By Dave Rhylander, president of the Rotary Club of Collierville, Tennessee, USA
Is it possible to grow your club in the midst of a pandemic? We have found the answer to be a resounding yes. Despite all the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to Rotary clubs and the entire world, really, there are ways to excite members, engage in service, and through creativity attract people who are interested in joining us as people of action.
Last June, we set a goal to grow by 20%, and so far we have welcomed in 13 new members. Why 20%? Back in the early 2000’s our club had 100 members. But our membership declined over the years. If we grow 20% each year, we figure we can get back to 100 members within three years if not sooner. We knew this would be a challenge, but like in business or sports, you set a target and build a plan to achieve it.
Here is how we did it:
- We started corporate memberships in July which has helped us get new members as more than one person can attend the meeting. We modeled our corporate membership after Rotary guidelines where there is a primary member but if they cannot attend they send an alternative. This has helped us attract members who would not normally join. Several of the corporations have headquarters in Collierville like Muellar, MCR Safety, Alston Construction. This has enhanced the club via resources and also the ability to attract other corporations and change the image of Rotary.
- We set a goal of attracting more women and young professionals so we did not look like “the old guys club.” We put female members and younger members in charge of projects that increased their visibility in the community and made them ambassadors to attract other prospective members. When people saw we had young professionals and women in our club, more were attracted. And these prospective members saw the value of what we were doing. Of our 13 new members, six are women.
- We created an online application that made it very easy to fill out all the information required.
- We organized service projects that built awareness of the club and helped attract people who want to do service work. We rang the Salvation Army Bell this year at one location and it got high participation from members and their families. We set a goal of raising the most money of any Salvation Army location in the Greater Memphis Area which we did. During the bell ringing we had several people come up and ask how they could join Rotary because they wanted to be part of something like this. The Salvation Army is a great cause because they help so many people in need and most of the funds go to the needy vs administration/overhead. And everyone who rings the bell tells you it is a very rewarding personal experience. Many bring their children to participate so they can witness the “giving by others.” We just won the Non Profit of the Year Award from the Chamber of Commerce because of our service.
- We told our story via social media so non Rotarians could see what we are doing to support our community, want to be part of a successful team, and come join Rotary. Each week we do a profile story on a member so people can see who is in Rotary and something about the person. We also post on Facebook every time we have a club meeting where we talk about the speakers or recognize people. When we have events like Salvation Army, we take pictures of the bell ringers and encourage people to donate. This gets the name of Rotary in front of people as its “the best kept secret” as some of our members say.
- We provided meeting options, meeting in person (except for December and January) with the option of attending by Zoom if you could not attend in person. We follow health department guidelines and post them the day before the meeting so Rotarians know what to expect. Our county essentially shut down in December and January due to an increase in COVID and our speakers were limited due to access to Zooming their stories. (Learn more about holding engaging online meetings)
- We embraced diversity. Diversity brings increased energy and new ideas. If you have projects that are very appealing it helps you attract young members. Plus, young members have children and they understand the value of vaccinating children to prevent polio, or providing Christmas gifts, or ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, or sponsoring a Gift of Life Child for major heart surgery from Honduras.
We are not done growing this year. I hope we get another five to eight new members before year end. We will be remembering the year of COVID-19 as the year we grew our membership in double digits. How about your club?