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.

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 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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Rotary International’s New Website and its Story on Literacy

Rotary International launched a much anticipated new website this month. The Rotary Leader January newsletter mentions five reasons to check out the new site, but I must admit that my main reason to look at it right away was the story on literacy because I knew it would feature a great Nepal project.

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The literacy story talks about the importance of training teachers. It features several great projects, but the one I know well is implemented by NTTI (Nepal Teacher Training Innovations) and PHASE, two great NGOs my club is working with together with the Rotary Club of Kathmandu Mid-Town. The aim of the project, which will hopefully soon benefit from a global grant, is to improve instructions in Nepal’s primary schools.

Below is a brief excerpt of the story as it relates to NTTI. The story is featured on the “supporting education” section of the new website:

“Before taking part in the NTTI program, one teacher relied heavily on memorization, having her students copy words off the blackboard. After training, the teacher made her lesson on animate and inanimate objects more interactive, says Ashley Hager, NTTI’s director. The teacher asked children to point to objects and describe how they were different. She then listed the differences on the board and paired students up to discuss them. As a final exercise, the class went outside to find examples in nature.

One student approached the teacher with a live ant in her hand and inquired, “This is an animate object, yes?” The teacher agreed. The child then squashed the ant and asked, “Is it still an animate object now?” Caught by surprise, the teacher asked the rest of the students what they thought, and a lively conversation followed. 

Other teachers agree that the training taught them the value of interactive teaching. “It’s transformed my way of teaching and given me brilliant ideas to employ the best teaching practices I have learned,” says Goma Khada, who teaches fourth grade at Shrijana Higher Secondary School in Thumpakhar.”

The literacy story is available at the following link (https://www.rotary.org/en/teaching-teachers-key-literacy). If you would like to contribute to the global grant, let me know!

This story is just one of many great stories on the new website. Stories are provided for each area of focus of the Rotary Foundation. Other stories focus on what it means to be a Rotarian or other topics of interest to clubs. So please check the new website out!

And just for the sake of completeness, let me end by mentioning that the five reasons highlighted in the Rotary Leader January newsletter to visit the new website are (1) Better organization; (2) Improved readability; (3) Compelling storytelling (what I just focused on); (4) Prominent calls to action; and (5) Enhanced metrics.

 

Free ebook series: Let me know your ideas!

Next week, as I take time off from work, I will start working on a series of free ebooks for Rotarians and others interested in service work. The ebooks will be released in coming months. If you have ideas or know of projects that I should cover in this new series, please let me know by commenting on this post or sending me an email.

Strengthening Rotary

A first set of ebooks will be about Rotary and ways to strengthen the organization. Let me give three examples.

First, I will provide estimates of the footprint of Rotary, starting with data from the United States. For example, Rotarians know about the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. But they often do not know about the richness of the activities implemented by club foundations and how much Rotary as a whole contributes to “serving humanity”, the theme for this Rotary year. I will provide estimates of our total contribution – which is large. My hope is that these estimates can then be used to better tell our story.

Second, I will advocate for the need to invest more in partnerships, innovation, and evaluation in Rotary. I will argue for such investments, and share examples of great projects that have achieved impact in each of the areas of focus of the Rotary Foundation as well as polio through partnerships, innovation, and evaluation.

Third, I will share experiences of successful Rotary clubs, starting with my own and how we succeeded in doubling our membership in six months since July thanks in part to changes adopted at the beginning of the Rotary year. I will share lessons learned that I hope will be useful to other clubs.

Project Design in Areas of Focus

In addition, ahead of the Atlanta Rotary International convention, I will prepare a series of short ebooks providing basic facts as well as good practice advise and great project stories about our areas of focus for service work (fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, growing local economies, and promoting peace).

The hope is that these ebooks will help Rotary clubs and districts as well as other organizations choose and prepare great projects by building on the experience accumulated not only by Rotary (including Rotarian Action Groups) but also by other organizations.

Let Me Know Your Ideas

If you know of specific projects that I should cover in this new series of free ebooks, or more broadly of successful initiatives taken by clubs or districts that I should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

You can do so by sharing a comment on this post or by contacting me by email if you prefer (through the Contact Me page of this blog).

Thanks!

November is Foundation Month: Rapid Update on the Rotary Foundation

Every year, Rotary International publishes an annual report for the organization as well as the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International (TRF). As this is Foundation month in Rotary, it may be useful to provide basic statistics on TRF to underscore the good work done by the Foundation around the world and encourage Rotarians to donate.

In the US, Charity Navigator provides ratings for charities. Ratings are available for financial performance, accountability and transparency, and a combination of accountability and transparency. Charities can get one to four stars overall. TRF has a rating of 97 out of a maximum of 100 for financial performance, and a perfect score of 100 on accountability and transparency, which yields a four stars rating overall (the top rating).

In 2014-15, according to its latest annual report, TRF received contributions worth $269 million, a level similar (after inflation) to the contributions received in 2012-13 ($260 million). These contributions include funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for polio eradication. While in the previous year investment gains were positive and large at $108 million, in 2014-15 there was a small investment loss of $5 million. This meant that after expenditures, there was no net contribution to assets. TRF ended the year with assets just under one billion dollars, as was the case the previous year.

Expenditures for 2014-15 were at $266 million. Of this amount, $224 million was provided for program awards (the rest of the budget is for program operations, fund development, and general administration). The program awards included funding for polio eradication whereby Rotary raised $35 million per year and benefited from a 2×1 match from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation worth $70 million, bringing the total contributions to polio to $105 million. The second largest expenditure was for global grants ($69 million). Funding for district grants was at $25 million.

In terms of areas of focus for global grants, the top category for awards were water and sanitation, as well as disease prevention and treatment (each awarded $20 million), followed by economic and community development ($11 million), basic education and literacy ($8 million), maternal and child health ($6 million), and finally peace and conflict prevention and resolution ($4 million). This last amount for global grants in the category of peace and conflict prevention and resolution does not include the allocation for the Rotary Peace Fellows program and associated Peace Centers.

Overall, it is fair to say that TRF is a highly respected foundation with a unique model for fundraising and the implementation of projects in partnerships with local clubs (through global grants) and districts (through district grants). The annual report of Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation is available here.

I encourage readers of this blog to contribute to the Foundation so that next year can again be a great year in terms of TRF’s reach and positive impact (for readers based in the United States, contributions are tax deductible).

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.