Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Not all Nightmares are in the Kitchen

I’ve just watched an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Rotary. 

If you’re not familiar with the show, each episode sees British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay troubleshooting a failing restaurant with a view to turning around the establishment in just one week. I used to watch the show a lot, but hadn’t seen it for a while. As a former owner-operator of a catering business, the show holds a special interest to me, as I can relate to some of the challenges these restaurateurs are faced with.

Ramsay owns dozens of award winning restaurants and clearly knows his stuff, but he is a volatile and somewhat polarising character who calls it as he sees it, usually with a barrage of F-bombs thrown in. He inevitably manages to implement considerable changes and turns these restaurants around.

By now some of my regular readers will have worked out where I’m going with this blog, but I’ll persevere with the Kitchen Nightmares script for a few more paragraphs.

The episode I just watched followed a familiar pattern where a couple with no hospitality experience had bought a pub and before they knew it they were drowning in debt and stress. They had lost their house and were living in the hotel where they worked seven days a week. They employed knowledgeable chefs but wouldn’t allow them to alter the menu. They made customers wait for horrible food and wondered why the dining room was never full. One of the statistics Ramsay quoted was that 20 rural pubs were closing every month in the UK.

Ramsay faced stiff opposition from the owner, whose pride wouldn’t let him admit the errors of his ways. The staff were all ready to leave. Eventually Ramsay is able to take over the kitchen, comes up with a new menu, has the staff venturing into the surrounding neighbourhood promoting the new menu, fills the dining room, has an extremely successful night, and is able to show a profitable path forward for the establishment. 

In some episodes Ramsay also arranges for a makeover of the d├ęcor, changes signage or even the name of the establishment in an effort to make it more attractive. But despite seeing indisputable evidence of the success that change can bring, the stubborn owner wants to revert back to his old ways. It would appear failure is often a more comfortable option than change. Yes, that sentence will be repeated later on. It’s basically the same plot for every episode.

So, what does unattractive, regularly failing/closing organisations, bad food, empty rooms, poor promotion, disenchanted workers ready to leave, an inability to take on new ideas, poor leadership and a stubborn resistance to change have to do with Rotary, you may ask? OK, I’m kidding. No-one is asking that.

I’ll tell you another story, of a former club president and good friend of mine, the late John Angus. One of the things that in my mind made John a great leader was his capacity to ask why we did things the way we did. He wasn’t afraid to look for a better way. John had never been a fan of the top table in Rotary meetings. As president, he didn’t want to be separated from the rest of the members for the year, so he instructed the hotel to do away with the top table, and he sat at one of the tables with the rest of us. This didn’t go down well with some of our members who had watched their president sit at a head table for over 50 years. It wasn’t “the way we had always done it”. There were numerous vocal objections. Did it affect our capacity to raise funds or serve our community? Of course not, but it upset the status quo. John was battling cancer during his presidential year, and some weeks was unable to attend the meeting because of his illness or ongoing treatment. We could always tell upon arriving at the venue that John wasn’t there, because that head table was back. And of course ever since John’s presidential year concluded, the head table has been present.

Rotarians are by and large creatures of habit. It’s very much a human trait. We don’t like to be removed from our comfort zone. And that’s fine provided everything is going well. But when things start going pear shaped, we need to react. There are many very strong and successful restaurants that have a winning formula and you wouldn’t dream of changing them. Likewise many Rotary clubs are thriving and don’t need to change either. But this is not always the case, with many clubs teetering on extinction. I have always been critical of Rotarians’ general reluctance to change, but I feel it has become more than that in some cases. Bizarrely, it would appear for some that failure is a more comfortable option than change. I wonder if some of us really understand what “Service Above Self” means. Our obsession with maintaining the status quo even at the expense of our very survival is not putting service above self. It is the opposite, which is selfishness. 

My experience in chartering the Rotary Club of Seaford has taught me many things, but the most valuable lesson is this one: In most cases there are plenty of potential members out there, but we have to offer them a different version of Rotary. It is true that some of our rural clubs have ceased to exist largely due to external factors such as the local economy and population decline, and the potential members just aren't there, but this is not the main reason clubs are closing. A different version of Rotary is not just possible, but necessary if we want the organisation to last for another 20 years. 

So the episode finished, and it looked like the pub in question would survive, provided the staff could keep the owner from reverting back to his old habits. It then hit me that there was a glaring difference between the struggling establishments featured on Kitchen Nightmares and the struggling Rotary clubs I know of. The establishments on the show had asked for help.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

If you build it, they will come.

I am delighted to announce that the Rotary Club of Seaford (SA) will charter on November 26. It’s the first new club in District 9520 in ten years, and over that period, we have lost another eight clubs, with one more voting to hand in their charter at the end of the year. So how does one create a new club from thin air in an environment of massive membership decline? The simple answer is a lot of hard work and a very different version of Rotary. A version that most Rotarians would barely recognise. A version that I have always wanted to build, with a view that they would come.

If you’ve read my blogs or seen me present on membership over the last 12 months or so, you are probably in no doubt as to my thoughts on Rotary meetings, but in case you’ve been lucky enough to escape them, I’ll get straight to the point. Our obsession with meetings is the single biggest issue we need to address, and while meetings remain at the centre of our Rotary universe, we will continue to lose relevance, and will continue to lose members. 

I am actually beginning to question what purpose they (meetings) serve. For the record, I have enjoyed the overwhelming majority of the estimated thousand or so that I have attended. I was inducted into Rotary at the age of 29, straight out of Rotaract, and attending weekly meetings is now so second nature to me that I can’t imagine my Tuesday nights without them. I actually enjoy attending weekly meetings, but I can clearly see that they are a barrier to many potential members.

I used to think we achieved quite a lot at our meetings, but meeting productivity has either dropped off over the last ten years, or my memory has. Maybe we never really achieved much. To be fair, my club has achieved extraordinary things, just not much of it at meetings. I can remember reasonably interesting guest speakers most weeks, I can remember a reasonably good meal most weeks, I can even remember enjoying the conversation with my fellow Rotarians most weeks, I just don’t remember doing a lot of work at meetings that has contributed to making the world a better place. It seems the one week of the month we hold our committee meetings (where we actually get some work done) is the worst attended. Despite all of that, I still enjoy being there, but I have to ask myself, “Is this the most productive use of my time as a volunteer?” I see the hole in my bank account that thirty bucks in meals, fines and raffles leaves fifty odd times a year too, and also wonder if it’s the most productive use of my hard earned.

And herein lies the problem. To be a Rotarian, you have to go to meetings. You don’t have to go to productive meetings, but you do have to go to meetings. And that can actually be really hard to sell. It’s not so hard to sell volunteering and helping people. It’s not so hard to sell being a member of a global network of humanitarians. It’s not hard at all to sell the friendships, the networking, the good times and the personal development. But meetings where nothing tangible transpires; that's the part of Rotary that really is hard to sell.

I've been in the membership game for a while, and I wish I had a buck for every person who has told me, “I am really keen to volunteer, I just don’t want to attend meetings.” So I’ve been on this quest for some time to try and shift some of our focus away from meetings, and towards service. We are a very meeting-centric organisation, with everything we do seemingly revolving around meetings. 

Despite the considerable watering down of attendance requirements, we are still expected to attend a certain percentage of them. A percentage that is actually getting harder to work out. If you’re interested in losing 20 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back in ways other than sitting through a boring speaker, have a look at our constitution and what it says about attendance. If you can make sense of all those complex equations and rules, you clearly need to get out more.

If Rotary manages to survive in Australia for another 30 years, that version of Rotary we will see in 2046 will be a very different version than the one we see now. And in order for that version to exist in 2046, we need to start changing our modus operandi right now. I made up my mind very early in the process that in order for the Rotary Club of Seaford to get up and running, it had to offer something very different. At a recent meeting we had seven people sign up on the spot to become charter members. It would have been eight, but for one of the group being unable to attend. It wasn’t my pretty face that convinced them to sign on the dotted line. Nor was it the venue where my voice was competing with a ukulele playoff. It was the version of Rotary we were offering.

So what is it that makes Seaford Rotary so different, and so attractive? I’m glad you asked. Firstly, and most importantly; only two meetings a month. The rules allow it now. The focus is on volunteering and doing stuff, not meetings. One meeting on a Thursday night, the other on a Sunday afternoon. The venue is also different for each meeting. Like the way the first four Rotarians did it. Ironically, when the Council on Legislation voted to implement greater meeting flexibility, no-one thought to make the corresponding changes to the paperwork one must fill out to charter a new club. Said paperwork doesn't allow for said flexibility. It only allows for weekly meetings in the same venue on the same day each week. Chuckle!

There are no guest speakers. The members just sit around and talk about what they need to do. There is brainstorming and planning at every meeting. Those who want a meal can pay for a meal. Those who just want a coffee or a coke can do that too. No sergeant, no fines, no toasting, no prayers, no singing, no raffles, no collars, no flags, no funny collection boxes. No classifications on dinner badges either. Just a first name. It’s amazing how productive and enjoyable a meeting can be, when you trim off all the fat. I can just about hear the hyperventilating of some Rotarians now who feel this is NOT Rotary! Well, guess what? This is what the future of Rotary may well look like. If Rotary in Australia makes it to 2046, it will look closer to this version than the current version.

It’s amazing how that simple change of cutting down to two meetings per month, and sticking to what’s productive can be so attractive. There is nothing more valuable to a Rotary club than the hours its members are prepared to give. So don’t waste them, use them effectively. Of course getting existing clubs to transition to this style will be nigh on impossible, and here’s the main reason why. It’s those less productive elements that many Rotarians seem to value the most. The weekly camaraderie amongst friends whilst being entertained by a guest speaker represents the essence of Rotary to many, and I am not at all unsympathetic to that view. But that’s not what will draw in the next generation of Rotarians.

I have learnt a hell of a lot from this journey. I have known all along that the way we do meetings is unattractive to many. But it’s taken me a lot longer to realise how attractive an alternative could be. I am now confident if you build a new style of Rotary, they will come.

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Problem with Wives

OK, I’ll admit it. I used that headline to get your attention. This blog is about gender stereotypes in Rotary. And just to clarify, I actually don’t have any problem with wives (the spouses of husbands). I remain constantly impressed with my wife! My problem is with some of our words and actions, conscious or otherwise, that are doing us damage. The word “wives” has stubbornly remained in the Rotary vernacular, and here is why I can’t stand it.

A short Rotary history lesson for those of you weren’t involved in Rotary prior to 1989 (or have forgotten). Until then, our constitution and bylaws stated that Rotary club membership was for males only. We cannot argue that the decision to remove the “male only” part of these documents was the right decision, albeit long overdue. Women have actually been serving alongside of us blokes in Rotary since the organisation began, but for the first 84 years they couldn’t officially join our ranks and call themselves Rotarians.

There was this unofficial nickname "Rotary Anns" often applied to the wife of a Rotarian, and even Rotary Ann clubs. That's a story that started in San Francisco circa 1914. It was apparently a term of endearment at the time, but I still keep hearing it well after women have been able to join as members and can't help but roll my eyes every time.

Those first few years after 1989 were challenging for some clubs, and many men left the organisation in protest. "Don't let the door hit your backside on the way out", I say! I tip my hat to those first brave women who ventured into the all-male domain and changed the organisation for the better. But sadly, 27 years later, some within our ranks are still having trouble coming to terms with it. I’m not talking about the few remaining clubs in the world that remain all male (I’m actually at a loss for words), but the language many Rotarians use.

Back to my gripe with the word “wives”. Before 1989, when all Rotarians were men, it was commonplace to refer to our significant others as wives. Most Rotarians were married, and therefore the term “wives” made sense. But why oh why, when women have been in Rotary for 27 years, do we still use this term “wives”?

Newsflash - We don’t all have wives. Most of us have partners, but we don’t all have wives. What do you reckon goes through the head of the average female Rotarian when someone makes an announcement about some event on the weekend and asks everyone to bring their wives? Please, please, please; the word is partners. This is not about political correctness, it’s about laziness. It’s about including those people in our clubs who aren’t married men.

And if that’s not bad enough, how well do you reckon this goes down? My club does a lot of catering. Sometimes for our club’s social functions, but often as fundraising for other groups. And every time a seventy-something male Rotarian gets up to talk about these upcoming events, and asks if the ladies can bring salads or make slices, I just want to hide under the table. I will often stand up and ask if it’s OK for the men to make slices too.

Now I don’t want to boast, but my vanilla slice (pictured) is very well known in Rotary circles. Of course, most of these geezers come from an age where the man's job was to bring home the bacon and the wife's job was to cook it. Whether we like it or not, that’s predominantly the way it was. It was that way with my parents when I grew up.

But hey, guess what? Times have changed. Women can be Rotarians and men can make slices. I run a business from home primarily so my kids can have a parent around, and my wife has a good career and brings home more bacon. And I’m always happy to cook more bacon.

Before we can bring our organisation into the 21st century, we need to bring our mindset into the 21st century. Come on guys, it's been 27 years since the best thing we ever did. Surely it's time to lose our medieval thinking and treat our female members as equals. The blokey jokes, comments and attitudes have long passed their use-by date.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Low Hanging Fruit

This is not my first commentary on age diversity issues in our organisation, and it most certainly won’t be the last. I am passionate about a lot of things in Rotary, but none more so than my determination to bring down our average age, which in Australia currently stands at 71.

This will however, be the first time I have openly questioned advice from senior Rotarians on who we should be targeting for membership. More on that later.

My Rotary journey started when I joined Rotaract aged 18. My memories of Rotaract in the mid 80s through to the mid 90s was of a thriving organisation, where I met hundreds of enthusiastic, energetic, fun-loving young people who were keen to give back to their community. On almost every weekend for ten years, I participated in a Rotaract activity, if not with my own club, with another. It was a massive part of my life. I met some of my closest friends through Rotaract, including my wife Debra.

Whilst Rotaract is still thriving in some parts of the world, in my part of the world (South Australia), it all but died out at the turn of the century. A few local clubs have since sprung up, and no-one is happier than me, but I don’t see it ever returning to its glory days, not the way I remember it anyway.

I was invited to join my sponsoring Rotary club in 1997, the Rotary Club of Edwardstown, where I have now been a member for over 19 years, but my greatest disappointment throughout my entire Rotary journey, is that out of the 200+ people I met in Rotaract, I know of less than a handful who joined and remain members of Rotary. This is something that genuinely upsets me to this day, and has fired a strong desire within me to drag this organisation kicking and screaming into the 21st century. We simply must find ways to become more attractive and relevant to a younger demographic. It’s not negotiable. Rotary dropped the ball in the late 90s when there were quite literally hundreds of 20 somethings walking away from Rotaract (many because they turned 30), and for whatever reason, Rotary just wasn’t an attractive option for them. Twenty years on and not much has changed. For the average 20 something (and 30 something and 40 something), Rotary is still not an attractive option.

So, do you want to know what grinds my gears? It’s the suggestion that Rotary clubs should be targeting people in their 50s for membership. This has been argued by a number of high profile, senior Rotarians. The argument is that they are becoming empty nesters, are well entrenched in their careers, have more disposable income, are well connected, but are looking to get involved in new activities and meet new people, and can become embedded into Rotary prior to retirement. They still have potentially thirty years to give to Rotary. Well, I can’t really argue with any of that. For all of those reasons, they would potentially make great Rotarians.

It’s the suggestion that we target this demographic at the exclusion of those younger that gives me cause for concern. In fact, I think it’s downright dangerous.

Here are my three big reasons why I don’t think it is smart to exclusively target people in their 50s:

Reason 1:
Our recruitment data tells us than 42% of our recent recruits are in their 50s. This group is by far the most represented age band currently joining Rotary. What does that mean? It means of all the age bands, Rotary is currently more attractive to people in their 50s than any other group. So we really don’t need to target people in their 50s – they are already finding us. It’s like telling driving instructors to target 16 – 18 year olds.  We need to work more on our weaknesses than our strengths. Like the golfer whose putting is letting him down – that’s the area he needs to work on.

Rotary is an organisation of round holes, and those over 50 are currently our round pegs. But those below 50 are the square pegs, and the younger they get, the harder they will find squeezing into our round holes.

Reason 2:
What message do you think it sends to younger members, young non-members, young alumni, that we are concentrating our efforts on those in their 50s? While the left hand is trying to build bridges with our alumni (including the young students in whom we invest time and money to attend our wonderful collection of youth development programs), the right hand wants people in their 50s. As someone who joined Rotary in his 20s, it tells me that I’m either under-valued or in the “too hard” basket.

Reason 3:
This is the reason which I feel is most compelling. After years, no - decades of trying to convince the rank and file that Rotary needs to change, what message does it send to those innovators and proponents of change? It says your efforts are futile and unwarranted. We will keep our holes round, because we’re only looking for round pegs.

Rotary's membership needs to be a diverse cross section of our community. 50% of our world’s population is under 50, but only 12% of Rotary’s membership is under 50. If Rotary is to achieve a second century of service, that will have to change. 

We need to recognise the unique talents and skills that every age group can bring to Rotary, and whilst targeting people in their 50s will bring us a unique skillset, excluding those under 50 is ignoring an equally unique skillset.

It might be the easiest option, but since when do Rotarians take the easy option? We can’t just pick the low hanging fruit.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Gift Horse - Flexibility in Meeting Frequency

I love getting around to clubs to talk about membership. But it’s a big conversation, with a huge range of sub topics, and the typical 20 minutes afforded to guest speakers is rarely enough to do it justice. But if there’s one common thread which has wound its way through every membership presentation I have ever given, it’s the need for change.

At best, clubs might tinker around the edges or fine tune their processes in order to bring about better membership outcomes, but extraordinary change is, well, extraordinary.

And that word, “extraordinary” is the first word that comes to mind when I think about the recent Council on Legislation (CoL) change to our meeting frequency rules, which now allow clubs to reduce meeting frequency to two meetings per month, should they choose to do so.

I have felt for a long time now, that Rotary is way too “meeting centric”, and we need to focus less on meetings and more on service. I actually feel that our obsession with meetings is the single biggest issue we need to address, and while meetings remain at the centre of our Rotary universe, we will continue to lose relevance, and we will continue to lose members. The number one objection I hear, especially from potential members under 50, is this: “I’m really keen to volunteer, I just don’t want to attend meetings”.

When I heard that the CoL had voted overwhelmingly to accept this proposal, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I simply didn’t see it coming - ever. If we were to look at this change from the perspective of a catalyst for positive membership outcomes, I feel this is the biggest change since we opened up our doors to women 26 years ago.

This is a gift horse from our CoL, but while some Rotarians are saddling up, many will not even call the equine orthodontist. Changing the rules and changing the landscape are two entirely different things. Out there in club land, the prospect of dropping weekly meetings has not unexpectedly elicited the full gamut of responses: from “we need to do this straight away” to “over my dead body”.

I have prepared and delivered a presentation specifically on the options that meeting frequency flexibility can provide here, so I don’t want to go into it in great depth now, but I’ll give you the quick version.

By removing (up to) 2 meetings per month from our Rotary calendar, we have an opportunity to schedule more service projects, volunteering opportunities, social functions and training events, thus showing Rotary in a different light and giving potential and existing members more opportunities to serve, which in turn will increase our capacity to make an impact in our community, and also considerably lighten the cost burden on members.

But clubs will be disappointed if they think that by simply changing from weekly to fortnightly meetings, there will suddenly be a queue of potential members lining up at their door. The challenge is to effectively take advantage of the time that this change can free up. Rotarians can still participate in Rotary on a weekly basis without attending a Rotary meeting on a weekly basis.

Since the rules changed I have been offering this presentation to clubs who are keen to explore the options. I always do my best not to push the concept down their throats, rather offer it as something to think about, but at a recent visit, having sat through the presentation, one of the members asked for a straw poll on moving the club in question to fortnightly meetings. Bugger me, it was about 50/50. I didn’t see that response coming at all.

But during question time after my presentation, one of the club’s older members made the following comment, “I feel that were we to head down this path, we would be losing some the essence of Rotary.” It was said so politely, not with venom, but almost with melancholic resignation. It’s a feeling I see etched across the faces of many of our older members as I travel around to clubs to talk about our challenges. That feeling that Rotary has already changed too much from the “good old days”.

As much as I bang on about the urgent need to bring down our average age (which in Australia is 71), I have enormous respect for the senior Rotarians of our clubs who have been around the block many more times than me. They are the people who built our clubs and made them what they are. They are the people we can always rely on to help, especially when we need volunteers during business hours. They are the people with immense Rotary knowledge that we can learn so much from. They are the people who always ask about my family. They are the people who have been valued mentors of mine. But sadly, they are not the people who can remain the backbone of our organisation forever.

I’ve often heard the concept that the cliff is rapidly getting closer, and we have only five years to drastically turn things around before we start losing massive numbers. The graph to the right shows that our membership in D9520 is not only in decline, but the rate of decline is accelerating. I can assure you that it’s not easy to look at as District Membership Chair.

So I would respectfully respond to the claim that the essence of Rotary is at stake when we start talking about fortnightly meetings with another question.
Are some things worth hanging on to at any cost? Even if it means a club handing in its charter in ten years?

If our membership was surging ahead as it is in most developing countries, I wouldn’t be looking to change a thing. But it’s not. That gentle row down the stream might be but a dream now, but the waterfall is coming and the longer we leave it, the more furiously we will have to back-paddle.

I fully appreciate we’re not talking about fine tuning when the topic of meeting frequency is on the agenda. But there are a lot of round pegs out there with a lot to offer, who don't currently fit into our square holes. We simply must change the system so more can fit. 

How about we at least have the conversation?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Not my job.

No mountain seems too high, when you don’t care about climbing it.
I want to talk about our biggest impediment to membership growth, and it’s not one of the usual suspects. It’s not our ageing membership base or our gender imbalance. It’s not the cost of membership. It’s not the demands on one’s personal time or the intrusion into one’s personal life. It’s not about venues, food or traditions and rituals. And whilst there are still far too many people who don’t know what we do or what we stand for, it’s not our public image either.

Our biggest impediment to membership growth comes down to one word… APATHY.

The image above was a finalist in a quirky online competition – the “not my job” awards. Clearly the line marker decided it wasn’t his job to get out and move the log, and just swerved around it. It has been my experience in Rotary, that for the majority of members, membership is “not their job”. They just swerve around it!

Rotarians are busy people. Some are passionate about fundraising, some are passionate about polio eradication, some are passionate about youth programs. Some are busy being club treasurer or secretary. We are all passionate about something, and many of us wear a number of hats and take on multiple roles within the organisation, but make no mistake: membership is everyone’s job.

I have often been asked to help clubs with recruitment initiatives or give a presentation on what clubs need to do to attract more members, and one of the first points I always make at such presentations is that it’s everyone’s job, and if everyone isn’t prepared to work on it, no matter how good the idea, you’re unlikely to get the most out of your efforts. Your whole club needs to be on the same page with this, and they need to want it bad enough.

In most clubs, this is how it works. There will be one member who has been given the role of membership chair (whether they wanted it or not), and additionally there might be one or two other enthusiastic recruiters at best. Then there’s the rest of the members, who are quite relieved that membership is not their responsibility, many of whom will not lift a finger to help promote the club, and as our statistics clearly reveal, will NEVER ask someone to join. I remember a few years ago handing out new promotional fliers for my own club to every member, and asked them all to keep five copies in their glove box, brief case or hand bag, in case the opportunity presented itself to pass on some information about our club. I wouldn’t have thought this an unreasonable request, but about six months later I asked who needed more fliers (assuming at least some had been handed out) and they all looked at me as if I had two heads. Many couldn’t even remember getting them in the first place.

I strongly believe that if EVERY Rotarian was truly COMMITTED to improving our membership outcomes, we would be able to easily overcome those aforementioned usual suspects, and we would turn around our fortunes.

I don’t think I have ever heard an incoming president or district governor’s speech which doesn’t mention membership. “This will be the year”, blah, blah, blah. But before long, apathy and the “not my job” mindset prevails, and other than printing a few fliers and arranging a guest speaker in Membership month to talk about membership, not much else will happen in club land. I’m almost totally booked out for August in my own district already.

To be fair, some clubs have worked hard and had encouraging membership outcomes over the last year, and they are to be congratulated on their efforts, but across District 9520 we are down 38 on opening numbers, and this is an annual trend which shows no sign of abatement.

So what leads to apathy? I suspect the answer is comfort. After a while, many of us become accustomed to the way it’s always been done and change becomes a dirty word. We have “done our bit” and it’s the routine of a weekly meal with our friends that keeps us in Rotary. I’ve even seen instances of Rotarians actively sabotaging recruitment initiatives to protect the status quo. These are people who depend on their club remaining small, so they can preserve their position of influence within it. Somewhere in the process, “self” managed to slip above “service”.

Given that around 50% of us are retired, we have lost a great deal of our capacity to network and source new members through our business contacts, but we can still approach people in our lawn bowls clubs, golf clubs, churches and family networks. And even if members feel they don’t know a lot of people to ask, they can still help the club by handing out fliers at the local shopping centre, spreading the message via social media, wearing Rotary T-Shirts at events and putting Rotary bumper stickers on their car. There are ways to get everyone in your club involved.

So here’s the question I will leave you with, and the question you can ask of each and EVERY member. What will YOU do to help grow our membership?

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

I was wrong...

There you go. I said it. But you’ll have to read down a lot further before I reveal what I was wrong about. (By the way, I've been wrong about a lot of things, and no doubt will have ample opportunity to be wrong again, but most of these instances will have nothing to do with this blog).

I want to first tell you about three remarkable Rotarians, all of whom have had a considerable influence not just on my personal Rotary journey, but over Rotary leaders globally as they've walked the world stage. I have the highest level of respect for these three men, and am very fortunate to have met them all personally. (No - Dr. Phil is not one of them!)

Bill Boyd was the RI President in 2006/07, the same year I was club president at the Rotary Club of Edwardstown, and during that year I was naturally keen to find out more about him, and hung on his every word. I read all of his contributions to RDU during that year, and have since followed his commentary with interest on other Rotary matters including The Rotary Foundation and membership. There was one particular quote from Bill which I found extremely helpful during my year of presidency, a quote about how our most common response to requests for help would be “No”, and how important it was to think carefully before saying “Yes”.

Stuart Heal was an RI Director from 2010-2012, and in my humble opinion has done more to promote change, and keep the conversation going about change, than any other Rotarian. I've been lucky enough to be in the room on a number of occasions where he has delivered outstanding speeches on the issues facing our organisation and the direction ahead. His frankness and pragmatism have been like a breath of fresh air. There’s a difference between a Rotarian who is uncomfortable with the status quo, and a high ranking Rotarian who is prepared to put his neck on the line and stand in front of large crowds of Rotarians and talk about it. I was once one of those Rotarians who was reticent to publicly share my views, but once I heard similar concerns expressed by a (then) RI Director, I felt it gave me license to have a crack too. And I haven’t stopped since.

Michael McQueen is a social researcher, best-selling author and is National President of Professional Speakers Australia. And he’s a Rotarian too. He has spoken at the International Assembly before District Governors Elect, numerous Rotary conferences, and produced a DVD set on “Engaging the Next Generation of Rotarians”. I have the DVDs and two of his books. He is a leading authority on Generation Y, and his presentations on where Rotary is headed and the opportunities before us are nothing short of extraordinary. I had the pleasure of spending 3 hours with Michael in a car recently, as I was asked to chauffeur him to a recent district conference. Now that is a conversation I will never forget.

So other than being internationally renowned and respected commentators on Rotary, what do they all have in common? Well, in the last two months I have been in the room where they were each key note speakers (at three separate Rotary events), and (amongst other things) they have all said pretty much the exact same thing about modernising Rotary and attracting a new generation of Rotarians. I will paraphrase, “Forget trying to change old clubs, start new clubs.”

I remember at a Rotary membership seminar back in about 2008, a conversation at morning tea with some of my fellow immediate past presidents. They were keen to start a new Rotary club in the area of our clubs with a specific focus on young members. My reaction was that surely we can all work to bring about change in our own Rotary clubs, to make them more attractive to a younger audience, and I denounced the idea. It probably took me about six months to realise I was wrong. At the time my club was going through a phase of removing Rotary rituals from meetings, and I was confident it would lead to a more attractive environment for younger members, but the stampede never came. For at least half of my 18 plus years in Rotary, I've been the youngest member of my club by a fair margin. We have from time to time recruited younger members, but invariably they don’t seem to fully engage, and eventually leave.

I'm not suggesting that it’s impossible for someone under 30 to fit in with a group predominantly in their 60s and 70s, but it’s not easy. The bigger problem I suspect is that the lifestyle and demands on today’s average 30 year old are completely incompatible with the culture and expectations of many of our Rotary clubs.

I have spoken at length recently about my concerns that Rotary is too meeting-centric and needs to focus more on service. We now have an opportunity as a result of recent Council on Legislation changes to completely shake things up, and offer a new style of Rotary club that will better complement the millennial lifestyle.

But often this comment is just flicked around as if to suggest that starting a new Rotary club is easy peasy. I can tell you from personal experience, it is not. I have now been working on chartering the Rotary Club of Seaford for well over 12 months, and it is a constant challenge. The requirement for a minimum of 20 members to charter is a real sticking point, and one of the challenges is keeping the list of interested parties engaged and enthusiastic whilst the search for new members continues.

But here’s what keeps me going. It’s that light at the end of the tunnel. I've often suggested, and even blogged, that district leadership is akin to leading horses to water that aren't always thirsty. But there have already been so many rewards from this project, and the prospect of a new, modern and flexible club which shatters the traditional Rotary club mould is indeed alluring. And when these three luminaries have all suggested it's the way forward, I know I'm on the right track. New Rotary clubs are not always going to fill geographic voids. Sometimes diversity voids are worth addressing too.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Dead Horses by the Waterhole

Can district leaders effect change in Rotary?

At the time of writing this blog, our district governors elect were attending the International Assembly in San Diego, USA, in preparation for their approaching year at the helm. This event was once a closed shop, but thanks to the internet, anyone interested can follow the speeches and even download transcripts within minutes of the presenters walking off stage. For those prepared to look, there are some truly extraordinary online resources available to help clubs with membership initiatives.
One such presentation was by Australia’s own Michael McQueen, a presenter and author who I remain unambiguously impressed with (view the presentation here). His extraordinary insights into our organisation’s battle with relevance should be required viewing for all Rotarians. In his address he quoted Paul Harris who once said “If Rotary hopes to advance its aims, it must be evolutionary always, and at times revolutionary”, and followed up by asking “As those of you who are at the helm of this organisation, will you be the evolutionary and even the revolutionary leaders that your clubs and your districts are crying out for? I sincerely hope you will, because make no mistake - the future of Rotary will depend on it.” He delivered essentially the same presentation last year to our current district governors, who he also asked to be evolutionary and revolutionary leaders.
So this all has me wondering for how long we’ve been asking and how long have we been dependent upon our district governors and other district leaders to be agents of change, because our founder’s hopes for “at all times evolutionary” have clearly not been met, and as for “at times revolutionary”… Tell him he’s dreamin’.
To be fair, I’ve seen some good examples of positive change at district administration level in my own and other districts. Credit where it’s due, the changes in training methodology, content and delivery have bordered on revolutionary in my own district. But real, meaningful and consistent change at club level (the type required to turn around our membership fortunes) has been very rare.
District governors no doubt want desperately to leave their districts in a better place than where they found it, but their success in that mission relies heavily on the drive, energy and leadership of a band of club presidents, who in turn are reliant on rank-and-file Rotarians in club land.
One of the great ironies in questioning the seemingly catatonic pace of change in our organisation is that many regular Rotarians feel that Rotary leadership at district and higher levels is deliberately retarding change. It is my experience however, having served in senior district roles for the last seven years, that the complete opposite is true. I have found overwhelmingly that district leaders are very keen for clubs to innovate and show initiative, and will even turn a blind eye toward clubs that dare fiddle with our precious Rotary rules. The messages filtering down from the highest levels of the organisation tacitly back up that stance. It is in fact conservative elements within clubs that are holding back innovation and flexibility (and ultimately growth), not district or Evanston.
It took me a while to realise it, but leadership positions at district level are predominantly about leading horses to water. I have personally delivered a number of presentations to presidents elect at PETS, and am always encouraged by the will in the room to effect change in their respective clubs. I’ve even been known to egg them on, but invariably this enthusiasm gets beaten down by the week-to-week demands of driving the presidency bus, and even the most modest of planned changes rarely get implemented. So if presidents find it hard to effect change at club level, where in theory, most members are rowing in a similar direction, how likely is it that district governors will be successful in effecting change across a district of autonomous clubs?
If I was asked what my key objectives were as District Membership chair, they would obviously be to see more members recruited and retained. That’s a no brainer. But I can’t personally recruit and retain members for every club, so my strategy has been to provide club leaders with the resources they need to make their clubs attractive and promote their work. These are made available in a number of ways: membership seminars, blogs, Facebook, training, PETS, websites, club visits and even tailored plans for clubs – for those interested, anyway.
We are lucky to live in an age where the sharing of ideas across the world has never been easier, and for many years I have been collecting good membership initiatives from all over the Rotary world together with ideas from corporations and organisations outside of Rotary. I feel confident that our district membership committee can deliver genuine assistance to clubs in need, and has the resources to help clubs work their way through any membership challenge, but Rotarians in club land have to ask for help, and be prepared to act on proven advice. Meaningful change WILL produce meaningful results, but discussing change will achieve nothing.
So back to the original question - Can District leaders effect change in Rotary? Only if horses are prepared to drink once led to the water. Regretfully, too many horses die of thirst with hooves still wet from the waterhole.