What young professionals are looking for in Rotary

Rotary members who attended the Young Professional Summit 26-27 September.

Rotary members who attended the Young Professionals Summit 26-27 September.

By Chris Davidson, Rotary Club of Newport News, Virginia

I attended the first-ever Rotary Young Professionals Summit held in Chicago on 26-27 September, which gathered 30 Rotarians under the age of 40 to discuss how Rotary can better attract and engage young professionals.

The summit was a huge success and thoroughly captured the essence of what Millennials and members of Generation Y are looking for — mentorship, friendship, opportunities, and fun. One of my Rotary mentors, past RI Vice President Anne L. Matthews, who I had worked with on district membership projects, had encouraged me to apply.

Joining Rotary as a 32-year-old young professional was a life-changing event. I knew I wanted to develop my leadership skills and was looking for ways to meet influential members of my community. Once I was exposed to Rotary, I realized that the best way to develop relationships with successful people was to work alongside them in the service of others. One year after joining the Rotary Club of Newport News, I traveled to Zambia as part of a grant to build footbridges in remote “limited access” communities. Rotary offers so much to young people who have the desire to help others, make connections, and learn servant leadership in a world that desperately needs more of that.

The Young Professionals Summit took place in an unconventional meeting space in downtown Chicago, furnished with coffeehouse-style seating and optimized for creative thought. For two days, we engaged in a variety of brainstorming exercises, interactive games, and small group activities, concluding each with a facilitated discussion. Ideas were documented live on large white boards by a professional sketch artist.

Common themes that emerged included:

  • Young professionals are not opposed to joining a club with older members, but they are seeking clubs with a broader range of members that reflect many different categories of diversity.
  • Millennials and members of Generation Y want to do significant acts of service that make a real difference in the lives of others.
  • Young professionals are appreciative of the business and mentorship opportunities they experience through Rotary. However, they do not feel these benefits, and others, are being marketed effectively to their generation.
  • The younger crowd is looking for a fun, flexible experience with Rotary and prefers to avoid stuffy traditions, rituals, and internal politics.

Summit attendees came from all over the United States. My favorite part was definitely the new friendships I formed. I also got a sense that Rotary International intends to put our collective ideas into action. As one of my new friends, Adam Barth from North Carolina, said, “Rotary should be a verb, not a noun.” If these young professionals are any indication, I’d say the future looks very bright for Rotary!

Are you a young professional? Tell us your thoughts about Rotary in the comments section below. Interested in joining? Find a club near you.

141008_davidsonAbout the Author: Chris Davidson, 36, is a member of the Rotary Club of Newport News,Virginia, USA, and served as club president in 2012-13. He is currently membership chair for District 7600 (Virginia).

36 thoughts on “What young professionals are looking for in Rotary

  1. Rotarian from Rotary Club Of Deonar
    District 3141 ,
    i have been in Rotary for the past 29 years I too joined Rotary when I was 29 , my expectation were not any different than what has been reflected in the above Summit .

    However I have come a long way ,today Rotary is part of my life ,I make several presentations in my district promoting youth and women in rotary with success .

    Succinctly put every club needs to create the conducive ‘climate ‘ in the club …..very intentionally and purposefully to welcome the youth and women in Rotary ….. Rotary need to grow , but we need to change first .

    Thank for the inputs of many like-minded .


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  6. I suspect that young professionals seek many of the same things the older members did when joining, but may be hearing about Rotary or being invited to join while they are younger. I always thought of Rotary as an “Old Boys” Club. I’m not quite 55 and have been a member for 3+ years, I don’t think of myself as “Old”, but can see why the tags was assigned. Our club is small but about 35% women, and 9 of the last 10 new members have been under age 40. Only 4 are still with the club and Rotary. I have talked with members from other clubs and many seem to have similar numbers that leaves me to wonder exactly what the challenge is. Is it the youth are too busy or not mature enough to focus and commit OR is the older member’s not taking the time to fellowship, mentor, welcome and embrace. I suspect it may be a bit of both, but also there is a physical difference between the age groups that may affect the way generations experience fun…there are few seniors that will do a Tough Mudder; many Gen-Ys haven’t the patience or time to play the number or rounds of golf to have a consistent respectable game (if that is even possible); there are differences in career progress (young professionals are making their effort and the seniors are either retired already or on their exit strategy; perception on family commitments (young professionals are just starting families while seniors are often becoming grand parents); even the understanding and use of technology, public relations and business networking provide a vast gap in common understanding. The key of course is understanding and communication. I believe that this youth summit is a great start to giving the young professionals an opportunity to see, care and share. The next step is to bring the generations together to forge a mutually acceptable plan that identifies the gaps and provides bridges…in the same way Rotary has brought Greeks and Turks from Cypress or Palestinians and Israelis together.


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  8. Thanks for the recap. I joined in Rotary at my 34 years, and I still consider myself as a young Rotarian. What I see in this part of the globe, I cannot agree more on the ideas and reflections of young professional in Rotary!


  9. I have been a Rotarian for nearly three years. Irlam & Caddishead District 1280. Age 75
    Reading about this summit underlines my feeling that we need to expand our membership in the Under 45 age group. The content of our Annual conference was excellent and would bring many more younger members, if we can find a way to get them to join the audience and listen to some of the presentations.
    Could we have a Half Day set aside where we bring in a targeted guest (Under 45) Make it their day. Think of some way to get their attendance. Select three presentations. Then put it in their hands
    I had six honest serving men who taught me all I knew. Their names were What & Where & When. Why & How & Who. Could be the the name for a Table discussion with Suggestions being outlined and presented to the meeting. Needs some more thought as I have written this as an immediate response to reading about the Summit. Having spent some time in the USA, I know we here in the UK react differently. However we do really need this injection of Youth


    • Ken

      You have some excellent ideas. RI helped organize the summit with the intention it would encourage Rotary members all over to do something similar. And more importantly, seek out the advice of younger members and give them a real say in running things. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    • Hi Ken. I’m a new Rotarian myself (Shepparton South, 9790) and find Rotary very welcoming. My uncle is in the club and asked me to visit to speak about my job. I had just moved home for the job and didn’t have many friends. I immediately joined – at 27 years old. The draw card for me was that the club members were so friendly and caring, but I was familiar with Rotary from Rotaract at university.

      You might find it effective to host webinars targeted at young professionals on special interest areas they don’t teach in schools/universities like finance, real estate, or insurance. You could advertise in gyms and fitness centres, in Australia almost everyone between 25 and 40 years old goes to a gym, I am not sure if it is the same in the UK. Or your district Rotaract group might have ideas or be interested in graduating into Rotary. Keep in touch with RYLA, Youth Exchange and RYPEN attendees and any young leaders who you might sponsor… they might be the next you!

      Good luck. Yours in Rotary service, Meg


  10. I am 36 and have been a Rotarian for the last 4 years. I am a Past-President of the RC of Toronto Twilight and am the current President-Elect of the RC of Tampa Westchase. I am happy to see the focus Rotary has taken in increasing membership of young professionals. Since I found out about Rotary four years ago, it has been a passion of mine. One of the first things I did when I moved from Canada to the US was look for a local Rotary Club because I knew I would find a network of friends instantly that would make me feel at home. I believe that if more young professionals knew more about Rotary, we would have thousands of new members. From finding friendship where I live, to attending meetings around the world where I travel, to doing hands-on local projects, to fundraising and helping with international projects, there are so many rewarding experiences to be had as a Rotarian. After doing a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise funds and spread awareness for End Polio Now with three other Rotarians, we had the opportunity to see first hand the good Rotary has done through sustainable international water, health, and literacy projects in Tanzania – this was a key moment in my life as I was able to see with my own eyes how Rotary changes people’s lives and enables them to continually improve it. This applies to those who are recipients of Rotary projects but also to us as Rotarians. Let’s keep up the good work, more members means we can accomplish even more!


    • Rtn Alice you said it all, but Rotarians should look beyond their territory limit and see what they can do, Liberia was Pleg with this Ebola Virus, Appeal was made to Clubs only few CLUBS Responded. I Hope Rtn Davidson is reading this mail, Young Professionals Should see how to Diversify Rotary, till now Ebola is still Kiling People in Liberia,Sierra Leon and Guinea let us ACT. I am Rtn George n. Kingsley,Charter President Rotary Club of Harper City.


  11. Dear Rtn Davidson, I am Rtn George N.Kingsley, and I joined Rotary as a Rotaractor and d Charter Secretary of that Club,In 2007,I Became d Charter President of a Rotary Club. I am Interested in your Submitt,please invite me in d next one. Yours in Rotary Service.


  12. Dear Chris Davidson congratulations for your thought and outstanding effort to the rotary.
    Me also from a young age group in the just 40. Hope rotary will make a historical steps ahead with help of others. All the best.

    Rtn.Khorshad Alam
    Rotary Club of Basundhara Dhaka
    RI District-3281, Bangladesh.


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  15. While a “Rotary Young Professionals Summit” has been long overdue, I am left bewildered by the small number of select attendees, the opulance of the event, and the lack of meaningful conclusions. Do 30 Rotarians provide an adquate crosssection of the organization? Does “coffeehouse-style seating” have that much influence on creativity? Does a professional sketch artist draw out more new or innovative ideas? I would be inclined to answer “no.” Change has to come at the District level. District Governors need to start convening their own YP groups to have meaningful discussions about: 1) the true monitary cost of membership (outside of just club dues); 2) the need for regional service collaboration (not just global); and 3) leadership building for the future (district level and higher). Only then will Rotary begin to set a foundation for meaingful change.


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  17. hello Rotarian Adrian, i have just read your article. it so great. i have already shared it with my sponsoring club. thats the Rotary Club of Kasangati.

    President 2014 – 2015
    Rotaract Club of Kasangati
    Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Kasangati


  18. Read the themes captured in the four bullets and pretend you did not know these emerged from a young professional summit. It seems to me that these are qualities that ALL professionals prefer, not just young ones. Let’s see how we can bring these themes to life in each of our clubs!


  19. What a fantastic idea. I think we must do something similar here in Australia.
    I grew up hearing about Rotary and participating at Rotary events with my mum. At the age of 16 I decided to go on a short term exchange program, then the year after a long term exchange program.
    Moving from Brazil to Australia I feel that Rotary has given me an advantage upon others. I always find support within Rotarians around the world.
    I’m 27 years old and I have now joined the Rotary Club of Applecross (in Western Australia) so I can bring to the club my areas of expertise and try to keep the ball rolling…. bringing younger members so our club stays strong for as long as we possibly can. I think it’s extremely important to adapt to the changes happening in the world, and one of the main ones is technology.
    Fantastic post and thank you so much for sharing!


  20. How did young Rotarian leaders find out about this summit? We are one of the largest clubs in the world and have many great young leaders in Ann Arbor, Michigan and I didn’t hear about this summit to publicize the event. While I am ‘old’, I would certainly have passed the information along to the appropriate ‘young’ Rotarians in the Club… Next time- please include Omari Rush, Barb Hiltz, Christina Kim and Brandon Marsh…


      • This one summit was very much meant to be an example for districts to follow. The January issue of Rotary Leader will feature a story encouraging district leaders to hold similar summits in their districts. The point is more than just holding events, but to get district leaders to seriously listen and involve young professionals in planning.


  21. Please don’t be put off by ‘politics’ in Rotary. Rotarians, like any other group of people, inevitably have some members who forget that ‘Service Above Self’ is key to being a Rotarian. If one Rotary club doesn’t work out for you then there are lots of others to try and don’t forget eClubs too


  22. I am 34 year old earlier i was drr in rotaract district 3080 and now a member of rotary club roorkee. My experience of being joining rotary after a successful rotaract was disappointing as i saw much of internal politics in the club. So much n so that in the year 2013-14 our president of the club terminated the membership of a past president a paul harris fellow for nothing. And because of all the bylaws and majority. Please suggest me that how can i help the fellow to retrive?


  23. Great recap of the Summit, Chris! I agree that the best part of this experience was the wonderful friendships we all formed. And we all left Chicago feeling empowered to carry out our ideas in our clubs across the country.

    I really enjoyed meeting you! What an honor to be among such bright and service-minded young leaders. Hopefully we will all stay in touch and share the stories of how we are implementing the ideas that grew out of the Summit.

    Liked by 1 person

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