Grow Rotary Action Service Program (GRASP)

By Richard Cunningham, PP Rotary Club of James River, Richmond, Virginia, USA

One of the great things about Rotary is the opportunity to engage with wise, innovative and experienced leaders who not only read articles like this but who generously share their thoughts and pathways to success. In this way, we can discover learning experiences and shortcuts to proven Rotary solutions.

Customizing innovative successful strategies is far easier than starting from scratch.

Our club has emerged from a period of disastrous contraction to enjoy substantial, sustained success. Our story is relevant because our growth and other results back up our strategies. They include winning the Governor’s Cup  in two out of the last three years, top per capita TRF giving in District for the last four years, and most recently becoming one the first three 100% Paul Harris Society Clubs in the world – the first in the Americas.

We started from a belief that our key weakness was not just a lack of volunteers but, most importantly, the lack of opportunities for true volunteers to engage in Rotary projects.

Hence, from this point, we often substitute the word “volunteer” for a member. Rotarians are volunteers par excellence! They engage.

GRASP Step 1: Gathering and analyzing the facts of the current situation

In our search for district data to support what we believed to be our club’s “Key Success Strategies”, we identified a district and PDG with a closely matching Vision and Plan and proven positive membership outcomes.

Our journey, therefore, began with a new relationship with a “kindred spirit” and a district program aligned with our club’s Key Success Factors. Our PDG contact developed a critical data starting point using the District database.

We used his Membership Growth Index (MGI) for each club to identify and quantify our own membership challenges. The MGI we used was a percentage of members gained/lost over the period 2013-2016. Our Club MGI (+90%) was the best in the district.

This three-year analysis was a vital piece of the puzzle. In addition, with the help of Rotary International, we were able to go back 12 years and we learned that in the case of many clubs, our District’s attrition issue dated back over a much longer period.

Our District has:

  • 64 Clubs;
  • Lost 39 members net over the period, 2013-2016;
  • 28 Clubs with an MGI of -5 or more, with a total net loss of 218 members;
  • 36 Clubs with a net gain of 179 members. 218-179=39.

At District Level, as we await the mid-year dues shake-out, 37 clubs are consistently losing members each year or are standing still. On the positive side, 19 have +5 MGIs of which 16 (25%) are +10.

There are 15 Districts in our Zone. After 5 months,  Rotary year to date, 7 have lost 86 members and 8 have gained 226 – a modest net percentage gain of 140 with the mid-year shake-out approaching. Almost half the Districts are contracting.

GRASP Step 2: Creating the Vision and the Plan

We recommend District supported Club initiatives. They involve the development and delivery of specifically mentored programs for those clubs who voluntarily reach out for assistance.

Grow Rotary Action Service Program – GRASP, is our solution.

At the core of GRASP is service which we express as “Service-Centered Leadership” (SCL)

The vision recognizes the importance of:

  • supplying opportunities in all 5 Avenues of Service and
  • engaging in relevant projects.

Each Avenue also includes opportunities for our volunteers to learn and educate others about Rotary and each offers opportunities to enhance our brand and public image. Relevant projects are those which embrace one or more of the 6 Areas of Focus.
SCL recognizes that the quality of member volunteers is more important than the number of members. Engaged volunteers are our best advocates and we have identified a connection between them and club growth.

We require specific service commitments before accepting new members into our club. This selective approach to volunteer recruitment supports our:

  • Intentional service strategies;
  • Cause-based volunteerism.

GRASP Step 3: Identifying Leadership

 We have noted that at both Club and District levels, initiating a new program of change first requires the presence, identification, and assembly of a team of like-minded strategic thinkers. We have termed it a Guiding Coalition. They build momentum by:

  • Creating and documenting a vision and its related Strategic Plan;
  • Communicating the vision;
  • Empowering volunteers to act on the vision;
  • Confronting those who undercut the vision;
  • Congratulating and recognizing volunteers.

GRASP Step 4: Setting 3-year project Strategic Plan objectives and desired results
The plan objectives cascade down from the vision. They replace “Happy Talk” and help to develop a sense of urgency and reality.

The plan objectives cascade down from the vision. They replace “Happy Talk” and help to develop a sense of urgency and reality.

The vision is documented using an Organizational Chart projected 3 years ahead and including vacant volunteer opportunities. It is built around the 5 Avenues of Service with specialist “boxes” for Public Image and Education.

The 3 year Strategic Plan objective is to fill all the empty boxes over time with existing and new volunteers. It documents objectives by Avenues of Service, public image, and education.

Key success factors include:

  • Creating an exceptionally welcoming environment;
  • Developing a strong sense of belonging through fellowship in service;
  • Providing opportunities to volunteer across all 5 Avenues of Service;
  • Identifying service projects with branding and public image media appeal;-
  • Agreeing service commitments with new volunteers before they are accepted;
  • Volunteering for service projects qualifies as a make-up;
  • Recognition-example – a “Volunteer of the Year” award;
  • Leveraging financial giving to secure service projects;
  • Board rotation -Director appointments are limited to 3 years;
  • Board flexibility-facilitating new initiatives;
  • Training and Education;
  • Presidents complete the 3 part RLI program at club expense before their year of office;
  • Setting aside the traditional 4/5 year route to becoming Club President;
  • Continuity and Consistency – Executive Secretary and Executive Treasurer positions help;
  • Taking full advantage of District and Global Grant resources.

GRASP Step 5: Coordinating and expanding ongoing activities
Measuring progress towards goals, including:

Measuring progress towards goals, including:

  • Reviewing and updating the Organizational Chart, Strategic Plan and progress towards the service goals recorded at “My Rotary”-taking corrective action;
  • Arranging consequences for individual performance – recognition.

Summary of SCL Action Plan

By 2015-2016,  our Intentional Service Strategies/Cause-based volunteerism included 58 projects involving 90 service events:

Club/Vocational and District Service (32/58 Projects):

  • Initially establishing infrastructure – organization and procedures;
  • Using “My Rotary” for goal setting, project recording, and tracking;
  • Including “My Rotary” registration as part of a mentored orientation program;
  • Requiring engagement with the District website as part of an orientation program;
  • Appointing Nominating and Steering Committees;
  • Supporting District Programs;
  • Establishing a monthly social program;
  • Securing multiple slots on local public radio;
  • Re-launching our website;
  • Developing a Facebook page;
  • Creating a comprehensive Member Binder;
  • Setting up our own 501 C 3 Foundation;
  • Reorganizing club finances/reporting using QBOL, separating operational and charities dollars;
  • Developing a new Club Brochure;
  • Introducing a Weekly Bulletin;

Community (17/58), Youth(6/58) and International Service(5/58 Projects):

  • Leading major District(5 Club) and Global Grant(20 Club) projects;
  • Re-establishing a dormant Rotaract Club;
  • Planning a new Interact Club;

Summary of Outcomes

  • Volunteer Hours – almost 2,200 in 2015-2016;
  • Club Growth-10 to 19 volunteers (now 24): 10-18-24-19;
  • Volunteers/leaders from other clubs (6/24) joined us. 3 of the 6 our club Presidents;
  • Member attrition in year 3 before recovering strongly;
  • SCL Continuity-a rolling 3 years long-term leadership succession;
  • Average volunteer age reduced;
  • Familiarity with The Rotary Foundation for giving and project funding;
  • Strong grant-related relationships with other clubs (25) and districts(3) and 501 C 3s;
  • Multiple District and TRF recognition;
  • Our best service projects involve long-term relationships;
  • The following groups have most discretionary volunteer time:
    • Anybody who prioritizes “Service-above-Self”
    • Retirees
    • Self Employed
    • Empty-nesters
  • Volunteers from the following occupational groups identify particularly with Rotary’s 6 Areas of Focus:
    • Health
    • Education

Concluding Quotation