Our Presidents Speak - August 15, 2016
Our Presidents Speak: Paul Sullivan, Newton
1. Please tell us what factors helped to you decide to join Rotary.
The key factors that attracted me to Rotary are the strength and vision of the local club here in Newton, and the opportunity to serve people both locally and internationally. Rotary Club of Newton has tremendous potential because it is located in a city of 86,000 people, it has a history of many decades of community service and it's a great team of dedicated people.  We have a vision to become the most significant force for community service in Newton by the year 2020. That's a tall order, but we have the advantage of being affiliated with Rotary International. That gives us a much broader appeal to prospective members, many of whom are interested in global projects.
2. Of your club’s activities, what do you consider the one thing that best identifies what your club is all about?
The activities that best identify what our club is about come in two flavors: fundraising and community-service projects. Some people view us as a “check-writing” club, and we've realized that's not a bad thing. In fact, we are not shy about making a big deal about it when writing grant checks to local service agencies. We stress that the money is a result of successful fundraising projects like Newton Has Talent, the Craft Beer Festival and the Holiday Raffle. We work hard to make those events successful. When we hand out a check, recipients know that the money came from the power and actions of our members and volunteers, and the generosity of our donors and sponsors.
Of course, we also invest lots of time and energy toward community-service projects. Members and volunteers are ready to jump in where needed, whether it's doing yard work for a women's shelter, delivering leftover food from the Farmer's Market to folks in need, or more. Some of the projects are a “one and done,” and some are done on a regularly recurring basis. The people who know about Rotary in Newton do so because they see us in action, or they read about it in the Newton TAB. Our plan is to be very visible and make sure people see that Rotary logo on our clothing when we do work on behalf of Rotary.
3.  What is your club doing this year to attract new members?
Membership growth is a key initiative for our club, as it is for every club. We are working with the local schools to launch a citywide Interact club. Young people want to be involved with their community, and to have a sense of purpose. Interact, done right, is a great way for young people to serve their community, be recognized by an international organization for their work, and be part of something positive. Interact members are, of course, great candidates to become future Rotarians, and they have parents who just might be interested in joining Rotary today.
We've read that Rotary would like to have each club target membership at 1 percent of the population of their town or city. As much as we would like to have 860 members, we think a more realistic goal today is 0.10 percent. That would give us a membership of 86 members, which is realistic and achievable. We are offering corporate memberships now, and that's helping to grow our numbers. We need to improve our messaging in the local community, through community service work and PR, to attract more people who are looking for a way to “do good and feel great.”
4. Do you have any advice to offer others in the district about how best to achieve a successful fundraiser?
Keep it simple. Last year, one of our members, Jack Fucci, from the West Suburban YMCA, came to the club with the idea of holiday-raffle tickets. We launched the sale of the tickets later than we should have, but still managed to net thousands of dollars for the community in a very short period. And it was a lot of fun! This year, we will launch the sale of the holiday-raffle tickets much earlier. That will allow us to sell all of the tickets, and we are certain it will make more money than last year. A simple plan, well-executed, seems to be the winning formula for us.
5. Do you have any innovative plans for Rotary related publicity during your presidency?
Publicity for the club is very important, because that's the best way we get our message out to the community. We worked with the local newspaper, the TAB, to publish a regularly scheduled section, in print and online, to showcase our work. We plan to guard against the typical “grip and grin” pictures, opting instead for photos of members in action performing service work. We have reserved table space at upcoming community events to showcase our work and recruit new members.
6. As president, what's your biggest concern for the coming year?
My biggest concern is that we keep every member interested, involved and fully engaged with the club. We spent quite a bit of time to write and gain consensus on a mission statement, and to lay out a vision for the club. At first, some members thought that activity was a waste of time because they already knew why they were Rotarians. However, they discovered that their particular motivation wasn't always shared by others in the club. People join Rotary for many reasons. Once we had an open, honest, transparent forum to share ideas and drivers, coming up with statements of direction was pretty straightforward. Now, we need every member to internalize them so they can share them easily with prospective members and sponsors.
If we all feel connected to a clear direction and mission, members would stay engaged with the activities of the club. Not everyone has the time to do community-service projects, or to attend committee meetings for a fundraiser. We want members to use the time they have available to help wherever they can, and as much as they can. We want every member to be on a committee, and to be actively involved with that committee. If they're not engaged, they'd leave. That's the last thing we want.
7. What's the best book you've read in the past three years?
I've read a lot of great books in the past few years, and it's hard to cite just one. A friend of mine, Bill Landay, wrote a fictional book called Defending Jacob. It is more than just a just a murder mystery, because it has some very clever twists. I highly recommend it. From a business perspective, I recently read The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It has some very good ideas about time management, staying focused and getting things done. I think those tips will come in handy over the next year!
8. What is your favorite saying?
"L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace!" which translates to “boldness, boldness, ever boldness.” It was attributed to Frederick the Great by General George Patton in the movie “Patton.” People who achieve big things think big and act boldly. Eradicating polio is a great example of the power of thinking big. We need to think and act big and boldly as an organization to achieve big things. Thing always seem impossible until they're done.
9. What is your favorite dining spot in Newton?
If you've been to Newton Highlands, you've probably been to O'Hara's Food & Spirits. And if you haven't, make the trip. John and Karl O'Hara stay true to their heritage with great Irish food. They serve the best shepherd's pie you will ever have, and the chicken pot pie is outstanding. O'Hara's is my “go to” restaurant in Newton for lots of reasons. They also own Paddy's Pub in West Newton.
10. What are the most interesting places in Newton?
There are lots of interesting places in Newton. The most unique thing about the city is that it is actually 13 villages, each with its own character and “hub.” Chestnut Hill is, of course, the home to Boston College, and some fantastic shopping at The Chestnut Hill Mall and The Street. Newton Center has lots of great shops, including a fantastic bookstore. And don't miss Cabot's Ice Cream in Newtonville. Other villages include Waban, Newton Highlands, Auburndale, and Nonantum, which is called “The Lake” by the locals. All have great restaurants and shops. The Newton Free Library is truly amazing, and is definitely a “must see.”
Paul Sullivan, president of Newton Rotary, may be reached at paul@paulmsullivan.com.