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Retention Central is monitored occasionally by its creator, Jim Henry, who may be contacted by email at

Thursday, October 23, 2014


   If you do not answer this question within thirty seconds with a response that piques the interest of the person asking, you probably have lost their attention. Don't believe it? Cast aside your adopted Rotary biases and consider these questions: 

  • How long are the TV commercials, sound bites, and headlines that trigger your enterprising mind into wanting to learn more about the topic?
  • Why do you think Twitter has become so popular?
   The answer to 'What is Rotary?' whether it is a question, a sign, a TV spot, a headline, a sound bite, or a newsletter has only one goal: to entice people to want to learn more.
    Every person in a Rotary leadership position should be encouraged to develop an effective ten to thirty second response to What is Rotary? because creating and embedding one would require them to get up close and personal with what Rotary really is. If Rotary leaders cannot, from their heart, deliver an effective differentiating response, be it referencing their local club or Rotary International, why are they a leader? (Click here for a PETS, GETS, or Assembly exercise that could accomplish this objective.)
    One response, incorporating a tag line suggested by Siegel+Gale, is:  "Our Rotary club is an organization of local people with enterprising minds connecting for good."   Another, paraphrasing conventional Rotary wisdom, could be: "Our Rotary club is an organization of local active or retired business, professional, and community leaders".  For Rotary International staff and leaders, each could lead off with "Rotary International is a worldwide association of over 34,000 local clubs whose members are  . . . " 
    Even in a slow drawl, each response takes less than fifteen seconds, answers the question, differentiates Rotary from the ordinary, and communicates Who Rotarians Are.  Both work for me - and on my mental attitude.  And I question whether or not we can begin doing what RIPN Germ desires, ". . . enthusiastically and effectively market who we are" if we don't know and understand who we are.        

What would be your response?

Sunday, October 12, 2014


     It is time for this 47-year Rotarian to become a Rotary Slacker.  Rotary International (RI) leaders are beginning to realize that Rotary's brand - its differentiation - is Who Rotarians Are and that without Rotarians, RI nor any of its programs can exist.  Positive changes related to membership's importance are coming.  So let me do what old people like to do - reminisce. 
     In 2007-8, Bevin Wall and Jim Henry accepted the opportunity to serve as Membership Coordinators for Zones 33 and 34.  Membership was declining.  After critically examining data, our independent analyses revealed that, contrary to Rotary leaders' conventional wisdom, declining membership was not because Rotary clubs could not 'recruit' members, it was because they could not retain them.  The sheer quantity of members leaving Rotary shocked us and virtually all Rotary leaders.  Bevin and I realized we must undertake the quest to identify and address root problems, otherwise halting, much less reversing, our Zones' membership declines would be almost impossible.  The quest took us into the inter sanctums of RI and The Rotary Foundation (TRF).  We found evidence indicating that the primary reason North American membership was declining was that, during the 1980s, RI lost its differentiation - its brand.  It began putting more importance on its attributes than on the value its attributes delivered to those who made RI and its attributes possible.
    This initiated a gradual cultural change that evolved RI into a top-down, attribute-centered organization.  It began encouraging its member clubs to become 'local service organizations of choice'.  Intellectual inbreeding nurtured this cultural change to its maturity.  In desperation, RI leaders began encouraging clubs to recruit members as an objective in itself instead of attracting them by delivering value - its lost brand promise.  These changes, mixed with neglecting to maintain and report meaningful, accurate membership information, initiated and perpetuated RI's membership condition.
    Bevin created two Zone 33 BLOGs, and I created Retention Central.  The BLOGs centered on documenting our findings and encouraging Rotary leaders at all levels to prioritize and approach membership with the priority and professionalism it deserved.  A growing number of senior leaders now appear to realize membership's true priority; that Rotary's brand is Who Rotarians Are - leaders who get things done - and that:

Revitalizing membership will be a slow, costly initiative, but not near as costly as delaying action and continuing to do what has always been done.  If local clubs and the Association of Rotary Clubs perpetually engage business brains and compassionate hearts to advance the Object of Rotary, Rotary will have a bright future.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Rotarians. Who are You?

Rather than seeking to recruit and retain members as an objective in itself, the key is un­derstanding who we are.  Once we recognize our unique club services and benefits, we can seek those men and women in our communities who share similar characteristics.
Rotary International (RI) Director John Smarge
2011 International Assembly Speech

We will enhance Rotary's public image by successfully and enthusiastically marketing who we are, what amazing things we are doing, and incredibly, have done locally and globally.
                                                                                                John F. Germ, 2014
Presidential Nominating Committee Selection to be 2016-17 RI President.

   Marketing who Rotarians are and the amazing things Rotarian's have done and are doing is a major, and badly needed, philosophical change in mindsets and will not be easy to achieve.  Rotary, particularly in North America, has been grappling with 'who we are' for decades; long before Past RI Director Smarge brought it into the open in his publicly revealing 2011 speech.
   Rotary had been trying to combat its membership stagnation and major market decline by recruiting members as an objective unto itself, hoping that this would spur membership.  Hope is not a marketing strategy.  Marketing requires that everyone thoroughly understand that Rotary's primary purpose is to create Rotarians.  Most neighbors and world citizens are doing things like picking up trash and serving in food lines.  As future RI president Germ says, it is 'who we are' that gets things done.
   Change is difficult even in the best of times.  It does appear that the first major obstacle to change and successfully marketing Rotary has been philosophically breached.  Most leaders appear to know that members are to Rotary like customers are to businesses.  What is yet to be understood is that Rotary's primary purpose is to create Rotarians simply because Rotary is its members.  'Who we are' is not a Rotary program'Who we are' creates and supports Rotary's programs and projects.
   So Rotary must market 'who we are'.  Who are we?  This question must be answered because many are conflicted about 'who we are', and 'who we should be'.  This topic must be openly and frankly discussed, pretty much agreed upon, and internally marketed.  If it isn't, it will be an obstacle that will most likely render the visions of future RI presidents Ravi and Germ, including their boards and other leaders, difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.  All of Rotary must understand 'who we are' before Rotary can be effectively marketed and delivered externally.
   Along with determining 'who we are' Rotary must offer and deliver to 'who we are' something of value that 'who we are' cannot get elsewhere.  Performing community and international service projects and contributing to The Rotary Foundation (TRF) are not unique offerings.  Without unique offerings, there are no perceivable reasons for 'who we are'  to be a Rotarian.
   North America, Rotary's largest mature 'who we are'  market and home to TRF's primary donors, is telegraphing Rotary's future.  In 1995, its membership peaked at approximately 460,000.  Today, it is about 360,000.  Rotary leaders at all levels must be strong enough to step out of their comfort zones, cast aside personal biases, and recognize that the only true measure of an effective Rotary club is its desire and ability to create Rotarians.  All assemblies, seminars, conferences, and conventions must communicate this basic fundamental, and reports should reflect vital membership statistics, measures, and trends - not merely net gains or losses.

Professionally marketing and delivering differentiating values to 'who we are'  is Rotary's chance, perhaps only chance, to steadily create Rotarians.  Is this great organization of business, professional, and community leaders up to the challenge? Does it recognize that