What defines a Rotary club? You choose

John HewkoBy John Hewko, Rotary International General Secretary 

What Rotary has achieved over the past century is remarkable. We were one of the world’s first membership service organizations. Rotary members have made a decisive positive impact in our communities and around the world, from helping to draft the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945, to spearheading the most successful global health partnership in history with the launch of our PolioPlus program in 1985, bringing one of the world’s most feared diseases to the brink of eradication. 

The list of groundbreaking Rotary projects is too long to mention here. But as our Foundation enters its second century, we also need to think hard about how we will continue to have the kind of impact and influence that has shaped our first 100 years.

Our members, of course, are the beating heart of Rotary. So membership is a good place to start.

Greater flexibility
Over the past 15 years, Rotary has carried out pilot programs that have explored new definitions of membership, classifications, and the club experience. We have consistently found that when clubs are given the freedom to determine how to hold their meetings, the composition of their membership, and what defines engagement, the club is more vibrant and better able to grow.

In some parts of the world, the traditional club model works just fine, but in others, our membership is flatlining. To be frank, a single club model applied universally across our incredibly diverse Rotary communities is probably not sustainable.

To address this, and support Rotary’s future health, Rotary’s Council on Legislation adopted two measures that in my mind are critical for our organization: clubs now have greater flexibility (see the video) in when, where, and how they meet and the types of membership (see the video) they offer.

Also importantly, Rotaractors can become members of Rotary clubs while they are still in Rotaract.

It’s your choice
While this flexibility is available to those clubs that choose to amend their bylaws, a club that wishes to continue to adhere to the traditional requirements regarding meetings, attendance, structure, or categories of membership may continue to do so.

Some clubs are already taking advantage of the new flexibility, as this blog post from a Rotaract member who is also now a Rotary member shows. Rotary needs to retain the talents of qualified young leaders as well as attract members from all demographic groups. The membership decisions, like many others at this year’s Council, are a significant step for Rotary’s future.

Learn more about the membership and meeting flexibility decisions and the impact they will have on our organization’s growth in the years ahead (download the PDF). I encourage you to share this information with Rotarians in your club, district, and region. You can also read a review of the Council’s actions on rotary.org.

13 thoughts on “What defines a Rotary club? You choose

  1. Pingback: Our top 5 stories of 2016 | Rotary Voices

  2. I’m really disappointed with the behavior of rotary members in Crowley Louisiana . I’ve read the standards of the rotary organization and they are impressive and inviting . It’s unfortunate that a small handful are rude and not concerned that their comments and body language are insulting. It would be nice to see a bigger picture that people trying their hardest to please and satisfy their needs should be respected and not insulted. It’s unfortunate and hurtful. I had high hopes and excited feelings to be a part of something special but I was let down and broken emotionally .


    • MJ, I am very sorry to hear that this was your experience with the Rotary Club in Crowley Louisiana. Sometimes, we all need a reminder of the 4-Way Test – that it applies to our lives inside and outside of Rotary in all that we Think, Say and Do. Have you had a chance to speak to your club’s Assistant Governor or perhaps the District Governor themselves? I am sure that they would be disappointed to hear of your experience and would want to do what they can to ensure no one leaves an interaction with the club feeling the same way in the future. One thing to keep in mind is that there is no ‘stock’ version of who a Rotarian is or what a Rotary club is. With that in mind, remember that you are just as worthy of being a part of the organization you believed would be very special. Indeed, Rotary is special! If you have an opportunity to join a different Club in your area, I would highly recommend checking out a few of them, see what their vibe or culture is like, see where you might fit in on project idea, and then make a decision, from there. Yours in Rotary, Andrea

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rotarians must warily & wisely flow with the digital age & flux of attention for many things to read & do & modify Rotary rules which are pedestrian to this age-it does nt tear Rotary values and integrity -these depend on Rotarians themselves.Thanks you -alll for you r thoughts & update comments


  3. John Hewko, Rotary International General Secretary
    I met RI in her old guise, as an exchange student in 1962 …
    As PE for our club I’ve supported a trial of every second weekly meeting at a coffee shop at the same breakfast time of 06:45 for 7:30 – 8:30 meeting.
    We need to revert to the schedule of all meetings, every week as “formal”
    Numbers at the coffee shop are less and their is poor communication within the club at the informal ‘meetings’.
    Having said that, our ‘formal’ meetings are less formal than those at some other clubs.
    However, we’re ever so grateful for the flexibility maintaining the strength and principles of RI.


  4. I believe it is great that we are doing something positive about Membership, especially in Australia and New Zealand, we really do need to put some time and effort in to this to attain an increase in membership in these two countries in particular


  5. It is indeed a matter of deep concern for Rotary International, that all the choices are blooming for the sole reason that it is somehow failing to attract the new generation to keep the good work going. It would be worthwhile for the planners to work out to a modality to involve the members in the activities of the clubs and get to know what Rotary actually stands for.


  6. Just a question really about membership. I am hosting a Global Grant scholar who is interested in joing our local Rotaract club. If she does can sha also join a Rotary club while still a GG schcolar.
    I do not know if she does want but what if she did. Could she?


    • Hi Ian, from what I understand, the GG Scholar could do both, however they (or someone) would be responsible for meeting the qualifications for both clubs, including the financial obligations. There would be a whole host of reasons why joining one club or both would benefit the scholar, also, it would depend on how likely they would be to join (or be invited to join, depending on their sponsor country) a Rotary club once they return home after their scholarship has ended. This might impact their decision to become a Rotarian at this point versus joining a local Rotaract club and continuing to attend your Rotary meetings as a guest. Hopefully that makes sense. Feel free to send me a note and we can chat about it further. Best, Andrea


  7. Pingback: What defines a Rotary club? You choose | The Rotary Club of Carteret

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