by John Borst

As Rotary struggles to grow its membership perhaps it is an appropriate time to review how Rotary has changed to see if there might be clues to how it might recapture some of the youthfulness of its early days.

One of the most frequently heard refrains substantiated by focus group research is that Rotary is an old boys club.

One place where this can been seen most clearly is in its most visible symbol, its leader, the presidency. A review of the age of Rotary President’s for the 15 years from 1910-11 to 1925-26 shows that the average presidential age in that period was 42.6 In contrast the ages, many of which could only be estimated by decade, paints an entirely different picture for the period 1995-2011. Something approaching 70 is a reasonable conclusion as the chart below illustrates.

Even a cursory review of the number of years of service required to achieve the presidency reveals the number has tripled from about 10 years to something more than 30 years in the intervening 70 year period.

Interestingly the year 1995-96 is a most auspicious year in terms of Rotary management. It was the year that Rotary was divided into 34 zones for the purpose of nominating RI directors; it was the first year Rotary had women as District Governors, and it was the first year in which membership was open to retired persons.

At the club level, it’s not how long it takes to become International President that’s the problem. But the presidency serves to dramatize the problem Rotary faces at every level. If Rotary is to survive this century, it has to seriously review the barriers it has built which have resulted in this gerontocracy.

What structures would be needed for it to take 10 years, not 30 plus years, to reach the presidency? What effect would those changes have? Perhaps it is time to go “back to the future” …and find out!

Further reading:

Rotary’s Need to Take a Trip ‘Back to the Future’: Part 2, Removing Barriers

It’s Time for a Woman President in 2014-15!