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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ZBF9CDX. (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.

Rotary Membership Analysis 1: Introduction

by Quentin Wodon

Millions of people worldwide are members of service clubs. Rotary International has 33,000 clubs and 1.2 million members. Lions International is even larger with 46,000 clubs and 1.35 million members. Kiwanis is smaller but still large with 8,350 clubs and about 233,000 members. These are probably the three best known service club organizations not affiliated with any particular faith or political point of view, but many other organizations have adopted the club model.

Service clubs are membership-based non-profit organizations engaged in charitable work, but their members also value the networking and fellowship opportunities that clubs provide. Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis were all founded about one hundred years ago. Rotary was founded in 1905 in Chicago by Paul Harris. Kiwanis was founded in 1915 in Detroit. The first Lions club was created in 1917 also in Chicago. All three organizations aim to serve. Rotary’s motto is “Service above Self”, while Lions’ is “We Serve” and Kiwanis’ is “Serving the Children of the World.”

There is a wealth of information on the history of service clubs. Several books have been written about Rotary’s founder Paul Harris, among others by Walsh (The First Rotarian: The Life and Times of Paul Percy Harris, Founder of Rotary) and Carvin (Paul Harris and the Birth of Rotary). For Rotary’s centennial, Forward wrote a history of the organization entitled A Century of Service: The Story of Rotary International. There is even a website dedicated to the history of Rotary, including at the club and district levels. Similar books have been written about Lions International, among others by Martin (We Serve: A History of the Lions Clubs) and Martin and Kleinfelder (Lions Clubs in the 21st Century). And if you are looking for a history of service clubs, Charles’s book (Service Clubs in American Society: Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions) may do the trick.

Service clubs have had their critics, including Nobel Literature Laureate Lewis whose novel Babbitt published in 1922 was a satire of middle class conformism and behavior. Still, service clubs have fulfilled many valuable functions and, as Charles has suggested, mirrored broader shifts in society. Overall it is fair to say that for the better part of their first century, service clubs thrived. Yet as society evolved, service clubs have had to adapt, and there has been concern that they may have lost ground. At least in North America, membership has declined, especially in the last few decades. Growth in the developing world has enabled organizations such as Rotary International to maintain their worldwide membership, but challenges abound.

Is the golden era of service clubs over? As a member of a Rotary Club, I don’t think this is actually the case. But a quick look at Google’s Ngram Viewer may give club members pause. The Viewer charts yearly counts of sequences of letters (n-grams) found in more than five million books digitized by Google up to 2012. It can be used to assess how popular some topics have been in literature and research.

The Figure below plots the number of times that the sequences of letters “Rotary International”, “Lions International” and “Kiwanis International” have appeared in digitized books over time according to the Ngram viewer. Even if Rotary seems to continue to be mentioned more often than Lions or Kiwanis, after a spike that followed the creation of the three organizations in the early 1900s, there has been a decline in the number of times they have been mentioned in books, even though the number of books being published has steadily increased.

Google Ngram Viewer Data
Google Ngram Viewer Data

There is no doubt that service clubs are facing challenging times, at least in North America, even if the extent of the decline in membership may have been overestimated. Unfortunately, while historical accounts of the rich heritage of service club organizations are readily available, in-depth analysis of their current challenges is harder to found, at least in publicly available studies.

In order to grow again, service clubs will need to assess their strengths and areas for improvements. They will need to understand who their members are, why they joined, and why they stay or leave. The vitality of clubs will depend on their ability to engage members with different interests, so that the whole is larger than the sum of the parts. But in order to do that, an assessment of how clubs are doing, and of what they are doing well and not so well, will be needed.

In the next two to three weeks, I will try to provide through this blog a “crash course” in service club membership analysis. A number of different questions will be considered. What is the membership challenge faced by service clubs? Who are their members today? Why do members join? How satisfied are they with their membership experience? How can districts identify geographic areas for growth? How can clubs innovate to attract and retain members? To what extent are clubs and districts involved in service work? How much do club members donate? What types of projects are clubs involved in, and what makes them successful?

The analysis will be based in part on a book I published earlier this year (available here), but I will add other materials as well. My hope is that this analysis will be useful to the readers of this blog, and as always you are invited to comment on the findings I will share.

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.