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?