The key to pitching Rotary to young professionals

Michael Walstrom leads a presentation on attracting young professionals into Rotary.

By Michael Walstrom, president-elect of the Rotary Club of Downtown Boca Raton, Florida  

I think most would agree that Rotary has struggled to attract and retain young professionals. At a district conference in 2016, my district governor, Eric Gordon, asked me to put together a program for “YP” development. This was a new committee, so I was starting from scratch. I was 38 at the time and two years into my Rotary journey. The only thing I really knew was that I had a lot to learn.

My first step was to gather data. My district, 6930, has 6 percent membership in the “under 40” category. I put together a survey of ten questions designed to get at the core of what brought those members into Rotary, why they stay, what they want, and what the challenges are for them. Club presidents from all over the district helped get their YP members to complete my survey.

The process was fantastic. I knew why I was in Rotary, but I needed to know if my experience was similar to others, or anomalous. Reading through scores of submissions I began to see some distinct trends.

  • Younger members were drawn to Rotary through a friend or business contact.
  • They value networking, for personal but primarily business purposes.
  • Many are interested in developing relationships with community leaders, those who could offer guidance or mentorship.
  • Some identified time and financial commitments as ongoing hurdles.
  • Only about half identified service as an initial motivation for joining, but to most it is clearly an important factor.

Surveys can help put an issue into context, but how can clubs turn this into a strategy for YP membership development?

I think it means knowing what Rotary has to offer. It’s putting together a Value Proposition that can effectively pitch Rotary to the YPs in any community.

This pitch comes down to one idea, Leadership. Rotary is a unique environment wherein YPs can learn, practice, and exhibit leadership skills. This is an immeasurable benefit for one’s personal and professional development. Their values can be made clear; they learn to work with others and pay it forward.

Download Walstrom’s survey (PDF).

Engaging Younger Professionals, a new online toolkit, helps clubs better understand younger professionals. From ideas for outreach and engagement to long-term benefits of becoming a Rotarian, this toolkit helps clubs rethink their membership, from a broad perspective down to a tactical level.

43 thoughts on “The key to pitching Rotary to young professionals

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  4. This is very helpful. I’m new to Rotary as a member but, have attended with my mentor off and on for years.
    Our club is small and membership is stale in attendance often. I seem to be in a wave of growth that can continue if we work with it and don’t chase them away.
    I look forward to reading deeper in your texts. Thank you for the share.


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    • Why use the wording ” Young Proffesionals” We need YOUNG People. Suggest you check out the meaning of “Proffesional” which could put many young people off.


      • Les, Rotary structures like Interact, Rotaract and RYLA are great places for young people. But my work relates to Rotary Clubs. I would refer you to the original Object of Rotary text, numbers II and IV:
        II. High ethical standards in business and professions; the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity for service.
        IV. The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united the the ideal of service.
        I target young professionals because, as we can see here, Rotary has a unique value proposition for them, specifically. I believe clubs can learn to leverage this to increase membership and engagement.


  7. Nice to have younger members join Rotary but, should our membership recruitment efforts be disproportionately focused on attracting younger age groups when worldwide studies show that the under age 40 year old age group represent just 5% of Rotary Club members? Seems that it would be a better use of club resources to put our recruitment efforts towards attracting members over age 40 who are proven more likely to join and to stay in Rotary. Shouldn’t we fish where the fish are?


    • Rob, thanks for your response. For us, we don’t focus disproportionately, per se, on YPs in recruitment. However, the fact that we are only 5% under 40 tells me that there is a real opportunity to grow that cohort of our membership. The key to catching those “fish” is to use the right bait. My efforts are to develop, and share with clubs, messaging and strategies that will help them catch the “under 40” fish! After all, Paul Harris was only 36 when he started Rotary, so we’re a Young Professional organization at heart. 😆


    • Jeffrey, follow the link in the post just below. RI added it so everyone could access the survey. Thanks!


  8. I OBJECT to using the term Young PROFFESIONALS. We need “YOUNG PEOPLE” as long as they are prepared to support humanitarian aims of Rotary.


    • Les, thanks for your input. I think this is just semantics. My survey looked at everyone in my District (46 clubs) age 39 and under, looking for drivers and motivations. There was no exclusion for “professionals” per se. That’s just what I called it. The survey could be easily retitled to meet your needs.


  9. How many of the 6% had been Rotaractors please?

    Also could you share the questions with me please

    Finally, do you know if there has been any similar survey done with non-Rotarians who have expressed an interest but not taken it further to establish why they are not interested?

    It is not the ones who join that give us a pointer to how to make it attractive it is those that do not join that give the best indication methinks.


    • Martin,

      Thank you for your response. The 6% number is representative of my district, as those are the numbers I have access to though the District website. Unfortunately, I don’t have the detail for how many came from a Rotaract background.

      I am not aware of a survey of individuals who have opted not to join clubs. I will send you the survey I created and you are welcome to adapt it to that purpose. I would be excited to see the results if you did!


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  11. Looking back at Rotary from the perspective of a daughter of a Rotarian, I learned to value community service as I watched my dad be devoted to the projects within our community. Later, as a mother of a young Rotarian, I watched my son grow exponentially from the mentoring he received. I believe it changed his life. He’s become one who leads effectively, gives to others and promotes the Rotarian values. What’s not really good about that?


  12. Good piece and sound advice. Members must develop a USP or unique selling proposition that projects benefits to the prospect. It should be different for YP’s (focus on leadership opportunities offered at Rotary) or retired executives (who may have the time, contacts and compelling desire to give back to improve the human condition.) Tempering the message to fit the prospect is key to generating optimum results.
    Clubs should conduct a census survey to realize that the age demographics of members probably skew toward retirement or demise. When clubs wait to long to recruit younger members the few who then join may find that they have little in common with the old folks hanging on. Aggressive efforts and the recruiting of multiple younger members within a short time, even though they will socialize together initially, is one way to integrate all toward common goals.
    Interested to see your (Survey Monkey) questions, as well. Thanks.
    Dick Rohe


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  14. I joined Rotary after concluding my time in Rotaract at age 30. That was 22 years ago. Sadly during my 40’s I was often the youngest Rotarian. There were times I was ready to resign however it was through the efforts of two Rotarians I remained a member. What kept me as a Rotarian was great mentoring, my club being flexible to my needs, understanding I had the potential to be a long term Rotarian and being accepted as an equal and the future of the Rotary. We are all Rotarians. We are all equals. To keep younger members, treat them well and they will stay.


    • Gavin, Thanks for your comments. A few strong mentors have really made the difference for me as well.


    • Hello Michael, Congratulations, great job! It was a pleasure to meet you at the recent RLI leaders training in South Florida. I am very interested in working together regarding young professionals, and would like to share an idea. What is your email? Mine is Thank you


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