It’s a message that has been repeated year after year: Rotary clubs must grow their membership.
Across the globe, Rotary membership has plateaued at 1.2 million for several years. While membership has increased in Asia and Africa, the number of Rotarians has declined in North America, including in District 5370.
During 2017-18, the number of Rotarians in our District dropped by 110, according to data provided recently by Rotary International. It’s a trend that District Governor Ingrid Neitsch wants to see reversed.
“Membership is the heartbeat of our District. Everything revolves around membership,” Ingrid says.
The District strategic plan, which Ingrid unveiled during the changeover event in June and which she discusses during club visits, challenges Rotary clubs to grow their membership and increase diversity in terms of age, gender and ethnic background.
Ingrid is confident that our District will see an increase in membership and has set a goal of 2180 Rotarians by the end of her term as District Governor.
“We have neighbouring districts that have increased their membership by more than 100 over the past few years. If they can do it, we can definitely do it!” Ingrid says.
“By trying new strategies, launching new types of clubs, involving ourselves in hands-on projects, welcoming young entrepreneurs, sharing the amazing work of Rotary in our communities, and ensuring we keep our current members engaged, we can increase our membership.”
Of course, 2017-18 wasn’t all bad news in terms of membership. Sixteen of the 57 clubs in our District showed a net increase in membership last year. Membership numbers remained unchanged in four other clubs.
“Congratulations to the District clubs that have increased their membership over the last year,” Ingrid says. “They are leading the way! They are changemakers!”
How did they do it?
We approached four clubs, which were among the leaders in membership growth, to learn how they increased their membership.
All these clubs understood the importance of membership growth, but each took at different approach to tackling the issue.
Edmonton Sunrise: Piloting corporate membership
The Rotary Club of Edmonton Sunrise introduced corporate memberships, resulting in a net membership growth of four, from 38 to 42.
The goal was to increase the number of business people in the club, says president Brad Lohner. “A lot of our members were retired teachers or ex-bankers, or whatever. There were not a lot of business people around the table,” Brad says.
“We decided, let’s give [the corporate membership concept] a whirl and see how it works,” Brad says. “It has worked out very well.”
He explains how corporate memberships work in his club: “Instead of having only one person be a member from a corporation, we allowed up to three people to get involved. Any one of the three could come to the meetings, or two of them, or all three if they wanted.
There have been two benefits of corporate memberships. “We increased the membership a little bit, but also the corporate members significantly decreased the average age of our membership. More young people are members,” Brad says. “These guys are real go-getters. They really want to get involved in projects. So it’s a win-win both ways.”
St. Alberta Saint City: Being there when people needed Rotary
Despite recording the greatest net growth of any club in our District, the Rotary Club of St. Albert Saint City has not been “going out and beating the bushes,” say president Nonie Buski. “We make ourselves available and sooner or later, someone comes.”
During 2017-18, membership in this 20-year-old club increased by seven, from12 to 19.
“The last five people we have had join our club have found us,” Nonie says.
“One fellow is from Ethiopia. About four years ago, he returned to Ethiopia and found a school in he wanted to help in his old home area. He first of all went to several churches in the Edmonton area for some assistance, and then he found our club and we’re helping him with this project. Since he became a member, his wife has also joined the club.”
Others were looking to become Rotarians. “We had a couple of people who came through the Rotary International website, where they expressed an interest in finding membership in a Rotary club and they have joined,” Nonie says.
“Prior to that, we had a couple, who had retired and were looking for a meaningful way to serve the community and they found our club.”
The Saint City club is currently planning to build a picnic shelter in Rotary Park in St. Albert and Nonie hopes this will help the club attract new members.
“We are going to see if we can generate a few new members out of this projects. These projects can certainly generate excitement and we do need a few more hands to facilitate this.”
Fort St. John: Become a vibrant club
The key to growing membership by five (from 48 to 53) in the Rotary Club of Fort St. John was first becoming a more vibrant club to which people want to belong, says president Raven Pruden.
When Raven, who is also known as “Captain Awesome,” transferred his membership to the Fort St. John club, he decided “I was going to step into membership and I was going to change things.”
First, he targeted longtime members. “I said, ‘ I know you think you’re burned out, but you’re not done. We don’t need new people to come in here to revive our club. You need to revive your club,’ ” he says.
He took this message to the club with a PowerPoint presentation that ended by identifying the secret ingredient of membership growth: “You!”
“This really resonated with some of the older members who had been sort of sitting back with their arms folded, saying, ‘We need new blood because we can’t keep doing this. I’m getting tired.’ They found new inspiration to do things. That changed our club,” Raven says.
“Our membership jumped 15 members over the past four years.”
Mayfield Club: New approaches to attracting members
With the Rotary Club of Edmonton Mayfield, increasing membership “started with recognition that we had an issue,” says president Maureen Liviniuk.
“We had a membership problem. Our membership had declined to 22 members, 19 of whom were over the age of 60. And we had only added one new member in the year prior.”
The club now has 28 members, all of whom helped lower the average age. “One is in his 50s, one is probably in his 30s and three are under 30,” Maureen says.
“We knew that we had a lot of really good, strong positives in the club. We have some excellent projects we are involved with, we have a good track record of fundraising, and we have a quite a number of committed members who were willing to step up,” Maureen says.
“So that’s where we started. We gave ourselves a pat on the back for the things we had done well and we recognized we had to start to do things differently in terms of membership.”
First, the club developed new marketing materials, based on the new Rotary International branding—Together we connect. Together we inspire. Together we lead.
“We developed a new banner that we display outside our meeting in place of the small, traditional style of signage that has the wheel. (That) is very recognizable to Rotarians, but not so recognizable to potential new members.
The retractable banner features the image of a Rotoractor who the club supported with a bursary. “She traveled to Tanzania to do some marketing work with a Tanzanian dairy co-op. We focused on the fact that we had inspired leadership in this young individual,” Maureen says.
“The next thing we did was to organize a membership networking event, which we held in September on the ship at West Edmonton Mall.” The club invited owners of businesses to attend.
“We did get one new member out of that initiative, but I don’t think it was all that successful in terms of getting the response we hoped for. But it did get the mindset of the club focused on ‘who do I know that could be approached?’ ” Maureen says.
“One the biggest successes we had was recruiting joint Rotary/Rotoract members. We now have three members who were Rotoract members who have now joined our club.
“They were all individuals who were sort of transitioning from one stage in their lives to another. Two had finished off undergraduate degrees and are now going back to other programs and one of them completed her program and is now out in the workforce. It seemed like it was good time for them to make that transition.”
Maureen says they got these younger members involved in club activities. “All three are on the board this year.”
For the Mayfield club, growing membership remains a work in progress. “We have committed to continuing on the process. We’re not done yet. We have a networking event planned for the beginning of October. We’re also trying to add in more social activities so we can attract people who may not be available at lunchtime.”
Other District 5370 clubs that increased their membership last year are Edson (+1), Fort Nelson (+2), Fort Saskatchewan (+3), Grande Prairie Sunrise (+1), Grande Prairie Swan City (+1), Hay River Sunrise (+4), Hinton (+4), Jasper (+2), Lac La Biche (+1), Nisku-Leduc (+2), Sherwood Park (+3), Vegreville (+1) and Vermilion (+1).
DG’s call to action
DG Ingrid hopes other clubs will be inspired by the commitment shown by these clubs to increase their own membership during 2018-19.
“Be bold! Create a culture where members want to be. If every club attains 100 per cent retention and adds four new members, we will reach and surpass our membership goal.”
Looking for ways to grow your membership? Check out this article from the August issue of the Rotarian, which includes 15 approaches to membership-building. In addition, Rotary International provides a wide range of resources, tips and tools to help clubs build and sustain their membership.