By Tom Gump, past governor of District 5950, and a Member of Rotary International’s Membership Growth Committee
I love August because it is the time of year when Rotary looks seriously at the topic of membership. We are a membership organization and as such, we need members to grow and expand our impact. Service is the avenue by which we make a lasting impact in our communities and how we keep our members engaged.
There are at least three methods of strengthening membership. We can pour energy into attracting new members. We can focus on engaging existing members. And we can form new clubs that serve distinct needs and serve as a magnet for attracting still more members. At different times and places, our Rotary International presidents have focused on all of these aspects of membership.
Last year, 2020-21 RI President Shekhar Mehta rolled out the “Each One, Bring One” campaign, encouraging every member to invite at least one person to a club meeting or event. Rotary experienced a net increase of members as a result in the 2020-21 Rotary year.
Now, RI President Jennifer Jones is building on this momentum by reminding us that we need to comfort and care for our members. (Learn about all of her presidential initiatives on My Rotary.) I believe Jones is absolutely right. More than one survey has shown that the number one reason people leave their Rotary club is because they are not comfortable with the club culture and environment. Others stay but are not comfortable inviting anyone to their club.
But before we can address our club culture, we have to understand it. This is why Jones suggests we conduct entrance surveys to help us see how newer members perceive our club. Once we have a good idea how people see our club, we can consider if we need to change it. And we can decide the best way of creating a welcoming environment for everyone.
In my district, there is a Rotaract club that has demonstrated the power of caring for its members and creating a welcoming environment. The Rotaract Kaleidoscope Club of Minnesota, USA, exists to help individuals with autism and their families connect with and serve their community.
To form the club, we partnered with the Minnesota Independence College and Community(MICC), a nonprofit that offers vocational and life skills training for young adults with autism. MICC provides college level courses in a campus environment with apartments for its students. The Rotaract club supports the work of the college, and although it is caused-based, it remains inclusive of all. Members include students, family members of those with autism, and faculty, as well as anyone with an interest in helping those with autism.
We learned a number of things in forming this club:
- We need to let our members speak and really listen to their answers. Club members have the right to make their own decisions about what they want the club to be.
- We need to educate ourselves on the causes we chose to pursue and the people we aim to serve, so we can communicate that to other people in our community and get them excited to join us in making a difference
- We need to remain flexible and challenge assumptions. Right away, club members felt strongly that a person with autism should be club president. They were right, and that individual has done an outstanding job.
Let’s be intentional about caring for and comforting our members. It is the best way to grow our membership and ensure that our members are proud of their club. Proud members are more likely to stay, and invite other members, which is how we grow Rotary.
Creating an Inclusive Club Culture — Take this Learning Center course to learn strategies for creating a club culture that is welcoming to everyone.