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.

barracks

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.

Education, Peace, and Social Change Event at the World Bank

For readers of this blog who are based in the greater Washington, DC, area, please take note of an event I am organizing at the World Bank. On September 20, 2016 at 4 PM (until 5:30 PM followed by a light reception), we will have a great panel discussion on education for peace and social change featuring innovative programs in the DC area. The event is co-sponsored by my Rotary club and organized ahead of International Peace Day. Details are provided below. Feel free to share this information with others as all are welcome, but please do register at the following link if you intend to come but are not a World Bank staff (space is limited).
 
Education, Peace, and Social Change: Innovations in the District of Columbia

Panel on September 20, 2016 at 4:00 PM, Room J 1-050 (Address: 701 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20006)

How can secondary education be safe for students while also promoting peace and social change? This question will be discussed by a panel featuring innovative programs in Washington, DC. These programs provide useful insights not only for the United States but also for developing countries. Case studies will be presented about work in this area by District of Columbia Public Schools (in terms of improving safety in schools and promoting restorative justice), Street Law (in terms of empowering young people with legal and civic knowledge, skills, and confidence to bring about positive change for themselves and others) and One World Education (in terms of improving the research and writing skills of students and enabling them to write about issues that they deeply care about). The panel is organized for International Peace Day (on September 21) by the World Bank’s Education Global Practice together with the Global Partnership for Education, the World Bank Community Outreach, and the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill. A light reception will follow the event.

Introduction: Quentin Wodon, Lead Economist, World Bank

Chair: Joel Reyes, Senior Education Specialist, World Bank

Speakers:

David Jenkins, Manager of Behavior and Student Supports, DC Public Schools

Lee Arbetman, Executive Director, Street Law

Eric Goldstein, Chief Executive Officer, One World Education

Discussant: 

Arthur Romano, Assistant Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

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.

 

Polio Immunization in Yemen

A few months ago, I shared news through this blog about the approval of a new World Bank project for routine immunizations in Pakistan which included a component on polio.  Rotarian friends mentioned to me at the time that my blog post did not mention Rotary. The reason was that the project included partnerships with organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but not Rotary International. This was because the project did not focus solely on polio even though it included a component about polio, and Rotary (legitimately) targets its limited financial resources to projects focusing on polio only.  Beyond Pakistan, quite a bit is being done in developing countries on polio through routine immunizations. As Rotarians we should be aware of this.

Yemen 2016-Jul-6-feature-cover
Cover photo: Ashwak Althabibi holding her eight-month-old son Najran, who was vaccinated as part of the campaign. Photo credit: UNICEF.

Yesterday I came across a story about another World Bank project that included a polio component in Yemen.  As this may be of interest to some Rotarians, let me share this hopeful story below, which includes links to the project appraisal document (for those who like details, this document explains how the project works). A key message from the story is that by partnering with UNICEF and WHO, the World Bank was able to maintain disbursements for this project despite the conflict situation in the country.  As a result, the project has provided critical support for the national polio campaign which has managed to vaccinate 1.5 million Yemeni children despite the conflict.

 

______________

“This is so critical to us. We cannot afford to lose another child!” With these words, Ashwak Althabibi, a 36-year-old mother of six children, shared the story of losing her daughter Nora last year.

“We couldn’t get her to the hospital soon enough, and by the time we found a transportation and reached the hospital, Nora was gone,” Althabibi added with tearful eyes. She composed herself to say “I just want to thank the vaccination team for their perseverance. They come on a regular basis and vaccinate all my children. It’s a great consolation for us to feel such care.”

“No transportation can get there and it is the team’s responsibility to reach this population and to make sure all their children get vaccinated during this hard time,” commented Hana Ali Nagi, a 19-year-old health volunteer in the vaccination campaign.

Since the start of the current conflict, Yemen suffered massive damage to infrastructure, such as hospitals and clinics, and the interruption of medical supplies. Many foreign health personnel have left, and even the most basic needs for a healthy existence—access to water, sanitation, and food—have become, for most Yemenis, a daunting, daily task.

Gone too are the days when the victims of war were mostly soldiers: the Yemeni conflict has been unfair to women and children, which means the most vulnerable Yemenis are bearing the brunt of the conflict.

Thousands of Yemeni children have been killed and injured in the war, and hundreds of thousands put at more risk of death from disease or malnutrition. The UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 320,000 children now face severe malnutrition, while 2.2 million need humanitarian aid urgently to prevent their nutritional status from deteriorating.

The last two decades have been a prolonged period of political instability and economic fragility in Yemen, a country with both limited natural resources and an underdeveloped institutional capacity for project implementation.

But one lesson from previous World Bank Group experience in the health sector is that government ownership, simple project design, and donor coordination should come top of the list of the ways to make things work.

Yemen’s Health and Population Project (HPP) has a simple, evidence-based outreach delivery model for health services in coordination with UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), in order to procure some of the essential medications and medical supplies needed for the outreach campaigns.

This has enabled the Bank to continue its support to the project, when the war escalated and the Bank’s whole portfolio in Yemen was suspended, through channeling grants from the International Development Association (IDA – the World Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries) directly to UNICEF and WHO to deliver vaccinations and basic health services such as nutrition and reproductive health to children and women, respectively.

Since the project’s activities resumed in January 2016, around 1.5 million Yemeni children under five years old were reached by the national polio campaigns supported by the project, which represents about 30 percent of the whole target population nationwide.

“Conflict can have devastating, multi-generational impacts, but by leveraging our partnerships in Yemen we are able to continue investing in children’s health, which is a vital investment in the country’s future,” said Asad Alam, World Bank country director for Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti.

The outreach model aims to reach children in the places where they are living, often in remote areas that are hard to get to. It will continue to operate like this until the foundations of the country’s public health system are back in place. Simple, ready-to-go interventions are what Yemenis want to see as a practical response to their desperate need for basic health care. Health workers use different ways to deliver those services in such remote areas where camels, donkeys, or mountain climbing are usual means of transportation.

More outreach rounds for basic health services are planned, although the security situation prevents access to children in some areas. But overall, because of the problems of damaged infrastructure, fuel shortages, displacement and increased poverty, the simple outreach model of delivering basic health services is best suited to Yemen’s present situation. A door-to-door health round gives children the chance of getting vaccinated at home, with health professionals and volunteers spreading out across the country, mobilizing communities and vaccinating children.

Hopefully, soon peace will mark a new chapter, both in rebuilding Yemen and its health system, and improving the lives of all Yemenis and particularly its future, the children.

Thanks go to UNICEF for sharing real stories and photos from the field.

This story is reproduced from the World Bank website.

 

 

Launch of the Rotarian Pro Bono Initiative in Capitol Hill

Rotarians could have a larger postive impact on their community if they used their professional skills to the benefit of local nonprofits.  I have mentioned the idea of the Pro Bono Rotarian on this blog in recent months. My club is launching a new pro bono pilot initiative on July 12 at the Hill Center in Washington, DC.

For readers of this blog living in the greater Washington, DC, area, I hope that you will be able to join us for the launch event. Our keynote speaker will be Eric Goldstein, the Founder and CEO of One World Education. Please spread the word about this event!

For those not living in the Washington, DC area who may be interested in the initiative, please don’t hesitate to post a comment on this blog or contact me if you would like to learn more about this initiative and how you could launch similar initiatives in your club.

The info on our launch event is provided here as well as below.

Launch of the Capitol Hill Pro Bono Initiative

Tuesday July 12, 2016 from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM at the Hill Center

Old Naval Hospital, 921 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003

To help us plan, please register at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8DDPLQK.

What? Help local nonprofits to achieve higher impact. As a lawyer, marketer, social media expert, evaluation specialist, or other professional, volunteer your skills to help nonprofits improve/expand their services.

Why? Because you can often make a larger impact in the community when you volunteer your skills to help nonprofits excel and grow.

How? Join an initiative from the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill in 2016-17 to provide pro bono advice to local nonprofits in Capitol Hill and beyond.

Who? This initiative is for Rotarians and others to engage in service work. Non-Rotarians are welcome to join teams advising participating nonprofits.

Keynote Speaker: Eric Goldstein, Founder of One World Education

One World Education is an innovative DC-based nonprofit running the largest writing program in DC public schools, reaching close to 6,000 students in 2015-16. A team from the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill and American University recently conducted an independent evaluation of One World Education, suggesting positive impacts and strong appreciation by teachers and students. Eric Goldstein will explain how the program works, why writing skills are essential for students to succeed in college and careers, and how nonprofits can benefit from professional pro bono advice.

Eric Goldstein is the founder of One World Education. Previously he was an educator in public, charter, and independent schools. He earned a US Department of the Interior Partners in Education Award while teaching in DC. Eric holds a Master’s in Education from the University of Vermont and a Master’s of International Policy from George Washington University. His career in education started after a solo 5,000-mile bicycle trip across the US in 1999.

 

 

Education innovations for disadvantaged students in Washington DC

Can internship and mentorship programs help students graduate from high school and prepare them for colleges and careers? What type of support is needed for the most disadvantaged youth, including those who suffer from homelessness? Do tutoring programs help students learn? How can we improve the research, writing, and presentation skills of middle and high school students? 

These are some of the questions considered in a new series of briefs on innovations in education in the greater Washington DC, area of the United States.  The series is launched jointly by the World Bank Group’s (WBG) education team, the WBG Community Connections Program (the WBG’s outreach program to the local community), and the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill. We hope to contribute to better education outcomes not only in the DC area but also elsewhere by showcasing innovative programs that make a positive difference in the life of students and how well they learn.

Why focus on DC? The WBG’s mission is to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. While living standards in DC are better than in the developing work, poverty rates remain high and only about two thirds of students complete high school according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. While improvements have been achieved in recent years, innovations are needed to improve education and employment outcomes for disadvantaged children and youth.

The  briefs, in a small but meaningful way, will hopefully contribute to debates on how to improve education by featuring successful programs and policies. The programs and policies featured in the briefs will likely be relevant for other regions in the United States and developing countries with similar challenges.

The first set of briefs in the series feature non-profits that benefited from monitoring and evaluation grants from the WBG’s Community Connections Program or pro bono evaluation support provided by World Bank staff. The Latin America Youth Center (LAYC), One World Education, and the Urban Alliance are among the nonprofits featured in the briefs released on the occasion of the WBG’s Volunteer Awareness Day on May 10.

Below is a brief description of the work of the three organizations together with links to the briefs on these organizations.

LAYC: Some 17,400 young adults aged 18 – 24 who are from the Washington Metropolitan Area are disconnected from work and school. These youth are often from low-income families, are not in school, and are out of work. They typically face multiple challenges, including homelessness, issues with the courts, or substance abuse. These challenges prevent them from successfully transitioning into adulthood. LAYC uses an innovative approach called the ‘Promotor Pathway’ to target high-risk youth.  It’s a long-term, intensive, holistic case management and mentorship intervention which has led to positive changes in school enrollment, birth rates, and homelessness.

One World Education: During the 2015-16 school year, One World Education worked with District of Columbia Public Schools as a partner for the ‘Cornerstone’ initiative. Cornerstones are high-quality, in-depth core curricular experiences such as argumentative writing programs. Cornerstones aim to provide rigorous content to students, improved professional development for teachers, and continuity and consistency across grades and subjects. Some 5,200 students in 15 DC public schools in grades 10 and 12 have already participated in the One World Education programs.

Urban Alliance:  This non-profit organization, which operates in DC, Baltimore, Chicago, and Northern Virginia, facilitates the transition of disadvantage youth from high school to college to employment. It does so by running a comprehensive early employment program that provides access and exposure to professional networks for youth enrolled in the program. Urban Alliance staff train and mentor the students through their first professional employment opportunities, which help propel them to future success. Over 90 percent of Urban Alliance alumni go on to college. The WBG has participated in the Urban Alliance program since 1997 and supported over 300 students through internships. Results from an external evaluation suggest that the Urban Alliance program improves high school graduation rates and the likelihood that students will go to college after graduation.

The objective of the series of briefs is to document these and other successful programs, so that they can inform education policy and practice not only in DC, but also elsewhere. If you are living in the Greater Washington, DC, area and if you have an idea for a potential brief in the series, please let me know or post your idea in the comment section below.

This post is reproduced with minor changes from a post published by the author on May 9, 2016 on the World Bank Education for Global Development blog.

 

 

Evaluation is essential to assess what works and share stronger stories

Readers of this blog know that I have emphasized for some time the need to strengthen a culture of evaluation in Rotary. Evaluations should be undertaken not only for our service projects, but also to assess how our clubs meet, work, and grow – or wither away. This post is about a recent evaluation of an education project supported by my club, and how the evaluation is proving to be useful not only for the local nonprofit we worked with, but also for our club and more generally for practitioners and policy makers working in the field of education.

OWED celebration
Photo of OWEd scholarship winners with Brian Pick, Chief of Teaching and Learning for the District of Columbia Public Schools, and Dave Paris, member of the Board of OWEd.

For several years my club has supported One World Education (OWEd), a great nonprofit based in Washington, DC. OWEd runs the largest argumentative writing program in public and charter schools in the city. The nonprofit reached 5,800 middle and high school students this past school year. The aim of the program, which runs for 4-5 weeks in the schools, is to improve the research, writing, and presentation skills of the students, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds and do not do very well in school.

In previous years, our support to OWEd consisted in providing a bit of funding and volunteering at some of their events. This year, we provided college scholarships for some of the high school students (seniors) who participated in the program and worked especially hard. But we also did more. Together with a team at American University, we designed an evaluation of the program to better measure its impact. For more than 550 students, teachers collected essays written in class before and after the program. The essays were graded by professors and instructors in the Department of Literature at American University. This enabled us to assess whether the program made a difference in the writing skills of middle and high school students.

The evaluation demonstrated that the program has a positive impact. The program generates statistically significant gains in writing quality, especially for students who performed worst on the initial pre-program assignment.  The positive impact of the program was confirmed through data on the perceptions of teachers and students about the program. Two summary briefs about those evaluation results have been written and are now available for public schools and for charter schools separately.

It is clear that this type of evaluation is beneficial for the nonprofits whose programs are evaluated, as the evaluations enable the nonprofits to measure their impact, and take corrective action when needed.  The evaluations are also beneficial for our club in reassuring members that we are investing in worthwhile initiatives.

But there is more. Many others are interested in such evaluations and may learn from them, possibly generating larger impacts beyond the specific programs being evaluated. And these evaluations provide for great stories to be featured in local newspapers or magazines as well as social media, giving more visibility not only to the nonprofits and programs being evaluated, but also to the Rotary clubs that supported those evaluations.

This is what we are focusing on now – making sure that the positive results obtained by OWEd through its program are better known in Washington, DC, and beyond. We are writing short articles that document those results, and some of the stories of the students who benefited from the program.  We have secured already two placements for stories in the local media and we hope to write additional articles for national publications about the results of the evaluation. In addition, we will also prepare technical papers for academic journals. It remains to be seen whether we will be successful, but we now have a stronger story to tell thanks to the evaluation.

Finally, as mentioned, the evaluation has been summarized in two easy-to-read briefs. The two briefs, together with briefs about the work of other nonprofits operating in the field of education and skills for youth in the city, will be included in a small brief series on innovations in education in Washington, DC to be published by the World Bank. We hope that this simple brief series will help attract attention to the nonprofits doing great work in the city, while also helping practitioners and policy makers learn from the experience of successful programs.

In summary, evaluation is essential not only to help improve service projects, whether implemented by Rotary clubs or nonprofits, but also to tell stronger stories about ways to improve the lives of the less fortunate. Investing more in evaluation seems to be a win-win for nonprofits as well as service clubs.  And for Rotary as a whole, as I mentioned it in a previous series of posts on this blog, focusing more on partnerships, innovation, and evaluation seems key to achieve larger impacts.

Pro Bono Rotarian Initiative

Rotary is about fellowship and service work. How do we increase the impact of our service work in order to achieve higher impact in our communities while also fostering fellowship among Rotarians and others committed to making a difference in the life of the less fortunate? One potential response is the concept of the pro bono Rotarian or Rotaractor.

In my (limited) experience, many clubs engage in service projects that do not really build on the professional expertise of their members. Beautifying a school before the start of the school year, serving food for the homeless, helping in the renovation of a house for a vulnerable family, distributing dictionaries to third graders, or even joining a polio vaccination drive for a short period of time are all worthwhile activities. Such activities should continue and they often enable many members in a club to be involved in the service projects of the club.

But these one-shot activities typically do not build on the expertise that Rotarians have developed over many years in their professional career. In addition to traditional (local) service projects, Rotarians should probably also engage in more extensive pro bono work, for example to provide advice to nonprofits as consultants would. While the term pro bono is often associated with free legal advise, pro bono work can be done in many other areas, building on a wide range of expertise that volunteers may have. The value of the volunteer time that Rotarians would allocate to pro bono consulting could be very high for local nonprofits, with potentially larger beneficial impacts for communities than is the case with traditional projects. Again, the idea is not to pitch one form of service work against another, but to expand on what clubs currently do in their service work.

Importantly, I believe that a pro bono consulting model may also be beneficial for fellowship among Rotarians. While for some issues faced by nonprofits pro bono consulting can be done effectively in a short period of time, for more complex issues analyzing the challenges faced by a nonprofit and suggesting a solution takes a few months. For these challenges, pro bono consulting is typically done by a small team of 3-5 volunteers who commit to dedicating a bit of their time for several months in order to provide in-depth professional and free advice to local nonprofits. As Rotarians work together on such pro bono projects, stronger fellowship and friendships will emerge, and the vitality of clubs will improve as well. The pro bono Rotarian concept can really be a win-win for local nonprofits, Rotary clubs, and the communities we serve.

This coming Rotary year, I will help my club explore in a systematic way pro bono consulting opportunities with local nonprofits in our area (Washington, DC). You will hear more about this in coming weeks and months through this blog. We will start small, and we will assess the value of our pro bono work along the way. But we hope that the idea will grow and strengthen our club, as well as other clubs that may adopt this model.

If you would like to move in this direction in your club as well or if you would like to discuss similar ideas you may have, don’t hesitate to comment on this blog or to send me if you prefer a private email through the Contact Me page. I will be happy to help if I can, and I look forward to learning from you if you have already adopted a pro bono consulting model in your own Rotary or Rotaract club.