Many Rotarians believe there should be no politics in Rotary. Nonsense. Because of politics in Rotary, the number of Rotarians, stagnant since the turn of the century, has grown this past Rotary year by about 21,000.
Politics is often referred to as "The Highest of Human Sciences." Before reading any further, it must be noted that campaigning and electioneering, which are different than the practice of politics, does not and should not exist in Rotary.
To simply explain why politics resulted in the increase of the number of Rotarians, a quick review of the state of Rotary International (RI) in 2010 when the world economy was in the doldrums is in order. RI membership had been stagnant for over a decade and was dropping in some major market regions; it was on the verge of having to dip into its financial reserves; its sole priority was polio eradication; it considered itself a service organization that wanted members; and The Rotary Foundation was finalizing its Future Vision. Membership development was so far down RI's priority list many never even read the words.
A few visionary senior leaders decided that membership development's priority needed to change. They developed a plan to improve membership to 1.3 million by June 30, 2015. The plan estimated that it would require $3,000,000 to support the initiative. Developing the plan was quite an undertaking. Getting the plan approved by the RI Board of Directors was another matter. Finally, after extensive discussion and negotiation - politics - the Board approved the plan.
In retrospect, was the plan successful? Yes and No. Yes - Membership development came to the forefront in many Rotarians' and senior leaders' minds and has climbed to be RI's highest "internal" priority. No - the plan did not reach the 1.3 million goal. Would the Board have approved the plan had its goal not been 1.3 million? Maybe; Maybe not. Was the $3,000,000 a good investment? Yes - for at least four major reasons:
- An outside firm's research presented senior leaders with objective eye-opening observations.
- At $52 annual dues, the investment returned at least $1,089,504 this past year.
- There are now 20,952 more Rotarians Making the World Better. . . One Community at the Time.
- With the new priority and emphasis on retention, the numbers in items 2 and 3 should continue to increase.
Retention Central has often been, and may continue to be, critical about senior leaders' attitudes, approaches, priority, and non-verbal communications regarding membership development. But its Rotatorials may have been influential in causing them and other Rotarians to exercise critical thinking about membership development's importance and priority.
The history of faltering organizations that made changes and survived teaches two important lessons, which Retention Central understands with heart and brain: -1- It usually takes harsh, drastic action to initiate change, and -2- political skills - politics - are needed to lead change until and after it is embedded in the organization's culture.