by John Borst, Past President, Rotary Club of Dryden
Rotary International wants to grow and puts nearly all its effort into recruiting young members. This is logical but is proving a challenge as few long-time Rotarians have much of a clue about how young Millennials think let alone, live their lives.
There is, however, another group who Rotary ought to target in equal fashion and they are the new seniors in our society.
Before I launch into my reasons for this, let me put up front that I am a 77 year-old who joined the Rotary Club of Dryden, Ontario, Canada when 70 years of age. So my thinking has a certain autobiographical nature to it. On the other hand, it is also reflective of recruitment with our club.
So just what is a “senior” anyway? In our club, I define two very different types of seniors.
The first are what I call “old Rotarians”. They joined Rotary when they were young and have been members for decades. Most are of course retired but the occasional one may still work more out of desire than need. Such Rotarians are the keepers of our traditions and a depository of, if not our written history, at least our oral history. Most find a niche they can fill but the social aspect of the club has become more prominent in their ongoing commitment to Rotary.
The second group of seniors, what I call “young Rotarians” is members who have joined a club after they retire. This group are likely to be anywhere from 55 and up, what in Canada has been dubbed by media mogul Moses Znaimer as “Zoomers”. Age today is “fluid”; how often do we hear 70 is the new sixty or 60 is the new fifty?
In our club, these “young Rotarians”, all with less than 5 years membership, are among the new dynamos. Such members bring a well-honed set of leadership skills with them, hence can jump into any portfolio they might wish to pursue. Our recent retirees include a Chief Superintendent of Schools, Paper Mill Manager, two medical doctors, two business managers, and an educational consultant. Already, they represent our past president, current president, president-elect, vice-president, and director of youth services.
This group is indeed the Zoomers. They have the skills to learn using the Internet on a need to know basis; they have the time, energy and resources to travel the 400 km. to attend a Rotary Leadership Institute session, training assembly or annual grants seminar.
My own personal story mirrors what these new retirees bring to the club. A former Chief Superintendent of a Public School Board, I had already been retired for 14 years and I was just coming off five years of being the founding editor of a blog on Catholic education, a blog which when put to bed had over 3,500 posts and was among the top 1% of all blogs on the Internet.
Rather foolishly, in my second month as a Rotarian, I asked the newsletter editor, if the club had a website. “No.” I was told but, “They had been discussing it for about five years,” the editor continued.
The next month, they had a ClubRunner website. My first official portfolio was “Foundation chair” but when I went to a district training seminar I came away as District website manager and shortly after became District Director of Communications.
As you can imagine my learning curve was steep and rapid. Between the club’s “Rotary School” session, LinkedIn discussion group participation and becoming the first District graduate with a Rotary Leadership Institute Certificate (our District did not then offer the courses) I felt confident I knew more about the organization than the average Rotarian.
So a word of the wise from an elder to Rotary International; in your drive for youthful members, don’t forget us youthful “Zoomers”. As aging Boomers we know that being active members of organizations like Rotary is a way to keep us healthy; Rotary is brain food for our body and soul. More importantly, we have been successful practitioners of our vocations and Rotary is a means by which we can say thank-you to our local community while making it an even better place to live. Some of us even get involved in international projects such as The Mothers of Intention literacy project in Bangladesh, or the Ripple Effect Schools Project in Guatemala and ShelterBox (Canada) as retirees lead at our neighboring club in Kenora.
Finally, on a personal note, because we are “young Rotarians” some of us are not wedded to Rotary traditions. We often have ideas more congruent with those of the very Millennials that you seek. Like Sr. Joanne Chittister within the Catholic Church, we may bring a “ministry of irritation”, to the organization.
Welcome us! Use our skills at the District, Zone & International levels by creating exceptions to the time barriers that now exist. In that way we and Millennials are alike. Millennials can’t wait to be leaders for ideological reasons; we can’t wait because we know that we face an ever-approaching encounter with life’s end.