At the turn of the century, Rotary International (RI) membership had been hovering around 1.2 million for five years. Several major market areas were experiencing a decline. Some RI leaders dreamed of increasing membership to the 1.5 million mark. Since then, year after year, different recruiting and net gain initiatives have proliferated. In 2010, leaders targeted 1.3 million Rotarians by July 1, 2015. Many dedicated Rotarians compiled and implemented regional membership plans, all approved by the RI board of directors (board) and implemented in 2012 and 2013. Today, membership is still hovering around 1.2 million.
RI's membership initiatives have not succeeded simply because they did not, in action or resource allocation, have PRIORITY. Without PRIORITY, there is not, nor will there ever be, any sense of urgency, particularly with those that are continually asked to develop membership - clubs and existing Rotarians. If there ever was an applicable cliché it had to be, and still is, "Bad planning on your part doesn't constitute urgency on my part." The board has, for two decades, prioritized RI programs over membership even though RI's own Code of Policies says, ". . . activities and programs addressing membership must remain the association's highest priority." Intellectual inbreeding and complacency caused RI to forget its true purpose, the business it is in, and its internal and external target audiences. If RI wants to survive the 21st century, it must change priorities, and this change must start with its leaders - all of them!
Change takes consistent, long-term leadership. For this change to succeed, RI must assemble an international GUIDING COALITION capable of and committed to leading the change. Establishing such an influential group will be virtually impossible if membership development doesn't have the association's highest priority; a priority that is communicated by words and demonstrated by deeds and resource allocation. The coalition's initial duties would be to delineate RI's purpose, the business it is in, identify its target audiences and create an attainable vision. Without these elements, planning will be for naught, as previous membership initiatives have effectively demonstrated.
A VISION is necessary, but the vision must be considered attainable by everyone involved - including member clubs. Had all regional membership development plans been approved in 2012, it would have taken an annual membership growth rate of about 3.6% to reach the 1.3 million vision. This rate does not sound unreasonable until analysts (or even rank amateurs) examine historical rates. RI's prior fifteen-year annual growth rate had been teetering at 0%.
North America, RI's major market, was experiencing a
decade long decline averaging roughly 1.3% per year. During the last half of the previous century,
RI's annual growth rate had been between 1.5 and 2%. What actions and resources did the 1.3 million
dreamers believe RI and its member clubs could or would commit in order to improve
RI's overall annual growth rate from 0% to 3.6%? To convert a major market's negative 1.3% rate
to a positive 3.6% rate? In one year! Get real!
Until membership is considered urgent enough to receive top priority in words, deeds, and resources, any efforts dedicated to returning to a steady, long term growth rate will be wasted. Only when RI establishes membership as its top priority, a guiding coalition is in place, and critical business decisions are made can reasonable visions be established and regional plans revised. In the meantime, all communications in words and actions must be based on the fundamental that developing its source of funding - its customers - will forever remain RI's top priority.