by John Borst, District 5550, Communications

Growing your club’s membership is the only way to ensure that Rotary’s ideals will continue into the future.  Here are five ideas I have participated in during this, my year as president.

1. Get Your “Ask” in Gear!

This is the biggy. If your “ask” isn’t in gear, they won’t come.

Club websites, and sites like Facebook won’t do it; they are passive information by chance locations. Average time on sites is in seconds not minutes.

I first saw this idea and expression on a district website. The DG had created a competition between the district clubs and had an award for the club that brought in the most members in a 100 day period.

I had begun my year as president by dividing my club into 10 teams of 5 members with the goal of each team being responsible for 1 new member.

Shortly after, however, our club’s retention rate, for every imaginable reason, took a nose dive such that our venue contract was put in jeopardy. To resolve the problem we went through a number of trial and error scenarios with the result that we all stopped “asking” potential members to our lunch meetings.

Once we resolved that issue, I went looking for a way to kick start a renewed membership push and found the “Get Your ‘Ask’ in Gear” promo.

After checking how many days I had left in my tenure, I created a “10 new members in 100 days” Get Your ‘Ask’ in Gear campaign.  We created two types of rewards. Using the already established groups, for each new member the group got a ballot for a prize of a free lunch for each member. A second new member added an additional 2 ballots, a third, 3 ballots and so on. In addition, for each guest a member brought to a meeting, whether the guest joined or not, the member’s name was put into a monthly draw for a free lunch.

In the first 30 days we had 7 new members.

2. Go for youth!

This is my fifth year as a Rotarian. I joined when I was already 70.  I had noticed however, that it was our younger members who were the best at recruiting new members. My sponsor was in his mid 30’s.

Induction-Saugus-Rotary-300pxAs I created the groups, I did a four year review of the sponsors of new members and confirmed that it was indeed the younger, outgoing types who were best at recruitment so I made each a chair of a group.

And the majority of the above 7 members are indeed being sponsored by our younger and more recent members.  But it is important to note, it is not all.  Enthusiasm is contagious.

But what if your club is only composed of long time senior members? Like or not if you want your club to survive you simple must “Get your ‘ask’ in gear” and start asking younger people to join.

There simply is no other way.  You have to welcome youth. They are the one taking the risk; you’re not. And they will change your comfort zone.  Think of it this way. Our motto is “Service Above Self”, only now, you are putting Rotary’s survival and in turn your Club’s survival before your own needs. Surely, that is the highest expression of “Service Above Self”.

3. Immediate engagement

The idea of immediate engagement has been a key component to our club’s success. Every new member is immediately given one, or sometimes more than one, activity for which they are responsible. We even ask them to serve on our board of directors.

This coming year 6 of our 10 member board have 3 or fewer years of service.

We have members who range in age from mid-twenties to mid-eights.  At 74, I am the oldest president, the club has ever had, but I am still a young Rotarian. In fact, I’m a good example of “immediate engagement”.

In my second month I asked the newsletter editor if the club had a website and I got the reply, “No, but we have been studying it for the past five years.” A month later after doing a review of the ClubRunner CMS, the Board approved the purchase and who got to manage it?… of course me.

It was like being thrown into the water and told to learn to swim. Rotary is like that at both the local and International levels. The job of long time Rotarians is to encourage new members to take the plunge and to be there when they come up for air.

4. Buy a new Ford “Focus”

Now this one is a tuffy!  It is one I have known about for 2 years and haven’t had the nerve to implement.  In the summer or 2012, during each of my children’s (2 in their early 40’s & one late 30’s) summer visit I brought each to a club lunch meeting. They all live in Canada’s largest urban area and our club is in a remote backwater, Canadians call, “the bush”.

To my surprise, given out clubs younger than normal demographic, they each said we were old.  It wasn’t our members they described as old, it was our rituals. The singing of the national anthem, the Rotary prayer before meals, the “toast to the Queen, Canada and Rotary” and the closing with the 4 way test.

'71 Ford Pinto Worse Car of the Decade

’71 Ford Pinto Worse Car of the Decade

I was reminded of this the other day when Tom Carroll at a Rotary Central discussion described this dilemma in terms of us selling a car that customers are no longer buying because it is out of date much like the Big Three North American  Automakers did during the 70’s and 80’s.

The Big Three have since responded, to a near death experience, by designing cars and trucks we do want. I chose the Ford Focus to symbolize this change because of the double meaning imbedded in the word “focus”.

We need to ‘focus” on what is important among today’s youth and their ideals of “service” and their ways of networking.  This means we have to “jettison the junk” . Besides, slowly and gently phasing out our old rituals, we need short meetings (our lunch meeting motto is “In by 12 out by 1”), a de-emphasis on attendance and increased emphasis on engagement, affordability, fun and fellowship and a growing emphasis on big projects through The Rotary Foundation.

Toronto’s newest club, Skyline is an example of this future of Rotary.  Similarly, Rotaract Clubs eschew such habits, so why would we expect them buy the old model ‘car’ when they had already been driving the new one.

4½. Get your DG to Create a Vibrant Clubs Award System

This idea only gets a half point because it is beyond the control of the Club. This year’s, District 5550, DG instituted a “Vibrant Club Award”.  He developed a points system for all kinds of activities for the period 2012 to April 30 2014. (Click here for a copy)

The key however, was to build membership. To this end your aggregate score was increased in ratio to your gains in membership. For example, if you gained between 5-10% your score was multiplied by 1.5; if between 10.1-15% by 1.75; if 15.1-20% by 2.0 and if greater than 20% by 3.

It took a while for clubs to get on board and a few didn’t, but it was highly successful for those who did.

Rotary is promoting the idea of The Vibrant Club; it would be worth considering a broadening of this effort, either across a zone or even internationally.

Further reading:

Why we chose to Charter a Club for ‘Young Professionals’
RotaryFlex: New Ways to do Member Make Ups