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.


How Can this Blog Be Useful To You? Priorities for 2015-16

This blog was launched almost nine months ago on world polio day. I took a short break from the blog over the last few weeks due to work and a holiday break, but I am now back and fresh to start blogging again. With the new Rotary year starting, I thought it would be interesting to share a few thoughts about my priorities for the blog, trying to make sure that the blog is useful to you – the readers. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you think that these are the right priorities!

Priority 1: Helping Clubs and Districts Design and Evaluate Projects

A number of other blogs on Rotary and service clubs – including Rotary-managed blogs such as Rotary Voices and Rotary Service Connections – regularly feature stories about successful service projects and initiatives. Information on projects is also available in Rotary showcase. All these are highly valuable resources, but there is also space for a different type of blog that would provide more in-depth analysis of successful projects, why they have been successful (or not), and how we know that this is the case. This last point matters: in order to be able to know whether projects have been successful or not, some form of evaluation is needed.

One of the priorities for the blog this coming year will therefore be to feature and analyze more successful projects implemented by service clubs as well as other organizations, discuss why the projects have been successful, and document how we know that they indeed have been successful. One of my convictions is that while Rotary is rightfully implementing many different types of projects, we could also progressively invest more in innovative projects that could be properly evaluated and expanded by others with deeper pockets if successful.

In addition, I also hope to make available through this blog a range of open access resources from different sources – including from my employer, the World Bank – that can help service clubs (and nonprofits more generally) think through the design and evaluation of their projects. Specifically, by the end of this new Rotary year, I hope that the blog will feature such resources in an easily accessible and organized way for most or perhaps all key areas of focus of the Rotary Foundation (promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, growing local economies, and eradicating polio).

Priority 2: Making the Contribution of Service Clubs Better Known

Rotary and other service club organizations are not always as good as they should be at explaining clearly what they do, and measuring their contribution to local communities and society. Consider just one example. We know how much the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International is contributing to projects around the world, but we do not have good estimates of how much clubs are contributing through their own small foundations and projects that do not benefit from Rotary Foundation funding. I have a few ideas about how this could be estimated, and will try them out. Also important is the value of the time and expertise that Rotarians are contributing to many different types of projects. These are all areas that I plan to investigate this year, with the hope that some of the results will be of use to clubs, districts, and perhaps even Rotary International.

Priority 3: Discussing Constraints and Opportunities for Growth

A year ago I published a book on membership in service clubs based on Rotary’s experience. The data collected for the book, as well as other data, can shed light on some of the constraints faced by clubs as well as opportunities for growth. Similar assessments could also be done for what is referred to in Rotary as “New Generations” (Interact and Rotaract clubs). This is another area where I hope to be able to invest a bit of time and share results as well as examples of good practice through the blog.

While the blog will continue to touch on other topics and will also welcome guest bloggers, these three areas are my tentative priorities for this coming year. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think by commenting on this post or contacting me privately (if you prefer) through the Contact me page.

Interact Membership Survey

by Quentin Wodon

Interact is a vital and growing part of the Rotary family. Globally, Rotary Intenational estimates that Interact membership may be close to reaching 400,000. At the same time, we know relatively little about who the members are, why they join, and what they do. In addition, because Interactors are high school students and thereby minors, Rotary International does not maintain an individual level database of Interactors as it does for Rotary and Rotaract.

In order to learn more about what Interactors do, I launched as Interact chair for my District an online survey. The survey will help us understand better what motivates Interactors, what they focus on, and what they would like to have support for. I would like to invite all Interactors – including those in other Districts, to fill the survey. Responses are strictly anonymous as the survey does not ask respondents to identify themselves or provide contact info.  The survey is in English, but if there is demand to translate it in other languages, I will be happy to consider that – just let me know through the Contact Me page of this blog.

If you are a Rotarian adviser for an Interact club, or an Interact chair for a District, please encourage Interactors to fill the survey. The link for the survey is: (If you read this from Rotary District 7620, please do not use the link above as we have a separate link for that District; send me an email through the Contact Me page and I will give you that link).

If you have questions, again, please send me an email through the Contact Me page of this blog. If we get enough responses, I will be happy to tabulate results from the survey for specific geographic areas if that is useful to you. Note that while the survey does not ask about the Rotary District to which Interactors belong (many Interactors probably do not know the answer), the questionnaire asks about country/state location, so we will be able to look at data by geographic area.

Please, spread the word about the survey so that we get a good number of responses and provide a meaningful analysis. The main results of the analysis will be shared through this blog so that we can all learn from the responses.

Organizing Great District Conferences: Lessons Learned

by Quentin Wodon

April-May is a busy time for many Rotary districts as this is often the period during which districts organize their annual conference. How can districts organize great conferences combining learning and fun at an affordable cost for participants? A few months ago, I ran a series of three posts on preparing and evaluating great conferences. The posts were based on a detailed evaluation of the conferences organized by my district over the last three years. The evaluation is available here. Given that we are entering conference season in full swing, let me summarize in this post some of the key points I made in the three-part series on this topic a few months ago (the links to the series are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

What Feedback Did Conference Participants Give?

In my district, our evaluations suggested that participants were often fairly happy with most aspects of the conferences. But they also had suggestions. When asked what types of sessions they would like to see more off in future conferences, they suggested having more sessions on successful projects and debates/discussions on Rotary and its future. In terms of the types of speakers, participants would like more motivational and entertaining speakers, as well as more speakers from the business world versus nonprofits. Participants would also like less time spent on award ceremonies.

Participants would like the conferences to be shorter (two days). Shorter conferences would also help reduce the cost of attending the conference, which is often a complaint. This in turn may make it easier to attract more Rotarians to these events, including some of the younger Rotarians for whom cost may be a more serious issue. As to whether it is better to have one or more districts present at a conference, feedback was split between the two options – some participants prefer to have only their own districts, while others like the opportunity to meet members from other districts. Virtually all participants like opportunities for discussions with Interactors and Rotaractors, and would like more such opportunities.

While some of the feedback received in your district may be different, it seems to me that quite a bit of what we learned in my district about what was great and what could be improved in district conferences is likely to apply in many other districts as well.

Is It Difficult to Evaluate Conferences?

It is not. Evaluating district conferences in a serious way is feasible at virtually no cost, as illustrated by the work we did in our district. The surveys for the evaluation were administered through the web and by sending an email to participants a few days after the conferences took place. Using web surveys reduced the time needed to tabulate data, and ensures that there is no waste of information, say from legibility issues often encountered with printed surveys. Participation rates can be strong, so that the surveys are representative statistically. You can even monitor changes in the evaluation of conferences over time – as we did – by fielding similar surveys year after year.

Our latest survey for 2014 survey had a total of 24 questions, some with multiple sub-questions. The questionnaires were designed to take about 15’ to complete, so that substantial information can be captured without taxing too much the time of respondents. Two emails (one initial email and one reminder email) were sent to participants to ask them to fill the survey – this was enough to generate fairly good response rates.

In terms of the structure of the questionnaire, a first set of questions were asked to respondents about their profile (age, gender, Rotary status, length of membership, club affiliation, past attendance at district conferences, attendance rate at club meetings, positions of leadership in the organization, etc.). A second set of questions were asked for participants to evaluate all of the conference sessions to which they participated one by one, as well as their general appreciation of the conference along a number of characteristics and some of their preferences for future sessions. Finally, a last set of questions were open-ended to elicit qualitative feedback on the conferences. The questionnaire of the 2014 evaluation is available in the report on the evaluation.

If your district is one of many that are organizing their conference in the last quarter of the Rotary year, good luck! And if you would like help with evaluating your conference, please let me know by sending me an email through the Contact Me page of the blog.

Rotary Membership Analysis 6: What Works Well and What Could Be Improved

by Quentin Wodon

How satisfied are Rotarians with various aspects of their membership experience? This question was asked in the membership survey on which many posts in this series are based. In this post I will share summary results for my district, but readers should remember that because clubs and districts are all unique, each club and district should conduct its own assessment of strengths and areas for improvements – these can differ substantially between clubs and districts.

Satisfaction with the Membership Experience

One of the questions asked in the survey was “How do you think your club is doing in the following areas?” Twenty five different areas were identified in four categories. For each area members could rate their membership experience as excellent, good, average, poor, or don’t know. The areas were:

  1. Club Membership: Quality of the existing membership, Diversity in the membership, Growth and retention, Gender balance, Age balance, Efforts to meet/welcome new members, and Fellowship between members;
  2. Club Meetings: Location convenience, Location décor/atmosphere, Quality/variety of the food, Quality of the speakers, Organization of meetings and timeliness, Day and time of meetings, Club attendance at regular meetings, Quality of other meetings/events, Greeting and treatment of visitors, Attendance at district/other events;
  3. Information/Communication: Communication from leadership & assembly, Quality of the club’s newsletter or bulletin, and Communication with the local media;
  4. Service activities: Amount of local service activities, Quality of local service activities, Amount of international service activities, and Quality of international service activities.

Rotarians were highly satisfied with the quality of their club’s membership (81% favorable ratings, i.e. an excellent or good rating) and the fellowship between members (77%). Ratings were lower on the ability to attract (46%) and retain (43%) new members. On diversity in general, ratings were fairly encouraging (66% favorable), but gender (58%) and age balance (40%) ranked lower. As to the ability of clubs to meet and welcome new members, it was rated favorably by 61% of members, which is too low given that this should be a top priority for clubs.

Most aspects related to club meetings were rated very highly, with favorable ratings ranging from 76% to 91% on seven of the ten attributes in this category. Recall that in a previous post I mentioned that meetings as well as service projects were two core products that clubs are “selling” to their members. On meetings, clubs are doing well with the existing membership. The three aspects related to meetings that were rated lower were the quality/variety of the food (with still 70% favorable rating), club attendance at regular meetings (60%) and especially attendance at district/other events (33%). The issue of low attendance at district events is widespread – but annual district conferences and other events can be implemented successfully (see the 3-part story on district conferences here).

Ratings were relatively good for internal communication within clubs (71% favorable ratings for communication from the club leadership and 66% for the quality of the club newsletter/bulletin), but lower for communication with local media (32%, the lowest score for all attributes combined).

Finally, local service activities were well rated (66% for the quality of the activities and 63% for the amount of local service done), but this was less the case for international service (50% and 45% respectively).

Level of Club Involvement

In order to triangulate the above results, another question was asked as to whether Rotarians found their club’s involvement with various activities excessive, adequate, or insufficient. The activities included were: Membership development, Member orientation/education, Membership retention, Fellowship activities, Support to Rotaract/Interact, Other club administrative/internal matters, Service to the district, Local service projects, International service projects, Club public relations and/or media, Fundraising, Rotary International Foundation, and Other.

Very few members responded that their club’s involvement was excessive in any area, although one in ten Rotarians suggested that fundraising may be too prominent (there may be a risk of donor fatigue for a small share of the membership). The areas for which more than a fourth of the membership requested more active involvement by clubs were membership development, member retention, member orientation/education, club public relations and/or media, and finally support to Rotaract and Interact clubs.

These results should not be too surprising. At least in North America, many Rotarians may feel that the results broadly apply to their own club or district. The membership challenge in high income countries is recognized by members, which is why they see membership development, member orientation and education, and membership retention as top priorities that clubs should invest even more in than they do right now. But it is worth noting that the issues of the support provided to Rotaract and Interact clubs and of the visibility of clubs in the media are related to the membership challenge. Rotaract and Interact may help in building the future pipeline for Rotary membership, and media relations are essential for Rotary’s public image, which is also likely to affect the future membership pipeline.

What Next?

What works well and what could be improved tends to be acknowledged by clubs, but I still wanted to share those basic results from our membership survey to provide more precise quantitative estimates on perceptions about those issues. Sometimes quantification can help focus attention, and when membership surveys are repeated over time, this helps for monitoring and evaluation.

We are now more than half-way through this introductory  series of posts on Rotary Membership Analysis. In the next four posts in the series, I will move a bit closer to some of the solutions that clubs can implement to confront the membership challenge. I will first discuss how to estimate relative potential for growth by geographic area – an approach that can help in targeting resources to areas that are underserved by Rotary. Next, I will discuss some of the strategies that have been implemented by clubs in my district to boost membership. After that I will discuss interesting initiatives for fundraising that have the added benefit of also building community awareness of Rotary. Finally, I will briefly touch on the use traditional as well as social media to promote clubs and districts and the importance of telling the story of our successful service projects.

Note: This post is part of a series of 10 on Rotary Membership Analysis. The posts with links are as follows: 1) Introduction, 2) The Challenge; 3) Why Do members Join?; 4) Volunteer Time; 5) Giving and the Cost of Membership; 6) What Works Well and What Could Be Improved; 7) Targeting Geographic Areas for Growth; 8) Initiatives to Recruit Members; 9) Fundraising Events; and 10) Telling Our Story.