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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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.

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.

 

Rotary Membership Analysis 10: Telling Our Story

by Quentin Wodon

This is the last post in this series on Rotary membership analysis. The post is about the importance of telling our story. It seems obvious that we should tell our story, but how to do so may not always be straightforward, in part because many clubs are not used to do so. In addition, there is a lot of diversity in what Rotarians do, not only internationally and at the district level, but even at the level of individual clubs. Which story should be told? How should it be told? Who should stories aim to reach or target? Which types of media should be used? These are all questions to which I will come back in this blog in the future. For now, let me share a few simple thoughts as a way to close this series of ten posts on membership analysis and promotion.

Diversity in Service

Telling our story is essential to attract and retain members. And we have many stories to tell. Rotarians are involved in a wide range of activities. In order to illustrate this diversity in the area of service projects, my daughters interviewed two dozen Rotarians for the book on which this series of posts is based. The first interviewee told the story of a group of young girls from her native Bolivia who went on a journey from poverty to winning the country’s national rhythmic gymnastics competition with a “little help” from her and fellow Rotarians. The second story was about a great tutoring program in a public school that has been featured on this blog.

Some of the stories were about support to the less fortunate in the local communities in which Rotarians live, whether through the bountiful backpack project that provides meals and snacks to children in need or renovation projects to help disadvantaged families in need of better housing. Other stories were about international projects, from building awareness about HIV-AIDS through soccer to supporting orphanages in Africa and burned children in Chile. One story was about employment and therapeutic services for persons with disabilities in Brazil. Two stories were about access to water in India.

Friendship and peace projects were also part of the list, as was a prosthetics project for amputees in Iraq. An innovative literacy project in Ecuador, the provision of an ambulance for a community in Nepal, and a scholarship program for the hearing impaired in Washington DC were also included. In still other stories, Rotarians talked about service they have provided outside of Rotary in many different ways, often by founding or managing nonprofits.

Arguably all of these stories and projects made a real difference in the lives of the less fortunate. All should be told (and were on this blog), as should other initiatives and events implemented by clubs and districts. I am convinced that there is an appropriate media outlet for any good story. Both traditional and social media can be used not only in order to promote Rotary, but also– and probably even more importantly – to promote the cause of the less fortunate we are trying to help.

Traditional Media

Many of us were raised in the traditional media era – television, newspapers, radio… These media remain important and stories can be targeted to them for publication or coverage. The ability of clubs or even districts to be featured in major traditional media outlets is however limited. Competition for visibility in major media outlets is fierce, and only top stories – especially impactful and innovative projects or major community-based fundraising events – should be targeted at those outlets, often through personalized and strategic contacts.

But there is also a wide range of smaller media outlets that are often looking for good materials. Even if those outlets have a smaller reach, they are worth investing in. If you subscribe to Google alerts about Rotary and related topics, you will see that every day local newspapers publish stories about Rotary. Clubs should be more systematic in targeting these media opportunities. Even district conferences can be worthy of a media story – as done last year by my District Governor who landed an interview about our district conference with a local TV station.

Social Media

Let me admit here that it took me some time to engage with social media. I published my first blog only in 2013 and I started to be serious about blogging at work in 2014 (the World Bank makes this easy with many different platforms by topic on which staff can propose blog posts). As I started to blog more, I realized that the blogs were read. This may have been obvious to some of my colleagues, but again it took me a while to warm up to this form of communication.

Well, three months ago I launched the Rotarian Economist blog. It took some work, but the blog now has more than 1,700 followers from all over the world. In other words, this can work. You or your club can also engage in social media, perhaps not through your own blog if you do not have enough time to commit to it, but then in other ways. You could write for your district or zone blog if there is one, or for the blogs of Rotary International listed on the right side of this page. Apart from blogs, you could also use other social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Again, if you do decide to engage in social media, you should make sure that you plan ahead in order to have good materials to share on a consistent basis over time. But it can really pay off.

Club Website and Materials

Let’s face it: many clubs have so-so websites. A club’s website is the club’s public identity. It should be attractive, modern, dynamic, purposeful. I mentioned earlier that there is a lot of diversity in the service work of Rotary clubs. That is a good thing since members may have different interests. But while diversity is great, clubs should also aim to stand for something, develop their own niche, and communicate their positioning. They should develop great brochures that can be shared with prospective members and others in the community. Too few clubs develop such materials, even though they can be very useful in attracting members and making Rotary better known locally.

It is likely that none of what I have shared today through this post is new to you. But I wanted to end this series of posts by emphasizing the importance of communicating our story. This matters for the future of clubs and yet as statistics shared in a previous post in this series suggest, this is not done nearly enough.

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.

Rotary Membership Analysis 9: Fundraising Events

by Quentin Wodon

In my district more than four in five Rotarians donate to their club or foundation, and three in four donate to The Rotary Foundation (of Rotary International). As mentioned in a previous post, with about 2,400 members in the district, these donations generate $1.5 million in new funding per year for Rotary service projects. These donations are very important, but they are only part of a broader story. Substantial additional funds for service projects are also generated through fundraising events organized by clubs at which non-Rotarians donate funds or purchase food or tickets. These events are great for both fundraising and public relations. This post provides examples of a few community-based fundraisers and discusses how they contribute to the image of Rotary in the community and the possibility of attracting new members.

Large Fundraising Events

Several clubs in my district have been implementing successful community-based fundraising events for many years. Let me mention two here. A first example is the Crab Feast organized by the Rotary Club of Annapolis every year in early August. This is probably the largest crab feast in the world and it fits perfectly with Annapolis’ identity since the city is located on the Chesapeake Bay which is famous for its crabs. The 2014 edition of the crab feast was the 69th. The feast is an all-you-can-eat event with a reasonable price tag: $65 per adult and $20 per child. Some 2,500 hungry crustacean fans attend the feast and devour a massive amount of crabs, ears of corn, crab soup, hot dogs, beef barbecue, and soft drinks or beer.

In 2013 the event generated $71,000 in net revenues to fund projects submitted by local nonprofits. The organizers have also been working with local nonprofits for organizing the event itself. This includes Annapolis Green, a local environmental group, to compost all the crabs and other food, utensils, and beverages in order to make the event environmentally friendly (zero waste goal).

The Annapolis Club Crab Feast
The Annapolis Club Crab Feast

Another great event is the Octoberfest held each fall to provide fun activities for families as well as food, beer, and music all inspired by centuries-old traditions from Germany. Children can get their face painted, as well as engage in a wide range of activities that include preparing pumpkins and other frightening displays for Halloween. Local dignitaries participate in a Roll-out-the-Barrel ceremony, a Polka Dance contest, and a Chicken Dance Contest. The event is organized jointly by the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek with the Fredericktowne Rotary and the Rotary Club of Southern Frederick County. And another Octoberfest is organized by four clubs in Caroll County. These events generate substantial funding for nonprofits.

Events for Smaller Clubs

Both the crab feast and the Octoberfest are fairly large events that require a small army of volunteers to put together. The Annapolis club is large, and the four Frederick-area clubs are also large enough to put these events together. The events pull the club membership together like no other activity, but one should not underestimate the amount of work involved.

What can smaller clubs do? Smaller clubs too can find their niche with community-based fundraisers. After I joined my current employer in Washington DC, one of my first contacts with Rotary was with the Rotary Club of McLean in Northern Virginia. How did I meet them? Well, they have a burger and lunch stand at McLean Day, the main community event of the year in McLean which brings thousands of people for family fun each year to one of the area’s parks. As many others, we went to the event as a family. I don’t know how much the McLean club has raised in net revenues through their stand at the event, but I do know that this is great for their image in the community and a great way to talk to prospective members who may pass by.

Identity and Membership

Fundraising events are strategic not only for raising funds, but also for public relations and for attracting new members in clubs by making the clubs better known locally. Ideally, all clubs should aim to develop a clear identity in their community, and most should organize an annual family friendly event. Part of the identity of clubs should be about the type of service work they do or fund, and the type of members they attract. But part should also come from fundraising events.

Friendly and (if feasible) family-oriented fundraising events help in positioning Rotary as a youthful and welcoming organization, as opposed to its traditional image as an exclusive club. Family-oriented events also tend to be announced in the local media, which builds the brand. And clearly, when the proceeds of fundraising events are distributed to local nonprofits, this is another opportunity to get recognition and coverage in the community and the local media. Last but not least, all of these benefits are likely to help clubs attract and retain members.

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.

Rotary Membership Analysis 8: Initiatives to Recruit Members

by Quentin Wodon

How can districts and clubs increase their membership? Strategic plans, whether at the level of clubs, districts, zones, or regions, tend to focus on both retention and recruitment, with in the case of recruitment special attention paid to women and minorities, at least in North America.

At the level of Rotary International, various initiatives are being tested. Let me briefly mention four here. The associate membership pilot is great for individuals to be able to test the waters when joining a club by benefitting from membership at a reduced cost for a limited period of time. The corporate membership pilot enables firms to nominate employees to become members, with full dues paid for the first employee and lower fees for additional employees on the basis of their attendance at weekly meetings. The innovation and flexible clubs and the satellite clubs pilots enable clubs to tailor how they function and meet to adapt to the needs of their members.

All of these pilots are useful, but it is also interesting to look at often simple but creative initiatives taken by clubs to recruit new members. Two such initiatives are described in this post.

Rule of 35

In my district many Rotarians are above the age of 50. Some clubs, especially when they meet in prestigious locations and when they are large (which may require having a paid staff to help run the club), are expensive for young members. This is the case of one large club created more than 100 years ago for which dues and meals come up to about $2,000 per year.

In order to attract younger members, the club has adopted an interesting pilot rule of 35. When it was adopted in October 2013, the rule stipulated that for up to nine new members under the age of 35, the one-time initiation fee for membership would be reduced by more than half and quarterly dues would also be reduced. Most importantly, the fees for lunches would also be reduced by half and new members under 35 would be allowed to pay the lunch fees at the door when coming, instead of paying for all lunches throughout the year as done by other members. The idea was that a reduced lunch fee paid only when new members attend would not be much more expensive than what young professionals would pay elsewhere for their lunch. Those admitted under the pilot rule would need to be selected/approved among applicants under the age limit, and they would benefit from the rule until they reach the age of 35, after which they would pay full dues. The new members would be expected to participate actively in the club’s service and other activities

Interestingly, cost simulations undertaken to assess the financial implications of the pilot rule suggested that at the margin and under reasonable attendance assumptions, revenues from the new members under the pilot rule would almost cover the additional cost for the club of their membership. This was the case because the overall cost structure for the functioning of the club was already paid for by the existing membership. The net potential cost for the club was assessed to be small in comparison to the overall budget of the club, and the potential benefits in terms of attracting dynamic new young members was deemed large. Even better, if the new members were to remain in the club after reaching the age of 35, there could even generate after a few years a net financial gain for the club, apart from having contributed to membership gains.

Open Houses

Another interesting concept piloted by several clubs in my district and in fact many other districts is the recruitment of new members in batches through open houses. Open houses are typically held on a week day after working hours in an easily accessible location with prospective members being invited by current members. Club leaders make brief presentations about the club, but the piece of resistance of the evening tends to be a presentation by one or more nonprofits that have benefited in the past from the service activities of the club. General information on Rotary is also provided to guests, and plenty of time is made available for discussions around cocktails.

Guests may sign up at the open house for further information, which leads to a visit to the club during a weekly meeting. It is important to take good care of the guests during that visit, and in some cases the guests may meet separately with a few members as opposed to the whole club. This helps to make sure that guests get answers to all the questions they may have. A second or third meeting may be planned for additional follow up as needed, whether at the club meeting place or a different venue. One club that recently implemented an open house got 60 guests to attend, of which 12 became members. The personalized attention given to guests makes a real difference.

Competition between Clubs

In many geographic areas, different clubs co-exist, and they all try to recruit and retain new members. In Washington, DC, there are now four clubs, two of which were created in the last three years. Is that a problem? Not necessarily. A bit of competition between clubs is a good thing, if only to encourage the clubs to innovate and improve the experience that they provide to members. In addition, clubs in similar locations often target different segments of the potential membership. They tend to meet at different times – breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and they may have a very different profile in terms of their membership. Some clubs may be more formal than others. A comparatively expensive club meeting for lunch is not likely to compete too much with a cheaper club meeting for breakfast. Some clubs may emphasize professional networking and speakers more than others, while still leading useful service projects. Other clubs may emphasize service and volunteering more. In any large city, there is room for several different clubs which can also collaborate on projects and activities, and thereby learn from each other.

No Panacea

Getting hard data on what types of initiatives tend to succeed best in order to attract and retain new members is not straightforward, in part because the quality of implementation is essential when considering new initiatives. Clubs and districts may have a few good recipes to try to boost the membership, but in the end results depend on the quality of the cooking – that is the quality of the implementation, which itself depends on the dedication of the existing membership in the effort.

If you have great examples of successful initiatives to boost the membership, don’t hesitate to share them through a comment on this post! There is also a Rotary group that you can join on the website of Rotary International to discuss those issues. The next post in this series will focus on the link between fundraising and membership.

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.

Rotary Membership Analysis 7: Targeting Geographic Areas for Growth

by Quentin Wodon

Service clubs that articulate a great value proposition should be able to grow. At the club level and even more so at the district and zone levels, it makes sense to target public relations and marketing efforts to geographic areas with the largest potential for growth. How can such areas be identified? This post suggests one way to do so. The approach involves three steps: (1) Calculating membership rates; (2) Estimating expected membership rates; and (3) Computing potential membership gains from shifting low performing areas to their expected membership rate (for details, as for other posts in this series on membership analysis, please see my book on Rotary).

Calculating Membership Rates

Most Rotarians are well-to-do. A simple way to calculate membership rates by geographic area consists therefore in dividing the number of Rotarians in an area by the number of well-to-do households. A proxy for well-to-do households is the number of households with incomes above a certain threshold in an area. There is no income eligibility threshold to become a Rotarian, but since as discussed earlier in this series membership is not free, it is reasonable to assume that membership will be observed mostly among households with relatively high incomes.

In a series of briefs that I wrote on districts in zone 33 (see the briefs & papers page on this blog), I computed membership rates by area in the zone considering households with incomes above US$100,000 per year as the reference group (income data were obtained from the American Community Survey of the US Census Bureau). The same income threshold was used for all geographic areas except those in districts 7610 and 7620 where income levels and the cost of living are especially high. In those two districts I considered an income threshold of $150,000. The geographic areas were counties and large (administratively autonomous) cities. The average membership rate in the various districts in zone 33 turned out to be 2.8 percent. In other words, for every 100 high income households there were on average three members of Rotary in a typical district.

Estimating Expected Membership Rates

Membership rates are however not by themselves good measures of how well different areas and districts are performing in terms of their ability to attract members. This is because there is a strong negative relationship between the number of high income households in an area and the corresponding membership rate. In the figure below each dot represents an area (a county or autonomous city) within zone 33. Membership rates on the vertical axis tend to be lower in areas with a larger number of high income households on the horizontal axis (in logarithm to reduce the influence of extreme values). The negative relationship is statistically significant. The red dot line represents the expected membership rate given an area’s high income population. By construction about half of the geographic areas have membership rates above expectations while the other half has membership rates below expectations.

Membership Rates

Why is there a negative relationship between membership rates and the concentration of high income households in an area? Several explanations could be suggested. In areas with many high income households, work pressures and time availability to participate in Rotary may be more constrained. The prestige associated with membership may also be lower in those areas, and opportunities to be involved in service work through other organizations may be more numerous. Whatever the causes of the negative relationship, it should not be ignored when estimating expected membership rates by area, and thereby in assessing whether various geographic areas are performing above or below expectations.

Computing Potential Membership Gains

The next step in the analysis consisted in simulating potential gains in membership by area from raising the membership rates of the areas whose rate was below expectations. Two simulation scenarios were conducted. First, all areas with a lower membership rate than expected rate were assumed to be able to reach the expected rate. Second, only half of the gap between actual and expected membership rates was eliminated for areas with lower than expected rates. In both simulations the areas with a higher membership rate than the expected rate kept their membership rate constant(no gain in membership under the two scenarios).

Overall, in zone 33, membership (using 2010 data) was simulated to increase from 36,539 to 47,436 under the first scenario, and to 43,205 under the second scenario. The exercise suggested substantial potential for growth. In addition, it also suggested geographic areas that could be targeted for growth by districts and the zone. The simulations identified areas with strong potential for growth because they combined a comparatively low membership rate (versus the expected rate) and a substantial number of high income households. In my district for example, the analysis suggested that there was substantial potential for growth in five top areas: Montgomery County, Price Georges County, Baltimore County, the District of Columbia, and the city of Baltimore.

This type of analysis and simulations should be considered as indicative only. Alternative modeling approaches could be used to calculate membership rates and assess the membership growth potential of geographic areas. Each alternative method would yield different results. Still, the point being made here is that it does make sense for districts and for zones, as well as for clubs in some cases, to identify promising geographic areas for growth so that this information can be used together with other relevant factors for designing and implementing coherent and targeted membership growth strategies.

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.