(Note: In this 12-14-2015 revision, Rotary refers to Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation.)
Organizations, like empires, rise and fall; they go through stages of growth, maturity, and decay. In the growth and mature stages, most organization leaders go through a phase where they believe growth will continue because the expanding and more affluent population will continue to demand the attributes that helped the organization grow. This is a comforting fantasy that causes organization leaders to put more importance on attributes than on improving the value the attributes deliver to supporters and is one of the three major infections that cause organizational decay.
Rotary's membership doldrums is a symptom of the organizational stage Rotary is in - decay. Leaders at all levels must dedicate themselves to the cure, and a cure is possible, but not without change in Rotary's culture. Rotary leadership must imitate leaders of perpetually successful organizations - accept the prognosis and take corrective action. They must understand that Rotary cannot recruit or sell itself out of decay. To do so, they must look at present and future clubs and Rotarians points of view and find unique ways and means to deliver more value to them. Delivering more value is distinctly possible because of Rotary's WHY factor. However, too many leaders do not know Rotary's WHY factor or its value, and resort to promoting recruiting initiatives and selling attributes. Neither will prevent continued decay because both originate from Rotary's point of view. The only cure is through effective marketing. There is no question that Rotary's differentiating WHY factor is a marketable brand, but too many leaders do not accept the prognosis nor are they experienced in marketing the cure.
The difference between selling and marketing, like the difference between recruiting and attracting, is more than linguistics. Selling focuses on Rotary's needs; marketing focuses on present and future clubs' and members' needs. Without long-term internal marketing continuity Rotary may find itself in the Organization Cemetery sometime this century. As a forty-eight year Rotarian, that is saddening because Rotary has been wonderful to me and millions of present and former Rotarians, their families, and beneficiaries of Rotary's attributes. But to market Rotary, leaders must believe in and understand its differentiating WHY factor, know the business Rotary is in, who its supporters (members, customers, donors, etc) are, and what it is that they value.
Transformational Open leadership is needed to put Rotary back into a sustainable growth stage. Unless Rotary defines the result its wishes to achieve and makes achieving that result its perpetual number one priority, sustainable growth will continue to be a hallucination.