By Patrick Eakes, Zone 33 Rotary Coordinator
In our area, the global pandemic arrived like an unwelcome dinner guest. Within a matter of days after the first local case of COVID-19, my Rotary club’s meeting location closed, and gatherings of 50 or more people were prohibited (my club has over 100 members). Face-to-face Rotary meetings came to an almost immediate halt.
David Stovall and Stephanie Urchick, Rotary International Directors, and Director-elect Peter Kyle immediately set up online meetings for all Rotary members in Zones 33 and 34 to attend. They held these meetings twice each week and posted recordings on social media, setting an explicit example for district and club leaders of how they could maintain and strengthen the engagement of Rotary members even during a pandemic.
David, Stephanie, and Peter also demonstrated that a challenge can be an opportunity, as clubs could now book dynamic speakers from well outside their club’s geographical area.
The Zone 33 Rotary Coordinator team surveyed clubs and districts to be sure no club or member was left behind. Our team helped dozens of clubs make the transition to online meetings, loaning them meeting software licenses, providing training, and presenting programs at their meetings.
We recognized that helping clubs and members stay connected was imperative, so clubs could continue to serve their communities at a time of heightened need. Membership is truly a team sport, and it was inspiring to witness our districts and clubs respond in creative ways to maintain the engagement of their members.
Hybrid meeting guide
I stay in close contact with my colleague and partner in Zone 34, Rotary Coordinator George Robertson-Burnett. By mid-March, George had already developed a helpful resource, the Coronavirus Response Guide, which included guidance for clubs to maintain member engagement. In our conversations through April and May, George and I discussed that the next challenge for Rotary clubs in our zones would likely be staying connected to members who were unable or unwilling to attend in-person meetings when restrictions started to ease.
Keeping members engaged with your club is vital to your club’s overall health and impact.
Zone 33 Assistant Rotary Coordinator Terry Weaver recognized that same challenge and developed a solid written plan to assist clubs with holding hybrid meetings, using that term to indicate meetings set up to allow both in-person and virtual attendance and participation. Several leaders in Zones 33 and 34 provided input on Terry’s plan, and Terry published the Hybrid Rotary Meetings Technology Guide early in July. The guide was introduced and explained in multiple video meetings and training events, and it was posted on the Zones 33-34 website.
The guide provides a cookbook approach to set up readily available audio-visual equipment to produce hybrid meetings. It includes instructions and diagrams for four hybrid meeting scenarios. These scenarios range from quite simple to advanced, so clubs can choose the appropriate level of features that match their club’s resources and their members’ technical expertise.
Keeping every member engaged
Communities across the world are in various stages of reopening. Some areas that have gained the upper hand on COVID-19 are moving closer to normal operation, while some hot spots are re-instating restrictions. Regardless of your community’s situation, it is likely that there are members in your club who will not return to in-person meetings until a safe vaccine is developed and is readily available. Keeping those members engaged with your club is vital to your club’s overall health and impact.
Because of the pandemic, club presidents in 2020-2021 face a challenge previous leaders haven’t. But it’s also an opportunity. Rotary International President Holger Knaack’s theme Rotary Opens Opportunities, can serve as a reminder that all clubs will have to change the way they operate to thrive during and after the pandemic. I encourage you to use the Hybrid Rotary Meetings Technology Guide as a valuable resource to keep all of your members engaged with your club.