The membership dilemma

Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) brings the membership challenge up time and again. Where are we now after all the initiatives to increase membership in the UK and Ireland?

At a club meeting recently John Hewko the General Secretary of Rotary International addressed the members. During his talk he mentioned that there is a concern over falling membership numbers in three countries they are USA, Japan and United Kingdom. The overall membership number of 1.2m was being maintained by an increase in membership from the developing countries. So the United Kingdom is grouped with the countries raising concern on membership but should it be?

There is a concern over falling membership numbers in three countries they are USA, Japan and United Kingdom.”

In the last Blog I looked at the unique position of Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) and the opportunities that should be on offer to the members within these islands. The committee structure is unique within Rotary International and is the envy of the rest of the world. So why the falling membership, and what of the initiatives trying to halt the rush to the door, and the projects attracting and welcoming prospective new members.

I also mentioned I would look at membership within RIBI and look at what could be done. Rotarians like myself and along with a few colleagues are genuinely concerned at the falling numbers and even more concerned at the falling interest in the activities of RIBI. In talking with members of clubs it becomes apparent that there is a big disconnect from RIBI to the Districts and the Clubs and ultimately the members.

shutterstock_41190025.jpgNow I can envisage the members of “The Establishment” raising their eyebrows and scratching their heads and telling themselves that this observation is incorrect. If they take this stance I would ask them to think again, step back and look objectively at the situation because all the initiatives and projects you have planned, spent a lot of time and money on are just not working. You need to sit up and smell the coffee and take some real constructive and meaningful action.

Before we move on to some suggestions lets look at what has been done and worked or not worked.

A few years ago we had the campaign from RIBI “We’re for Communities” A lot of  thought and money went into the announcement and implementation. Some things were missing from the launch like a Press Conference and PR related announcements but the campaign and strapline went well. The enquiries from prospective members came in quite large numbers but never materialised in terms of new members. It was thought that the prospects enquired with raised expectations only to be let down at District and or Club level.

In the meantime Rotary International had engaged  one of the largest and world-renowned brand specialists to look at the organisation and they came up with the strapline, “ Join Leaders, Exchange Ideas, Take Action in your Community”. This initiative also embraced a new look Rotary logo and was presented in a Style Guide for District and Club use. I think it would be no exaggeration to say that almost 4 years on this project has just about touched the grass-roots members. But inevitably we move on and the Strapline “People of Action” has appeared from the ether.

However, whilst all this was going on the RIBI membership committee were presenting projects of their own. A grant of $60k was received for an ambitious membership plan with objectives like  “ Vision to implementation of strategy and training” and Club growth” as well as “Rotary GO phase three” to pick just a few. There were targets set against all of the actions running to 8 pages in all. As an aside it would be good to know what happened in Rotary GO Phase 1 and 2?

The question I would ask is if all this time, effort and money was spent in a productive way, where are the results?

It has not worked whichever way it is looked at and we would be kidding ourselves if for one minute we think it has”.

So what needs to be done?

The flexibility offered by Rotary International to members and clubs should be jumped on, embraced and driven forward at lightning pace. I would advise the RIBI Membership Committee to draw a line under the last initiatives and really get to the grass-roots of the organisation here. Please don’t pick up on the ideas and projects as in the past. Presenting without thinking but tailoring them to local levels and needs.

Many would say that is why they failed.

Really reach the members and motivate them such that they can see what value they are getting out of RIBI.  So think out of the box and that involves starting new clubs, satellite clubs, eClubs, or almost any type of club  right across the country. They should meet the local demand and present clubs should be enthused to practically help them along their selected road finding the project exciting. However, not like the old plan just telling what should be done is pointless tell the clubs and members how it is done. Enthuse them with plans for the new club and give them advice and support. How do they publicise the fact they are setting up a new club and how do they reach prospective members. But does the RIBI Membership committee have the people of vision and action to bring these proposed changes about? Their track record to date is not convincing. Putting a plan on paper is the easy part, implementing your plan is yet another challenge.

shutterstock_89720617.jpgAs a result of this Blog and others like it we have members and clubs and also districts popping up saying we have a new club and or we have inducted x new members recently. You know that is to be lauded from the rooftops. But we should ask the question, “ How did you do that and what did you do to attract the new members?” There is a benchmark exercise there somewhere.

So where does all this leave us? I’ll go back to the time I spent speaking to Rotarians on the telephone trying to clear queries for magazine articles. On occasions they thought I worked for RIBI and when I told them I didn’t I got a tirade of what they thought of the set up and some could be pretty outspoken. Some in quite senior positions as District Governors were open in their criticism of RIBI, some gave the set up a few years in existence.

Whatever happens and whatever changes are brought about the reasons ideas and thought should bring the members along with the organisation. It’s always good to remember the sale is made in the client’s mind which means that selling is not telling. Show the members they can get value for money and effort and that way change will come about.

This blogpost was the second guest-blog written by Allan Berry, a Rotarian from District 1080 and former Editor of RIBI’s National Magazine. In a future blog Allan will offer his views and opinions of the work and results of the RIBI Marketing, PR and Communications Committee.