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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Why Doesn't Rotary spend more Money on PR?

"We don't have the money to do a massive media campaign," RI President Ravi responded, according to DG 7620 Ken Solo's recent Blog post.  I suspect President Ravi also knew, but didn't want to cast shadows, that a massive public relations media campaign would be a massive waste.  Contrary to what many Rotarians believe, very few people in the world, or in any community, have any interest whatsoever in joining a local Rotary club, much less the discretionary time and money.
    The Rotary network serves a niche market, and the most effective niche market PR is word-of-mouth, be it face-to-face or through social media.  The most effective way to build word-of-mouth PR is for the Rotary network to continuously deliver value to existing clubs and Rotarians that is worth the time, treasure, and talent that they are willing to exchange.  Perhaps this common-sense fundamental is best illustrated by this story from a 2011  Rotatorial and forums/ 

  A few years ago, British Rail had a real fall-off in business.  Looking for a marketing answer, they went searching for a new ad agency - one that could deliver an ad campaign that would bring their customers back.
   When the British Rail executives went to the offices of a prominent London ad agency to discuss their needs, they were met by a very rude receptionist, who insisted that they wait.  Finally, an unkempt person led them to a conference room - a dirty, scruffy room cluttered with plates of stale food.  The executives were again left to wait.  A few agency people drifted in and out of the room, basically ignoring the executives who grew impatient by the minute.  When the execs tried to ask what was going on, the agency people brushed them off and went about their work.
   Eventually, the execs had enough.  As they angrily started to get up, completely disgusted with the way they had been treated, one of the agency people finally showed up.
  "Gentlemen," he said, "your treatment here at our Agency is not typical of how we treat our clients.  In fact, we've gone out of our way to stage this meeting for you.  We behaved this way to point out to you what it's like to be a customer of British Rail.  Your real problem at British Rail isn't your advertising, it's your people.  We suggest you let us address your employee attitude problem before we attempt to change your advertising."
   The British Rail executives were shocked — but the agency got the account!  The agency knew that British Rail had an image (brand) problem, and its passengers did not consider its service worthy of their time and money.  The agency also knew that PR campaigns could not correct British Rail’s image problem – only those who delivered value to its customers could.

Like the agency in this story, Siegel+Gale Research showed that the Rotary network has a self-image problem.  This is the major reason it has difficulty retaining members and potential donors.  President Ravi, President-Elect John, and President-Nominee Ian now understand that the Rotary network must deliver services that its niche market - clubs, members, and donors - consider worthy of expending resources.  This requires internally marketing to the Rotary network so it can understand and deliver Rotary's differentiating image and value proposition.  Otherwise, all the external PR the Rotary network generates will not retain and attract Rotarians or donors.
 Rotary's actions speak louder than words and are beginning to show results.  Under transitional leadership, internal marketing (communicating) should continue to improve, as will word-of-mouth PR and membership retention and attraction.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


As a brief review, RI's problem for almost two decades was not membership's stagnation and decline in major markets per se; it was how RI's senior leaders viewed its purpose and objectives.  Retention Central, in 2009, 2012, and 2014, published seven (7) guidelines that RI and its member clubs could use to revitalize membership.  This Report Card grades RI's progress on five of the seven guidelines.  It shows that, in Retention Central's opinion, Rotary has shown substantial improvement since 2010, when its grade in each guideline would have been 0%. 

1. ESTABLISH PRIORITIES - Grade:  100%.  In 2010, a few senior leaders began paying attention to membership development, and RI has gained over 21,000 members.  RI's Board of Directors has declared membership RI's highest operational priority and approved action to create a membership segment in its strategic plan.  
2. CREATE A POWERFUL GUIDING COALITION.  Grade: 70%.  Some visionary senior leaders advocate creating an influential, standing membership development committee.  Until such a guiding coalition is in place, RI history demonstrates that future leaders could divert resources from its established priority.
3.  ESTABLISH AN ATTAINABLE VISION.  Grade: 50%. Thanks to a few senior leaders and President Ravi, the importance of retaining members has been brought to the forefront.  That indicates that a retention element will be part of the attainable vision.  The vision should also include a growth element, so the measurement of success should be based on easy to understand, readily available Retention and Growth Indexes.  In membership-based organizations, such indexes are the only measures that accurately appraise success that are fair to all concerned
4. CREATE A SYSTEMATIC STRATEGIC PLAN WITH SHORT-TERM, ATTAINABLE MILESTONES.  Grade: 30%.  Some steps have been taken, but a workable strategic plan can only be completed when the guiding coalition is in place, the attainable vision is defined, and the means of measuring the plan's success is understood and in operation.
5.  COMMUNICATE.  Grade:  12%.  The perceptions delivered by RI's communications will determine whether or not its membership development initiative succeeds.  President Ravi established and communicated the importance of retaining members; President-Elect John Germ is eliminating interim cutoff dates.  These actions, along with the recent Board action, have jarred this guideline's grade off zero.  Unfortunately, the perception that membership is not a priority continues to linger.  For over two decades, RI's verbal and non-verbal communication, resource allocation, recruiting mentality, educational materials, awards, public information, etc. delivered the perception that RI's attributes were far more important than developing membership.  It actively promoted the concepts that Rotary clubs should be local service organizations of choice that supported RI and The Rotary Foundation (TRF), and that Rotarians were ordinary volunteers who do good things.  These perceptions have been embedded in mentalities of existing and former Rotarians, and continue to surface on the internet. They will not be easy to eliminate and/or overcome.  RI must not trivialize the importance of the perceptions delivered by the non-verbal, verbal, and written communications of Rotary, TRF, and all officers and staff.

The Rotary network now has the underpinning in place that enable it to create more Rotarians.  Transitional leadership at all levels is required to build on this base.  With this type leadership, the Rotary network will be better able to create Rotarians who can utilize existing attributes like TRF and spawn new attributes to help them advance the Object of Rotary throughout the 21st century.