In the Rotary world, membership development to most people means get more members into Rotary clubs. It is not unreasonable for Rotary leaders to think this because for decades industrial era executives encouraged their customer development – marketing – departments to get more customers engaged in buying their products and services. Kodak, for example, centered its marketing on "getting more customers engaged with our products and services." Kodak, of course, is now a shadow of its former self. Had Kodak been more interested in developing acquaintances with instead of just engaging its customers, it may have come to realize that most customers were not engaged with cameras, film, and developing services, they were engaged in creating memories. Kodak's management was product oriented, not customer oriented, which was the prime reason for the downfall of the company whose research and development department actually invented the digital camera.
RI data indicates that Rotary clubs are engaging new members at enviable rates. This appears to be a Rotary version of hooking up because RI's membership needle has wobbled around 1.2 million for almost two decades. Kodak's customers engaged with what the company produced, and moved on when the engagement was no long beneficial. Is just engaging existing and potential members going to retain them? Wouldn't it be better if RI itself engaged in developing relationships with clubs, while encouraging clubs to engage in developing relationships with existing and potential members?
Studying Rotary and its expansion, historians will most likely conclude that RI's leaders meant exactly what is expressed in the first Object of Rotary, "The development of acquaintances as an opportunity for service." This indicates that RI, from its beginning in 1905, was successful because it promoted developing relationships with dues-paying local business, professional, and community leaders. For eight decades Rotary advanced the Object of Rotary because, with pinpoint accuracy, it centered on serving its customers - clubs and their members. During the 1980-1990s RI’s leadership evolved into centering on what Rotarians produced after adopting the ideal of service in their personal, business, and community lives. In other words, RI became product centered and changed the Object of Rotary’s intent to “Get more members engaged in financing and producing more service." The result: RI membership stagnated due to severe declines in legacy regions because local business, professional, and community leaders do not pay dues to engage in financing and doing more service, they pay dues to engage in ". . . developing more acquaintances as opportunities for service."
Rebranding Rotarians as People of Action can be a major initiative because it is Rotarian centered and establishes the commonality “We.” The success of this initiative depends upon the ability of RI leadership, particularly at the zone and district level, to shift focus from being a product centered service organization into being member centered. Down the line leaders must understand why people join and stay in local Rotary clubs, and continue to find unique ways to help clubs retain them as loyal Rotarians. The longer members remain actively advancing the Object of Rotary, the better their Rotary Lifetime Value (RLV) will be to all concerned. In Rotary clubs' niche market, the most effective public relations campaign is word-of-mouth, and satisfied Rotarians are proud to say good things about Rotary. This alone will improve membership equity in clubs and RI.
If RI leaders want to use this decade's organizational buzz-word engage, they should be more specific by stating specifically that RI and its member clubs should engage in developing relationships rather than engaging in instant gratification by hooking up then moving on. Membership in a Rotary club should help People of Action become more of who they want to be. RI and clubs should carefully examine the characteristics that make them exceptional. Then they should focus resources on developing and refining relationships with People of Action as an opportunity for service.