Want to grow your club? Ask Rotary alumni

Alumni represent an incredible network of leaders engaged in service around the world.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of blog posts for Membership Month where experts share how they reach out to prospective members, keep existing members engaged, and create an environment that allows new clubs to form and thrive.

By Tom Gump 

I am often asked “How do I grow my club?” or “How do I find members for my new club?” I have a great answer – Rotary alumni. These past participants of Rotary programs are an often-overlooked source of potential members with a built-in understanding of who we are and a past experience with how we take action to serve to change lives. 

Alumni represent an incredible network of leaders engaged in service around the world. Clubs sometimes think about inviting them as speakers or using them as extra hands for service projects. But if we take the time, effort, and willingness to remove a few of the barriers that keep them from joining, we can experience the benefits of their insight and talent to grow Rotary. 

Let me give you three powerful real-life examples. 

The International Rotaract eClub for the Environment 

The Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG) with the help of Karen Kendrick-Hands of Rotary District 5950, Twin Cities Rotary EcoClub, the Rotary Club of Edina / Morningside and club advisor Steve Solbrack, started this club in only a few months with almost twice the core of 12 members that Rotary recommends. It now has 23 members from 12 different countries. We approached alumni who belonged to  ESRAGwhich includes experts in environmental engineering and other aspects of the environment who provide expertise to other Rotary clubs on projects. What many of the young professionals who belong to it really wanted to do is work on projects themselves. 

To allow these young professionals to do that, we removed some of the barriers that often keep alumni from joining Rotary — high dues, inconvenient meeting times, and too many competing obligations. We created a cause-based club around their common interest, which assured that their time would be spent pursuing projects in the area they were interested in. And we choose the flexible structure of an e-club. Most of the club’s communication is done over WhatsApp. Meetings are held on Zoom.  

The Rotary eClub of Global Travelers  

Chartered on 23 April, this club already has 24 members with 18 associate members from 11 different states in the U.S. and several different countries. 

When a friend and member of my club, Paula Schwartz, moved from Minnesota to Florida, she discovered that the club she initially joined there did not have the passion for international projects that she did. So I helped her form one of her own, again using alumni connections we both had. 

She focused on relationships that she had formed years earlier in a Group Study Exchange. I reached out to people I knew through having hosted six Youth Exchange students and having formed friendships with many other host families. A lot of former exchange students are looking for a way to re-engage with Rotary if we make it possible for them. 

Again, the e-club format made it easy for members to attend meetings. The club scheduled virtual exchanges with other countries including India, where they don’t just learn about the country, but immerse themselves in its culture. Members organized a virtual cooking class to learn how to cook Indian cuisine, and scheduled yoga and meditation classes.  

They offer short and long service project trips. Upcoming short trips include going to Pasadena, California, USA in January 2022 to work on the Rotary Rose Bowl Parade Float and to New York in 2023 for Rotary Day at the United Nations Day. Other destinations are planned all over the world. 

The Rotary Club of Cultural Exchange Enthusiasts 

Five years ago, this club formed as an e-club, but decided to rebrand itself around a cause to address declining membership. The club president at the time had taken part in a Rotary Youth Exchange and was active in a Rotex alumni association – Rotary Youth Exchange alumni who act as intermediaries between Rotary members and Youth Exchange students to improve their exchange experience.  

If you have ever been to a Rotary meeting that involved youth exchange students, you know the energy and fun they bring to meetings. In the past 16 months, the club has grown from five to 13 members tapping into this pool of Rotex alumni. The club publicizes weekly speakers on Facebook and their website, encouraging members and non-members to attend the virtual meetings, which are recorded and posted for future view. The meeting vibe is low-key, friendly, and positive. Annual dues are kept affordable. 

Conclusion

Rotary alumni can help you grow your club, whether existing or new. You can use alternative club models to remove the typical barriers that keep many of these ready-made potential members from joining. Then you just need to ask them. 

Try these strategies to attract qualified members for your club. If you’d like to connect with alumni in your district, email alumni@rotary.org

About the author: Tom Gump is a past governor of District 5950 and past president of the Rotary Club of Edina / Morningside, Minnesota, USA. He currently serves as the Zone 29 Innovative Club Advocate helping Rotary members around the world form new and innovative clubs. Tom’s email address is: tagump@gmail.com

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