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Monday, September 7, 2015

The Rotary Foundation and Rotary Club Membership: Colleagues or Contenders?

The Rotary Foundation (TRF)    TRF needs donors to carry out its mission.  So it must ask itself:  Why do people donate?  On a basic level, the reasons people donate fall into three general categories:
  • Pure altruism:  They value the social good done by the charity.
  • Impure altruism:  The value they get (good feeling) by doing something good through their charitable giving.
  • Ego Altruism:  They want to show off to others how generous they are.
TRF donors are primarily members of local Rotary clubs and Rotary clubs that organize projects and raise funds for TRF.
    When it comes to the emotions behind why donors contribute to charitable organizations there is a thin line between receiving value (feeling good) about doing so and feeling guilty about not doing so.  Those who are made to feel good usually continue their support; those who feel guilty ultimately shut out any messaging.  Most people donate because their heart impels them to, not because their brain says they should.  They are moved by stories to which they can relate, not by goals and statistics.

Membership    Rotary International (RI) needs clubs to advance the Object of Rotary.  Clubs need members so they can keep their charter.  So everyone must ask:  Why do people join?    On the basic level, they want: 

  • A problem solved,
  • The membership experience to be positive, and
  • The experience to result in relationship-building opportunities.
When people pay dues to become members, they expect that the organization will help them satisfy the reasons they joined.  RI research shows that members join and stay in Rotary clubs to build friendships and make local impacts.  If clubs continually satisfy their members' reasons for joining by delivering positive experiences, Membership will most likely remain stable or increase. 

Colleagues or Contenders   
 Have Rotary clubs and Rotary Membership been colleagues or contenders in bringing TRF to be a premier charitable organization?  Colleagues, without question! TRF evolved as an attribute that Membership used to help advance the Object of Rotary, concentrating primarily on the fourth object.  Without Rotary clubs and their members, TRF could not have reached the pinnacle upon which it sits today.  It has an endowment that would allow it to remain in existence, but without its worldwide network of Rotary clubs and Rotary Membership, it would no longer have the infrastructure needed to efficiently carry out its mission, nor over 1.2 million potential advocates.
     Has TRF been a colleague or contender in building Rotary Membership?  RI's and TRF's communications in magazines and social networks speak and show the results of the many projects and programs funded by TRF and the relationship-building experiences Rotarians have had.  TRF also has a unique system that encourages local clubs to use SHARE funds (commonly called District Designated Funds or DDF) to assist in making local impacts.  So yes, TRF has been a colleague of Membership.
     But let's examine the colleague - contender relationship a bit closer.  RI and Membership flourished before TRF was created and could continue to flourish without TRF.  As a condition of membership, it is against the United States Internal Revenue Service Regulations for any organization to require members to support a 501c3 charitable organization.  RI's Code of Policies (5.050.7) prohibits clubs from requiring members to support TRF.  Therefore, neither Rotary clubs nor Membership can be required to support TRF.  Anyone, Rotary Member or not, can financially support TRF.
     TRF, on the other hand, would have a questionable future without Rotary Membership being a colleague.  Increasingly affluent organizations like TRF often assume that they do not have to be creative.  They instead tend to concentrate on improving what they are already doing; on how they can maximize their resources.  This causes them to get better and become more efficient at accomplishing what they are doing instead of improving the value of what they are doing to those who make it possible for them to do what they are doing - their supporters 
     TRF, like any charitable service organization, sets requirements on how its funds can be used. Setting fundraising goals is a common business practice.  But when goals (appealing to business brains) replace stories (appealing to donors' hearts) major problems arise.  There was a time when Rotary leaders went club-to-club telling stories about how a $100 donation to TRF furnished safe drinking water for a small school in Bangladesh; books for classrooms in Kenya; an artificial limb so a man in Haiti could work and support his family; where a $150,000 TRF grant furnished access to safe drinking water for a million Nigerians.  These personal club-to-club story telling visits have been replaced with zone institutes and district seminars that tell touching stories few local Rotarians ever hear; stories that inspire and encourage leaders to set and strive to attain fundraising goals; to be tops in their zones and districts in TRF contributions.  Some districts have set giving standards before its clubs can use TRF funds (DDF) to make local impacts. 
Perceptions and non-verbal communications transmit powerful messages What perception regarding The Rotary Foundation and Rotary Membership Colleagues or Contenders question is being delivered to members whose primary purpose for joining a local Rotary club is to make friends and impact their local community?

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