by John Borst, Communications Director District 5550

Conventional wisdom in Rotary is to put effort into retaining members, in equal measurer to recruiting new members.

After a year as a President, I think this is a mistake. There are many good reasons why retention may not be a good idea.

(1) Lifestyle situations today are in constant flux.

If we put an over emphasis on retaining a member we run the risk of being insensitive to the changing demands or circumstances of a member. Marriage or partnership break-up, lay offs, employment mobility, swings in income and travel demands are just a few of the fields which can dramatically change a members ability to attend or even participate in Rotary.

In this case either grant the Rotarian a Leave-of-Absence to permit them to sort out the situation or wish them the best in their future endeavors.

(2) The changing demographic of a club.

At some point all clubs have to reinvent themselves. This often doesn’t sit well with long established members for whom the club has become a weekly social get-together.

imageIn this case explain to the member that the needs of the club must take precedence over the desire of the member to retain his former image of the club. Invite him to partake of the new drive the club is experiencing but in the end for the good of the club if the member is not willing to accept the changes occurring, he should be encouraged to end his relationship with Rotary.

(3) Encourage new members to try out Rotary

Often, when recruiting new members they are not sure of Rotary’s full scope, or the demands it will place on their time and pocketbook. Invite them to join and use it as a learning opportunity. Even if they do end up leaving, they will, in all likelihood have gained a much better understanding of how the club brings benefit to the community and how it is working for good in other areas of the world.

(4) Choice is a societal expectation

Compared to the 50s and 60’s when Rotary growth was at it nadir, choice has become a dominant expectation as part of a consumer society. Today’s youth expect to be able to come and go when they chose. Loyalty to an organization of any type is no longer given the status it had in the 20th Century.

There is little a club can do about this trend in social behavior. Like a trial membership the positives out weight the negatives in helping more key members understand and appreciate the goals of Rotary. It is still too early to know what the long term effects the issue of choice will have on the future of the organization.

(5) Use Leavers as a Opportunity to Self Evaluate

Regardless of the reason a member chooses to leave, the president or membership chair should sit down with the member and discuss his reasons for leaving especially the things they like or dislike about their experience with the club.

No club is perfect. The leaving member may have valuable insight into ways which the club can attract new members or suggest changes in format which would enhance the Rotary experience.

Certainly, if a club finds they are experiencing a high turn over rate among new members it is a sign that they need to do a serious self examination.

(6) Retention is not just a matter of mathematics.

On the surface it makes mathematical sense to say the more members you retain while increasing new members the more members your club will have.

But being a Rotarian is not just a numbers game. Even an index such as Jim Henry’s Lifetime Value Index can’t account for the exigencies of human behavior, or the ebb and flow of life’s personal challenges and interests.

If you think about it the Four Way Test is both a good tool for a Rotarian to use to judge her future role in Rotary and a good set of criteria for a Rotarian leader to use to just to let a Rotarian leave of her own accord.

Let’s face the facts, retention is not something over which we have much control. We recognize this for death and serious illness but other reasons for leaving Rotary are equally serious and equally beyond our control.

In the end what is in our control is asking new members to joint us in fellowship, community and “service”.