Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Reaching for the Roundup

Today I want to share with you the most valuable piece of advice I have ever received as a Rotarian. This simple quote genuinely helped me through a few challenges a little while ago, and I only wish I had have received it many, many years earlier. It has helped my decision making process as a district leader, but it can also be of use all Rotarians who are trying to move this great organisation forward, and in your non-Rotary lives as well. 

So, what was that piece of advice that I found so helpful at a challenging time? What are these words of wisdom? 

Don’t water your weeds. I guess some may find this quote a little cryptic, but as soon as I heard those words, they immediately resonated.

This is the time of year we often hear club presidents comment that they are only now getting into the swing of things and feeling confident in the role, and of course now they only have a few months remaining before someone else steps up. “It would have been nice to know at the start of the year what I now know as president.” Take it from me, a three year posting in my role is no different, and as the end to my tenure approaches, I now have plenty of advice that I’d love to send back in time to myself three years ago. But I guess that’s life. It’s one big learning curve. That’s why I think it’s important to pass on this one piece of advice to those who will be at the forefront of our membership struggles for the years to come.

I guess the crux of the matter is that we have to pick our battles. At the moment our Aussie cricketers are in India learning (sometimes the hard way) which ball to leave. It’s the same in life. I came into this role with a load of energy and good intentions, and some bold ideas about what clubs needed to do to attract and retain more members. I was slashing my bat at every ball that came my way. No doubt about it, I have certainly learnt a lot in this role in three years. I have been fortunate to have rubbed shoulders with some great Rotary minds and have acquired some good tips. But to be frank, it has always been about change that isn’t happening. Resistance to change has been my constant battle. Prior to my current district role, I spent three years as an assistant governor, and another two years prior to that as district TRF grants chair. It didn’t take me long to work out that district appointments are primarily about leading horses to water. No matter how hard you try, no matter how cool and refreshing the water, you just can’t make horses drink.

The thing about weeds is that they don’t need watering. They will grow on their own by sucking the nutrients and moisture from the soil that your (desired) plants need. In the same way, I’ve seen perennially (membership) challenged clubs suck the enthusiasm out of not only their own members, but the district leaders who try in vain to turn things around. That’s why I feel district leaders need to triage clubs from a membership development perspective. There will be clubs at the healthy end of the scale that do not need urgent attention, likewise there will be clubs at the terminal end of the scale that are either beyond help, or as is often the case, refuse to accept it. Some patients won’t recover from major surgery, even when it's the only option. Priority must be given to those clubs that need AND ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT help, and have a reasonable prospect of recovery. To do anything else is merely watering weeds. Clubs WILL shrivel and die. We need to accept that and move on, applying our most precious resource: TIME, to where it can do the most good. And that’s really what this blog is about – the productive use of our time and energy as leaders. Because each of us has only a finite amount.

I do want to be crystal clear on this, we need to make ourselves and other membership resources available to all clubs, of all shapes and sizes, everywhere. But it's got to be a two way street. They've got to be fair dinkum about it, and they must understand that the type of thinking that got them into the membership doldrums will not get them out if them. Most will want the situation to change, but only few are prepared to MAKE CHANGES in order to bring it about. In some cases an entire new plan of attack needs creating. Sometimes it’s just about pointing out existing Rotary documents that are available online, sometimes it’s about visiting clubs and presenting a different viewpoint on the topic, and sometimes it’s just about having a chat with a few members over a coffee. But there comes a time with some clubs, that the banging of heads against brick walls just has to stop. It’s a story I can tell over and over again of clubs at which maintaining the status quo has become paramount. When the prospect of handing in a charter is not seen as the worst case scenario, but the lesser of two evils compared with the other option which involves being dragged kicking and screaming out of the comfort zone, it’s time to move on. If it sounds callous, I’ll cop it. But if by letting those clubs drift into oblivion, you free up the energy and passion to fight for and work with the clubs that genuinely need and will respond to help, it’s the right thing to do.

There’s a little known fact regarding the inception of the Rotary Club of Seaford, the club I built from thin air and joined last November at its charter night. In October 2014 I was asked by our then district governor to speak with members of a small, membership challenged club in the same region. This club, which I will refer to as the Rotary Club of Next Door, has hovered between 6 and 8 members for as long as I can remember. I was of course very keen to have that conversation, and was ready, willing and able to help. But I have always stuck by a steadfast rule since taking on the role of district membership chair; I will only go where I’m invited. If any club wants help, they need simply ask. But I have never, and will never try to force help upon a club. I made this clear to the DG in question, and he fully expected I would get a phone call from the Rotary Club of Next Door within days. Again, that was October 2014.

In anticipation of that call, I started researching the demographics of the region so as to be fully prepared to help that club, but as a result of that research, I noticed the massive population growth in nearby Seaford, a region totally devoid of service clubs. That realisation was the spark that lit the Seaford flame within me, and two years (and one hell of a lot of work) later, the Seaford club was chartered with 21 members. Four months later, we have 26 members.

It is now two years and five months since I was told to expect a phone call from The Rotary Club of Next Door. That phone call never came and instead my watering can has spent a good deal of time a few miles away in Seaford, and at a number of other clubs in the district where it has been appreciated.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Penguins and Polar Bears - Part 2

If you didn’t read my part 1 of this 2 part blog about Rotary’s online presence, do yourself a favour and read it. If nothing else it will save me from explaining the Penguin & Polar Bear analogy again.

I promised this second part would cover some of my thoughts on Facebook, and more importantly the way Rotary uses, and sometimes misuses it. I will again stress, as I did in part one, that I don’t consider myself an expert in the field, but I’ve been using it long enough to understand it fairly well, and I wanted to share a few tips about aspects of Facebook for Rotary that don’t often get talked about.

One of the comments I made in part one was that if your club doesn’t have a strong online presence, you might as well be invisible to anyone under 50.  It simply beggars belief that there are still Rotary clubs that don’t have Facebook pages. For some, it’s because they don’t feel they have within their membership the necessary skill set to create and maintain such a page. If that's the case, I would be fairly confident there are members at district level that would be prepared to help set up a page. Have you considered asking your alumni for help? Rotaractors? Interactors? Family members? For others, it’s because they fear it and cannot see the good that can come from it. Sadly for some, Facebook represents change which must be rejected in all forms. 

I wish I could say that no harm can come from a Rotary club having a Facebook page, but unfortunately I can’t. I have seen instances where, as a result of improper security protocols being observed, disgruntled Rotarians in admin roles have caused some serious damage. It is vitally important that a club has at least two page admins, preferably more. There are also some practical reasons for this, such as ensuring some diversity in viewpoint and stories posted by your page, and being able to spread the load – especially if one admin is busy or sick… or leaves. As a personal example of this, I set up a Facebook page for my former Rotary club quite a few years ago. I did make sure there were other members appointed as admins, but over the years I made 99% of the posts on behalf of the club. That page was extremely active, and I used to post on behalf of it 3 or 4 times a week, but I left that club in November 2016 and sadly there has not been one single post made by that club’s page since. Not one. And there are most certainly members in the club capable of doing it. 

How important are “page likes”? They play a role, but are not as critical in determining reach as they once were. Even if I understood Facebook’s algorithms which determine who sees what in their Facebook feed, there would be little point in explaining it, because come next week it will likely have changed again. But even if only 10% of your “likers” get your message, 10% of 500 is better than 10% of 100. So in that respect, the more, the better. Rightly or wrongly, page likes can also play a role in conveying viability and relevance. Whether it’s a page for a restaurant or another small business, or a Rotary club, for some people, a high number of page likes conveys that “this is a popular organisation”. Some Facebook users would find a local Rotary club with 600 page likes a hell of a lot more attractive than a neighbouring club with 50 page likes. How do you get more page likes? Just ask. If every member asked all of their friends to like their club page, you would get a surprisingly positive result. And you can do it all at the push of a button. You can also embed a clickable Facebook “Social Plugin” onto your website, so visitors can like or visit your Facebook page from your website.

Understand though, that a large majority of those who have liked your page are likely to be fellow Rotarians, so there’s an element of preaching to the converted going on when you’re using Facebook to spread the message of the great work you are doing. Sometimes it’s really advantageous to spread a message to fellow Rotarians. For example, if you are holding a quiz night or some other event where you’re trying to get bums on seats, Rotarians in other clubs can be a great target audience. But if your aim is to try and get non-Rotarians interested in your club, you need to employ different tactics. Engagement is where it’s at. If your posts can generate comments and conversations, likes, and shares, your message will start spreading.

I feel the most underutilised resource in spreading great stories about your club and its work are your own members. Well, to be clear, those members with Facebook accounts. In my current club (average age 47), 25 of our 26 members are on Facebook. But in my previous club, with an average age closer to the national Rotary average of 71, less than 50% of members had Facebook accounts. But those members, even if only 50% of your club, can play a vital role in pushing out those posts. 

I do see members hitting the LIKE button, but I really want them to start hitting the SHARE button. Why is it that we will happily hit the share button when it's a video of a cat eating fruit loops out of the packet, but we can't find it within ourselves to share amazing stories about the work we do as Rotarians? Each of your members will have Facebook friends outside of Rotary, so whenever they share a story about your club, more and more members of the general public will get to hear about us. If 20 members each with 300 unique Facebook friends hit the share button, that story could potentially be seen by 6,000 non-Rotarians. Again, Facebook’s complicated algorithms will somehow conspire to make sure that it won’t be the full 6,000, but if NO-ONE hits the share button, your story’s life is limited to a portion of your page likers.

The final concept I wish to convey is something I have spoken about many times before. There are so many facets to Rotary, and so many stories to tell. If you really want to engage your Facebook audience, you shouldn’t limit your content solely to the activities of your own club. A comprehensive story about Rotary will also include stories of what your neighbouring clubs are up to, our Polio eradication efforts, Shelterbox, Peace Studies, Water and Sanitation projects, the Rotary Foundation, Youth Programs, Rotaract, Interplast, Romac, RAWCS, Australian Rotary Health, and many, many more. All of these programs have their own Facebook pages, as does Rotary Down Under, and those pages can all provide great content for your own club page. Just search for them all and like them, and as their fabulous stories fill your own timeline, you can share to your club page to give your audience a taste of that wider world of Rotary.