I am often asked two questions:
- Why do I think Rotary International's (RI) membership in North America and other legacy regions declined?
- Do I believe RI is in a permanent membership stalemate or decline?
My response to the first question is that I believe that RI's fundamental problem goes back to the late 1980s when it began:
- moving away from its core business of chartering and supporting local Rotary clubs,
- abandoning the pursuit of its niche market - business, professional, and community leaders, and
- restructuring operations in an attempt to become a worldwide service organization.
My response to the second question depends upon how its leaders vision RI's future. I suspect that RI will continue on its present course until leadership accepts that RI did indeed make these mistakes and aggressively pursues resolutions to each issue. Along this avenue, I am aware that seminars around the world discuss variations of this question: Is Rotary a service organization with members, or is it a member organization that performs service?
If RI chooses to travel the path of being a service organization with members, it will continue to struggle. Local clubs, the pistons that drive RI's worldwide engine of influence, will gradually cease renewing charters because of falling membership. That will continually weaken RI's ability to attract sufficient supporters, which will make it difficult for RI to sustain as an influential worldwide service organization.
If RI centers ALL activities on being a member-driven network of local Rotary clubs that perform community and worldwide service, then I believe it has a chance of having a long, influential future. Some of RI's present senior leaders are trying to influence change along these lines. In an organization as diverse at RI, overcoming long-held philosophies, customs, and priorities is not easy, particularly with frequent changes in leadership. In fact, it may be impossible for RI to alter its present course without completely restructuring core practices, mind-sets, and operations. On the positive side, RI does have a basic worldwide structure already in place that could accelerate change, but all of RI's departments, committees, administrative districts, and attributes MUST support pursuing a singular, differentiating objective.
Is RI going to continue to follow Sears? What do you think?
(Personal note: I have been in a Rotary club for more than fifty years. Time and other matters are taking its toll on body and thought processes. I am not retiring from Rotary and plan to continue helping make Sarasota Fl, USA, and the world a better place through the networks and attributes Rotary has helped me develop and use. Rotary has been good for me and my family, and I hope fifty years from now many yet-to-be Rotarians will be able to say the same thing.)