Rotary Membership and why it’s everyone’s problem

D7980 Membership Committee

D7980 Membership Committee

D7980 10-Year Membership Trends

D7980 10-Year Membership Trends

It’s no secret that membership amongst service clubs is down and has been declining in North America for many years.

In our Rotary District of 61 clubs; membership has declined by 475 net Rotarians (or 17%) in the past 10 years. Some of our clubs have fared better than others with membership as 6 clubs have increased their membership ranks, another 10 clubs have maintained their membership levels while 45 clubs have lost ground.

Rotary International (RI) and their Districts have long been concerned about membership erosion and have made it a strategic priority in recent years but yet our membership continues to decline.

While decreased membership has financial consequences for RI and Districts, it has even greater implications for Rotary clubs as it is our club members that do the projects, get the grants, build the structures, cleanup the communities, work the fundraisers, hand out the dictionaries and run the clubs. Without sufficient levels of skilled membership at the club level then the work of ‘the many’ falls onto the shoulders of ‘the few’, which often contributes to burn-out of our most dedicated Rotarians.

My focus as District Governor is entirely on the needs of the D7980 Rotary Clubs with membership being our top #1 priority and not just one of many others.

My leadership approach to turning our membership decline around consists of the following:

  • Focusing on member retention through engagement first and recruitment second. There are many reasons why people leave a service organization like ours and all but 2 of them (diminished health or relocation) are largely preventable.
  • Assembling a top notch District-wide membership team that is putting together a proactive out-of-box approach membership plan for our clubs under Kathy Chartier’s Chairmanship.
  • Dedicating significant budgetary resources towards our membership effort with reserves if more is needed.
  • The Governor track (myself, the next 2 District Governors plus iPDG Amey) are all working closely together on the membership issue as we believe that this an important multi-year endeavor and not simply the ‘DG Project of the year’.
  • Engaging our 12 Assistant Governors to closely work with the clubs in their area on membership issues.
  • We are bringing in RI’s membership Guru, Brad Howard, to work with our President’s during the Council of President’s on October 3rd.
  • We have been enlisting the help of many Past District Governors.

The clubs visits have been an eye opener with respect to how clubs are working (or not) on their membership issues. I have received considerable feedback, which I am communicating back to the membership committee.

We will begin implementing our plans in early October and continue throughout the year.

Spoiler Alert: Participants will see the connection between Public Relations and Fellowship to Membership as our program rolls out.

Thank You,

Rick Bassett – DG

6 thoughts on “Rotary Membership and why it’s everyone’s problem

  1. Rick:   With due respect to the problem of declining membership, may I suggest the creation of an independent committee on RETENTION which is not a part of the Membership committee.   Invariably, Membership committees concentrate on new members with little effort on retention.  This may be novel, but I suggest a trial.   Best wishes.   Abe Gordon

    >________________________________ >From: Rick Bassett >To: >Sent: Friday, August 23, 2013 12:25 PM >Subject: [New post] Rotary Membership and why it’s everyone’s problem > >rickbassett posted: ” It’s no secret that membership amongst service clubs is down and has been declining in North America for many years. In our Rotary District of 61 clubs; membership has declined by 475 net Rotarians (or 17%) in the past 10 years. Some of our clu” >

  2. Abe, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The main charge of the membership committee is retention so I do believe that we are in sync with your thinking. Brad Howard has told us time and again that we (Rotary) are really good at attracting members (brining them in the front door) but we tend to be not as good about retaining them. With that in mind, I do feel that recruitment doesn’t require nearly as much attention as retention does. Our single committee of superstars (including one from your club) should be able to fulfill their mission.

    Rick B

  3. Rick

    Excellent summary and thanks for the comments on Retention Central. It is important that we recognize, as you have, that Rotary clubs are member centric. Discussions such as this get people to thinking, and your approach is spot on. If you feel comfortable doing so, consider recommending that clubs in your district look on Retention Central under the right sidebar Membership Thoughts from Around the World Sarasota Rotary is Bucking the Downward Trend. As Emily Francona from Oregon has stated, ‘It starts at the club level.’ but leadership at all levels must be consistent and not send mixed messages.

    Jim Henry

  4. Rick
    Membership is everyone’s business; no question. But it has not been everyone’s business, which is one of our major problems. Clubs are on the front lines of membership. Club leaders require training. Who is responsible for the quality of their training? Is the training the quality and substance they need to help their club become more effective in their local social environs? Here is a Rotatorial I posted on this very issue because I was told in very clear terms that membership is a club responsibility.

    I totally agree that membership is everyone’s responsibility. Someone needs to convince Senior Staff and Leaders of that.

    Your Oct 3 President;s Council meeting should be very good. You have a wonderful keynote speaker in Brad Howard. Tell him I said hello.

    • Jim,

      I truly believe that the core mission of Rotary really is training, even though it isn’t articulated as such. Think about it; our term limits of 1-and-done force us to be the premier training machine on the planet and I’d contend that we (Rotary) are actually pretty good at training.

      BUT training people to be club administrators (managers) is very different than training people to be leaders. There is an enormous difference between managers and leaders that is lost on most of the trainers that I have met.

      Managers toil in activities that help to run a club and basically to maintain the ‘status quo’. It is safe to be a manager as very few risks are being taken but with few risks come few rewards. When attempting to maintain the ‘status quo’ attrition becomes the membership enemy as health and relocations will eventually erode an otherwise healthy membership roster.

      Leaders on the other hand are visionaries, they try to take their clubs (and districts) to places they have never been before in somewhat revolutionary ways. They are interesting to listen to although a bit scary for some people as their message is usually laced with change. Leaders cause an excitement around them that makes things like membership increases, mega-fundraisers and mind-blowing projects possible.

      So back to your point. We (Rotary) do/does a decent job of training but most of the training is Manager focused (see Planning Guide for Effective Clubs in the Presidents Manual and it becomes obvious) and not Leader focused even though we sometimes call it that.

      IMHO: If we can get much better at inspiring Club and District Leaders for their 1-and-done Leadership position and push away the corporate strategic stuff then members will come, more importantly members will stay.

      Leaders inspire, Managers bore, Leaders take chances and bring about change, Managers maintain the ‘Status quo’,
      Leaders are interesting, Managers no so much…..

      My 2 cents….I could be wrong.

      Rick Bassett D7980

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.