Three Lessons Learned as a Rotary Club President

Every year on July 1, some 35,000 new Rotary club Presidents take on the reins of their club, leading 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide for a year. As I just completed a year as club President, I thought it might be useful to share a few lessons learned over the past year.

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1. Prioritize

Unless you are a member of a large club, it is probably best to focus a club’s energy on only one main goal each year, as opposed to pursuing many different goals. One year goes by quickly. Trying to achieve too many goals may mean not achieving any one well enough.

For my club, our top priority this past year was to rebuild our membership. After many years of decline, we started the year officially with 18 members. In practice, we had at best 15 members since two members told us they were relocating over the summer and another member had to be terminated.  Of those 15 members, about half were fully engaged. We had no choice but to focus on rebuilding our membership. Thanks to a few initiatives explained in a free ebook as well as a bit of luck, today we have 40 members. We know that we will lose a few members due to relocation or termination in coming months. But we also have a few additional prospective members already identified, and we are clearly a stronger club today than we were a year ago.

When we started the year, we had other objectives apart from increasing our membership. In some areas, we did well. In other areas, we still have a long way to go. But what helped us is that we were clear on what our main strategic objective was for the past year: rebuilding our membership.

2. Invest in your local community

Many clubs are involved in both local and international service projects. As I work in international development, the fact that Rotary implements projects in developing countries is important to me. However, it is also clear to me that what sustains most clubs is local service, not international projects.

International projects often involve only a few dedicated club members. Without strong local service opportunities, clubs are at higher risk of losing their purpose and dynamism. The same holds for relationships. International relationships are great, but what will help a club strive are first and foremost the local relationships that a club and its members build, how well the club is known and respected in the local community. There may be exceptions, but it is hard for clubs to do well without a strong local presence.

3. Serve your members

Sometimes, there is a bit of a debate among Rotarians as to whether Rotary is a membership organization or a service organization. It seems to me that Rotary is by its very nature a membership organization first. Without a strong membership, Rotarians can’t achieve as much in their service work.

Recognizing that Rotary is primarily a membership organization has implications. Clubs need to respond to the needs and preferences of their members. This may mean a stronger focus on service in some clubs, but in other clubs it may mean a focus on, say, attracting great speakers. There is a lot of heterogeneity between clubs as well as Rotarians, and that’s a plus.

To bring value to their broader communities, clubs do need to engage in service work. This is an imperative, and I would not remain a Rotarian if this were not the case. My own priority in Rotary is to engage in service work. But not all Rotarians have the same priorities, and priorities can change depending on the stage of one’s own life. There are multiple ways to contribute, and all should be celebrated. All clubs and Rotarians should find their own niche. Diversity in Rotary is a strength that should be nurtured. But for this, a focus on serving the membership is essential.

These are three simple lessons I thought I should share. Nothing surprising really, just my two cents at the end of a year as club President with success in some areas, and a work in progress in others. Please feel free to comment and share your own views.

Free ebook 6: Tell Your Story in the Local Media – Write about Your Rotary Partners to Celebrate Volunteer Work

The sixth free ebook in the Rotarian Economist Short Books series has been released. The book tells the story of an initiative by a Rotary club to improve its public image by writing articles in the local media about volunteering opportunities for residents to make a difference in their community. The articles feature great local nonprofits, some of which the club is partnering with in order to implement service projects. The initiative appears to have been a success. To download your free copy, please go here.

Free ebook 3: What Does Service Mean in Rotary? Simple Stories of Inspiring Rotarians

The third free ebook in the Rotarian Economist Short Books series has been released. Rotary’s motto is “Service above Self.” What does this mean in practice? The book answers this question by providing examples of the work that Rotarians do. The book also explains Rotary’s “avenues of service.” The hope is that through simple stories of Rotarians at work, readers – including new Rotarians – will better understand what service in Rotary is about, and be inspired for their own volunteer work. To download your free copy, please go here.

Technical note: due to the Smashwords website features, I am listed as first author, but the correct order of the authors is the order provided in the downloadable files.

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Free ebook 2 – Partner, Innovate, Evaluate: Increasing Rotary’s Impact

The second ebook in the Rotarian Economist Short Books Series has been published. Partnerships, innovation, and evaluation can increase the quality, scope, and reach of Rotary’s service work in communities. The book suggests with case studies how this can be done. All books in the series are free and available here in multiple formats.  Please share this link widely with others for them to be able to benefit from this resource. And if you like the books in the series, please consider writing a quick review at Smashwords!

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Free ebook 1 – Double Your Membership In Six Months: 10 Lessons from a Rotary Club Pilot

The first ebook in the Rotarian Economist Short Books Series has just been published. It provides 10 simple lessons for Rotary clubs to grow. The book is based on the success of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill in doubling its membership in six months. The book is free and available here in multiple formats.  Please share this link widely for others to benefit from this resource. And if you like the book, please consider writing a quick review!

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Free ebook series: Let me know your ideas!

Next week, as I take time off from work, I will start working on a series of free ebooks for Rotarians and others interested in service work. The ebooks will be released in coming months. If you have ideas or know of projects that I should cover in this new series, please let me know by commenting on this post or sending me an email.

Strengthening Rotary

A first set of ebooks will be about Rotary and ways to strengthen the organization. Let me give three examples.

First, I will provide estimates of the footprint of Rotary, starting with data from the United States. For example, Rotarians know about the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. But they often do not know about the richness of the activities implemented by club foundations and how much Rotary as a whole contributes to “serving humanity”, the theme for this Rotary year. I will provide estimates of our total contribution – which is large. My hope is that these estimates can then be used to better tell our story.

Second, I will advocate for the need to invest more in partnerships, innovation, and evaluation in Rotary. I will argue for such investments, and share examples of great projects that have achieved impact in each of the areas of focus of the Rotary Foundation as well as polio through partnerships, innovation, and evaluation.

Third, I will share experiences of successful Rotary clubs, starting with my own and how we succeeded in doubling our membership in six months since July thanks in part to changes adopted at the beginning of the Rotary year. I will share lessons learned that I hope will be useful to other clubs.

Project Design in Areas of Focus

In addition, ahead of the Atlanta Rotary International convention, I will prepare a series of short ebooks providing basic facts as well as good practice advise and great project stories about our areas of focus for service work (fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, growing local economies, and promoting peace).

The hope is that these ebooks will help Rotary clubs and districts as well as other organizations choose and prepare great projects by building on the experience accumulated not only by Rotary (including Rotarian Action Groups) but also by other organizations.

Let Me Know Your Ideas

If you know of specific projects that I should cover in this new series of free ebooks, or more broadly of successful initiatives taken by clubs or districts that I should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

You can do so by sharing a comment on this post or by contacting me by email if you prefer (through the Contact Me page of this blog).

Thanks!

Results Are In: 60% Membership Growth in First Trimester

No, Rotary International did not suddenly get 720,000 or so more members, or at least not yet! I am talking about the membership growth in my club – the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, from July to October.60-percent

Let’s admit it: a high growth rate (negative or positive) is more likely with a small club than a large club. Still, after more than five years of almost continuous decline in membership, my club is excited to report a 60 percent growth in membership from July to October. We had 18 members on July 1. Now we have 29, with 11 new members inducted in the first trimester of the new Rotary year. We are still a small club, and we have a lot more to do to gain strength, but we are on the right track.

How did we do it? Let me share our recipe:

Ingredient 1: Less meetings, more service and public events. Rotary’s Council on Legislation has given a lot of freedom to clubs on how they organize their meetings. So we decided to reduce our regular meetings from four to two per month, which gives us more time for service work and organizing public events.

Ingredient 2: Better service opportunities. Many Rotarians are professionals and business leaders, yet most do not use their skills when they volunteer with their club. We changed that in our club by creating teams of Rotarians and non-Rotarians combining their skills to provide free advice to local nonprofits on the strategic issues they face. This is not only more interesting in terms of volunteer work, but it is also more impactful to create positive change in the community.

Ingredient 3: Lower cost. By the standards of Washington D.C., our membership dues are not very high, at $600 per year. But this is too much for many. So we created two new membership types – a membership at half the regular dues for young professionals under 35 years of age, and a spouse/partner membership at one third of the dues. I hope we will be able to reduce dues further in the future.

Ingredient 4: Stronger public image. We are organizing better and more regular public events. One of our recent events was a seminar at the World Bank with great speakers on education for peace and social change. That same week we also had a stand at the main festival in our neighborhood. In addition, we have been writing posts for a local blog, a series of articles on volunteering for the local magazine (Hill Rag) for our neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and another article for a free weekly newspaper (Current Newspapers).

Ingredient 5: Strategic planning. We now have a strategic plan, our first since the club’s creation in 2003. The plan gives us a vision, and clear milestones and targets that we are trying to achieve.

Ingredient 6: Luck. Part of our gain in membership was just luck. For example, two new members transferred from other clubs due to changes in jobs and the location of their workplace. What’s great is that they bring with them a lot of experience in Rotary.

It remains to be seen whether we will continue on the path of membership growth for the rest of the year. We expect some members to relocate, so we will need to recruit more members simply to compensate for that.

We also have a lot of work to do to achieve our goals in terms of impact in the community, which matters even more than membership growth. But we are making progress, and we have exciting initiatives coming up that should help us become better known and make a larger difference in the life of the less fortunate.

This post is reproduced with a few changes from a post published by the author on Rotary Voices on Friday November 4, 2016.

Which Is Better? Creating Your Own Event or Participating in an Existing Event?

As part of our new strategic plan, our club is stepping up efforts to improve our public image and our presence in the community, in part through social and traditional media, but also through the organization of public events and participation in existing events. Which is better? Creating our own event, or participating in events that already exist in your community?

As expected, the answer is “it depends”. Both types of events are an option, and if you can do both, all the better for your club. Let me illustrate this with two events for our club in the past week: our participation in the Barracks Row Festival (an existing event) on September 24, and our seminar on education for peace and social change at the World Bank (an event we created) on September 20.

The Barracks Row Festival is an annual family-oriented community event for Capitol Hill, the neighborhood in which our club is located in Washington, DC. Some 140 organizations and vendors have stands. Depending on weather, up to 10,000 people pass through the street where the event is located from 11 AM to 5 PM. For the second year in a row, we participated. This year our stand featured a bean bag game (as shown in the picture where you can see that our game has the Rotary emblem!)  Children and adults who succeeded in throwing a bag in the hole got a cute slap bracelet. In practice, we (of course) gave the slap bracelet to all the children who wanted it. Thanks to one of our members and her colleagues, we also had face painting for children for a few hours. This was as expected an even better attraction for children than the bean bag game.

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A few hundred people came by our stand, on a few occasions because they were interested in Rotary, but mostly because their children wanted to play or get their face painted. We did make a number of useful contacts, but more importantly we got our name out there in a positive way.  We contributed to an important event in our community, which we should do independently of any potential benefit for our club.

Our second event this past week was very different. We organized a seminar at the World Bank on education, peace, and social change with three very good speakers: one from our public school system and two from great local nonprofits (Street Law and One World Education). A Rotary Peace Fellow from George Mason University served as discussant, and one of my colleagues at the World Bank served as chair.

I will write more about the seminar when I will have the video to share, but for this post, in terms of comparing participation in an existing event with organizing a new event, the lessons are twofold. First, the seminar was well attended (with about 55 participants), but it reached fewer people than our stand at the Barracks Row Festival. On the other hand the people we reached included professionals that we are aiming to work with through our Capitol Hill pro bono initiative whereby we provide strategic advise to local nonprofits and agencies on the challenges they face. The event not only contributed to the broader discussion on education and peace, but it also contributed to our credibility as a partner. The fact that we co-organized the event with the World Bank. a respected organization in DC, did not hurt.

So, the message that I wanted to convey with these two examples of recent events for our club is simple: if you can, you should consider multiple types of events to make your club better known. Some of these events could be created from scratch, as we did for the seminar at the World Bank, while others could entail participation in existing community events with broader reach. Both types of events are great opportunities to make your club better known and contribute to the community.

Strengthening Rotary Clubs through Stronger Partnerships with Local Nonprofits

As readers of this blog may be aware, my Rotary club launched last month a number of partnerships with key nonprofits in our community as part of a “pro bono initiative”. These partnerships bring several benefits: 1) better service opportunities for our members and larger impact in the community; 2) more visibility for  our partners and our club; and 3) new members. Let me briefly explain these three benefits in case they may inspire other clubs to adopt a similar model.

Better service opportunities and larger impact: Most Rotarians are professionals and/or business leaders. We are building on these skills in our club by providing pro bono strategic advise with small teams of 4-5 individuals (both Rotarians and non-Rotarians) that support local nonprofits. This makes our club more interesting for our members in terms of the service opportunities we provide, and it also increases the impact that we have on the community through local nonprofits. I mentioned this pro bono initiative in previous blog posts, so let me focus here on the other two benefits.

More visibility for our partners and our club: This higher visibility is achieved is several ways. First, we are sharing our work on social media using some of the better known blogs in our community. The main blog for our community is “The Hill Is Home”. So we started writing posts for that blog, not directly about our club, but about the great work of our nonprofit partners … and the fact that we are working with them. We also started writing short articles about our partner nonprofits in the main monthly magazine for the community. Again, the stories are about our partner nonprofits but they mention in passing that our club works with them. These efforts should give us more visibility, and they also help our nonprofit partners who truly appreciate the visibility they get with this initiative. Finally, we have started placing small posters in local cafes, libraries, and other locations to advertise the fact that our nonprofit partners are invited as speakers to our club meetings. We indicate when they are speaking, which can bring us more visitors.

More members: Our club has been losing members for quite a few years. As mentioned in a separate post on this blog in which I shared our club’s strategic plan, our top priority this year is to attract new members and revitalize the club. It is too early to assess whether we will be successful, but the last few weeks have been promising. On July 1, we had 18 members, down from 31 a few years ago. Right now, we are back to 26 members thanks to 8 new members who joined in the last three weeks. Our pro bono initiative and our partnerships with local nonprofits have helped us in recruiting some of these new members and we have a number of other potential members we are in contact with thanks to the initiative. We will loose a few members in coming weeks/months due to relocations (Washington DC is for some a temporary location), but we are hopeful that we will achieve a substantial net gain in membership this year thanks in large part to the pro bono initiative and the benefits it brings not only to the club, but more importantly to local nonprofits and the community.

There are multiple ways for Rotary clubs to partner with local nonprofits in a strategic way, and some clubs have a long history in doing so. Our new model emphasizing pro bono consulting teams working closely with local nonprofits may not be the right model for all clubs, but it appears to be working for us, and it ties in nicely with our efforts at improving our public image and recruiting new members. If you would like to know more about our new model, please do not hesitate to post a comment on this post, or to email me through the Contact Me page of the blog.

 

 

 

Growing the Membership and Serving the Community: Example of a Strategic Plan for a Rotary Club

On July 1, at the start of each new Rotary year, new club Presidents elected by the membership of more than 34,000 Rotary clubs worldwide take on the responsibility to lead their club for a year.  New elected leaders are also in place, again for a year, at the level of Rotary Districts and even Rotary International.

Rotary has long called on clubs and districts to adopt strategic plans. This is good practice for any organization, but especially so for an organization with new leaders every year. It is not clear exactly how many clubs adopt such plans, given that many clubs are small and may not feel the need to put a strategy plan down on paper. Yet strategic plans can be helpful, especially when clubs or districts try new innovative approaches to strengthening their membership and achieving a larger impact on their community.

Starting this year, my club – the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill, has adopted a number of important and hopefully innovative changes in the way it will function. The changes range from how many times the club will meet each month to the type of service work it will engage in, and how it will aim to strengthen its membership.

As this may be useful for other clubs, I thought I should share on this blog a strategic note that describes these changes and what the club hopes to achieve in the coming year.  Maybe the note can help other clubs think about their own options.

Please do not hesitate to share feedback on the strategic note of my club available here. You can do so by commenting/leaving a reply to this blog post. Over the year I will report occasionally through the blog on the progress (or lack thereof!) made towards our objectives for the 2016-17 Rotary year.