives – so let’s ditch the fluorescent tops and get a bit more catwalk than Council.

Taking all this into account, it poses a few questions. Surely all the great work by District Marketing and PR Chairs can’t have been for nothing? It cannot be the case that they haven’t actually advised their Clubs that these inane photos are less likely to be used in the press while at the same time are not representing the wonderful organisation that is Rotary particularly well. There is enough information out there from RotaryGBI available to Clubs to ensure their photos are to as high a standard as possible.

It is essential that the quality of photos being published on behalf of Rotary are substantially improved in order to engage the creative minds of various publishers around the country.

So having listened to many newspaper Editors and Photo Editors here is a quick rundown of some of the pointers I will be offering in my presentation today:

  • Think about the story you are trying to tell – and try to let the photo help you to do that;
  • Use a decent resolution image – do not send photos that are blurred or in low resolution;
  • You don’t need a professional photographer just someone who knows what they are doing;
  • You no longer need an expensive camera – modern phones take amazingly high quality images;
  • Think about your location – does it help the story? Make sure the surroundings are not untidy and your subjects don’t have things growing out their head;
  • Do not use grip and grin photos – try to animate the photo using your subjects;
  • No cheque presentations – and if you insist on doing them – use proper large presentation cheques in the photo, but still try and have other things going on in the photo;
  • Understand that grip and grins and cheque presentations will not be printed by some newspapers (as a rule);
  • Use people who are good for the camera and want to be photographed – there’s no use in dragging someone in front of a camera who doesn’t want to be there;
  • Don’t have massive groups of people – in general up to five maximum, unless a large group is essential to tell the story – but still have key individual at the front of the photo (the people in the photo should relate to your text);
  • Think whether the ‘bling’ is absolutely necessary in the photo?
  • Think whether hi-viz tabards are absolutely necessary in the photo? Take them off wherever possible;
  • Have a chat with your local Editor and find out what kind of photos they would like from you – and make sure you do not send the ones that they will not print.

Ultimately the message needs to get out there. Some of the images being used for the organisation leave a great deal to be desired and an awful lot to the imagination of the reader.

Remember if in doubt, just ask – your local editor will be more than happy to have a chat with you about what they need. Remember your photos help promote and sell their paper – so they want good images in it – and if you can supply them to their specification – then all the better.

Images by Michael Broad by CC