Membership Corner - April 25, 2016
Membership Corner: What would Paul Harris do?
By Tom Sturiale
Imagine Paul Harris in his Chicago office in the year 2016. He is reviewing the status of the Rotary organization he created 111 years ago. The organization has grown into a worldwide giant of 1.2 million members in 200 countries made up of 34,000 clubs. Of this, he is justifiably proud - but he has concerns about its future viability.
While millions of dollars are raised annually for hundreds of projects throughout the world, membership has stagnated at the 1.2 million mark for the past 25 years and has actually declined in the home country of the United States. Despite repeated exhortations from Rotary International presidents as well as Rotary District governors, clubs have not been ready, willing and/or able to grow their memberships. Why? And what would he do about it?
What changed during the late ‘90s and continues to the present day? Did Rotary change or did the environment change? Has there been a cultural shift? Do young people or older folks care less about belonging to humanitarian-service organizations? Are people in general less interested in charitable efforts? Has the technology changed?
As Paul Harris ponders these questions, I wonder what answers and solutions he might develop.  At first, he considers the changes in our environment, our culture, our demographics and our technology, which have come at a dizzying pace during the past 25 years. Those of us who grew up in the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s remember a slower-paced life, where change occurred at glacial speed. During the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, change started to accelerate. Now, it seems that we race through life where everything changes continually and at a very rapid pace.
He observes that Rotary has also changed while its fundamental objectives and basic operating parameters have remained the same. Rotary has established tighter controls over its global humanitarian projects, developed more help for districts and clubs, and become more professional. He also notes that communications through electronic media have progressed light years beyond where they were at the turn of the 20th century.
Despite all these changes, people are still driven to do good in their communities and throughout the world. Which factors impacted the stagnation of Rotary membership the most? Or is it all of them? And more importantly, what would Paul Harris do?
My guess is that he would first insist that each and every club do a deep dive into educating every member on the Four Objects of Rotary - ensuring their translation into very practical actions.  He may base that approach on an observation that many members have either not learned or forgotten why they joined Rotary.  Secondly, in recognition of the tremendous changes, cited above, he would encourage changes at the club level to increase more fellowship, develop exciting club agendas, venues and meetings, employ classification techniques to identify and attract prospective members,  professionalize member induction and education efforts, and ramp up of efforts to educate, communicate and encourage younger folks about Rotary.
In observance of the increased time and money pressures on younger professionals, I think he might encourage a major overhaul of the weekly-meeting-schedule routine of Rotary clubs. While still maintaining a high sense of charity, younger folks may not be interested in the legacy aspects of the traditional Rotary meeting. He would encourage clubs to continually change their agendas and venues to adapt to the new world environment. 
Those are just a few thoughts about “what would Paul Harris do?” The more important question is “what will you do?” 
Closing thoughts
We need to keep experimenting with our meeting agendas to maintain members’ interests and to encourage attendance. Meetings need to be fresh, exciting and interesting. This will also assist your club’s Membership Committee chair and members in attracting new members to the team. Please let me know of your ideas, comments and stories about Membership you would like to share. E-mail me at
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