Why Organization's Fail

Rotary didn't stop developing membership because people were not interested in joining local Rotary clubs. Recent membership metrics have proven that. It stopped growing because Rotary and its member clubs became product oriented instead of member oriented. They marketed the results of the Object of Rotary instead of its value to its member clubs and Rotarians - its customers - those who fund its operations.

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Monday, October 15, 2018


I am often asked two questions:

  1. Why do I think Rotary International's (RI) membership in North America and other legacy regions declined?
  2. Do I believe RI is in a permanent membership stalemate or decline? 
             My response to the first question is that I believe that RI's fundamental problem goes back to the late 1980s when it began:
    • moving away from its core business of chartering and supporting local Rotary clubs,
    • abandoning the pursuit of its niche market - business, professional, and community leaders, and
    • restructuring operations in an attempt to become a worldwide service organization.
      My response to the second question depends upon how its leaders vision RI's future.  I suspect that RI will continue on its present course until leadership accepts that RI did indeed make these mistakes and aggressively pursues resolutions to each issue, beginning with "Why would a person want to join and pay dues to local or electronic Rotary Clubs?"  Along this avenue, I am aware that seminars around the world discuss variations of this question:  Is Rotary a service organization with members, or is it a member organization that performs service?
      If RI chooses to travel the path of being a service organization with members, it will continue to struggle.  Local clubs, the pistons that drive RI's worldwide engine of influence, will gradually cease renewing charters because of falling membership.  That will continually weaken RI's ability to attract sufficient supporters, which will make it difficult for RI to sustain as an influential worldwide service organization.
     If RI centers ALL activities on being a member-driven network of local Rotary clubs that perform community and worldwide service, then I believe it has a chance of having a long, influential future.  Some of RI's present senior leaders are trying to influence change along these lines.  In an organization as diverse at RI, overcoming long-held philosophies, customs, and priorities is not easy, particularly with frequent changes in leadership.  In fact, it may be impossible for RI to alter its present course without completely restructuring core practices, mind-sets, and operations.  On the positive side, RI does have a basic worldwide structure already in place that could accelerate change, but all of RI's departments, committees, administrative districts, and attributes MUST support pursuing a singular, differentiating objective.

Is RI going to continue to follow Sears?  What do you think?

(Personal note:  I have been in a Rotary club for more than fifty years.  Time and other matters are taking its toll on body and thought processes. I am not retiring from Rotary and plan to continue helping make Sarasota Fl, USA, and the world a better place through the networks and attributes Rotary has helped me develop and use.  Rotary has been good for me and my family, and I hope fifty years from now many yet-to-be Rotarians will be able to say the same thing.)

Monday, October 1, 2018


          Why do membership-based organizations flounder?  Almost always, it is because the organization's leaders are either unaware their organization is floundering or are aware but do not know why.  This is only logical because, if organizations' leaders knew what was happening and why, they would try to prevent it from floundering.

          So why don't leaders know what is happening?  Most often it is because the reasons are subtle and evolve over long periods.  Such conditions are difficult for leaders to grasp, particularly in organizations with frequent leadership changes, if short-term plans with realistic, measurable goals and results do not exist.  Such plans should always keep the organization's long-term vision in site.  Its short-range plan and long-range vision should;
  • be centered on the organization's unique, differentiating value proposition; 
  • have an unmistakable definition of who it wants to attract into membership; and
  • be clear on why those it wants to attract would be willing to exchange time, talent, and treasure for membership.

Without agreement on these issues, there cannot be adequate planning of any type, and it will be difficult to develop and support membership. Is this where Rotary is at this time? If so, where does it plan to go from here, and how will it get there?
     To create effective short- and long-range plans for Rotary International (RI) to continuously market and support membership development, its leaders should, at a minimum, use the following thought processes:         

1.  Define the characteristics of those RI wishes to attract into membership.  Who is going to pay for the services RI has to offer and how many potential buyers exist?  What is a realistic expectation of how many who qualify will actually become members?  How many will remain Rotarians and for how long?
2.  Have a brief but well defined mission statement. A brief mission statement should define why RI exists.  It should succinctly describe RI's core supporters, and the value proposition that will attract them to Rotary.
3.  Overcome poor management.  Instead of understanding what its supporters are saying, leaders often lose trust and start trying to micro-manage.  They do not react to what is actually happening because they do not know why it is happening. They usually rely on excuses instead of reasons, and often believe that they know what their supporters want and need better than their supporters.
4.  Learn from failure.  Learning from failure is difficult because very few former or present leaders want to actually admit that their past, or present, actions did not or are not working.  In doing so, they are not learning the whys of what happened or is happening, therefore they cannot effectively react.

Few places are less forgiving to organizations than competitive, ever-changing social atmospheres.  RI was quite successful adjusting to such conditions between 1905 and 1995. Since then,overall membership has stagnated, primarily due to declining membership in some legacy regions. So what happened and why did it happen?  Does RI have any idea where it is going from here or how it is are going to get there?

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Service is not Integral to Rotary; It is Rotary's Reward - -

A reader of the August 1 Post The Heart of Rotary is not Service asked, "Don't you believe that the original framers of the Object of Rotary wanted service to be integral to our organization?"
    "No", I replied . . . "Integral implies that service is embedded in the organization whereas  The Object of Rotary's opening paragraph says, 'The Object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster: . .' " An ideal is a standard, moral value or belief.  Adopting an ideal becomes a way of life; something that is less subject to be replaced by whims, ideas, or changes in circumstances.  Nowhere does the Object of Rotary even imply that service would be embedded in or used as an adjective to describe the Association of Rotary Clubs, which evolved into Rotary International (RI).
     The original framers wisely constructed the Object of Rotary so it could be adopted by any person, at any time, in any place, and under any social, political, or religious system.  They wanted the Ideal of Service to be a value embedded in Rotarians; a value that would help them make their personal, business, and community lives better regardless of where they lived, worked, and/or played. 
   RI President Barry Rassin, in his August 2018 message, says, "A well-known saying goes, "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family." That doesn't mean people should ignore the needs outside their own homes; instead, they should pay attention to the needs within.
       It can be tempting, when our priority is service, to focus only on the things that look like service: the projects, the planning, and the work that yields a visible benefit to those who need it. But to do that work effectively, we need to keep our own house in order. In Rotary, that means conducting ourselves in accordance with the principles of Rotary, treating others with respect, and following The Four-Way Test. It means maximizing our impact by planning carefully and stewarding our resources wisely. And it means looking after the long-term health of our organization by ensuring that our membership is strong, engaged, and healthy."
       Attempting to make service integral to RI or any of its member clubs promotes concretizing the results of putting the Ideal of Service into practice.  RI itself is encouraging concretizing when it pressures clubs to report outcomes such as volunteer hours and service projects or when it asks clubs to set targets for projects and contributions to TRF.  These may appear to be sound business practices that generate favorable public images, but concretizing results often leads to the results exceeding the Ideal in priority.  This common organization mistake has led to the bankruptcy of once successful organizations, including General Motors and Kodak, and hindered RI's growth, particularly in legacy regions. 

The quantity and quality of service projects (including polio eradication), volunteer hours, and dollars contributed to TRF are the organization's rewards for attracting and retaining Rotarians who choose the Ideal of Service as a way of life, and the only true measure of the organization's long-term health is reflected in RG Indexes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The HEART of Rotary is not Service.

The HEART of Rotary is the Object of Rotary, and it continually pumps Rotary's lifeblood,  the ideal of service, throughout the Rotary network.

Humans have brains, hands, arms, legs and feet that will function as long as they have a constant supply of lifeblood.  Rotary International (RI) has over 35,000-member clubs that will function as long as they have a constant supply of lifeblood.  What is critical for Rotary's governing body to understand is that Rotary's lifeblood is not service, it is the ideal of service.
     Rotarians should realize that Rotary is alive because Rotary's heart continually pumps the ideal throughout its network.  Rotarians, living the ideal each in their own way, use their brains, hands, arms, legs and feet to build connections and bring awareness that improves their local social fabrics and strengthens Rotary's worldwide network. 
     The ideal manifests itself in many different ways.  For example:

  • Rotarians in India overcome many social and logistical difficulties to build a water reservoir. 
  • Rotarians in metropolitan and suburban clubs use influence and money to help teachers improve student reading skills and graduation rates in local schools.
  • Rotarians in Argentina obtain a Global Grant to furnish equipment to help a school for the blind. 
  • Rotarians in Africa find individual donors and volunteers to help rural area schools.
  • Rotarians in North Carolina provide beds to help families stabilize their housing situation.
  • A Rotarian anywhere in the world helps a stranger in need.
  • Rotarians undertake a worldwide project to eliminate a crippling disease, starting in their own local social fabric and spreading globally.

     Humans continually check on their heart's health by monitoring their blood pressure and understanding the numbers.  They do not even try to monitor its result - the lifetime accomplishments of the heart's body.  RI should measure its heart's health by monitoring its RG Index and understanding the numbers.  It should not waste resources trying to remain healthy by monitoring its heart's result - the quantity of service projects, volunteer hours, and/or dollars contributed by clubs and/or Rotarians.

 Humans' body parts cease to function when they stop receiving lifeblood.  RG Indexes would identify regions of the Rotary network where the supply of lifeblood is dangerously low; where caring RI leaders who are properly prepared and supported would take corrective actions.