A Conversation About Membership
By Tom Sturiale
I attended a very interesting and inspirational Assistant Governors Area Meeting last Friday during which several approaches and issues regarding membership were reviewed. It is always inspirational to hear the many ways Rotary clubs approach community service, membership and public relations. And I always walk away with the same thought in mind, “If only everyone knew what we do, how we do it and the fun we have while doing it, they would run, not walk, to join Rotary.” Alas, this is not the case. Why not? And indeed, what should or could we do about it?
First, let’s discuss the issue of membership and why we should be concerned with adding members. Some folks seem to think it is a numbers game and a recruiting effort, neither of which is sufficient justification for adding members. Some clubs are satisfied with having a few members to maintain more personal relationships. On the other hand, it seems self-evident that having more members allows clubs to conduct more community-service projects. There are more hands on deck to help, more financial support, more contributions to The Rotary Foundation, more energy, and more fun, friends and fellowship. So to a certain extent, it is a numbers game. More importantly, it is also clear that we are looking for Rotarians in spirit - not just more people. 
We also discussed the Rotary principle of classification, which distinguishes us from most other service clubs. We should be seeking those particular classifications that will aid our clubs the most. The idea of generating “target lists” of prospective Rotarians was discussed at length. Instead of adding names willy-nilly to the list, we should be thinking about the types of folks we want or need in our clubs.
There was much discussion about the issue of venues, timing and costs of attending meetings. Some clubs are having a major problem with this and are experimenting with alternate meeting agendas, locations, meal changes and sunrise or evening clubs. While every club has to address this situation in its own way, it is imperative that we maintain the idea and the principles of Rotary while making changes. We need to maintain consensus, continuity and consistency in our zeal to conform to member preferences. We still are a part of Rotary International and there are rules to follow. Dramatic variations on the basic legacy Rotary meeting can result in loss of connection and communication, so change must be done carefully.
Public relations and publicity also came up as a significant issue. It was suggested that Rotary International should be spending considerable resources in advertising and marketing the Rotary idea throughout the spectrum of media outlets. In fact, this was done for a three-year period in a multi-district effort just a year or two ago. The Rotary logo and message were carried on buses, billboards, TV and radio throughout New England.  There were few responses and fewer members added as a result. This was a very expensive project and each district invested a considerable amount of money, which was matched by RI. However, neither the districts nor or RI prints money. The funds were generated by our contributions and we just cannot afford that level of investment annually.
More importantly, it was concluded that the most effective public-image and public-relations efforts were done at the club level. Several clubs have demonstrated that is indeed the case. They continually send information about their club activities to all the local media outlets and generate as much publicity as they can. It was also pointed out that every service project generates multiple touch points. For example, projects involving youth through the Scouts, Interact, Rotaract, Boys and Girls clubs, scholarships, Reality Fairs, veterans, elderly, charitable organizations, End Hunger Now programs, and so many more projects all generate touch points with the individuals involved as well as their parents, friends, relatives, teachers, administrators and many more people. What better form of public relations is there? Are we taking advantage of it? Getting the word out at the local, club level is effective and powerful.
Finally, we are not in a “recruiting“ game. We are attempting to attract and engage people in the Rotary way. We are a fantastic organization that does great things at both the local and the international levels. Telling our story at the club level to as many folks as we can will gain prestige in our communities. Inviting people we know to attend our meetings, to assist us with projects and to become friends of Rotary will gain members.
So generate your target lists based on your club needs and send out your club representatives to invite them to your clubs. And most importantly, when they become members, concentrate your efforts on introducing them, mentoring them, educating them, getting them involved in club efforts and integrating them into Rotary. They will become Rotarians in due time.
Please let me know any ideas, comments and stories about Membership you would like to share. E-mail me at tsturiale36@gmail.com.
Tom Sturiale is vice chair of District 7910's Membership Committee.
Here are the Membership Corner articles that were posted during October: