Free ebook 3: What Does Service Mean in Rotary? Simple Stories of Inspiring Rotarians

The third free ebook in the Rotarian Economist Short Books series has been released. Rotary’s motto is “Service above Self.” What does this mean in practice? The book answers this question by providing examples of the work that Rotarians do. The book also explains Rotary’s “avenues of service.” The hope is that through simple stories of Rotarians at work, readers – including new Rotarians – will better understand what service in Rotary is about, and be inspired for their own volunteer work. To download your free copy, please go here.

Technical note: due to the Smashwords website features, I am listed as first author, but the correct order of the authors is the order provided in the downloadable files.

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Free ebook 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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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.

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 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.