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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Marketing Membership

In this Rotatorial, Rotary means Rotary International (RI) and The Rotary Foundation (TRF); customer means those who finance the operations of both - Rotarians and Donors.

      Perhaps the best modern example of why RI should donate more resources to holistic marketing hits at Rotary's heart: its monumental service project - Polio Eradication, a special program of RI originally called PolioPlus.  Ask the average person, or even the news media, to identify the private organization most closely related to polio eradication.  More than likely they will say the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - the result of effective 21st century marketing.
     Many non-profit organizations, probably including Rotary and many member clubs, believe dedicating resources to marketing is wasted money and effort.  Frequently the reason is that non-profit leaders believe the causes they champion and services they offer are ends unto themselves; that members and/or donors will automatically follow; that they do not have to stoop to 'selling'.  That's compassionate hearts taking action without engaging business brains.  For long term success, both are necessary.
     Casting a wide net for dues paying members, i.e. recruiting, kills membership driven organizations because if anyone can join an organization, there is no reason for anyone to join an organization.  What has hurt RI membership, particularly in North America is that, for almost two decades, the qualifications for membership in many clubs has been:
  • Do you have a heartbeat?
  • Can you afford our dues for at least six months? 
The underlying question should be, "Are you interested in being a Rotarian?"           

     The major reason this line of inquiry is not pursued is that, among all levels of Rotary leaders, there is little common agreement on what Rotary is; therefore who Rotarians are.  The Seigel+Gale research clearly identified this dilemma (See pages 23 - 38 of this Research Paper.)  The fundamental reason this condition exists is the lack of having a holistic marketing program within RI.  If Rotary leaders do not agree on what RI is or who Rotarians are, then how can RI market externally?  But let's get one thing clarified quickly. Marketing is not 'selling' or 'advertising'.  Marketing is the process of communicating the value of what an organization offers customers for the purpose of engaging them, and influencing all interactions between customers and the organization, in this case Rotary, to assure the expected value is being delivered.
     Since 1988, because of Who Rotarians Are, Rotary has been leading the charge to eliminate polio.  Had RI been effectively marketing Rotary and Who Rotarians Are, the average person, when asked to identify the private organization most closely related to polio eradication, most likely would say Rotary.  Is there not a major message here?

Developing an holistic Marketing program would Multiply Membership.  The place to start is with Internal Marketing.  Rotary leaders at all levels must agree on what business Rotary is in, who its customers are, and what they value.  This is the only path RI can take to reverse its membership fortunes and achieve a sustained, steady growth.

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