Club Service
Leadership and Service are two of the core values of Rotary. Good leadership is needed at all levels of the organization for us to provide the services that make positive impacts. Each club is led by a club president who has the responsibility, during their year, to help their club grow and achieve the goals the club wants to accomplish. What successful clubs have found is the president does not lead in a vacuum. It is a team effort with club members stepping up to fill important club leadership positions.
Everyone who fills a club leadership position is a volunteer and must figure out how to budget their time to fulfill the responsibilities of their position. Many of these club leaders do not realize that they are involved in the first avenue of service outlined by Rotary International, that being Club Service as well as living the core value of Service.
The following is an excerpt from a white paper developed in February 2021, by the Rotary Club of Clovis (CA), District 5230. It outlines the concept of Club Service and thoughts on membership.
“Rotary International is a worldwide service organization with over 35,000 clubs in 200 countries consisting of over 1.2 million members. Rotary’s marketing materials identifies its members as “neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves”.
The Mission of Rotary is to provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through our fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.
Rotary clubs vary from one another in a number of ways. They vary in the size of the club and the time of day and type of location where they meet. The members vary in the diversity of age, religion, politics, race and gender. Some clubs serve meals while others meet for cocktails. Some clubs are very formal while others are more informal.
Unfortunately, one thing almost all clubs have in common is a “declining membership”.
It is a premise of this paper that clubs share a common fault that has lead to this downward trend. Simply stated – clubs are not run as a “business” and clubs mistake who their customers are.
If businesses are not retaining old customers and gaining new customers the leaders make it their top priority to find out why and correct the reasons. Common sense says the same principle should apply to Rotary Clubs. It begins with identifying who is the Rotary club’s customer - the Club’s customers are its members and the District’s customers are its clubs. Repeat that a few times so it really sinks in. Many Rotarians share the belief that the club’s customers are the organizations and projects supported by their club. This misguided notion often leads clubs to focus attention in the wrong direction which adversely affects the club’s ability to retain existing members and gain new members. Clubs that focus attention on their members discover that satisfied members will give more of their time and treasure to the club’s projects which improves the overall effectiveness of the club.
Now that the club’s customers have been identified it is incumbent upon the clubs’ leadership to make its members a top priority. Club members are keenly aware of the priorities of the club’s leadership. Members of the club observe where the club’s leadership spends time, energy and the club’s treasure. Make your members (customers) your club’s top priority. In doing so, retention will improve and without being asked your members will begin bringing in their friends and associates to join in on the positive (fun) experience.
Leading a club to become more effective requires a multi-year effort, not a hit-and-miss one-month-a year effort. It takes focus and consistency, which is often lost in time and the chaos of other activities. It is of upmost importance that the leaders keep membership satisfaction in sharp focus because it will be necessary to change past customs and practices. When we analyze the operations of effective clubs, we find that they are clear about their efforts to retain existing members and what it takes to attract new members.
To reverse membership decline, clubs must focus on becoming more effective in satisfying their members’ needs. It will not happen until leaders at all levels establish doing so as their number one priority. If clubs and Districts fail to make this a priority they will continue on their downward trend, and, as that trend indicates; many clubs and some districts will reach their point of no return – their tipping point – and will cease to exist.
Reversing the membership freefall is not an option, it is a necessity.
The membership decline in Rotary clubs needs – no – demands bold persistent experimentation in order to reverse course. Efforts to pursue new members and retain existing members cannot simply be a repeat of the past. Clubs must recognize that doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is lunacy. Common sense says we must try different approaches. If the first attempt at a different approach doesn’t work, admit it and try something else. But above all, stay focused and remain persistent!
This paper will begin and end this paper with the following paragraph:
Every club needs to ask itself if it is a membership organization that provides service or a service organization with members.
The First Object of Rotary clearly defines a club’s purpose - “The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service”. Note: it is NOT, repeat, NOT the development of service as an opportunity for members. We must operate clubs as membership organizations that provides service. The club’s customers are its members. It is our job as leaders to provide quality customer service.
The Most Important Avenue of Service
The Guiding Principles of Rotary are: the Object of Rotary, the Four-Way Test and the Avenues of Service.
In the Introduction we briefly discussed the First Object of Rotary and the clear message contained therein – “the development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service”.
We will now shift our attention to the Avenues of Service: Community Service, International Service, Youth Service, Club Service and Vocational Service.
Which of the Avenues of Service best describes your club’s most significant efforts? It is likely you chose Community Service or Youth Service, the two most popular of the Avenues of Service. Because you did not choose Club Service, there is much for you to now consider.
It is our belief that Club Service, the most neglected of the Avenues of Service, is actually the most important. Your willingness to keep an open mind in this discussion could result in significant benefit to your club.
It is a widely known fact that Rotary International has struggled for years to maintain its membership. In 2000 there were 1.17 million Rotarians in 29,238 clubs. Today, in 2021, Rotary has over 35,000 clubs with a total of 1.2 million Rotarians. You can clearly see over the past 20+ years that Rotary gained 6,000 new clubs while total membership remained flat. Essentially for every new Rotarian gained in a new club a Rotarian was Rotarians in existing clubs lost in an established club. But we know it was actually worse than that. While new clubs were being chartered existing clubs were also adding new members but unfortunately those clubs were losing existing members at an even faster rate. We need to break the cycle of adding new clubs to offset declining membership in existing clubs.
Can this cycle be broken? How?
In redirecting our attention to individual clubs would you agree that most clubs have a “tradition” in the way their meetings are conducted? From year to year, the new president conducts the meetings similar to their predecessors, some better than others but generally in the same format.
Please allow me a little leeway as I bring Einstein into this discussion. It is commonly known that Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Now that is not meant to be taken literally but it certainly raises a question regarding my Rotary club and yours. Each year we get a new President with fresh ideas and the Board adds a few new members and loses a few. The new Board meets, and the primary conversations and focus are centered on this year’s fundraiser, which organizations we want to support, and maybe talk of having a membership drive. We put the District Governor’s visit on the calendar and begin the year with a burst of enthusiasm. Need I point out that is most likely the same thing last year’s board did and the year before and the year before.
With an energetic new president and a fresh new board you have the beginnings of what sometimes is referred to as the club having “a good year”. At one time or another we have all been discouraged to see the club gain momentum during a “good year” only to see it lost the following year under a less energetic president. Has your club experienced this difference in energy from one year to another?
Are you ready to step up and accept the responsibility of providing leadership to your club? This does not mean you have to volunteer to become president or repeat as president. It means you will take an active role in improving your club. Will this year be a good year or a bad year? Are you willing to listen to new ideas?
We believe the overall experience in your club can be more fulfilling for your members and beneficial to your club’s health and it can be accomplished without doing anything radical. What we are proposing will engage more members by spreading the workload more evenly across the club.
Back to Einstein and making a commitment not to repeat the same thing over and over. Are you and your board content to continue on the path you are on and watch your membership continue to slowly decline? Or, is your Board willing to make some simple adjustments in the focus within your club with the expectation and likelihood of achieving different results? When was the last time your board discussed the topic of Club Service? Let me guess, never. When was the last time your board discussed the topic of Membership? Let me guess, frequently.
Ironically, focusing on Club Service will grow your membership and improve retention while focusing on Membership, a standard practice in Rotary clubs, will actually place your club in a constant decline. We will go out on a limb by saying we believe the failure to properly prioritize Club Service is one of the major factors in both Rotary’s declining membership and its struggles to recruit and retain new members.”
There are many clubs within District 5400 who do a great job of providing service to the last four avenues of service but do not think much about the first avenue, Club Service. There are many reasons for this as it seems each year the clubs have a president even if that person is selected because they were absent when the elections took place. There are many clubs who have a very robust leadership line up process to fill their president’s position each year. But do either of these clubs put as much effort into filling the other leadership positions as a ‘Service Project.’
There are many reasons why club members do not step up to fill a leadership position, either as the core positions or a committee chair. It appears that the two biggest reasons people do not raise their hand is first, time commitment and the second is not knowing what the role entails. District 5400 has a great Learning & Development Committee that is committed to help with the knowledge of how to fulfill the responsibilities of a club leadership position. Knowing how to perform in a position will help with the first obstacle of time.
So, what if your club started a service project each year to fill all your club’s leadership positions and help them be successful by providing them with learning and development opportunities? How much stronger would your club be in a year or two? How many new members might your club have if they knew as a club member, they were one of the most important ‘customers’ of your club’s service?
Your District 5400 Learning & Development committee stands ready to provide service to your club as you develop this most important service project. Please let us know how we can help.
By the way, if you would like to help us provide service to not only your club but to the clubs in the whole District, come join us. Everyone is welcome.
Steve gage
District 5400 Learning & Development Chair
661-805-3330 (Cell)