Thursday, 17 December 2015

Taboo Topics in Rotary

"You can’t talk about Religion or Politics in Rotary"
I’ve heard that comment bandied about the place, and it’s had me scratching my head. Just to set the record book straight, there is no such rule. We do have rules about adopting political positions, with good reason. Our ability to be first responders with international aid such as Shelterbox depends on us remaining a non-political and secular organisation. But some members have a knack of conflating the two issues of “taking a political position” and “discussing politics”.

I have embedded below (unedited) the extract on politics from our Manual of Procedure. The extract clearly points out what we mustn’t do, but it also points out what we must do. 

RI and its member clubs refrain from issuing partisan political statements. Rotarians are prohibited from adopting statements with a view to exerting any pressure on governments or political authorities. However, it is the duty of Rotarians
1) In their clubs, to keep under review political developments in their own communities and throughout the world insofar as they affect service to their vocations and communities as well as the pursuit of the Rotary objective of world understanding and peace. They are expected to seek reliable information through balanced programs and discussions so that members can reach their own conclusions after a fair, collective examination of the issues.
2) Outside their clubs, to be active as individuals in as many legally constituted groups and organizations as possible to promote, not only in words but through exemplary dedication, awareness of the dignity of all people and the respect of the consequent human rights of the individual. (89-134, RCP2.100.)
That’s right, far from prohibiting discussion, our Manual of Procedure asks us to discuss these topics!

So, where did we ever get this idea that discussions on politics and religion were taboo in Rotary? This is a societal convention, not a Rotary convention. Obviously these are hot button topics where people hold deeply seated views and open discussion can cause conflict. So it’s easier to stifle debate. But aren't we above that in Rotary? If one’s beliefs cannot withstand the scrutiny of others, are they really worth holding?

The secret of course, is respect. Surely intelligent community citizens can hold conflicting views and still respect each other. Diversity has always been a cornerstone of Rotary membership. There’s a reason a club’s membership base cannot be all butchers. We need the bakers and the candle stick makers as well. We depend on cultural diversity, as we depend on diversity in age and gender amongst our ranks. We cannot demand diversity in our membership and expect conformity amongst our views.

If Rotary is to grow its capacity as an agent for effective change, peace and conflict resolution and the lifting of the standard of life for the world’s disadvantaged, it surely relies on a membership base that is prepared to discuss the tough issues.

The next generation of Rotarians are more likely to wear their political views on their sleeves, and if we are to engage them in our membership, we had better be prepared to include these “taboo” topics in our conversation. We can’t use catchphrases like “Join the Conversation” with our fingers crossed behind our backs hoping that the conversation is not awkward.

Sadly, it is also becoming increasingly difficult to have mature conversations about religion, but it needn't be. Respect is again the key. I was recently at a Rotary Christmas dinner where a totally appropriate and respectful Christian Christmas message was delivered. But the speaker herself (a Salvation Army envoy) indicated that she was wary of raising religion in Rotary. I didn't have a problem with it, and I'm an atheist, so I would hope no-one else would be uncomfortable.

It’s time to embrace our differences, stop worrying about stepping on egg shells and get on with the job of making the world a better place. There will always be differences of opinion in Rotary – in fact there must be. Last year my own club lost a Rotary legend, Keith Walter, a member of 45+ years. He was someone who I had an enormous level of respect for, but he was often outspoken at meetings if he felt we weren't doing the right thing. Over the years, we had a number of disagreements, particularly with regard to change in the organisation. But I can distinctly remember after every meeting where differing views were expressed, Keith would come up to me (or the member in question), shake me by the hand and say, “Well done, that was a good conversation.” And we would continue on our way as good friends. Respectful dialogue - now that’s what Rotary is all about!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

How Flexible is Your Club?

In my last blog I suggested Rotary needed to focus more on service, and less on meetings. It’s amazing how many times a conversation leads me to start blogging again, and I feel compelled to produce a sequel to that last blog.

In the process of trying to create a new Rotary club in Seaford, I have put a lot of effort into seeking out a team of community minded individuals to form its initial membership base. I have just had a conversation with a wonderful young woman who has an amazing drive and dedication to work with her local community and help to make it a better place, and she can clearly see that Rotary provides a method by which she can achieve her goals. In my eyes, she will make a fabulous Rotarian. She has already attended a few of our casual meetings, and is committed to remaining involved. She has even identified other potential members for us. But she has just advised me that she is really struggling to make meetings on the day and time we are currently holding them.

To a traditional Rotary club, that would probably mean the end of any chance of recruiting her as a member. Fortunately for me, I'm not trying to build a traditional Rotary club. The club I want to build will not rely on meeting at the same time, on the same day, in the same place every week. In fact the way we meet will probably not look anything like a traditional Rotary meeting.

In my capacity as District 9520 Membership Chair, I have been asked on a number of occasions what my thoughts are on clubs meeting fortnightly, rather than weekly. I happen to know that there are clubs already working this way, and it has saved them from annihilation. In a perfect world, the ideal situation is for every club to be active and healthy and meeting weekly, but we don’t live in a perfect world, and that’s why Rotary is here. Whilst the Standard Rotary Club Constitution DOES demand weekly meetings, it also allows for (via the Club Bylaws) meetings on varying days and times, and at different venues. I commented on this in my last blog so I won’t go over the same ground again, but my basic premise is that if your club is holding a BBQ at Bunnings on the weekend, call it a meeting.

Rotary appears half pregnant on this and other similar meeting and attendance issues. Commencing in 2007, RI introduced a number of pilot schemes where 200 “lucky” clubs worldwide (out of a total of 35,000) were chosen to trial more flexible meeting and membership initiatives. I wish I had a buck for every seminar I've attended, speech I've heard, article I've read where Rotarians have been told their clubs need to be more flexible, but by the way, we mustn't break the rules. I've also been lucky enough to see the reports on the outcomes of these trials, and every one of them resulted in considerable membership growth (including a higher representation of female members and members under the age of 50) over and above that of the global norm. The results were in. Flexibility resulted in positive membership outcomes. One might have thought the RI board, having seen these positive results would be chaffing at the bit to allow more flexibility across the board. Not if it has to get past our Council on Legislation!

So that brings me back to the issue I have with the lady who would make a great Rotarian, but struggles to make regular meetings on week nights. The main reason I wanted to write this blog, is that I happen to know there are THOUSANDS of great people out there in exactly the same boat. People who would make fabulous members of YOUR Rotary club, but simply cannot make regular meetings. Maybe I can’t tell you what YOU should do, and how YOUR club should act, but I can tell you what I'm going to do, because when you’re starting a new club, you don’t have to be constrained by the way an existing club has always done things.

Along with my colleagues at the Provisional Rotary Club of Seaford, I am personally going to do everything I can to keep this lady informed, involved and welcome. We will be holding occasional meetings on weekends, because we don’t have to hold all of our meetings on a week night in the same venue. We will hold social events, service projects and fundraising initiatives, all of which we will classify as meetings, and she will receive a personal invitation to each one. In other words, we will value what she can give, when she can give it and vary our meetings to suit the increasingly busy and complex lives of the members of our community. And if the Council on Legislation hasn't been able to catch up in 20 years’ time, I won’t be losing any sleep over it.  

Maybe your club can try a little flexibility too.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Less Meetings, More Doing.

A party without cake is just a meeting. 

There was a time when we all thought that the Earth was the centre of the universe, and that everything orbited around it. Galileo got into an awful amount of trouble for daring to suggest that the Earth in fact orbited around the sun. He was even forced to recant his theory, and spent much of his life under house arrest.

In our enlightened times we now know better, but in the sixteenth century one could understand that geocentric view. In a similar way, we seem to have meetings at the centre of our Rotary universe, and everything seems to revolve around them. Rotary is a service organisation, yet despite the rhetoric, we do not demand service of our members, we demand that they attend meetings. If they can’t attend our meetings, we expect them to attend another club's meeting. As a last resort, if they cannot find a meeting to attend, we’re prepared to let it fly if they can actually do some service, and we call that a makeup. Am I alone in thinking that in our Rotary universe we have our priorities a little out of whack? Fortunately, our attendance rules have become somewhat relaxed in recent years, as we have come to the realization that turning up every week can be challenging. But the meeting is still very much at the centre of our Rotary universe.

In the same way that we now clearly understand that our planets orbit the sun, is it time that we shift our priorities in the Rotary universe? I would like to think that the Rotary universe of the future will have service at its centre, around which everything else revolves. I wonder if Rotarians in 20 or 30 years’ time will look back on the Rotary of today, and realise our meeting centric model had outlived its time.

In his two part DVD presentation, "Attracting the Next Generation of Rotarians", Michael McQueen suggested, "There were very few of you who were staring at a blank wall, with a whole lot of spare time thinking 'I wish I could go somewhere where they fined me if I was late, and we sang a song at the beginning, and we ate some food that wasn't awesome. I wish we could find a place like that.' You joined Rotary because there was some sort of outcome, some purpose that you were passionate about and you realised Rotary was a way of getting there. A way of producing that outcome."

A recent survey of young professional non-Rotarians conducted by RI found that Rotary has an image problem, and it’s hurting our ability to attract the next generation of Rotarians. Younger professionals were not interested in traditional ways of organizing as a group. They were turned off by weekly meetings, plated meals, and ceremonial songs. They are time poor, so the time they give must be effective. It's worth bearing in mind too that the largest cost of being a Rotarian lies with paying for a weekly meal (plus raffle, plus sergeant etc), and this is most certainly affecting our capacity to recruit and retain.

But so much of our identity lies with our meetings. If we can only manage to somehow put less reliance on meetings, and more emphasis on the work we do, we can perhaps begin to challenge some of those perceptions.

For some reason as recruiters, we tend to get particularly excited if we finally get a prospect to attend a meeting. We feel that we've got to first base, because they've now seen our club at its very best. If you asked 100 Rotarians about their best experience in Rotary, not many would suggest something that happened at a meeting. Admittedly, I have attended some awesome meetings, but I've also attended some duds. First impressions are everything, and if we really want our prospective members to see Rotary at its best, they need to see us out and about in the community doing our work and get involved in service. If we continue to push our meetings as the epitome of Rotary, we're in strife.

But I hear you asking, "What about that requirement of RI that we meet weekly?" Yep, I can't argue with that, but no-one said we have to meet weekly in the same hotel, at the same time, on the same day, for a "meeting". Maybe it's time to consider a new model. Sure, we might like to occasionally have a formal meeting over an enjoyable meal with a quality speaker, but we can also use our projects and fundraising initiatives as "meetings". We can meet casually over a coffee in a cafe, or over pizza delivered to a member's home. The sausage sizzle at Bunnings can in fact take the place of a meeting, so can that tree planting project. Clubs don't have to meet in person either. E-clubs meet using online video conferencing tools such as Skype™ or Gotomeeting™. Maybe RI leadership could meet online more frequently and save us rank-and-file Rotarians the cost of their international airfares!

As a long time member of a traditional Rotary club, I feel that face-to-face contact is a very important part of my Rotary experience. But I'm also a district leader whose commitments mean regularly missing out on my own club's meetings, and I have to admit that I miss catching up with my fellow members if I don't see them in a while. There are however other ways to achieve that contact than over a rump steak with chips and gravy on a Tuesday night. Tomorrow's Rotary needs to accommodate ways for people to meet that aren't meetings.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Taking the Class out of our Classification System

Rotary International President K.R. Ravindran’s speech to District Governors Elect at the International Assembly in San Diego earlier this year included the following quote:

“I believe that we have to find a way to bring back the fundamentals that built our organization: the emphasis on high ethical standards in all aspects of our lives, and the classification system that encourages a diversity of expertise in each club.”

I have always believed the intent of our classification system was to ensure diversity within our ranks. So I'm not about to question the intent of our classification system, but I am about to question the way it is often interpreted and applied when recruiting members into our clubs, some of which hold up our classification system as some sort of benchmark, and even a barrier to entry.

The average millennial (born between 1977 and 1997, now aged between 18 & 38) is expected to have 15 – 20 jobs over their working life. Can you comprehend how absurd our classification system
must appear to our next generation of Rotarians?

I want to introduce a term that I will be using in recruitment conversations this year, and that term is “Vocational Diversity”. The way I see it, our classification system seems to identify a horizontal plane of professions into which Rotary wants us pigeon-holed. Picture if you will, a line of professions: Doctor, Architect, Teacher, Retailer, Public Servant, Accountant, Police Officer. It’s true that many of us do already fit into one of these or similar professional groups, or what Rotary calls “classifications”. 

But now I want you to think of a vertical line, which better describes the stage you are at in your career, than the career itself. That line may include student, apprentice, employee, supervisor, manager, CEO, self-employed and retiree. It might even include “stay-at-home parent”. We also have representatives of all of these groups within our ranks, but the Rotary classification system struggles to cope with this method of identification, which is why I think “Vocational Diversity” is a more contemporary concept. I see the classification system solely as one of horizontal diversity, but if we want to grow into a truly diverse organisation, I feel we need to be far more accommodating of diversity on that vertical plane as well.

I recently conducted a club membership survey across the district, and included a question on the employment status of members. The result is the pie chart pictured. One of the myths we happily peddle is that Rotary is an organisation of CEOs and powerful business people. The statistics would suggest in fact that we are an organisation of retirees, although it’s reasonable to assume that some of those retirees were once from big business.

Retirees are an extremely valuable group within our organisation. They have more spare time to contribute and the life experience to act as mentors to our younger members, but they often lack the current business and professional networks to further our recruitment efforts. Executives, CEOs and managers of big business seem to lack that available time to contribute to Rotary. Perhaps the best lesson to learn from this is that rather than targeting specific groups such as executives and “big business”, we would be better off targeting the sort of people that will make the best Rotarians, i.e. recruit on personality type and motivation, rather than employment status.

I would like to leave you with a quote from another organisation that we Rotarians could learn from: “We define our leaders by the way we think, not by our title.”

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Growing Young

In this, my first year as District 9520 Membership Chair, my focus has been on retention. I don’t for an instant want to forget about retention, but I feel it’s time to shift focus for my second year. There’s only so much I can bang on about the one subject, and the messages have all been sent. Hopefully some have been received and acted upon. Next year, I want to start the conversation about bringing our average age down.

Does anyone want to guess how old Paul Harris was when he founded Rotary? I suppose many have this vision of a Chicago lawyer in his 60s, which pretty much matches the stereotypical Rotarian. He was actually 36, which is 10 years younger than I am now, and ironically, I’m still considered a “young Rotarian”. Gustavus Loehr was 41, Silvester Schiele was 34 and Hiram Shorey was 42. So just to be crystal clear on this, the average age of the first four Rotarians was just over 38. Yet if we found a club these days with an average age of 38, we would be asking for the magic formula. When I go out with my Rotary friends, I’m often the only one without a Seniors’ Card, and the conversation is about my kids and their grandkids (who they can spoil and give back).

In Australia, a whopping 59% of our membership base is aged over 60, with only 7% under 40. “So what?” you may ask. Let me stress that I have no problem with the number of 60+ members in our ranks. Our organisation derives enormous benefit from both the life experience and Rotary experience of this demographic, and it’s obvious that this age group has more time on their hands than younger generations. It’s not the number of 60+ Rotarians, but the proportion which is out of whack. With just over 30,000 members in Australia, that 59% over 60 equates to 17,700 members, but the 7% under 40 equates to only 2,100. It’s that number of 2,100 that drastically needs to increase if our organisation is to survive another 100 years.

I remember quite a number of years ago reading a letter to the editor of Rotary Down under which lamented the number of young members in our organisation, but went on to suggest there must be something wrong with them if they weren’t interested in Rotary. I recall comments to the effect of, “The ‘me’ generation”, “self-absorbed” and “unwilling to give back”. As a member of said generation and a Rotarian of over 10 years at the time, I felt compelled to respond, and respond I did. My rebuttal was that the problem wasn’t with them, the problem was with us.

The simple fact is that Rotary is not a “one size fits all” organisation. I am more than happy for us to recruit the right people no matter what their age, but we simply must bring our average age down. The only way that will happen is to recruit more under 40s, and the only way that will happen is by meaningful and real change. Not just in rhetoric, but in action. The average Rotary club is a pretty comfortable fit for the average baby boomer, and our demographics and recruitment statistics back that up. We don’t have any trouble finding people 50 and over. Sure, there are some clubs for which recruitment is a constant struggle, but the overall recruitment picture sees a lot of new members in the 50+ demographic. The average Rotary club is NOT however, a particularly comfortable fit for the average Gen X or Y. Again, there are exceptions to the rule. I personally know a good number of Gen Y members, and they are seriously special people. But they are rare.

In response to globally depressing trends of young member uptake, RI Headquarters undertook a “Young Professionals” campaign in 2013 which uncovered some confronting findings from focus groups of young professional non-Rotarians all over the world. We have major public image challenges to even get this group to take notice of us, and once we do, our messages aren’t matching their experiences when they visit a club. But the biggest question we must ask is, “Are we serious about attracting a younger audience?” Because getting serious means change.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but in a few months we’re holding a special event with a hope to finding some. The Young Professionals Forum will be held at SILC Flinders University on August 8. This is a FREE event and it will incorporate a seminar specifically dedicated to attracting young professionals. Please put the date in your diary now, and more information will follow. Bookings are essential via

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Ham & Pineapple Rotary

Ham & Pineapple Rotary
My son can be a particularly picky eater. One of his favourite meals is ham & pineapple pizza. We occasionally make pizza at home, and I wouldn’t ever bother putting anything on his pizza but ham and pineapple, because he would just pick it off. Occasionally we grab a pizza when we’re out, and that’s exactly what he does – picks off anything and everything that is not ham or pineapple. I sort of think ham and pineapple pizzas are a bit on the boring side, but he just loves them that way.

So, what’s this talk of pizza got to do with Rotary?
If my Rotary International experience was a pizza, it would be a super supreme. There’s a bit of everything and I just woof it down. If I think of my greatest Rotary experiences, it’s hard to go past the three international conventions I’ve attended, including last year’s in Sydney. For a Rotarian, it’s the greatest show on Earth. I know that it’s hard to make an international convention every year, but when it’s in your own back yard, it’s hard not to. The second greatest experiences for me have been the numerous District Conferences I’ve attended. A few weeks ago I drove my wife and kids 7 hours to Ballarat for an amazing experience. DG Jerry and his team pulled off a truly remarkable conference, with highlight after highlight, and my family had a great time enjoying what Ballarat had to offer whilst I was attending the plenary sessions.
But apart from me, there were only 228 other Rotarians from our district who made the trip (over 20 of whom were working behind the scenes to make the show happen). Accompanying partners and guests took the attendance to well over the 300 mark, but I’ve been scratching my head, wondering why only 229 Rotarians out of a total district membership of 1,369 would come to such an amazing event. That’s just under 17%.
Many Rotarians cannot get away from work commitments. I ran a catering business for 5 years, and wiping out a weekend meant saying no to 5 or 6 functions, and at the time, I just couldn’t do it. Affordability is also an issue. Whilst the registration cost is quite reasonable, accommodation, petrol and meals all add up. Some Rotarians are getting on in years and their health precludes their attendance at such events, and sometimes the conference will clash with other important events in our lives, so it’s just not possible. I get that. But I feel the overwhelming majority of people who elect not to attend a district conference are just not interested in “super supreme” Rotary. They like ham and pineapple Rotary, and will pick off anything that’s not ham or pineapple.
District Assembly and the many other training events offer more variety to the Rotary pizza too, as do visits to other clubs, attendance at other club fundraising events, or district events like the 110th Birthday or the Rotary Race Day. Taking on a role at district level is like walking into a pizza shop – there is just so much variety on offer. You can choose what roles take your interest, and take advantage of your expertise. It’s just like choosing which extra toppings you want on your pizza.
Think of the pizza analogy from a recruitment perspective too. We need to offer a broad range of pizza at our pizza shop, because the customers wouldn’t walk through the front door if ham and pineapple was the only variety on the menu.
But here’s the kicker. If you never even try those extra toppings, you’ll never know what you’re missing out on. I fear that so many Rotarians are not getting the most out of their Rotary experience, and many end up leaving the organisation because ham and pineapple got a little bit boring after a few years. Rotary has so much to offer beyond weekly meetings. Not everything is for everyone. Even I will pick the olives off my pizza. But you’ll never know how good pizza can be if you pick off everything that’s not ham or pineapple.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Your Club Recruitment Campaign (DG News April 2015)

Your Club Recruitment Campaign – Three Factors to Consider
How are your club recruitment initiatives going? Do you have a plan you’re working to, or is it a bit haphazard? If we were to undertake a study of everyone who joined our ranks over the past 5 years and identify and document the events that led to their decision to join, I wonder what proportion would be random events or chance meetings, and what proportion would be as a result of a dedicated recruitment campaign?
Without hard evidence either way, my guess is that our recruitment successes are largely random – i.e., we get lucky. It’s reasonable that the majority of people join a Rotary club because they’ve been invited by a friend or colleague, we Rotarians are constantly badgered to ask our friends to join. But what about those community minded citizens who DON’T already know someone in Rotary? What are we doing to gain their attention?
I’d like you to consider three factors when it comes to recruitment initiatives: Intent, Audience & Product.

How committed are you to recruiting new members? Is your ENTIRE club driven and enthusiastic about promoting your work and speaking to potential members? Or, as is the case in many clubs, are there one or two well-connected and dedicated recruiters on a mission, and the rest of the club thinking that recruitment is someone else’s problem? Have you set aside a budget for promotion and recruitment? Do you even want new members? I know there are plenty out there who are very satisfied with the status quo.
Who are you trying to reach? Where are they? Are you looking for specific sectors or (dare I say it) “classifications”? Do you want to attract younger members? More women? More who were born outside of Australia? Do you have a specific geographic region you’re targeting?  The private sector, the public sector, the local shopping centre, the local industrial park? Or are you happy with anyone you can get? Are you going to where they are, or are you expecting they will come to you? You can’t answer questions that haven’t been asked. Put some thought into your target audience.
What is it that you’re trying to sell? This is the most important part of the formula to get right, but the most ignored part of the formula in Rotary. We can no longer assume that the style of Rotary we have become accustomed to, is the style that will attract new members today. Twenty years ago you could have made a living selling 35mm film and floppy disks. If you went into business today with the same products, your customer base will be very limited. Likewise, the style of Rotary we were selling twenty years ago may not be as well received today. Are you working on innovative and sustainable projects that address a community need? Are your meetings run the same way they were twenty years ago? Are they interesting and professionally run? Is your venue welcoming with good food at a good price? These all form part of the Rotary’s product that potential members will evaluate. Would YOU join your club today if you knew nothing about Rotary?

In the words of Winston Churchill, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail”.


The biggest and most exciting job in my Rotary life. (DG News March 2015)

The Rotary Club of Hindmarsh Island was the last club chartered in our district, but sadly, it is also one of seven clubs to hand in its charter over the last ten years, along with Reynella, St. Marys, Glen Osmond, Morphettville, and most recently Marion and Lameroo.
Rotary continues to grow at a staggering rate in some parts of the world, including India, South Korea, Germany, Taiwan, Brazil and in many smaller African and Asian countries. But for much of the western world, it is more common for clubs to disappear than to charter. But every now and then an opportunity presents itself, even if not overtly.
As a long-time resident of Adelaide’s outer southern suburbs, I have watched the urban sprawl rapidly creep ever closer to Sellicks Hill, the southernmost point of the Adelaide plains where the coast and the hills meet, the point at which the sprawl will one day stop, or must at least slow down.
In this time I’ve seen the coastal region from Seaford down to Aldinga grow to become a busy and thriving, yet family friendly community, nestled between the hills, the vines of the McLaren Vale region and the pristine beaches where my kids have splashed joyously. They have also participated in gymnastics at the Seaford Recreation Centre, have floated down the end of the Onkaparinga River where it winds gently into the sea at Southport Beach, and they’ve climbed all over the massive wooden playground at Jubilee Park in Port Noarlunga South. It really is a fabulous community, but there’s just one more thing that could make this community even more special. A Rotary presence.
I am delighted to announce that we have commenced the process of chartering our district’s newest Rotary club in Seaford. The Seaford/Aldinga region is the second fastest growing in South Australia, second only to the massive growth around Munno Para and Smithfield to the north of the city. But unlike Adelaide’s outer northern suburbs which lie in District 9500, the expanding south is part of D9520, and the perfect region to launch a new Rotary Club. The recent completion of duplication work to the Southern Expressway and extension of the Noarlunga train line to Seaford have helped make the region more attractive to those travelling into the city and inner metropolitan suburbs for work.
It is customary for new Rotary clubs to be sponsored by existing Rotary clubs, but this initiative will be taken on directly by the District Membership Committee. We are under no illusions with regard to the scale of this task. There is a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we are driven and committed to this exciting venture. We need to find 25 new members before we can even approach RI to charter the club, but we will give this one hell of a crack. We want to build Australia’s newest and most exciting Rotary club, and it may not look like what we’ve come to expect of a Rotary club.
There will be some dedicated Rotarians working to make this happen, but I want to pay tribute to a special person who will be critical to the success of this venture. Cecilie Cardwell is currently the secretary of the Rotaract Club of Flinders, and District Rotaract Representative. But Cecilie has agreed to take on one of the most challenging but rewarding jobs in Rotary, that of Charter President of a yet-to-be-formed club. She was a RYLA graduate in 2012, RYPEN director in 2013 and RYLA director in 2014, and I am confident there will be a massive return on the investment Rotary has made in Cecilie through these amazing youth programs. Originally from Norway, Cecilie has now lived in Adelaide for 5 years and recently completed her Bachelor of Nursing at Flinders University and is currently working for a nursing agency. As a former Rotaractor, I am so very proud that Rotaract continues to produce our future Rotary leaders.


Investing in the future of your club (DG News February 2015)

How well resourced is your club’s promotional department?
In addition to stepping into the role of District Membership & PR Chair in July, I was also appointed to the same role in my own club. One of my priorities this year at Edwardstown has been to complete an audit of our promotional resources, and I found there were a few areas that needed attention. I want to give a bouquet to the club’s board members, because they have supported every request I have made 100%. There has been no procrastination, I’ve just been told, “go and organise it”. In the last six months we have had new club fliers printed, a new pull-up banner, new display boards, new pens and new promotional bags.
What were the bags for? I’m glad you asked! In December we participated in a local “Welcome to Australia” event where new arrivals were invited to participate in sports and meet local community groups in an effort to better integrate into the community. It was a great opportunity to tell our Rotary story. OK – we cooked some sausages as well! It crossed my mind that everyone attending would end up with fliers and handouts from the participating groups, and they might appreciate a bag from our club to take away with them. No-one ever throws out these bags, they end up getting taken to the supermarket or given to friends, and as a result, the Rotary wheel gets seen over and over again.
But I know there are many clubs where these decisions appear a lot harder to make, because these things all cost money. Try not to choke on your cornflakes when I say this, but it’s OK to responsibly spend a portion of funds you raise to promote your club. I know this concept may seem foreign to many Rotarians, but in fundraising circles, it is completely normal.
When we conduct our fundraising initiatives such as sausage sizzles, we obviously have to deduct expenses such as sausages, bread, sauce, gloves, etc from our takings before we can declare a profit and pass on those funds. Everyone understands that. The point I’m trying to make is that promotion and advertising should be considered a legitimate expense.
According to the American Institute of Philanthropy, it is considered “reasonable for most charities” if 60% of the total funds raised are spent on charitable programs, with the remaining percentage being spent on fundraising and general administration (I’m not necessarily endorsing that ratio). Many of the most recognisable charities worldwide spend over 10% of total funds raised on promoting themselves: including Doctors Without Borders (11.8%), World Wildlife Fund (20%), World Vison (10.2%), Oxfam (15%), PETA (14.9%) and Greenpeace (10.3%)*. It makes complete sense to me, because if they don’t promote themselves, how do they expect to raise the funds they need to pay for the work they do? Who do you think pays for the TV advertising you see for these charities? The donors of course!
Likewise, if we don’t promote ourselves, how do we expect to attract the members we need to do the work we do?
Our members already pay subscriptions (to cover administrative costs for the running of our clubs, district and Rotary International). It’s not reasonable to ask members to pay again out of their own pocket to promote their club to the wider community. Money spent on club promotion needs to be seen as an investment, an investment that will bring us a return. By all means be responsible in your spending, but be innovative, and be prepared to invest in the promotion of Rotary and your club.

Rotary’s Global Membership Migration Part 2 (DG News December 2014)

Rotary’s Global Membership Migration…
and what it means for clubs in developed countries - Part 2
In November’s column, I talked about Rotary’s staggering growth rate in developing countries, and the equally staggering membership decline in Rotary’s traditional strongholds such as North America, Europe and Australia, and promised a suggestion or two for countries like Australia facing membership decline.
I believe we need to change our message. Rotarians for far too long have hidden their light under the bushel. For close to a century, we were happy to get on with the job without fuss or notoriety. All very noble, but when our membership started to stagnate 20 odd years ago, we came to the realisation that we needed to do a better job of telling the world what we do. And whilst we still have a long way to go (I’ve been heard to mutter “our marketing sucks” on the odd occasion), we seem to be getting better at talking about the lives we’re changing by eliminating Polio, providing basic education, and improving health outcomes with clean water and sanitation projects.
My question today is this, “Are messages solely about feeding the hungry, providing clean water, educating the illiterate and eradicating Polio gaining traction with an audience who are fed, have clean water on tap, are educated and healthy? Will that audience recognise the value of Rotary?”
I don’t have space to give a detailed explanation on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (you can always google it if it doesn’t ring any bells), but Rotary is addressing the first two rungs on the ladder (triangle?) in these developing countries, and I suspect that’s why membership is growing in those areas: Rotary appears more relevant.  But how do we appear relevant to an audience here in Australia, where we have clean water, electricity, education and health care? I believe the answer is in the top half of the triangle. These days people are increasingly asking, “What’s in it for me?”, and Rotary membership can address those higher needs, such as friendship, belonging, accomplishment, creativity and prestige.
We need to change our message so it’s not just about what we do, i.e. clean water, Polio and literacy, but also includes the benefits of membership, such as personal development, friendships, and being part of a team. There needs to be a deliberate strategy to weave the benefits of membership into our personal conversations about Rotary, our newspaper articles and advertising, our club bulletins, websites and social media presence. When the wider community start to understand not only what we do, but what we get out of it, we might just start to appear more relevant, and membership might appear more attractive.
As we edge towards the half-way mark of the Rotary year, I want to welcome all of our new Rotarians into this wonderful organisation, and congratulate those who have worked so hard to bring the new faces, new enthusiasm and new ideas into the district. A special thanks to Assistant Governor Lesley Mitchell for her hard work in organising a successful training day in Mildura on November 16. The visiting presenters were shown some wonderful Sunraysia hospitality and we got to meet some passionate Rotarians.

Rotary’s Global Membership Migration - Part 1 (DG News November 2014)

Rotary’s Global Membership Migration…
and what it means for clubs in developed countries - Part 1
You’ve no doubt heard the statistic that our global membership has remained static at 1.2 million for over 20 years, and you may also have heard the statistic that we induct and lose 100,000 members per year. What you may not have heard (unless I’ve spoken at your club recently) is that the 100,000 that join Rotary’s ranks each year not all joining in the same regions as those 100,000 who are leaving. There are a few notable exceptions, but it is overwhelmingly Rotary in the western or “developed” world that is losing those 100,000 members a year, and Rotary in the developing world that is gaining them.
I remember when I first got involved in Rotaract in the 80’s, there were clubs everywhere in D9520 (then 952) and our neighbouring D9500. By the time I left Rotaract and became a Rotarian in 1997, there were only 2 or 3 struggling Rotaract Clubs remaining, including Edwardstown which folded in 1999. But as I sadly watched Rotaract fade away locally, it was growing at a staggering rate in the developing world.
Earlier this year at the Sydney International Convention, we heard from Ramkumar Raju, the Rotaract Representative (Rotaract equivalent of DG) from D3320 in India, who spoke about the astonishing projects undertaken by Rotaractors in India. In that one district there are over 25,000 Rotaractors. Clearly population density has a lot to do with these figures, but I can now see parallels between what was happening in Rotaract then, and what is happening in Rotary now.
There’s a word that seems to be making its way into Rotary membership conversations lately, and that word is RELEVANCE. And with good reason. I believe Rotary in the developed world is struggling with a relevance deficit. Rotary is a very important part of my life, and right now, I couldn’t imagine life without it. But clearly, Rotary is not relevant enough to the members who leave us, or the public who never join us.
I recall spending a lot of time on Maslow’s theory many years ago when I was studying marketing and retail management, and how defining and meeting customers’ needs was paramount in marketing your product and motivating your customers to part with their cash. Those books are all gathering dust in my shed now, but I’m starting to understand how life in a society without basic infrastructure, electricity, potable water and sanitation, shelter, healthcare and education can act as a considerable motivator to join an organisation like Rotary. A service club must appear very relevant in this environment.
In our comparatively fortunate and distraction ridden society however, the motivation to join a service club is clearly not as strong. Rotary is losing its relevance. People are still volunteering, they just aren’t willing to prioritise attendance at meetings as a valuable use of their increasingly rare spare time.
In next month’s issue I will have a crack at addressing how we can become more relevant in our developed world, and you can expect my old mate Maslow to get a mention again.
In the mean time, I’m looking forward to catching up with AG Lesley and the Rotarians from Group 1 on November 16 when we hold a membership seminar in Mildura.
PS Rotaract is starting to make a comeback here in D9520, and no-one is happier than me!

The Comfort Zone (DG News October 2014)

The Comfort Zone
I’m going to let you in on a simple, yet alarmingly underrated and underutilised activity for improving your club, meeting new friends and broadening your horizons. It is a simple thing you can do with very little effort, but our statistics suggest so few Rotarians actually do it… ever.
Are you ready? Here it is. VISIT ANOTHER CLUB.
Right now I can hear you all shouting out, “What are you on about? I often visit other clubs”. Well, I once read a statistic which suggested a whopping 70% of Rotarians will go an entire Rotary year without ever having a Rotary experience other than their own club’s regular meeting. Not only do they not visit other clubs during that year, they don’t attend District Conferences, District Training Events & Seminars and don’t sit on any District committees or have a Rotary role outside of their own club. In fact, if it wasn’t for the occasional Rotarian guest speaker (from another club) at their meeting, they could actually go a whole year without even seeing a Rotarian from outside of their own club. I’m glad we all get a DG visit!
So how do you really know how your club is performing, if you never compare notes with other clubs? There’s so much out there in that big, wide Rotary world to see.
I’ve been really privileged to serve at District level for a number of years now. For a couple of years on the Rotary Foundation Committee, the last 3 years as Group 6 Assistant Governor, and now as District Membership chair – and each role has meant a good deal of club visits and presentations, not to mention presenting at various training events. I won’t say it’s all been easy, there have been some really busy weeks and late nights, but boy I’ve had some fun and met some great people along the way. And if I’m completely honest, I’d struggle to imagine my Rotary experience any other way.
There have definitely been a few added bonuses too, like the great ideas I’ve gained from the way other clubs do things. Every club is that little bit different. Some are very formal, some informal. Some are very traditional, and some are more relaxed and progressive. Some club meetings have been bright, loud, colourful and exciting, and to be honest, some have been a little “beige”!
But do you know what? There’s no place like home. I still love my own club (Edwardstown) and really appreciate going to my own club meetings and participating in my own club’s events, projects and fundraisers.  There’s nothing wrong with being a passionate, dedicated and hard working member of your own club, but I think everyone can benefit from occasionally taking off the blinkers.
Next week, the members of the Rotary Club of Edwardstown are doing something which, for most of us, will be out of our comfort zone. We are having a “scatter meeting”. There will be no meeting at our regular venue, instead we have all been given a list of other clubs to visit, all of which meet on the same night, so there can be no excuses. I know there are other clubs that do this regularly, and good on them. The following week we have all been asked to report back on the good, the bad, and hopefully not too much of the ugly.
So please think seriously about my challenge – get out of your comfort zone and see more of the wonderful world of Rotary!

Gaining a Different Perspective of Your Club (DG News September 2014)

Another Membership Month has come and gone.
So I suppose we don’t have to worry about membership for another 11 months, right? I’m kidding of course. If Membership Month spurs a few Rotarians and clubs into action, well I guess it’s done its job, but in my opinion, every month should be Membership Month.
I can assure you that Membership Month has kept me very busy with club visits, and of course Illuminate. I want to thank those clubs which have already invited me to come and speak about membership. I have really enjoyed getting around the district and meeting our passionate members, and the hospitality that has been shown has really been appreciated.
Many of the clubs which have asked for some assistance or direction with membership initiatives have been those which I would describe as larger and stronger clubs. It’s encouraging that those stronger clubs are asking for help – it’s how they remain strong! But I’m keen to work with the smaller clubs who have membership concerns too.
Whilst I’m always happy to present on membership, I feel the total membership conversation is one that cannot be held entirely in a 20 minute guest speaker spot. In 20 minutes I can outline Rotary’s current global membership trends, what makes an attractive club, what makes members stay and go, and how you can make the most of your network to attract more members. But there’s so much more we can talk about. I am also happy to have an informal chat with your board about your club’s membership concerns, either prior to/after a regular meeting, or maybe on a weekend some time.
Let’s be clear on this, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have a magic wand to wave that will suddenly have hordes of prospective members beating a path to your door. But here’s what I can offer: a different perspective. So many of us are trapped in the cocoon that is our own club environment. We swim around and around in our own fish bowl. We are all passionate about supporting the work of our club, but can become somewhat blinkered as to what is happening in the wider Rotary world. There are some genuine rewards to having a role at district level. One of them is the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, but the other is being able to see how different clubs have different ways to do things. Every encounter I have with another club leaves me with new ideas – ideas that may work really well in your club.
So let’s have the membership conversation. Give me a call on 0402 346 994 or email and start the ball rolling!

Rotarians have Needs (DG News August 2014)

I’d like to explain a little about an exercise on analysing the needs of our members, which I think is quite effective. Our motto of Service Above Self has served us well, and I would never suggest that we should forget this mantra. But volunteers have needs to, and in Rotary we don’t tend to spend much time discussing them.
An employer can use money to pay and motivate workers, but as volunteers, we need to understand that just because we don’t get paid, we still need to get something out of our membership. I have designed a simple, one page questionnaire which can be completed in 10 minutes, which looks at what we place most importance on, and then seeks to discover how our Rotary experience provides for those needs. I’d really like the opportunity to discuss this with your club, in the hope that simple measures can help us keep our members happy and engaged in our clubs. Because happy and engaged Rotarians tend to stay in Rotary! Give me a call if you’re interested on 0402 346 994 or email
The Rotarian Needs Assessment can be downloaded HERE.
On Sunday, July 27th each of the Group 2 clubs were represented at a membership seminar hosted by the Rotary Club of Loxton at the Loxton Hotel. In addition to our Riverland Rotarians, we were joined by DG Jerry & Briony, District Trainer Damian Leach, DGN Sam Camporeale, AG Mike Woosnam and AG Lesley Mitchell and Neville.
Our special guest speaker was Zone Public Image Co-ordinator Philip Archer, who had previously participated in the District Leadership weekend at Calperum Station. Philip talked about the Zone PR Campaign, and how all districts across Australia have contributed PR grants to support consistent branding and promotional campaigns across Australia, the essence of Rotary, knowing our Rotary story, and inviting like-minded people to “Join the Conversation”. It was a rare treat to have Philip speak to our District Leadership Team over the weekend, to share his insights and participate in some valuable brainstorming – and of course to join us for this seminar in Loxton.
This was followed by a snappy presentation on effectively promoting our Rotary stories on social media by PP Steve Hayter, RC Kent Town. Steve is a recent addition to the district membership committee, with a great track record of building membership in his own club by creating “buzz”, and is a master of not only using social media effectively, but conveying these concepts in a simple and easy to understand manner. Thanks Steve for your enthusiasm and passion.
Following afternoon tea, yours truly gave a presentation that covered topics including our recent membership trends both locally and internationally, the need to balance our recruitment initiatives with retention concerns, and a few insights from various breakout sessions at the recent International Convention in Sydney. I hope this was a valuable presentation and that the participants now have some ideas and are revved up about Rotary! A big thanks to AG Mike Woosnam and RC Loxton President Jenny Mills for their hard work in making this happen, and also the members of RC Loxton who put on a terrific BBQ after the event. We had a broad range of participants in attendance, one being a cheeky little one year old delegate, and a few in their 80s – thanks for your enthusiasm. I am hoping to replicate this event and run it in all groups across our district – so if you like the sound of this, please speak to your AG. Plans are already in place for something similar in Mildura.

This year it's going to be different (DG News July 2014)


We start our Rotary years full of excitement and anticipation at the prospect of the great meetings, great projects and great times ahead of us. The months of July and August traditionally mark our highest levels of enthusiasm for the year, as we settle into our new roles, often on new committees and under new club and district leadership. We’re raring to go, and ready to do what it takes to make our local and global communities better places to live.

Across the district, we often experience our greatest membership gains in the first half of the year, but will this be the year where we remain in positive territory, or will we again be riding the rollercoaster of membership gains and losses, lucky to end up with numbers that are somewhere near those we started with?

This is a pattern that seems to repeat each year, particularly in clubs that are doing things in the same way they always have. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”. 

With this in mind, we are changing the way we do things at district level. The first change was to form a strong committee of enthusiastic leaders, including our DG, DGE and DGN, to tackle our membership challenges as a team, rather than saddling all of this responsibility with one person.

Our second change was to start working collaboratively with the district Public Relations Committee, so that our messages outside of Rotary across our district reflect our goals for membership development. This includes adopting the Regional Membership Development Plan, so all districts across Australia can make the most of our Public Relations funding to deliver consistent messages across the nation.

But our main change is in mindset. We want to have a strong focus on retention moving forward. We have always been fairly good at getting people into Rotary, but we have not been so good at keeping them. The reasons people leave Rotary are varied, and many such as death, poor health and relocation are clearly beyond our control, but most of the reasons people leave Rotary are entirely within our control.

So if this is to be the year we change our membership outcomes, this needs to be the year we change some of our processes. At PETS earlier this year I challenged every president to allocate one meeting, preferably early in the year, for a club forum. This is a meeting where every member, especially our newer members, must be given the opportunity to have their say about how their club is performing; what we are doing well, and where we could improve. I now challenge each and every member of D9520 to hold your club president to that challenge. We should encourage brainstorming for fresh ideas, and when opportunities for meaningful change arise, give them a try. Maybe it’s time to lose some of those rituals which we partake in for no other reason than “we’ve always done it that way”.

It’s important to remember that we don’t need to lock ourselves in to a new way of doing things. Often the smartest way to approach a new initiative is to agree to a trial period, so we can monitor and review its effectiveness. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to the old way. None of us tries to fail, but we often fail to try. Let’s be bold and make a commitment to try something new this year. You never know, you might be the Rotarian we keep at the end of the year that we otherwise would have lost.