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.
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.
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.