Thursday, 14 March 2019

Would You Like Fries With That?

About 20 years ago whilst driving around town running a few errands, I was feeling a bit peckish at lunch time and found myself in the drive through of a local KFC store. When I got to the service window, the girl told me, “I’m terribly sorry sir, but we’ve run out of chicken.” I don’t often find myself stuck for words, but this was one such occasion. I was flabbergasted. For crying out loud, the “C” in KFC stands for chicken! It crossed my mind that a KFC store without chicken seems pretty pointless. More on that later.

I’ve probably given more membership presentations over the last 12 months than the previous five years, and I have been commencing these talks with my theories on how we got ourselves into this membership crisis. I list a number of reasons, but the first one I talk about is relevance; more particularly how I feel we have lost it in the eyes of the general public. I believe we are struggling to appear relevant for a number of reasons, one of which is quite literally a “first world problem”. More to the point; a lack of first world problems. Consider for a moment our Rotary Foundation six areas of focus: Water & Sanitation, Maternal & Child Health, Basic Education & Literacy, Peace & Conflict Resolution, Economic Development and Disease Prevention & Treatment. Whilst we must always strive for improvement, I think even the harshest critics would have to admit by global standards Australia would get a tick in most of these areas. By and large, Rotary’s focus is justifiably on the developing world when addressing those issues. So I think in part, our relevance challenges are tied to living in a lucky country where we really don’t want for much. It’s reasonable for the public to ask, “Well, why do we even need service clubs?”

Since I joined Rotary in 1997 we’ve lost 30% of our membership base in Australia. We’ve seen a net loss of 100 clubs, and those remaining have become progressively smaller, from an average club size of 33.5 down to 25.3 members. Over this same period our average age has risen from the mid 50s to the low 70s, and a many more of us are retired; an estimated 50%.

How do you think the combination of fewer and smaller clubs, older members and more retirees affects our public image?  Well here’s what I think. I think our perceived (and often actual) capacity to network and serve our communities is very much diminished. Older and fewer members means less capacity to serve, and once retired, our professional networks begin to atrophy. I would suggest in some clubs the capacity to network and serve our communities has all but disappeared. I know I’m not drawing a long bow here, because I’ve seen with my own eyes some of these clubs which are down to 10 or fewer members, all aged well over 70. Many (definitely not all) are just not making an impact on their communities any more, and they will admit they have approached everyone they know to join Rotary, and now have no-one left to ask. How appealing do you think these clubs are to prospective members, assuming they can find any? Every year there’s a battle to find another president who hasn’t already done it 3 or 4 times. That is often the point at which clubs decide to hand in their charter.

Have a good, hard think about this. Rotary was built on networking and community service. We started as a networking organisation, and soon morphed into a service club. If we have clubs amongst us which have lost their capacity to network and serve, what do they have left to offer? I put it to you that networking and community service are to Rotary what chicken is to KFC. Without them, we can appear pretty pointless.

I can already hear you saying, “But those clubs are still providing valuable fellowship and camaraderie opportunities to those remaining members and we shouldn’t discount that.” Yep, I get that. But our motto is not “fellowship and camaraderie above self”.  My fear is not only that many of our once strong and active clubs have now been diluted to a fellowship group, but that we’re comfortable with the concept. I suppose that KFC store still had plenty of sugar laden coleslaw and that sloppy potato mash with gravy on the day I visited too. But that wasn’t what I was looking for, so I just drove on, and I think likewise; many membership opportunities are being lost because our prospects aren’t finding what they’re looking for either. They’re just driving on.

Last year I attended a joint District (9500 & 9520) forum in Adelaide where young (mainly aged under 40) Rotarians and alumni including Rotaractors and RYLArians were asked for their perspectives on the impending merger of our districts in 2020. There would have been at least 40 in the room. I had run a similar event back in 2015, so I must admit I didn’t really hear too many comments that I hadn’t heard before, but what really thrilled me was the collective love for Rotary amongst the group. They had all benefited from their brush with Rotary and seemed genuinely keen to continue their association with Rotary in some manner. But what became abundantly clear from the majority in the room who were not already Rotarians, was that they just didn’t see a sufficiently attractive version of Rotary on offer from any existing clubs. At the time I was myself involved in district merger conversations, and tried to make the case that we needed to start a few new clubs to take advantage of this interest, but I feel my efforts were in vain.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The best opportunity for membership growth lies in new clubs. I’m not going to pretend the process of getting Seaford off the ground was an easy one, but in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “Nothing worth having was every achieved without effort.”

If we can’t turn around these clubs offering little to attract new members, and we’re not bold enough to start new clubs, what are our options? How often do we hear of businesses, sporting teams or organisations resorting to “back to basics” thinking when things start going pear shaped? It’s about recognising what your core principles are and making sure you do them well. Surely for Rotary those core principles are building a healthy, mutually beneficial network and providing tangible and impactful service outcomes for our local and international communities. Everything else is peripheral.

Col. Harland Sanders was a Rotarian. Note the pin on his collar.
I’ve often been asked by Rotarians about the secret formula behind the success of the Rotary Club of Seaford. There is an assumption we’ve developed some complicated strategy to grow and flourish against a background of drastic membership decline and club closure. Well, in our case there are no eleven secret herbs and spices. What we do isn’t complicated; it is simple. We’ve done away with so many of traditional Rotary’s distractions (many of which are attached to our obsession with meetings) and we focus heavily on local hands on projects and networking. Guess what? It works. If you’re questioning the direction your club is heading, check to see if you’ve run out of fried chicken. 

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Escaping the Heat

It’s the middle of summer here in Adelaide, where I’ve lived my entire life. The last week saw the local temperature exceeding 40°C (104°F) on a number of days. Whilst I am currently typing in air-conditioned comfort, it’s fair to say most Adelaidians know a good deal about heat.

Meanwhile, Rotary’s future district leaders are at the International Assembly in San Diego being trained up for their important role commencing July 1, and of course to deliver their own training to club and district leaders in the months between now and then. Not having served as a District Governor myself, I only have second hand accounts to go on, but I get the idea there’s a good deal of heat experienced by incoming and serving District Governors, and I’m not talking about the heat you feel when you step outside at this time of the year in Adelaide. I’m talking about the heat to continually increase our membership. There will no doubt be a comprehensive agenda of training and inspiration delivered on all areas of Rotary leadership, but I suspect the number one thing on the mind of all District Governors Elect as they return home will be the prime directive: get the numbers up!

In his opening speech, Rotary International President Elect (RIPE - we really need to work on our acronyms) Mark Maloney announced his first emphasis was to grow our membership so that we can achieve more. “Last year we set a record for the number of people who left our organisation. We need to address the root causes of that member loss. Membership is all that stands between a Rotary that serves and a Rotary that disappears.” You can view his address in full here.

I was a District Membership Chair for three years, and I can assure you, I felt the heat. I would imagine a good deal of club presidents feel the heat too. I am very proud of the work I did in that role over three years, but live with the constant regret that despite my efforts, the numbers went down every year. I’ve often used the analogy of running up the down escalator. You have to work pretty hard to even stay in the same place, and if you relax for a moment, you get dragged down immediately.

I’m starting to work out why some of us work really hard on membership, yet see so little in the way of results. It’s because most Rotarians don’t feel the heat. I’m sure if we surveyed all of our members, the overwhelming majority would respond that they would like to see the organisation grow. You’d probably even get a majority that would agree that the organisation needed to change. But if you conducted another survey and asked the question, “In order to grow the organisation, are you willing to have your Rotary experience change?”, I reckon most would say no. Most people will begrudgingly accept change as long as they are not the ones who have to do the changing; as long as they don’t feel any heat.

I put it to you that we already know what we need to do in order to turn around our membership fortunes, but there are just too many who aren’t prepared to do it. I strongly believe that the biggest change we have to make is to transform from a meeting-centric organisation to a service-centric organisation, but attending meetings with a meal and a guest speaker is so embedded in Rotary culture, and it seems hard to see where how such a shift in priorities would ever occur. Our last Council on Legislation in 2016 delivered serious options for clubs wishing to provide more flexible meeting formats, but in many clubs the Guardians of the Status Quo fight very hard to make sure Rotary remains stuck in the 20th century, doing things the same way we’ve always done them.

Sadly there are too many Rotarians who won’t lift a finger to help grow the organisation. It’s not their job. They want everything to stay the same, because staying the same means staying comfortable. I do have some sympathy for those senior members who have worked hard and made a great contribution over the years, and want to enjoy their remaining years in the organisation. We all need to enjoy our Rotary experience, and get something out of it. But that enjoyment cannot come at the cost of progress in all forms. We must evolve and find new ways to serve, and attract new people to serve. Service Above Self is our motto and service must be our priority. If we’re blocking progress; we’re blocking growth. And if we’re blocking growth, we’re reducing service capacity. 

Maybe we can shield those long-standing members from the heat, but club leaders still feel the heat, and must be free to respond to it. The challenge for club leaders is that they're copping heat from both directions. They feel the heat from district leaders who are constantly at them to grow membership, and they feel the heat from the blockers within their own club who fight against change. No wonder so many are happy to get out of the kitchen when their term expires. That’s a lot of pressure on those people who have volunteered to lead the club.

The very highest levels of Rotary’s global leadership desperately want to grow the organisation, or at best prevent it from declining. On the surface at least, a bigger organisation means greater reach and greater capacity to deliver tangible outcomes for those who need our help. But there are also enormous operational costs in keeping our massive organisation ticking. Those costs must be met by the membership base, and despite increasingly frequent conversations about membership flexibility; there is exactly zero flexibility when it comes to RI recognising you as a member. If you pay RI dues; you’re a member. If you don’t; you’re not.

I have often asserted that our best opportunity for growth lies with creating new clubs. I have been through the process myself, and I’m not going to pretend it’s easy, because it’s far from it. But it’s doable, and the opportunities for new clubs are infinite. The greatest factor that allows a new club to thrive is what I call the “baggage free zone”. By starting with a blank slate, there are no rituals or traditions to follow. No-one barking at your heels with comments such as “But we’ve always done it this way”. That freedom is invaluable, and it’s something I have noticed first hand at the Rotary Club of Seaford. We do things differently because we are allowed to do things differently, and we’re not held back by those who are accustomed to things being done the same way for decades. As a result we can create a more flexible style of Rotary that is more attractive to more people.

It would appear President Elect Maloney agrees. Here are a few other snippets from his opening address. “We must grow Rotary by forming new clubs. We need to form new clubs not only where Rotary does not exist, but in communities where Rotary is thriving. We need to start new model clubs, offering alternative meeting experiences and service opportunities.”

And here’s an extract from CEO John Hewko’s address at the same event in 2018:
“We need to unleash the creativity of our 35,000 clubs, because every club is a potential beta tester for different club models and models of service. Some will work and some will fail, but the important thing is to think differently.”

But here’s where things get challenging. The Guardians of the Status Quo do not appear satisfied merely with denying progress in existing clubs. They also want to block innovation outside of their own clubs. As if there aren’t enough challenges faced by the trailblazing Rotarians who have the foresight and gumption to start a new club. I faced considerable opposition from neighbouring clubs when I announced plans to start the Rotary Club of Seaford, and I’ve come to learn this is pretty much par for the course. I have a Rotary friend in another Australian district who is facing similar opposition right now to his moves to get a new club up and running from clubs in the region.

I won’t mince my words. This disgusts me. It’s what happens when SELF gets in the way of SERVICE. I know how the argument goes. It’s the very same argument I heard near Seaford a few years ago. “You’re intruding into our recruiting zone.” 

There’s a mindset held by many Rotarians that sooner or later, the new members will just come. Well, in some cases they do. Sometimes new fish are attracted to old bait that has been sitting in the water for a while. But more often than not, there are no fish interested in the sort of bait you’re dangling overboard, and you need to change your bait.

The reason we found the 20 new recruits we needed to charter a new Rotary club, was that we were offering a completely different version of Rotary than that which was already on offer in the region. The existing clubs were never going to attract the people we recruited. New clubs have that opportunity to offer something new and attract new people. And the blockers know it, but they want to have their cake and eat it to. They want their version of Rotary to stay the way it always has been, but they want to attract the people they have never been able to attract.

My message to the blockers is this. Your district leaders will shortly return to your district, full of enthusiasm with new ideas and a drive to grow the organisation. They in turn will pass those messages and enthusiasm onto your new club leaders, who will then try and bring progress and growth to your club. How about this year, we don’t stand in their way? How about we give them the freedom to escape at least some of the heat? Maybe it's time to direct some heat towards the Guardians of the Status Quo.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

The Baby Elephant Principle

I am at times in Rotary reminded of the practice of training captive elephants in circuses or as working farm animals. The keeper starts with a baby elephant and chains one of its legs to a long stake which is driven into the ground so it cannot escape. A baby elephant will try for a while to pull that stake out of the ground, but soon realises it is not strong enough, and just gives up. This same practice is followed all the way through to adult life. An adult elephant could easily pull that stake from the ground, but they have been conditioned to believe that they cannot wander beyond the length of the chain, so they don’t even try.

You've probably realised this blog is not about elephants. The baby elephant principle is also used to describe human behaviour. It implies that we humans often fail to reach our true potential because we limit our risk taking and only live our lives within those barriers we've been conditioned to apply to ourselves. Most of us only play within the length of our chain. We fail to be bold.

Today marks the second anniversary of the chartering of my Rotary club; the Rotary Club of Seaford. Since chartering our club has experienced considerable growth; not just in membership, but in capacity, exposure and most importantly; impact. We conducted a "Yass Plan" inspired recruitment campaign over the last few months which culminated in an information night on November 8. Close to 50 turned up that night, and it appears we will have at least 8 new members to induct in coming weeks, which will take our membership to the mid 30s.

One of our hardest working members is Ian Renshaw, an experienced marketing specialist. Ian personally put in an amazing effort to get bums on seats for our information night, and following the success of the night made a comment which hit the nail on the head. "It's all about the product. We have a great product to sell". The list of projects and events our club has undertaken over the last two years is nothing short of extraordinary. We're very, very busy. I constantly get feedback from outside the club that many Rotarians cannot fathom how we fit so much in. Well, there are a number of reasons.

Our average age is much lower than that of most clubs, so we do generally have a higher capacity for hands-on work. The proportion of active members is fairly high. I would imagine this is usually the case when clubs are new. Because we're only meeting twice a month, members have that extra energy and enthusiasm to give. They're not having their valuable time wasted in unproductive meetings. But I've come to realise that there is one underlying advantage we have that is more powerful than any of these reasons, and I will share it with you shortly.

In a speech at the International Assembly in January (above), CEO John Hewko challenged districts and clubs to be bold. He also promoted an initiative of "The Rotarian" magazine whereby each month it would feature a club which was a great example of innovation. It was an enormous thrill to see the Rotary Club of Seaford featured in the January issue, which was displayed during his presentation.

I have spent a lot of time over the last few years speaking at membership conferences and seminars across Australia and New Zealand, and I normally dedicate part of my presentation time at these events to outlining the Seaford operating system, and my thoughts on why the club has thus far been so successful. It's my hope that this inspires delegates to also be bold; to try a few new things in their own clubs.

I remember speaking at a few Presidents Elect Training Seminars (PETS) last year, and after outlining the Seaford story getting a lot of similar feedback from soon-to-be presidents at both events in separate cities. They loved what we were doing, but lamented "that stuff would never work in my club". I can't give a lot of guarantees when it comes to club innovation, but one guarantee I can give is that if you're not prepared to try something, it won't work. You miss 100% of shots you don't take. 

So, what was that incredible advantage I hinted at before? What is the secret to our boldness? Quite simply, we have no baggage to contend with. You cannot imagine the freedom and power you have to drive a club forward when there’s no baggage to hold you back. I can’t even begin to put a value on it. We have never been even remotely constrained by doubters. There were certainly a few people outside of the club that had their doubts that the club would ever get off the ground, and I suppose that’s understandable given our district had lost 10 clubs in the preceding 10 years. We did have challenges getting those initial 20 charter members required to start the club, but I always thought once we were chartered, we would encounter sustained growth. And that we have.

We have a strong "let's give it a go" mentality. I see a lot of Rotary clubs that could probably achieve a lot more if they only got a bit inventive and tried doing things differently; if they were bolder. But their members have been restrained by conditioning to only do things the way they have traditionally been done. 

Starting a new club from scratch however meant that chain was never shackled to the baby elephant’s leg. The elephant grew up unconditioned; allowed to roam free all of its life. Uninhibited thinking leads to greater innovation and more risk taking, and clubs can reach their true potential in every facet, including the way meetings are scheduled and run, the types of projects and fundraisers taken on, the way the club promotes itself, the partnerships built with other NGOs, schools, businesses, and of course, the diversity of our members.

I have written extensively over many years about our resistance to change, and I have often (perhaps unfairly) levelled the blame at those more conservative Rotarians amongst us that like things to be done the way they have always been done. I still don't doubt that the guardians of the status quo are at times holding us back, but I do wonder if there's also an element of the baby elephant principle at play here. Is it possible that it's not solely our senior, tradition loving members holding us back, but also that fear of wandering beyond the length of the chain? If humans fall into this trap, I would theorise that Rotary clubs are also limited by the way their members have been restricted by their conditioning.

I've been very lucky to be a leader in a club that is not restrained by decades of habitual Rotarian behaviour. Imagine being the jockey on the best horse in the Melbourne cup and having your handicap removed. You'd probably win by the length of the straight. It's time to lose the weight from our Rotary saddle bags and pull the stake out of the ground. Unencumbered Rotarians can achieve anything they set their minds to. Let's be bold.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Weapons of 4% Destruction

This blog is not about Rotaractors. It's about how Rotary has failed in some regions to understand and cater for them and other volunteers under the age of 30. Not all commentary on Rotary is easy to give, and I'm about have my objectivity severely tested. It’s hard to be completely objective about something you love; something that has given you so much, but in this year in which both Rotaract and I turned 50, I feel it’s time to talk about the future of Rotaract in Australia. This will likely be a very polarising blog. Some will agree with my sentiments, and many will not, but what makes this particular topic very unique for me is that it’s a subject I have changed my mind on. I’ll admit I can be fairly opinionated, and whilst I generally will consider issues from a range of perspectives, it’s not often that I allow things to change my long-held opinions. And I’m prepared to admit that’s a character flaw. But if nothing else; my ten plus years in Rotaract and 21 in Rotary qualify me to comment.

Over the last few months I have spoken at a number of membership events interstate and in New Zealand. I’ve cherished the opportunity to catch up with old friends, but I also really enjoy meeting new friends and discussing something we’re all concerned about; Rotary’s declining membership (in Australia, New Zealand and most of the western world). 

The topic of Rotaract has been raised (not by me) at each of these events. I recall a District 9520 event maybe 5 or 6 years ago where a PDG made the statement that he thought we should abandon the concept of Rotaract, because they (current and potential Rotaractors) should just become Rotarians. I can recall finding this a very confronting statement at the time, because I had never previously heard those words said. But over the years since, I’ve heard it said more and more, and again during each of my recent travels. And here’s the thing: I’m starting to agree.

The Rotaract Club of Edwardstown circa 1993
My Rotaract experience was life-changing. I joined shortly after turning 18 in 1986 and was a Rotaractor until I joined the (sponsoring) Rotary club of Edwardstown in 1997. The ten plus years I spent in Rotaract were the best ten years of my life. I met my wife Debra and literally hundreds of amazing young people. I learned a lot about myself, and started to take an interest in the needs of others. Rotaract gave me a rudder, and undoubtedly made me a better person. There was never a weekend without Rotaract activity. If our club wasn’t doing something, a group of us would be turning up to another club’s event, or someone’s birthday party. It was non-stop action. And it was Rotaract that introduced me to Rotary.

But my Rotaract experience, and the Rotaract experience of my fellow Rotaractors and their predecessors can really only be measured against an 80s and 90s zeitgeist. When I entered Rotaract in 1986 there were 20 or 30 clubs and thousands of members across my own district (then 952) and our neighbouring District 950 (now 9520 & 9500 respectively). Those who experienced Rotaract before me report those numbers being much larger still. But sadly, the Rotaract train started to lose puff in our region in the second half of the 90s, and had all but derailed by the turn of the century. I have never been able to put my finger on the precise reason(s) this happened, but I can speculate that the decline started in the early 90s when rules compelling Rotarian oversight were relaxed. It was once compulsory for each Rotaract meeting to have a Rotarian present. But in an effort to see Rotaract stand on its own, this requirement was dispensed with. Whilst correlation does not equal causation, I believe it was no coincidence that Rotaract's local decline started around the same time. Then came the internet boom of the late 90s, and I feel that played a role in accelerating it. Suddenly young people had an online world to take some of their attention. Again, I don’t think this caused Rotaract’s general decline in Australia, but I think it played a role.

I saw this decline coming and (as a Rotaractor) begged for Rotary’s support. And whilst I will always acknowledge the amazing support offered by our sponsoring Rotary Club of Edwardstown, support for Rotaract at a district level seemed difficult to garner. It was only after clubs started dropping like flies that wider Rotarian interest was piqued. And then it was too late. I joined Rotary in 1997 and lost count of how many times I was asked by Rotarians to assist in Rotaract resuscitation efforts, all to no avail. I came to the conclusion in the early 2000s (as a Rotarian) that the era of Rotaract as we knew it had passed, and all we could do was remember the good times.

I get the idea that a directive to start Rotaract clubs is part and parcel of district governor training each year. Over the last decade there have been a number of efforts in Adelaide (both in D9500 & 9520) to relaunch Rotaract, and there has been some success, albeit limited. A few clubs seem to be doing well, and a few clubs burned bright for a while, but then burned out. There were some herculean efforts mounted by a handful of extremely dedicated and enthusiastic Rotarians who gave it their all, but I still can’t shake my core belief that today’s climate just doesn’t seem conducive to Rotaract: at least not in my neck of the woods.

So let’s for a moment talk about current Rotaract success stories. And I will stress I don’t have hard figures here. It doesn’t really help that Rotary doesn’t seem to have a mechanism to record Rotaract membership; at least nothing as sophisticated as its own database on Rotarians. It’s estimated there are over 10,000 Rotaract clubs worldwide, yet only 40% have confirmed their existence.

Barry Rassin visiting Rotaractors in Mumbai
There seem to be patches around the world where Rotaract is going gangbusters. I’m aware of districts in India with over 25,000 Rotaractors. Multiply that out by the number of districts in India alone and that’s a very big number indeed. There are clearly some massive Rotaract success stories, and it would be disingenuous of me to exclude these successes from the conversation. I understand Rotaract is still reasonably popular in its birthplace, the US. So what happened to Rotaract in Australia? Well, there are also some success stories in Australia right now, but population density seems to have a lot to do with it. I can understand districts with 25,000 Rotaractors in a country of one billion people. I can also understand Rotaract’s sustained success in the US given its population. So I guess it’s reasonable that most of the remaining Rotaract activity in Australia is in our larger population centres.

But for some time I’ve thought there must be some cultural differences over and above population density which have led towards Rotaract’s decline in Australia. I now have a theory on why Rotaract used to be so successful in Australia, but is now in decline; yet is growing at a staggering rate in places like India. Despite my constant carping that Rotary isn’t changing its culture quickly enough, there are considerable differences between the Rotary I remember at arm’s length as a Rotaractor (1986-1997) and the Rotary world I inhabit today. 

Back then Rotary appeared quite stuffy and elitist, and the classification system was king. Rotary was full of those captains of industry: doctors, lawyers and corporate high fliers. There appeared to be a certain level of prestige attached to being a Rotarian. Whether it was intentional or not, to an outsider there was a sense that the Rotary establishment looked down its collective noses at those who didn’t make the grade. But Rotaract gave 18-30 year olds a glimpse at this world. It allowed them to learn from business leaders and work alongside them, and this had a certain attraction even though we were unlikely to ever be accepted in their ranks.

In many ways, Rotaract back then was a form of Rotary for younger volunteers who couldn’t otherwise fit into the broader Rotary machine. But Australian life has become much more egalitarian over the last three decades, even Australian Rotary life. There are still pockets of elitism in Rotary in Australia, but I think they’re pretty rare. I feel the main difference now is that Rotary has become more accepting of younger volunteers joining our ranks, regardless of “classification” or socioeconomic standing. Our eligibility criteria have changed, and our collective attitude has generally caught up. We have become increasingly classless. Whilst I will stress that Rotary still has a problem attracting younger people, we have less of a problem accepting younger people. More on that later.

Egalitarianism appears to be increasing in much of the western world where Rotary membership is in decline, but that certainly cannot be said in other parts of the world where the growth in both Rotary and Rotaract are off the scale. It’s been a long time since Rotary was admired as an esteemed and prestigious organisation to belong to in Australia, however it still occupies an exclusive position in the many developing nations where it is growing. But membership is harder to attain in these areas for those who are less than elite; either socially or professionally.

I can hear you saying, “Get to the point Mark”. My theory is this: Where Rotary is still exclusive and revered, Rotaract is a way for those who are keen but otherwise might not be welcomed, to work at arm’s length with, rub shoulders with, and be mentored by those Rotary elites. But where Rotary doesn’t hold such a high standing in a more equitable society, despite being generally more accepting of younger and less professionally senior candidates, we struggle to attract them. There are many reasons Rotary is not as attractive to a younger generation, including the cost of membership, and Rotaract still offers a less expensive version of service whilst still connected to Rotary.

The transition of Rotaractors to Rotary globally still remains pathetically low at an estimated 4%. And that rate is common globally. In Australia (and I suspect most of the western world) it’s because Rotary just isn’t sufficiently attractive. In those emerging nations I suspect it’s more about elitism and exclusivity. Let me put this another way. In the west we’re keen for young people to join, but can't seem to attract them. Elsewhere we’re attractive but we’re not so keen to have them. It strikes me there must be a massive cohort of Rotaractors in developing nations who drift away from the Rotary family once they age out at 30, but the population is so high and the membership so strong, that it’s not seen as an issue.

RI President Barry Rassin is looking to double the number of Rotaract clubs and Rotaractors. I’m not sure how you double a figure that is unknown, but mathematical semantics aside, I’m not sure what this sort of aspiration achieves. I admire him for supporting Rotaract, but doubling it? In a recent speech delivered to a leadership seminar in Greensboro, North Carolina, (and I must stress I this is a summary of his speech, not a transcript) President Barry reportedly described Rotaract as "Rotary’s secret weapon" for increasing membership with young professionals, but later conceded what we already knew, that only 4% became Rotarians. Any weapon that can only hit 4% of its targets should remain a secret. He was also quoted as saying, “Having a community-based Rotaract Club is a suitable strategy for Rotary Clubs that are challenged or not accepting of young professionals in their own club.” And there we have it in a nutshell. I outlined this problem a few paragraphs back. Why on Earth are Rotary clubs “not accepting of young professionals in their own club?”

A while ago I blogged about the danger of picking the low hanging fruit, where I expressed concerns that if Rotary focuses only on people in their 50s as prospective members, it stops us from evolving and progressing our organisation to a point where it is attractive to younger members. A Rotarian friend said almost exactly the same thing to me at one of these recent seminars. Her words were “it’s lazy”. We can keep change in the “too hard box” if Rotaract remains our strategy for anyone under 30.

Here’s the bottom line as I see it. Where Rotaract is strong; let’s keep it strong. Where Rotaract is not strong, but still alive in pockets; let’s do what we can to support our Rotaractors and partner with them. But where Rotaract is dead or dying; rather than instructing our district leaders to start new Rotaract clubs, let’s channel our energies into new, flexible ROTARY clubs, where the Rotary journeys of our young leaders can extend beyond the age of 30. Maybe the solution requires genuine membership flexibility, not the faux flexibility currently on offer from RI. The option of being a (dues paying) member, or not being a member is hardly flexible.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Rowing in the Same Direction

It’s very rare that I find myself stuck for words. Here is a story about one such occasion. Earlier this year I was the guest at an event of another Rotary district where (amongst other things) attending club delegates were called to vote on a proposal for the 2019 Council on Legislation. 

Every three years, Rotary International has a process whereby the rules that govern our operation can be changed. Any Rotarian can suggest rule changes. Those suggestions need to be approved at club level, then at district level, and can then be tabled at our triennial “Council on Legislation”, where a delegate from every district across the world votes “yes” or “no”. There’s a little more to it than that, but I will keep it simple for the sake of the story. 

What was the proposal in question? That Rotary International revert back to its old logos. Did I just hear what I thought I heard? I was at the time sitting with a Rotary friend about half my age, and we looked at each other with bewilderment. But then something happened that left me completely gobsmacked. The vote got up. Yep, a majority of club delegates (most of whom were presidents) voted to support a motion which in essence would do away with Rotary’s current global branding strategy. All I could think was “what just happened?” 

I am of course consoled by the fact that there is zero chance of this proposal going any further, but I’ve got to say I found this one of the more disturbing outcomes in my journey as a membership advocate; and I have seen some very disturbing outcomes! I’ve also been around Rotary long enough to know that a sizeable proportion of Rotarians are not especially interested in our legislative process, and it’s quite likely on the night that many of those hands that went up were more a response of “yeah, whatever” after seeing the first few hands raised, than any form of conscious deliberation on our branding. 
Left: the old logo (or as I prefer to call it, the superseded logo); Right: the current logo, or "Masterbrand Signature".
Despite that, Rotarians are still arguing about logos, and I want to get to the bottom of it. Most of my commentary on Rotary over the last ten or more years including my blogs and my book Creatures of Habit has incorporated an ever present thread about resistance to change and I suspect this issue is no different. This change began in 2011 with an unprecedented initiative to strengthen Rotary’s image. These words are reproduced directly from our Voice and Visual Identity Guidelines

“For many years, our Rotary wheel stood alone as our logo on signage and communications materials. Although the words Rotary International were embedded in the wheel, they were hard to read from a distance. As a result, the general public did not always recognise Rotary’s involvement in a project or activity. That’s why we decided to expand our official logo to include the word “Rotary” next to the wheel. This is our official logo and our masterbrand signature, which should be used whenever possible.” 

The above document (download here) is essential reading for any Rotarian who wishes to create any form of promotional material for Rotary. From business cards to billboards, websites, Facebook posts and even television advertising. But when it comes to essential reading, I would suggest everyone also download and read “Revitalising Rotary”, a report prepared by global branding company Siegel & Gale (commissioned by Rotary International) into our organisation’s public image in 2011. This document is confronting reading, reporting (at the time) that we struggled internally to define ourselves, and suffered from an identity crisis. A telling quote from someone only identified as “Rotary Leadership” is this one: “Rotarians don’t understand who or what we are. We have to educate ourselves and our members first, before we can successfully do so with the general public.” 

So, why does all of this public image stuff even matter? If it aint broke, why fix it? We mustn’t change for change’s sake. That’s not the way we do things around here! Do these quotes sound familiar? Newsflash… Rotary has been haemorrhaging members in the west for over 20 years, mainly because recruitment has not kept up with attrition. What are the main reasons people aren’t joining? Well, it’s true that some people are too busy, and some people feel they can’t afford it, and some people aren’t community minded. It is also true that there are people out there that would be perfect for Rotary, but feel that Rotary is not right for them. But I would suggest the overwhelming reason people aren’t joining is because they don’t understand who we are and what we do. And that is where our public image is so very important. It’s about proudly telling Rotary stories and conveying concise messages, which historically we haven’t done well. 

Rotary’s programs are so broad and diverse, it can be challenging to convey that they all form part of the Rotary portfolio. Our organisation is eradicating polio, providing emergency shelter after natural disasters, drilling bore wells to provide potable drinking water, educating children, training negotiators in peace and conflict resolution. It’s a list as long as the proverbial piece of string. To further complicate things, we have previously had a policy of creating different imagery and logos for all of these different programs. Some have not even included the word “Rotary” or a Rotary logo. To me it’s as plain as the nose on your face. We need simple, consistent Rotary branding on everything we do. 

My vocational expertise is not in the area of public relations or marketing, so I am happy to leave this to the experts who know what they’re doing. And that’s what our board of directors did. They didn’t just speak to the bloke in the neighbouring club who was pretty good with graphics. They engaged public image professionals. Rotary leadership has also made it very easy to update club imagery and create the right logos by visiting the Rotary Brand Centre

There are a number of reasons individual Rotarians are continuing to use the old (pre 2011) logo, and none of them are particularly good. One reason is a lack of awareness. I suppose that can be broken down to a combination of ignorance, poor training or poor communication, some of which district leaders need to take responsibility for. Any other reasons would fall somewhere between indifference and wilful defiance. “But I don’t like the new logo”, or “I don’t like the colours”. Without doubt there exists a segment of Rotarians who feel they’ve already given up too much of the old Rotary they once knew. Progressives like me have removed many of their cherished rituals from meetings, we’ve opened the membership up to “commoners”, and some clubs aren’t even meeting weekly, which some see as heresy. Maybe they’re clinging onto that old logo as a final relic of traditional Rotary that has all but disappeared. 

But here’s what I really think is happening. It occurs to me that for an alarmingly large segment of Rotarians; probably the majority, the cocoon that is their own club environment represents their entire Rotary experience. There seem to be a hell of a lot of Rotarians that never attend a district conference, never attend district training events, never visit meetings or events run by other clubs, and if not for the occasional visiting Rotarian at their own meeting, would never even meet a Rotarian from another club. They really don’t see themselves as a member of Rotary International, only a member of their own club. They may well be very conscientious contributors to their club programs, but they are insular in nature and Rotary for them starts and stops within their club confines. They’re not big picture thinkers, and are oblivious to public image ramifications on the wider organisation. When they choose a Rotary logo, it is solely for the purpose of promoting their club program or event, and any public image considerations beyond their patch are inconsequential. 

Rotary leaders have often drawn comparisons to McDonalds. Everywhere you go in the world, the golden arches are the same. On every advertisement, store window, McHappy meal box and fries bag across the globe, the logo is uniform. McDonalds have changed their logo over the years, and every time the change has been consistent across every store. Can you imagine every store manager using a different version of the golden arches? Can you imagine a McDonalds employee whining because they didn't think the yellow arches looked good against a white background? It simply wouldn’t happen. Rotarians, it’s time to start rowing in the same direction.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

You Reap What You Sow

Occasionally we get a chance to take stock and consider our own personal journeys and where we're at. Be it our careers, finances, relationships or health; unless we've just won the lottery, the position we find ourselves in today is rarely due to events that happened overnight. It's more likely the case that choices we made 10, 20, 30 years ago or more have landed us where we are right now. In the same way, I believe Rotary's current precarious membership predicament to be primarily the result of choices Rotarians made 20 years ago or more. You reap what you sow, and it's also true that you cannot reap that which you haven't sown.

If I cast my mind back to the mid 90s, I have some fairly strong memories of how Rotary appeared from the outside. I had been a Rotaractor for close to 10 years, and whilst not (yet) a Rotarian, my membership in Rotaract frequently saw me working alongside Rotarians, giving me a closer glimpse than most outsiders. I must say without reservation that the overwhelming majority of my experiences were positive. Even some of those daggy Rotary meeting rituals didn't seem so much out of place; many were replicated in our Rotaract meetings at the time. Our Rotaract club was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Edwardstown; the club I joined in 1997 and was a proud member of for 19 years. We Rotaractors were always welcomed and looked after by the Rotarians, and I formed many strong friendships well before joining their ranks. But as I look back now, I can clearly recall elements of Rotary culture that didn't sit well with me. I'm certainly not singling out the Edwardstown club here; we often mingled with Rotaractors from other clubs, and I can recall some stories of Rotarian behaviour further afield which led me to believe that these things I'm about to discuss were far from isolated.

In 1989 our Council on Legislation allowed Rotary clubs to admit women, but it would be fibbing to suggest that we universally opened our arms and welcomed women in at the time. I was one of those Rotaractors who was around in the early 90s and watched local clubs time after time hold votes on whether women would be allowed to join, and time after time saw the vote go down. I was one of those Rotaractors who saw Rotarians threaten to resign if women were allowed to join, and I saw many of those threats carried out. I served alongside some fantastic young women in Rotaract who were suitably unimpressed that they couldn't share the same pathway into Rotary as their male colleagues. It was 1994 when the Rotary Club of Edwardstown inducted its first female Rotarian, but sadly many clubs dragged their male only heels for many years after that, and disgracefully in 2018, there still exist many male-only clubs.

Here's something else I remember vividly from Rotary culture in the 90s. It was that form of elitism that looked down its nose at those considered not qualified for membership. Back then, it wasn't about one's capacity to serve the community, but one's career seniority. My memories of the Edwardstown club at the time was that it was full of corporate high-fliers and captains of industry; very much typical of broader Rotary. I cannot suggest for an instant that any of those members were less than welcoming of we Rotaractors, but I still remember the aura of an organisation of prestige and in many ways, exclusion. When I was invited to join (with my wife Debra, a fellow Rotaractor) at the time, I must admit it was a very humbling experience. I would later hold a workplace management role, but at the time I didn't. I was quite surprised I was considered "qualified". We both joined soon after, and it was the start of a wonderful Rotary journey, but I can't help but wonder how many conversations might have been held by the club leadership as to our suitability to join the ranks.

Of course, it's true that in many clubs the desire to recruit members had long been stronger than the desire to obey the rules. It's unfair to tar all of Rotary with the same brush. It was that desire by the Rotary Club of Duarte in California which led to the eventual inclusion of women amongst our ranks, when they invited three women to join in 1978, eleven years before it was made legal.

So, where am I going with this? Well, which demographic do you think was most affected by Rotary's strict rules (or perhaps more to the point, strict interpretations of said rules) about eligibility, qualification and classification? Well it's quite simple: young people! Of course there would certainly have been young entrepreneurs and managers that would have fitted Rotary's membership criteria at time, but that desire to keep Rotary an organisation of prestige kept a hell of a lot of young people out, and still does today. And we also know that there are many instances today where women are kept out.

Call it ignorance, bloody-mindedness, or just a misguided or perhaps short sighted sense of duty; those Rotary attitudes of the 90s and earlier served to keep huge numbers of women and younger people out of the organisation.  It's possible some who were passed over 
like the fish that John West rejects may have tried again later or elsewhere, but I suspect we would have lost the majority of them for good. The only thing I find surprising today about our two most underrepresented membership demographics is that it comes as a surprise. When anyone asks me, "Where are all the women and young people?", my response quite simply is "We reap what we sow". This is the membership bed we made in the 90s; now we're being forced to lie in it.

I can also distinctly remember another part of Rotary culture in the 90s; it was the concept that we should rely solely on our good deeds to speak for us. This might have been one of those unspoken rules, but we really did keep our light under the bushel at the time. I can't track it to a precise moment in time, but my gut tells me it was soon after the turn of the century when the wheel started to turn, and we realised that we needed to get on the front foot with our public image. I've said this before, and found myself in hot water over it: Our marketing sucks. At least it did when I first said it on stage at an Institute in 2012. I do think we've since made considerable inroads into controlling our public image and projecting a more united message to the world, but the fact remains that way too many people still don't understand who we are or what we do. And this is no accident; it was a conscious decision in the 20th century not to promote ourselves. Clubs are still making the conscious decision not to spend a dime on advertising. They are also choosing to ignore RI's repeated requests to use Rotary's new (introduced 5 years ago) official marks.

I do at times question, "Should we have known better?" I appreciate that hindsight is 20/20, but did we really need Nostradamus to predict that those practices of failing to welcome women, setting the eligibility bar too high for young people, and failing to promote ourselves in the 90s would lead to today's shortage of women, young people, and brand awareness? It's hardly rocket science. Or maybe it was more a case of our collective infatuation with the present trumping any regard for the future. I have often commented that our two biggest challenges are comfort and apathy. I still fear that lifting our gaze from next week's meeting to our next decade of operation is for many in the "too hard" basket. Maybe that's a byproduct of a membership base with an average age of 71.

It serves no purpose to heap disdain on the ghosts of Rotary past, but the one thing we can do is learn from our mistakes. The beauty of the "Reap what you sow" proverb is that it doesn't just relate to the past; it relates to the future too. We can take control of our destiny. In the same way that we are faced today with the consequences of yesterday's actions, we have a wonderful opportunity today to take action to sure up our future membership outcomes. We cannot lose faith when we don't see results overnight. My own District 9520 has just this month arrested a run of seven consecutive years of net membership loss. Yes, the 2017/18 year concluded in the black, and I was as surprised as anyone. It's something district leadership, myself included, has been working hard on for many years, and I'm really hoping our sowing will lead to continued reaping. 

In conclusion, I would urge caution with regard to swinging the recruitment pendulum too far the other way. I do think we have erred in the past by keeping too many good people out, but we still have to apply due process to our recruitment efforts, and not over-correct. It is equally counterproductive when we look to increase our numbers at any cost. Many clubs have suffered from bringing the wrong people into Rotary.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

5 Key Elements to a Healthy, Growing Club

This blog didn't start out as a blog; but a presentation. I get a number of requests to talk to clubs and at district training events about the process of chartering the Rotary Club of Seaford. In this environment of falling membership and closing clubs, getting a new club up and running is somewhat of a novelty! We chartered with 21 and less than a year later we have had a net increase of 7, so I am now in a position to comment on its healthy growth.

I think it's worth noting that these five elements were not drafted up prior to starting the club by some think tank. They have been determined with a retrospective view of what has been important and successful over the last year or so. Some of these things I had known all along would work, but some discoveries have been somewhat serendipitous. These are ranked in order of importance, and whilst they HAVE been extremely successful at Seaford, I believe they can be employed at ANY club. 

1. Less Meeting - More Doing

I have been banging on about this for years now - my concern that Rotary has become way too "meeting centric". Rotary has conducted considerable research into its public image and what is preventing people from joining us, and there's a long list of reasons given by respondents. But the overwhelming majority of those barriers to membership are related to our obsession with meetings.

Quite simply, people ARE willing to volunteer, but they're not so keen on meetings, and see meetings as a waste of time. Rotary is not a MEETING organisation, it's a SERVICE organisation. So we need to put service at the centre of our Rotary universe. Last year our Council on Legislation paved the way for clubs to meet less frequently, but the answer lies not in solely reducing meeting frequency, but in better utilising those freed up volunteer hours with VOLUNTEERING. I wish I had a buck for every time the question is asked of a Rotarian, "What does your club do?", and the answer given starts with "We meet at...". Our weekly meeting regimen and the accompanying rituals are so entrenched in our Rotary psyche that hands on service has become an afterthought.

The Rotary Club of Seaford places a very high priority on hands on volunteering opportunities. Of course it means we can achieve more in our community, but more importantly our community sees us making an impact, and that WILL attract and keep more members.

2. Flexible and Productive Meetings

For 112 years, Rotary rules dictated that we meet weekly, and for most of those years we also had minimum attendance expectations placed upon us. Am I the only one who finds it bizarre that we must meet regularly, and we must attend meetings, but there is no expectation whatsoever that our meetings be productive? Has that not crossed anyone else's mind? If it's not bad enough that we have a meeting centric platform, those meetings by and large don't really achieve much.

Now I have never suggested we don't need meetings, and we are still constitutionally bound to hold a minimum of two per calendar month. They do serve a purpose, and it is true that much of our decision making process happens during some of our meetings, but not all of them. Most clubs will only hold internal committee meetings once a month. Yes, there is (hopefully) plenty of camaraderie going on at meetings, and an enjoyable and informative speaker most of the time. But my experience as a Rotarian of over 20 years is that a large percentage of the time that meetings take from our lives is about entertainment of members, and only a small portion is about planning projects and events. The Rotary Club of Seaford has a different way of doing meetings. Guest speakers are the exception, not the rule. They are only asked to attend if they can directly help the club with Rotary information or add value to a planned project or event. We do not hold meetings for the sake of meetings. We value our members' time way too much for that. Our meetings are about productivity, idea sharing, brainstorming, event planning. Everyone gets an opportunity, and it's pretty much one big committee meeting.

We are flexible enough to replace a meeting with a hands on service project, where we do the work, then pull out tables and chairs, maybe order a pizza, and hold an informal meeting. We can easily change times, venues and days for our meetings, because we haven't allowed ourselves to get stuck in the rut of weekly, non-productive meetings at the same time, in the same place, eating the same food.

We don't lose valuable time (not to mention credibility with visitors) singing, fining, toasting and praying. When a guest visits one of our meetings, they immediately find out what we're up to. They can see we are all about action, and they often jump in.

3. Low Cost Impact on Members

One of the other main barriers to membership identified by Rotary surveys is cost. And again, meetings raise their ugly heads. Membership costs vary around the traps, but most clubs hover around the $250 mark. But 50 meals a year + drinks + raffles + fines can easily set you back $1,500. I cannot fathom why so many clubs offer to subsidise membership fees, but don't look at their meeting costs. 

Our method at Seaford is to have meetings where meals are either optional or low cost. Sometimes members just bring a plate to share. Of course, this means having venues where these options are available. If you cannot break away from the pattern of meeting every week at the local pub, it's unlikely you will be able to find low cost meeting options. But at the risk of repeating myself, at Seaford, we're not obsessed with meetings. In fact we never hold two meetings at the same place in a row. Our meeting venues include a local soccer club where we can buy drinks from the bar, but don't get charged for the room we use. We usually order in pizzas and that costs members less than $10, which is optional. We have met in a meeting room at our local library. Again, this is free, and we just all bring a plate to share. We meet in members' homes. We meet at and after service projects. There are ways of meeting without huge expense, but you have to be prepared to be flexible. 

We don't have fines, raffles, or boxes being passed around the room. We raise funds from the public, not our members. Total meeting costs for members are maybe $15 - $20 a month.

4. Aggressive Promotion

Our marketing sucks. I once upset a few (very) high ranking Rotarians with that statement; probably because it is true. Across our global organisation of autonomous clubs, most of which are run by board members who would rather have a root canal than spend a penny on promotion, we have an inconsistent, incongruent and largely ineffective marketing platform. We made a conscious decision when trying to start a club that we needed to get on the front foot with our marketing and promotion. It is true that we were given a $2,000 grant from district to get the ball rolling with some initial fliers, posters, website and postage costs. But we were heading into a region without a Rotary presence, and we needed to make our presence felt.

And we have continued to invest wisely in promotion ever since, and we are getting very good at it. Think of a charity that advertises on TV, radio, magazines, billboards or online. How do you think they pay for it? Well, they set aside a portion of the funds they raise for promotion. This has been considered taboo in Rotary for some reason, and for the life of me I don't know why. What makes more sense? A club that doesn't spend a cent raised through the community on promotion and eventually hands in its charter, or a club that responsibly spends a portion of funds raised to gain better exposure, therefore continually growing and able to help more people? If you ask me, it's a no-brainer.

The following is a list of non-negotiable promotional assets for every club:
  • Functioning, frequently updated, non-Rotarian friendly website that shows what you do.
  • Facebook page with a minimum of 2 posts per week. Every post needs a bright photo.
  • Matching bright member uniforms.
  • Portable signage for your events to make the public aware you are there.
  • Professionally printed attractive fliers that EVERY member has at their disposal.
And please, download and read Rotary's Visual Identity Guide and follow the rules when you produce promotional material. You wouldn't see different versions of the golden arches from one suburb to another. Keep our branding consistent. If we want to be recognised globally, we need global consistency. Some of the shoddy attempts at producing the Rotary logo on banners, stickers and websites make me shudder. Let's avoid amateur hour when it comes to our brand, huh!

5. Effective Partnerships

Too often, Rotary clubs try to reinvent the wheel. There are some things which we are not specialists at. A far better approach if you see a need in your community is to partner with another group who know what they're doing, but could do with some support. That support needn't be financial. They may need goods, they may need volunteers.

One such example in Seaford is an organisation called Breakfastbellies. This is a family run local charity which provides food to local schools for breakfast programs and also sources emergency food hampers for families doing it tough. The Rotary Club of Seaford wanted to help address food security concerns, but rather than trying to run a program ourselves, we partnered with Breakfastbellies who were looking for help. We help them collect Easter Eggs for underprivileged families at Easter, and help source food for Christmas hampers for those same families. The partnership has led to a number of other projects.

We have partnered with a local business and tourism association, and together run a number of business breakfasts each year. We have sourced members through these events, and have a large selection of businesses we can call on when we need support.

We have a great relationship with the local council, particularly their youth and community workers, and often get invited to cater for large community events. Of course these are great fundraising opportunities, but getting Rotary exposure before so many people in the community at these events is very valuable. 

We have a partnership with a local netball club, whereby we present an award for the best junior team person. This is not for the best netballer, but a person who helps out around the club. It's a bit like a Service Above Self award. This is presented at their awards night before 400 netballers, coaches, support staff and family members, and we get to talk about Rotary Youth Programs to the club.

Everyone knows how profitable the Bunnings sausage sizzles can be, but our partnership with Bunnings is about so much more than BBQs. We support some of their DIY nights by providing a BBQ, and they donate products and gift cards to the club. Bunnings donated a rainwater tank to the community garden we have helped build.

Is a change to the Seaford model a bridge too far?

I get a pretty similar response whenever I present to other clubs about the Seaford methods. Whilst I feel that generally most Rotarians are pretty impressed with what we have achieved in such a short time, they don't normally waste any time in telling me how "that stuff would never work in our club". Of course, what that really means is that some of their members would never let "that stuff" happen. I'm not a complete idiot; I do get it. Once you've been entrenched in doing things the same way for so long, big changes seem all too hard. But I still think any club can employ those top five elements, without going "full Seaford". I do think it is possible for ANY club to focus more on doing, and less on meeting. I do think any club can incorporate more flexibility and productivity into their meetings, and find ways to bring down the cost burden on their members. Any club can work harder and smarter on their promotions, and any club can build effective relationships with local charities, clubs, businesses and government departments. But some things have a happy knack of ending up in the too hard basket!