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.