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.

Using our Expertise and Networks to Provide Training for Local Nonprofits

A great way for Rotary clubs to serve their community is to rely on their members’ expertise and networks to provide training for local nonprofits in areas where they need support. As part of my club’s pro bono initiative, we organized in February 2017 two half day training events for local nonprofits on (1) monitoring and evaluation and (2) communications. This post explains what we did, and why it worked.

  

In September 2016, we applied to the Capitol Hill Community Foundation for a grant to help us organize training events for local nonprofits. We received the grant in November and organized the training events in February. The events focused on 1) essentials of monitoring, evaluation, and cost-benefit analysis for nonprofits; and 2) essentials of communications, from websites to social media and power point presentations.  The training workshops were held at the main community center for our neighborhood in Washington, DC. The focus on monitoring, evaluation, and cost-benefit analysis as well as on communications stemmed from the fact that when interacting with local nonprofits, there appeared to be great demand for support in those areas.

In order to organize the training events, we relied on the expertise of members of our club as well as friends and colleagues from organizations based in Washington, DC. Instructors for the two training workshops included staff from the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, the Communication Center, Tanzen, the Urban Alliance, and the World Bank.  In addition, between the events (one workshop in the morning and the other the same day during the afternoon), we provided a lunch to participants of both workshops with a keynote address from the CEO of Grameen Foundation, a well-known organization providing micro-credit globally.

In order to promote the training events, we designed posters/fliers and shared them widely to potential participants using a variety of networks. As an example, we contacted local foundations so that they could share the information with their grantees. Registration was brisk, and we had to close registrations when we reached 150 participants. On the day itself, about 90 people attended, which was good for us given that our room had a capacity of 90. Note that when training events are free some people who register may not come – and we had factored this in. We also had competition from a gorgeous and sunny day. Many participants attended for the whole day, but some came for just one of the two training events.

Because we had great speakers who knew their subject matter well and were engaging as well as practical in their presentations, evaluations of the two events by participants were very encouraging. As shown in the table below, on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), participants on average rated all dimensions of the training highly. This initiative overall was a great success for our club in terms of providing a valuable service to the community, and gaining in visibility as well. I encourage you to consider organizing similar events in your community.

Evaluation of the two training events by participants – scale from 1 to 5

M&E Comms
The training was well organized. 4.71 4.79
The topics covered were relevant. 4.65 4.68
Participation/interaction were encouraged. 4.44 4.58
The content was easy to follow. 4.50 4.89
The trainers were knowledgeable about the topics. 4.79 4.89
The trainers were well prepared. 4.74 4.89
The time allotted was sufficient for what was covered. 4.65 4.79
The lunch as well as the facilities were adequate. 4.56 4.68
This training experience will be useful to me. 4.68 4.84
I will come again if another training is organized. 4.62 4.79

I will recommend this type of training to others.

4.68 4.84

 

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 ebooks 4 and 5 – Rotary foundations and grants

Did you know that apart from the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, there are close to 4,000 local Rotary foundations in the United States alone? Two new free ebooks on Rotary foundations and grants are now available in the Rotarian Economist Short Books series.  The first book provides an introduction to Rotary foundations and grants for applicants as well as Rotarians. The second book provides a directory of Rotary foundations in the United States by state and by city within each state. To download your free copy, please go here.

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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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