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

Monday, October 15, 2018


I am often asked two questions:

  1. Why do I think Rotary International's (RI) membership in North America and other legacy regions declined?
  2. 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, beginning with "Why would a person want to join and pay dues to local or electronic Rotary Clubs?"  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.)

Monday, October 1, 2018


          Why do membership-based organizations flounder?  Almost always, it is because the organization's leaders are either unaware their organization is floundering or are aware but do not know why.  This is only logical because, if organizations' leaders knew what was happening and why, they would try to prevent it from floundering.

          So why don't leaders know what is happening?  Most often it is because the reasons are subtle and evolve over long periods.  Such conditions are difficult for leaders to grasp, particularly in organizations with frequent leadership changes, if short-term plans with realistic, measurable goals and results do not exist.  Such plans should always keep the organization's long-term vision in site.  Its short-range plan and long-range vision should;
  • be centered on the organization's unique, differentiating value proposition; 
  • have an unmistakable definition of who it wants to attract into membership; and
  • be clear on why those it wants to attract would be willing to exchange time, talent, and treasure for membership.

Without agreement on these issues, there cannot be adequate planning of any type, and it will be difficult to develop and support membership. Is this where Rotary is at this time? If so, where does it plan to go from here, and how will it get there?
     To create effective short- and long-range plans for Rotary International (RI) to continuously market and support membership development, its leaders should, at a minimum, use the following thought processes:         

1.  Define the characteristics of those RI wishes to attract into membership.  Who is going to pay for the services RI has to offer and how many potential buyers exist?  What is a realistic expectation of how many who qualify will actually become members?  How many will remain Rotarians and for how long?
2.  Have a brief but well defined mission statement. A brief mission statement should define why RI exists.  It should succinctly describe RI's core supporters, and the value proposition that will attract them to Rotary.
3.  Overcome poor management.  Instead of understanding what its supporters are saying, leaders often lose trust and start trying to micro-manage.  They do not react to what is actually happening because they do not know why it is happening. They usually rely on excuses instead of reasons, and often believe that they know what their supporters want and need better than their supporters.
4.  Learn from failure.  Learning from failure is difficult because very few former or present leaders want to actually admit that their past, or present, actions did not or are not working.  In doing so, they are not learning the whys of what happened or is happening, therefore they cannot effectively react.

Few places are less forgiving to organizations than competitive, ever-changing social atmospheres.  RI was quite successful adjusting to such conditions between 1905 and 1995. Since then,overall membership has stagnated, primarily due to declining membership in some legacy regions. So what happened and why did it happen?  Does RI have any idea where it is going from here or how it is are going to get there?