The elephant in Rotary’s living room

Rotarian Bill Grazio and District 7750 Past District Governor Bruce Baker provide students with practical information about preparing for the working world during a recent Junior Achievement program.

Rotarian Bib Grazio and District 7750 Past District Governor Bruce Baker give students practical information about the working world during a recent Junior Achievement program. Some clubs count participation in a service project toward attendance.

By Terry R. Weaver, governor of District 7750 (South Carolina, USA)

In my travels as a newly fielded district governor, I’ve run into a misperception that several clubs have told me is getting in the way of membership growth.

The elephant in the living room? ATTENDANCE.

Let’s step back. Several years ago, Rotary’s Council on Legislation declared that almost ANY legitimate Rotary activity qualifies as a make-up. This includes not only attending another club’s meeting, but also a committee meeting or board meeting, working on a project (some clubs say for at least one or two hours), etc. “Etc.” means anything that can reasonably be called a Rotary service activity. Now, of course to get “credit” for a make-up, the member has to report that qualifying activity to the club secretary. Most clubs use a sign-in sheet at a committee meeting or project and then forward the whole list to the secretary.

Measuring engagement

Why did the Council do that? Because the point of tracking attendance is not to make people come to meetings. When measured this way, it’s a measure of engagement — a key performance indicator of how your Rotary club is doing at involving members in Rotary activities. Believe me, we have the data to prove that when a member isn’t engaged and involved in the club, it’s a short trip to a resignation letter. Look at your members’ attendance percentages. Those at the bottom of the list are thinking about resigning. What can you do to get them engaged, involved, and — hopefully — passionate about something the club is doing?

More importantly, tracking engagement (attendance is a surrogate) is an important way of ensuring that members get the return on their Rotary investment that they deserve. Members who don’t show up for club activities aren’t getting the benefit of Rotary, and if we can identify those folks early, we can intervene and get them involved in something they’re interested in.

Participation versus attendance

So, let’s not only treat attendance as a key performance indicator for engagement but let’s explain it the same way to prospects. Rather than, “You have to attend four meetings a month,” say, “We expect you to participate in some Rotary activity four times a month — you pick the activity that works for you, and you pick the time.” I think that’s a whole different message, and actually what we’re attempting to promote and measure.

It’s not about making people come to meetings. It’s about offering them a platform where they, in their own ways and based on their own preferences, can Be a Gift to the World.

For Membership and New Club Development Month in August, we are collecting stories from members about why they joined– and are proud to stay– in Rotary. Tell us your story on Facebook

11 thoughts on “The elephant in Rotary’s living room

  1. Pingback: The elephant in Rotary’s living room | Rotaract Club of Limuru

  2. “I think many members rely on the weekly meeting as a proxy for getting involved in community activities. Because we meet so regularly, getting Club members actually involved in community events is sometimes a challenge” This IS the problem Yet we have on an average 40% attending.
    The members are not “attracted” by community-oriented Projects either. We may see at best 10% in the Project.
    Again, email, twitter, facebook does not give you fellowship.


  3. Interesting article. Thanks Terry for tackling this ‘elephant’.

    Currently, our Constitution requires us to have a weekly meeting (Rotary Club of Glenferrie, D9800, Victoria, Australia). We have our weekly meetings at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club. Each meeting costs each member around $40 to attend. We have an older, established membership, average age of 70. Our Club is located in one of the wealthiest parts of Melbourne.

    So here’s the rub.

    I think many member rely on the weekly meeting as a proxy for getting involved in community activities. Because we meet so regularly, getting Club members actually involved in community events is sometimes a challenge. Younger people (where the focus on community events is what draws them, and they have no time for an expensive meal each week with old people where the quality of the speaker is variable) are much less attracted to meetings for meetings’ sake.

    The answer is surely to dial down the importance of weekly meetings, to make them less formal, or to eliminate the need for weekly meetings altogether. (For example, by moving for fortnightly meetings.)

    Moves such as this have been fiercely opposed by many, and a fortnightly meeting (only) would currently be ‘un-Constitutional’ (although that hasn’t stopped Clubs from this course of action). There was also a very successful trial of fortnightly meetings between 2006-13 (I recall). It’s the real elephant in the room. We all know it’s a good part o the answer, but no-one’s prepared to acknowledge it.

    If the role of the formal meeting is to keep a Club together, then the role of email, telephone, Twitter, facebook etc has made that much easier in the last 20 years. We need to take account of that.


  4. Thanks Governor for an interesting explanation. We should also remember that “attendance” is necessary for the promoting friendship and fellowship for making club vibrant.


  5. Attendance – I feel it’s the basic requirement. Attending/being present at the Board/Service/another Club meeting CANNOT be equivalent to attending our Club weekly Meeting. Making up attendance is different. No Club can afford to put up a poor show when an outsider comes as a Speaker. We, at Rotary Club of Tiruchirapalli D 3000, do not sit and eat. And anyone joining the Club knows that we meet every Monday.


  6. Pingback: The elephant in Rotary’s living room | The Rotary Club of Carteret

  7. Not sure it’s too well known but my understanding is that in Britain and Ireland a member doesn’t have to attend any meetings at all now as long as they complete 12 hours participation that benefits the community in any 26 week period.
    This gives clubs far more flexibility in attracting members as many potential younger Rotarians don’t see the need to sit down to eat as many older clubs still do.
    It can also particularly help lunchtime clubs which potential younger working members would find it impossible to join.


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