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:
- Present and future Rotarians fund RI and TRF operations, i.e. are customers and donors, without whom Rotary's survival is not possible.
- All Rotary activities and attributes should center on delivering Rotary's brand promise - its value proposition - to those who fund operations.
- To deliver value, RI and its member clubs must know their target audiences and what they value.
- Retention and attraction rates and Retention+Growth (RG) Indexes are the only accurate indicators of how effective RI and its member clubs are at delivering Rotary's brand promise.
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.