By Richard Cunningham, Rotary Club of James River, Richmond, Virginia, USA
My club is a relatively young club (10 years) and does not carry some of the baggage older clubs do, although we certainly have had our problems. The club had dwindled down to just four members at one point before I transferred into it in 2012.
Near the end of 2012, a small team embarked on a structured and planned process of cultural change. Under the umbrella of “Service-Centered Leadership,” we have been able to achieve some amazing results. The club has grown to 24 members and is on its way to stabilizing at 40 active members, at which time we will look to seed another club.
What is the secret of our success? We take a strategic, not tactical approach. Our core membership message mirrors RI President John Germ’s recipe for growth: engage members in community activities. We have dynamic projects in both basic education and literacy, and maternal and child health. Every one of our last five new members has a connection with either the medical field or education, or both. One new member was a transfer, who switched because their previous club was not involved in any major projects. We have also reached out to the recently retired; two of our newest members just retired this year.
I say all this not to brag, but to share what can be achieved with a vision, a plan, high volunteer expectations, and a solid, sustained team effort. Almost every member of our club is engaged. We do not settle for less in a new member, and have been committed to this approach for three years now.
We’ve shared our message at zone meetings and in discussion forums. When coaching leaders how to help a club with membership issues, we always advise they first take a hard look at what they are dealing with. The first step to problem-solving is always identifying the real problem. We’ve often found it to be one or more of the following:
- A deeper root problem. In almost all cases, there are several other areas of club operations and leadership that aren’t going well. Declining membership is usually the symptom of a deeper dysfunction, not the root problem.
- Lack of a sustainable strategy. These are clubs with few plans for keeping a pipeline of future leaders. They may be led by a group of mostly inexperienced Rotarians with less than three years in Rotary, or by a highly experienced group who like the prestige of leadership but have long since lost their passion for steadily improving the club.
- Mired in status quo. The club may have been dysfunctional so long that the leadership team has no experience of a vibrant club. All they have seen is the current state and they don’t actually know what “good” looks like.
- Lack of knowledge. The leadership team has never honestly diagnosed the problem. They have a lot of guesses, but no facts. It could be retention, a lack of prospects, an inability to close the deal on prospects, lack of curb appeal, the existence of “toxic” members, or something else.
- Lack of history. The leadership team doesn’t have a sense of the club’s membership trends. They don’t know how many members have joined or resigned in the past decade, or seen any patterns in the club’s membership.
The first step to addressing your club’s membership problem, or helping another club, is to do some fact finding. Pull whatever membership history is available and see what it tells you. Even if it doesn’t provide answers, it should tell you the questions you need to be asking as you engage your club in solving the problem.
Armed with facts, or at least questions, you can begin to develop intentional strategies to create a culture of membership growth.
Use Membership Assessment Tools to analyze your member profile and add value to your club experience. Register for our webinar, Revitalize and Rethink Your Rotary Club: Crafting Your Member Experience 11:00 Chicago time on Wednesday, 24 August.