A Rotary Valentine’s Day Post

If you love Rotary like I do, (if you’re reading this post you probably suffer from the same affliction) then we can probably agree that Rotary can be the most frustrating, aggravating, confusing, and downright perplexing organization on the planet. Yet….here we are, together, trying to push this boulder up the hill and make the world a better place. So I thought, since its Valentine’s Day, I would write a little love letter about Rotary and skip all of the negatives (for once) and just focus on what I love about our organization. Don’t get all dewey eyed on me, but here goes.

I love Rotary because I love the people who join it. Rotarians are the most ridiculously positive people, always trying to make something better in their own way. Doesn’t matter if its club related, community related, or globally related, Rotarians seem to want to make things better. In my old age I’ve found that hanging around with positive people is a necessity.

I love that Rotary is a kind of “one stop” shopping place to learn about my community. I can join any non-profit board in my town and they would be glad to have me, but when I do I’m focused on one organization, one school, one disease, one shelter, one whatever. Rotary is the one place where I sit in the catbird seat and see the entire picture, both locally and internationally. It’s nice to have that kind of perspective.

I love the Rotary Foundation. Where else can I donate money and have 75 cents on the dollar returned to people I know for local or international service projects?* If I give a dollar to cancer research and they give me the money back and ask me to figure it out, I’m probably going to be a little upset. It’s truly extraordinary to support a Foundation that depends on Rotarians just like me, for the most part in my District, and around the world, to accomplish our humanitarian objectives, together.

I love that Rotary members tend to be community leaders. I realize that this definition is a little squishy, but for the most part I can get in touch with most people in my town with no more than two to three degrees of separation from the members of my Rotary club. One degree of separation if I count the Rotarians in other clubs in town. The non-Rotarian leaders of my community still make it a point to come visit us and let us know what they are up to. They obviously think that our group is relevant, and I really like that.

I love Rotary because it gives you a chance to push WAY out of your comfort zone. Rotary let me hone my leadership skills and do good for others in my Rotary club, in my Rotary district, and my Rotary zone. If you want to, and if you are any good, you can lead up to 1.2 million Rotarians if you have a mind to do it. The opportunities to do good in the world are pretty much endless in Rotary, and I really love that about us.

I love that Rotarians truly are the “heart and soul” of polio eradication. I know it isn’t “cool” to say so anymore and a lot of Rotarians are sick and tired of talking about polio. But I’ve had the amazing, once in a lifetime, privilege of actually interviewing the Rotary leaders who came up with the idea that we could eradicate polio, and I still wonder how I’m lucky enough to be associated with such a marvelous goal. I love what we’ve already accomplished in our polio campaign, and I love the amazing achievement thats right over the horizon.

I love my Rotary club. I’m lucky because my club is comprised of a fairly large group of men and women who enjoy laughing out loud before 8:30AM on a Friday morning. I get it. We do good in the world. We heal the sick and feed the hungry. But at the end of the day, we enjoy each other’s company and I really appreciate having a network of like-minded, good folks, who have my back, to call my friends. Actually, it’s more like a family.

Happy Valentine’s Day Rotary!

*This is Valentine’s Day note for Pete’s sake, but for those who are interested, 75 cents includes 50 cents of SHARE distributions + 25 cents of World Fund matching dollars for global DDF. Aren’t I a romantic?

Economic Incentives and District Grant Rules

I recent spoke to Renee Reiling, Regional Grants Officer at Rotary HQ in Evanston. I was curious about the RI requirements for District grants. For those of you who don’t know, when Rotarians give to the Annual Program Fund (APF) of the Rotary Foundation, after three years one-half of the funds return to their district in the form of District Designated Funds or DDF. This ongoing flow of money back to Rotary districts is known as the SHARE program. Districts can then elect up to 50% of the DDF to be used for district grants, and the other half is used for global grants. (Yes….this is a description of that unintelligible flow chart about the SHARE program that you’ve seen in training a million times and still don’t understand.)

The District grant program is huge. Last year 503 districts elected for district grants in a total amount of $28.5 million. The average block grant (districts receive the funds in one check and then administer the money at the local level) was $56,667. Each district gives TRF a summary of the projects they want to fund when they apply for their block grant.

Nowadays one of the problems that Rotary has is that while Foundation giving to the Annual Program Fund seems to be holding up, the demand to use our funds for humanitarian projects seems to be falling. This is, to my mind, a terrible state of affairs. It makes you wonder why Rotarians are contributing to APF in the first place. Perhaps Rotarians give to the APF because; 1) They do as they are told, 2) They don’t know they are giving because the contribution is buried in their dues invoice, 3) They love Rotary’s humanitarian projects but don’t understand that the majority of their donation is for projects that originate in their own district, 4) They give to APF because they want to apply for a grant, and or 5) A combination of (3) and (4) above.

Since district grants are NOT administered by Rotary International, but instead are administered by each Rotary district according to rules set by each district foundation team, it leads to a blizzard of different approaches to what clubs must do to apply for and receive a district grant. Today lets at least clear up what the Rotary Foundation says are the requirements for district grants. Here’s a slide on the subject from a PowerPoint that Renee just emailed to me. (It’s a pretty good slide deck so if you don’t recognize this slide get in touch with your Regional Foundation rep.)

Thank you Renee Reiling, Regional Grants Officer, Regional Grants

The slide speaks for itself (which unfortunately for all concerned never stopped me before.) Note that District’s DO NOT have to require that district grants fall into one of the six areas of focus required for global grants. They DO NOT have to require that clubs in the District partner with each other in order to be eligible. They DO NOT have to require that district grants be sustainable, or measurable. This is all massively different from TRF’s approach to global grants. And finally, districts can conjure up whatever kind of scholarships they want for whatever grade levels they choose.

When Rotary districts add these restrictions regarding partnerships, area of focus, sustainability, and measurability to their grant eligibility requirements, I suspect that they are trying to be good stewards of their SHARE funds, and as a Major Donor to TRF I appreciate the thought. After all, one of the best things about being a donor to TRF is the high quality rating the Foundation gets from Charity Navigator. No one wants to fund thoughtless and ineffective projects. In addition to these self-imposed criteria, districts also impose cash matching criteria and TRF giving criteria to the list of hurdles clubs must meet to be eligible for a grant.

But district leaders should know that in making it more difficult to apply for and receive a district grant, they are reducing the incentives for Rotary clubs to give to the Annual Program Fund. They are adding to the problem of Rotary clubs not applying for district grants. They are adding to the frustration of Rotary clubs that want to fund a local humanitarian project but can’t get their grant approved by the district grant committee, and they are adding to the complexity of local district grant committees who have to decide if a backpack project is, in fact, sustainable, measurable, etc, etc.

This frustration can be compounded because many clubs (often for good reasons) have had difficulties being approved for global grants over the years. I’ve had many discussions with Rotary club leaders who can cite grievances with the district grant committee that go back to when our district was a pilot for the Future Visions program. Needless to say, this has a direct impact on the demand to use SHARE funds for district grants as well as global grants. And it has a negative impact, whether it is deserved or not, on the enthusiasm for Rotarians in those clubs to give to the Annual Program Fund.

This is pure economics folks. Rotary districts need to balance simplicity, fairness, good stewardship of district grant funds, and excellent education about the the good works of the Rotary Foundation, with crystal clear information about how the SHARE program works in each district. District leaders need to structure their district grant criteria so that clubs have a solid economic incentive, in addition to a philanthropic incentive, to give to TRF. If the choice is to make it harder, or easier, to be eligible for a district grant, I would suggest we come down on the side of making it easier. If we do, don’t be surprised to see a measurable and significant increase in giving to TRF’s Annual Program Fund.

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Ten Possible Rotary New Year’s Resolutions

Is it too late to talk about New Year’s resolutions? I mean it’s January 8th as I write this, so we’ve kind of already skipped into the new calendar year. Yes, I know we are halfway through the Rotary fiscal year but if you think of New Year’s resolutions on July 1 you really do need to get a life. For me, New Year’s resolutions are fraught with peril because I’m too old to be reminded that I can’t keep the commitments that I make to myself. (I’m much better at keeping commitments to others…I hope.) And I’ve reached the point where I simply avoid anything having to do with forward-looking statements about health and exercise. I may or may not eat better this year, and the same goes for working out. That’s all I have to say on those subjects.

If, however, you are looking for some Rotary New Year’s resolutions, I am happy to oblige you with a list of ten for you to consider. I have carefully thought through each of these suggestions and think they pass the test of being doable. Meaning that you could consider any of the following for this year and actually have half a chance of actually doing it. So here you go….a list of ten Rotary resolutions you could commit to doing during the 2019 calendar year that is guaranteed to make you feel better about Rotary, not to mention feel better about yourself.

Ask someone you know to visit your club

Yes, you’ve been meaning to do this for year’s now. How hard could it be? I’m not talking about cold-calling a stranger. Just casually mention to a colleague, friend, or family member, that you would be honored if they joined you for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or Happy Hour, next week for your Rotary meeting. What’s the worst that can happen? Hysterical laughter? Rage that you had the temerity to ask? Your friend has some kind of psychotic breakdown while considering your invitation? You can do this! Twelve months to ask one person. Geez…talk about setting the bar incredibly low.

Recruit a new member for your club

This is a much higher standard for a Rotary New Year’s resolution because if you don’t play your cards right, you might have to invite more than one colleague, friend, or family member to visit your club. This commits you to continue asking until someone says “yes, I would love to join this Rotary club.” I know from writing about this last year that we add 13% – 14% of new members to Rotary every year. So someone out there is asking people to join Rotary. You could be one of them during 2019!

Volunteer for a club project

It is sometimes annoying when your club members interrupt a perfectly good meal or great conversation with your Rotary buddies by asking for volunteers for local community projects. Even though you decided long ago that you’ve done enough hands-on volunteer work for a lifetime, this year resolve to spend a little time helping others by doing something other than writing a check. You and I both know that this one will feel really good if you choose it for your 2019 resolution. If you haven’t volunteered in a long time, have medical staff standing by in case your enthusiastic endorsement of a club service project causes someone to go into shock.

Get on the club’s leadership team

Why not resolve to join your club’s leadership team if you haven’t already done so (and even if you have). Go ahead and volunteer to be a committee chair, or God forbid, get in the queue to be club president. Taking a leadership role in your club starting in July will give you a whole different perspective on Rotary, not to mention your Rotary club. And for the first time you will enjoy feeling the pure adulation, encouragement, enthusiasm, friendship, collegiality, and hero worship that your club members save for those who choose to be club leaders.

Join one of your club’s committees

OK. If becoming a club leader is too big of a stretch as you ponder 2019, why not just hop on someone else’s committee and try it out? Your good ideas and general wisdom about life and your community will be welcomed by all concerned. And you will find that being on the fundraising committee, the membership committee, the club service committee, or “other” committee, just might be more fun than bitching about the job that others are doing on your behalf.

Give more than $100 to the Rotary Foundation

I know you’ve heard that Rotary clubs can win awards if everyone in the club gives $100 each year to the Rotary Foundation. But really….isn’t it time to raise your game? Why not resolve to give….wait for it….$200 to the Rotary Foundation this year? You could give $100 to the Annual Fund and $100 to Polio Plus, or all $200 to either. You may or may not be able to take a charitable deduction for your gift if you use the new humongous standard deduction, but you will feel really good about this gift regardless of the tax benefit.

Join the Paul Harris Society

You might as well resolve to stop drinking soda, go to the gym four times a week, and stop eating fast food. But if you are considering a resolution to change your support for the Rotary Foundation this year, why not go absolutely crazy and join the Paul Harris Society? A contribution of only $84 per month gets you into this amazing group.

Read Rotarian Magazine

It comes every month and it looks really good on the coffee table. You mean to read it, you really do. But first you have to check out the newsfeed on your smart phone, the local sports in the daily paper, and watch an hour or two of CNN or Fox News (but not both for heavens sake.) So another day goes by and you haven’t read it and soon you will receive next month’s issue so what is the point of reading the one that’s been sitting around for several weeks? You can do this! Repeat after me…”I resolve to read the Rotarian Magazine each and every month this year.” See? Not so hard.

Go to your District Conference

You’ve never gone to one before and no one you know is planning on going this year. So what? Resolve to go to your District Conference this year and get a taste of the scale and grandeur of Rotary. Who are all of these people? What do they do in their Rotary clubs? What are they excited about? What good ideas can you borrow/steal for your club? Go ahead. Eat a little hotel food, bring your spouse, and connect to a world of Rotary a little bigger than just your Rotary club. Who knows…you might even find yourself going to a Rotary International Annual Convention. This year it’s in Hamburg, Germany. I’m betting you’ve never been there.

Give your club President a compliment

This is a layup, but why not resolve to do it at some point in the next six months (if you want your compliment to apply to this year’s club President)? You would be amazed at how appreciated your comment will be, regardless of what your compliment is about. It turns out that being a club President isn’t always easy, and a kind word from you about just about anything is sure to make the day of the person who volunteered to lead your club this year. Not sure how to give a compliment to a Rotary club leader? Try this: “Hey (fill in the first name of your club President), I just wanted to tell you that I think you are doing an amazingly good job this year. Thanks for everything you do.” NOTE: Have tissues handy as they may break into tears.

Have a safe, happy, and prosperous 2019 everyone! And thank you for reading the Ready, Fire, Aim Rotary blog. It’s much appreciated!

For more on Rotary New Year’s Resolutions, check out the Ready, Fire, Aim Jan 1, 2014 post, Rotary New Year’s Resolution – Have More Fun.

A Great District Grant Idea to Start the New Year

I know that every District has its own rules for District grants, but Rotary District 7620 sure makes it easy to get one.  If your club has given $100 per capita to the Rotary Foundation SHARE program, if you don’t have any previous grant paperwork outstanding, if you have a project that engages Rotarians and promotes Rotary, if your project fits into one of TRF’s six areas of focus, and if you take the time to fill out a two- page District grant application, your club is highly likely to get a grant approved.  

Recently the Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent completed the first of a two-part project that supports the local homeless shelter in Howard County, Grass Roots.  The program, called Code Blue, provides meal kits to families that stay in Grass Roots shelters during extremely cold, or “Code Blue” conditions.  These non-perishable meal kits cost between $2.90 and $4.22, and they are extremely important for families needing shelter.

Here’s Barbara Petilli, Columbia-Patuxent’s service chair, explaining the program:

The club’s total Code Blue project cost is approx. $3,600.  At a recent  morning Rotary meeting the club completed Phase I of the project and packed $1,700 worth of meals.  The remaining funds will be used to do a similar program working side by side with the club’s Interact club at Hammond High School.  How much fun is that going to be?!

Here’s what we packed in each food kit.  For some of us (many of us?), going around the counter and grabbing one of each item and putting it in a plastic bag pushed the limits of our intellectual abilities.  
Each bag included this message from our club.  Can you imagine a better sentiment to share than, ” you are not alone!”  

If you are looking for a way to break up your club’s meeting routine, why not schedule a service project instead of a speaker program?  A few of us stayed late to finish the job, but most of the work was done by the time we would typically adjourn the meeting.  

Thanks to Barbara and President Alice Ford for cooking up this terrific program.  And thanks to Linda Ostovitz, Dave Lerer, and the rest of the team who is  learning to integrate our local projects with our eligibility to apply for District Grants.  

Why doesn’t every club that generously supports the Rotary Foundation SHARE program, AND takes the time to do their own fundraising to support local community projects, apply for a District grant to leverage the impact of their project?!

Tom Allen and Kellie Lego scientifically putting food bags into boxes 
Pretty much the same crew taking their mind-deadening 10th trip (I lost count) around the food counter.  Don’t they look happy? 
Thanks to Van Paris Moving and Storage for donating the boxes.  And thanks to Russ Antico,  Jim Elhe, Geoffrey Carton, Lon Chesnut, Caroline Sherman (she really didn’t carry any of the boxes but she sure makes the photo look better) and yours truly.  

What?  You’ve been meaning to watch the Rotary documentary, Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became the Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication, but haven’t gotten around to it?  You can rent it for ONLY $4.99.  You will be glad you invested an hour of your time to learn about our amazing history of becoming a leader in the polio eradication effort.  www.daretodreamfilm.com   

Rotary Membership Part IV: 10 Reasons Why Rotary Shouldn’t Advertise for New Members.

In Part III of our discussion about Rotary membership, Implementing a Comprehensive Rotary Marketing Campaign,  we explored a comprehensive marketing campaign that coordinated traditional advertising, digital advertising, social media, event marketing, and local Rotary club sales in a gigantic, paradigm-shifting attempt to turn-around Rotary’s falling membership.  For all of you who are skeptics, naysayers, non-believers, and generally resistant to change, or perhaps you are realistic and practical, here are ten reasons why an advertising campaign wouldn’t work in Rotary.  (The rejoinders to each objection are found below)

1. It costs too much:  Our traditional method of growing membership by asking our friends, family, and associates to join our club is free.  It doesn’t cost a dime.  In that context, ANY amount you spend on advertising is EXPENSIVE.

2.  We’ve never done it before:  If advertising worked we would have done it years ago.  Since we haven’t done it before it must not be effective in helping to attract new members.

3.  It requires committed leadership:  This requires at least two years of planning, consulting, design, coordination, training, and fundraising at the highest levels of Rotary leadership.  Good luck with that.

4.  It requires specific expertise:  We don’t know how to do this.  Who will create the content, design the back-end of the landing pages, and make the media buys?  If Rotary volunteers can’t do it then we would have to spend money on it.

5.  Rotary International won’t participate:  The last time Rotary International did something so inspiring to help Rotary clubs was …..well……I can’t remember.   We don’t have a far-sighted leader who is willing to passionately sell this program to the RI Board.

6.  It isn’t fair to every Rotary club around the world:  This program only benefits certain clubs.  What about clubs in the developing world?  Why should Rotary spend money on a campaign that doesn’t directly benefit them?

7.  The public won’t respond to digital advertising about Rotary:  You could put a zillion popup ads on the internet.  No one really responds to those things.

8.  Rotarians won’t want to buy into the campaign:  Asking Rotarians to pay a one-time fee of $10 – $15 to pay for an ad campaign is ridiculous.  They will quit Rotary and we will lose more members than we gain with the campaign.

9.  Large clubs in urban areas will disproportionately benefit from the campaign:  Large clubs have the money to contribute to the campaign and urban areas will likely get more targeted ads than clubs in rural areas.  It just isn’t fair to all concerned.

10.  Rotary clubs won’t care about the campaign:  Rotarians in many clubs simply don’t care about growing their Rotary clubs anymore and won’t participate in the campaign in terms of holding membership events, posting to their websites, and using social media.

Answers: 1) The membership campaign is extremely inexpensive compared to another twenty-five years of watching our organization stagnate.  To put this in perspective, Rotary just spent $1 million on a polio documentary called, Drop To Zero, that I doubt anyone will ever see.  2) This is one of my favorite excuses for Rotarians not to do anything different.  It doesn’t dignify an answer.  3) I recently produced a documentary where three RI Presidents basically decided it would be a good idea to eradicate polio from the face of the earth.  I’m guessing we could find a few leaders that would OK a small advertising campaign. 4) Yes, we would have to invest money in experts to design the campaign.  Next question. 5) See question #3.  At some point Rotary leaders will realize that how much we contribute to our Foundation and how much good we do in the world is directly proportional to the number of members in our organization.   6) As proposed the money for ad buys would come primarily from Rotary districts.  RI would only pay for creating the ads.  They could produce content that was useable for every district in the world at $20,000 for the basic ad plus whatever it costs to modify it for each market.  It’s very doable.  7) Digital advertising is one of the fastest growing ad techniques in the world used by just about everyone.  Rotary won’t know it doesn’t work until we try it.  8)  Once Rotarians understand the scope of this program they will give Rotary leaders a standing ovation and gladly contribute. 9) Digital ads and streaming TV allow for ads to be distributed to the entire internet-using audience, 10) Rotarians care deeply about growing their clubs.  They simply want some help in getting the message out to their community.

So there you go.  Everything you need to know about how to cure Rotary’s membership ills.  I have no idea what my next post will be about, but I guarantee it will contain the definitive solution to some other important Rotary challenge.  The Rotary fun never stops!

If you like the idea of a Rotary ad campaign, why not forward a link to last week’s blog post to Rotary leaders in your area?

This post was brought to you by the one of the best Rotary membership opportunities you’ve ever seen, Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became The Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication.  This one-hour documentary will inspire viewers to learn more about Rotary and better appreciate what we do to Do Good in the World.  See it now at Daretodreamfilm.com.  

You can subscribe to the Ready, Fire, Aim Rotary blog and get automatic notifications of new posts sent directly to your inbox by clicking on the SUBSCRIBE button near the blog text.




Membership Part 3: A Comprehensive Rotary Marketing Campaign (Including Advertising!)


I’m certain that the biggest complaint that I’ve heard from Rotary clubs in my twenty-plus years in Rotary is, “why can’t Rotary advertise for new members?”  The short answer has been it’s too expensive, and Rotary is diversified across so many countries that developing a message that works in every market is impossible.  Last week’s blog, Overcoming the 14% Attrition Hurdle,  makes the case that the status quo of growing through  person- to- person selling strategies has failed because it doesn’t scale to numbers large enough to offset the 14% of Rotarians who leave Rotary every year.

Why not explore using the newest advertising techniques to help solve Rotary’s membership development issues?  I asked advertising expert,  Darren Easton, Vice President/Creative Director of Cyphers Agency in Crofton, Md., to help me pull together some numbers on what an advertising campaign for Rotary might look like.  I think you might be surprised.

NOTE:  This is a blog post is meant to entertain, educate, and inspire. The ideas explored below are meant to open a conversation about Rotary advertising and does not constitute a formal proposal.  Some settling of contents may occur during shipping.  Past performance does not guarantee future returns, etc., etc., etc.

In our hypothetical membership campaign, advertising would be coordinated with event marketing and public image marketing to drive prospects to our Rotary sales force (our clubs and members.)  Think of marketing as filling a funnel of prospective members that eventually drip out of the bottom of the funnel as qualified prospective members.  The elephant in the room when discussing advertising, is that unlike event marketing (holding membership events like Happy Hours) or social media-based public image campaigns, advertising requires a significant upfront investment both in experts to design the campaign and to make media buys.  Therefore, you have to look at evaluating the success of an advertising campaign through the lens  of what it costs to acquire a new member.  And that raises an interesting question….what is a new member worth?

The campaign would consist of using a new twist on traditional advertising combined with  digital programmatic advertising, along with Rotary clubs and members using social media and their rotary club websites, to significantly increase brand awareness for Rotary membership.  The advertising campaign would direct prospective members to Rotary clubs that schedule marketing events like Happy Hours or other events where prospects can meet Rotarians and learn about specific Rotary clubs.  Or, of course, prospects could be directed to visit participating rotary clubs.  In any event, the equation is advertising + social media = increased brand awareness = filling a marketing funnel of qualified and interested Rotary prospects being directed to our Rotary salesforce of Rotary clubs and members = significant increase in rotary membership.

A New Twist on a Traditional Advertising Campaign

Check out this recent ad for the Maryland Masons.  It’s been running on cable TV in Maryland for a long time, or at least long enough that I recognize it and so do most of my Rotary club members.  According to Darren Easton it probably cost the Masons more than $250,000 for the campaign….too expensive for us! Needless to say it is still very expensive to advertise on TV.  In addition to the media buy, Darren estimates it would cost $15 – $20,000 to produce a similar quality ad promoting Rotary membership.  The Masons produced several different ads for this campaign and you can find them on YouTube if you are interested.

Admit it…after watching this ad aren’t you at least a little curious to find out more about being a Maryland Mason?

Darren recommends Rotary consider a new twist on traditional TV advertising.  A new way to approach TV ads is to place an Over-The-Top (OTT) media buy that allows you to advertise on multiple streaming networks and can be highly targeted to our potential Rotary  audience of 40 – 60 year olds.  (or whatever demographic we are most interested in.)  Streaming content is found on smart TV’s and streaming devices like Apple TV and Roku, streaming networks like Amazon Prime and Hulu, and apps offered by traditional networks such as ESPN, AMC, TBS, etc.  Here’s a recent buy Darren’s firm just completed for an actual client:

Spot length: 30 seconds

Targeting: Ages 35-54 in the Baltimore market

Timeline: 9 weeks (November to December)

Impressions: 436,000 (how many individual viewers saw the ad)

Budget: $20,000

Distribution: AMC, TNT, Hulu, A&E, NatGeo, FX, local network and “a bunch more included in this package.”

Needless to say, $20,000 to reach 436,000 viewers is a different conversation than spending a quarter of a million for traditional cable TV advertising.

Programmatic and Facebook Advertising Campaign

At the same time Rotary runs the OTT ads on streaming TV, it would launch a digital advertising campaign that supports the brand awareness we create with our OTT  advertising.  You would recognize these ads as the pop-up ads you see while you are on the internet.  You are likely to see them because digital advertising is very advanced in terms of targeting the demographic and geographic location of internet users.  Programmatic ads could be coupled with ads on Facebook to create a comprehensive digital campaign.  All of our advertising would direct prospective members to what is called a landing page that would give prospects more information about Rotary and link them to individual Rotary clubs in the prospect’s geographic area.  Here are some sample costs to run a digital campaign:

Time: September through November

Placement Type: Targeted Facebook Advertising

Total Impressions: 98,000

Clicks assuming a 1% click through rate: 980 (Click through rate is the number of people who click on the ad to find out more about it.)

Hard Cost: $503

Cost per Click: $0.49

Time: September through November

Placement Type: Programmatic Banner Ads

Total Impressions: 3,200,000

Clicks assuming a 0.03% click through rate: 960

Hard Cost: $16,000

Cost per Click: $16.66

Hypothetical Result of Advertising Alone:  This campaign sends a Rotary message to approx. 3.7 million people and theoretically gets close to 2,500 prospects to click through to our landing page.  Assuming 3% of these prospects ultimately become Rotarians, we would have spent $36,500 in media buys to recruit 75 new Rotarians so our cost of acquisition would be $486 per Rotarian, not including $25 – $35,000 of one-time production costs and agency costs.  I am using very conservative assumptions here.  With such large numbers the number of new members from the campaign alone could be much higher.  In a perfect world, Rotary International could pick up the development costs for the ads and local Districts could pick up the media buys.

This  hypothetical campaign would cost a 2,000 member District a one-time assessment of $18 per member to fund the campaign and a 3,000 member District could ask $12 of each member.  Asking members to contribute gets them to have some “skin in the game” and perhaps a different level of “ownership” in the membership campaign.  And of course, the campaign could be scaled based on each District’s enthusiasm for the media buys and based on their financial strength.  If Rotary International helped to fund content creation, the cost to acquire new members would fall to very low dollar amounts.

Social Media and Club Support

We could expect that Rotarians and Rotary clubs would enthusiastically support this campaign at the club level.  In fact, I believe that Rotary leaders at the District and Zone level who implement this campaign would inspire and motivate Rotary clubs to a much higher level of engagement with membership than we have seen in the past.  Clubs would be encouraged to use the same social media tools we have been teaching for years to reach out to their personal networks with the same brand message we develop for the ad campaign.  Rotary club websites would also be encouraged to either embed the video for the OTT TV ad or the art for the digital ad campaign.  Ironically, inspiring clubs to actually use these marketing tools would increase membership with or without the ad campaign.

It’s not hard to imagine all of this content residing on Rotary Brand Central at Rotary.org.  Clubs would also be asked to schedule membership events during the campaign so prospective members would have a “mid-funnel” method of developing a relationship with local clubs.

Assessing the Comprehensive Campaign

You could make the case that a Rotarians have never rallied around a membership campaign in the way I’ve suggested above.  When members see advertisements about joining Rotary while watching streaming TV and when they see pop up advertisements while surfing the internet, they will be excited to see that Rotary is finally doing something to help them.  It is not hard to imagine a different focus on membership at the club level and a far better close rate of prospective members joining clubs based on this new focus on membership.  Since we’ve already established that a typical 2,000 member district needs to come up with an additional 1% of members, (20 or more) to move to positive membership growth, the bar for success in this new campaign would be relatively low.

It is also difficult to quantify the results of millions of people learning about Rotary through the ad campaign.  What is the value of Rotary’s enhanced brand recognition to a small club when they do their next fundraiser after the campaign runs?  It’s not hard to imagine ticket sales would dramatically increase as more members of the community recognize what Rotary is and what we stand for.

It all sounds great, doesn’t it?  Well….I can think of lots of reasons why it wouldn’t work.  I’ll get into all of that in my next and (mercifully) last post on the subject of “why can’t Rotary advertise for new members?”

This blog post is brought to you by Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became the Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication. This documentary is one of the best marketing tools your club can use to increase Rotary awareness in your community.  Learn more about it at daretodreamfilm.com 

Read Part 1 of this series of posts about Rotary membership, Complacency and Low Performance Expectations.

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Membership Part 2: Overcoming the 14% Attrition Hurdle

Sales is the art of persuading someone to buy a product or service.  When we ask someone to come to a Rotary meeting or a Rotary event and the person agrees to come, we’ve closed a “sale.”  Rotary has employed a sales-based growth model from the very beginning.  We ask our members to ask people they know to join our club.  Why not?  We were all asked to join Rotary ourselves so why not rely on the same methods to recruit new members?

Surprisingly the data suggests that the sales model is a huge success in getting new members to join Rotary clubs.  Last week I introduced you to my friend and membership data geek, Terry Weaver, who is Assistant Coordinator for Zone 33.  According to Terry’s membership data in Zone 33, and RI’s data about international membership, we grow new members at a rate of approximately 13% – 14% per year.  Many business owners (including myself) would be more than happy with organic growth rates in the low teens.  There must be something that resonates about our Rotary story to attract such a large amount of new members.

If Terry is correct, a typical 2,000 member Rotary district is adding approximately 260 to 280  new Rotarians (13% – 14%) each year.  And a typical 3,000 member Rotary district is adding 390 to 420 new members each year.  WOW!

Unfortunately, even though we are attracting 13% – 14% new members, we are LOSING 14% – 15% of current members.  This one percent annual attrition (14% annual member growth less 15% annual member attrition) has resulted in the decades long decline in North American membership.  Our hypothetical 2,000 member district that added 260 new members lost 280 members for a net loss of 20 members.

Importantly, according to Terry, when you break down the attrition data in Zone 33 it shows that 10% of the 14% total (more than 70% of the members who leave) will leave due to structural reasons like death, disability, moving to another area, etc.  In other words, we can’t do anything about it.

Notably, one important growth strategy would be to forget about recruiting additional new members above the current 13% – 14% growth rate and instead focus on the 80 Rotarians in a 2,000 member district (4%) who quit the organization for non-structural reasons, ie., because they are not engaged with their clubs.

Can we use current membership techniques to overcome the 14% membership attrition barrier?  We’ve had random occurrences of clubs that experience explosive growth using sales-based techniques.  Terry has a great term for them, “lightening strikes.”  For reasons that are hard to identify, a new club president motivates a particular club and membership increases exponentially.  But for the past several decades, many strong Rotary leaders have tried and failed to overcome the 14% barrier on a consistent basis.  It’s time to consider something new and different.  (I know, I know….new and different isn’t exactly our strength.)

So, next week we will explore a new paradigm for membership that launches Rotary past our sales-based model and uses modern marketing techniques to organize our entire membership into a motivated, enthusiastic, growth machine.  Stand by as we dive into public image, social media, brand awareness, traditional advertising, and why Rotary needs to learn how to use state-of-the-art digital advertising tools to drive consumers to our Rotary clubs.  And yes, Rotary International has a bigger role in this marketing effort.  Can you spell C O N T E N T?  Should be an interesting post.  Hope you join me.

This post is brought to you by the amazing, one-hour documentary, Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became the Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication.  Rent for $4.95 or buy for $25 to support PolioPlus and entertain, motivate, and educate Rotarians about Rotary’s incredible history in making the decision to eradicate polio.  Click here to learn more: Dare to Dream. 

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Event marketing is a specialty in itself.  To learn more about it, read my November 2016 post; How to Properly Follow-Up Your Membership Event.





Rotary Membership Part 1: Complacency and Low Performance Expectations

PDG Terry Weaver in full teaching mode.

Its been a few weeks since I returned from the Zone 33-34 Leadership Summit where I had a chance to catch up with my DG 2015-16 classmates and rub shoulders with a whole lot of Rotarians who are smarter than I am about just about everything. What fun!

My last RFA post was a reprint of a blog by Jim Henry, Is Rotary International Following Sears, where Jim makes the case that Rotary’s membership woes can’t be fixed without a major overhaul of the entire organization’s philosophy about the role of RI and how it supports individual Rotary clubs.  Today I want to share some correspondence with my friend, Terry Weaver, who is an Assistant Coordinator in Zone 33.  Terry works in the trenches with Rotary Districts and clubs on membership and is one of my favorite Rotary data wonks.  Terry can be intense and opinionated, but he always backs up his point of view with solid data.

 Here’s Terry’s take on the subject of Rotary membership.  


Great to talk with you this morning.  Attached is the breakdown of net member gain (loss) among Zone 33 districts and all NA Zones for 2017-18.

District 7/1/17 Member Gain/Loss Member % Gain/Loss
Mbrs 2017-18 2017-18
7530 – Northern WV 1,132 -71 -6.27%
7550 – Southern WV 1,047 14 1.34%
7570 – Western VA 3,279 20 0.61%
7600 – Southeast VA 2,707 -18 -0.66%
7610 – Northern VA 2,185 -19 -0.87%
7620 – Central MD/Washington DC 2,164 17 0.79%
7630 – Delaware/MD Eastern Shore 1,544 -37 -2.40%
7670 – Western NC 2,197 -16 -0.73%
7680 – West Central NC 2,670 -40 -1.50%
7690 – Central NC 2,489 17 0.68%
7710 – Raleigh 1,936 27 1.39%
7720 – North Eastern NC 1,495 18 1.20%
7730 – Southeastern NC 1,850 -29 -1.57%
7750 – Upstate SC 2,657 -3 -0.11%
7770 – Central & East SC 3,827 -70 -1.83%
Total 33,179 -190 -0.57%
Zones in the USA 7/1/17 Member Gain/Loss Member % Gain/Loss
Mbrs 2017-18 2017-18
Zone 21A – South Texas 17421 -478 -2.74%
Zone 24 – North US / Canada 29145 -640 -2.20%
Zone 25 – Northwest 28037 -349 -1.24%
Zone 26 – Southwest 28624 -501 -1.75%
Zone 27 – West Central 28287 -328 -1.16%
Zone 28 – North Central 29570 -483 -1.63%
Zone 29 – NorthCentral/East 29309 -606 -2.07%
Zone 30: East Central 31267 -542 -1.73%
Zone 31: South Central 30030 -744 -2.48%
Zone 32: Northeast 31270 -695 -2.22%
Zone 33: Mid-Atlantic 33179 -190 -0.57%
Zone 34: Southeast & Caribbean 32790 -369 -1.13%
USA Totals 350067 -7,063 -2.02%

These are NET, meaning they’re the difference between attrition rates and attraction rates. For the most part, the District gains/losses are ridiculously low — like +20 to – 20 (about 1%). Let’s step back for a BIG PICTURE look:

So, a typical 2,000 member District loses about 300 members (15%) a year, and somehow replaces 280 to 320 for a net loss or gain of about 20. How can that be? If you can find 300 members, why can’t you find 350? It’s not like you don’t know how. You’re just stopping short of success.

A typical 30,000 member Zone loses about 4,500 members a year and somehow replaces 4,000 of them for a net loss of 500. How can it be that we can find 4,000 new Rotarians across multiple states, but we can’t find 4,500 or 5,000?

Why? John Kotter’s #1 reason for organizational change failure — COMPLACENCY, manifested as LOW PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS. (Authors Note:  John Kotter, “Leading Change.”)  A net loss of 2 members per year is within the threshold of pain for most clubs. That’s how a club gets from 40 to 30 over 5 years and isn’t concerned by that. Extrapolate that across a District and you see what you get. The typical club simply doesn’t GET that growth should be their expectation, doesn’t CARE that it’s slowly going out of business or doesn’t KNOW HOW to change from a culture of mediocrity to one of success.

That’s why we start Zone 33 Membership Summits with a morning of re-setting expectations. That’s the root cause of our membership issues.

Ken, I’m not sure a PR or Social Media campaign will grow an organization that expects so little of itself. Rather than a campaign to persuade strangers to join us, what might we get from a campaign to persuade our members that it’s actually worth growing their Rotary clubs?

For your consideration,


Do you agree with Terry?  If we could just somehow change the level of complacency in our clubs and change our low performance expectations, we could make a huge positive difference in Rotary membership?  I think the answer is obviously yes….if we could do it.  And no….creative and strong leaders have been trying to make these changes for decades and they haven’t succeeded.

Over the next two posts I’m going to make the case for a paradigm shift in how Rotary approaches membership growth.  Stay tuned…..



Is Rotary International Following Sears?

If you are one of the many Rotarians who read Jim Henry’s blog, Retention Central, you will recognize the title of Jim’s October 15th Rotatorial, Is Rotary International Following Sears?  Jim is one of my favorite reads when it comes to issues regarding Rotary in general and more specifically, Rotary membership.  I think his blog is so popular because he expresses his opinions with a degree of fearlessness, clarity, and expertise that is highly valued by those who care about Rotary.  He has a lot of interesting ideas to share.  By my count he’s published 262 posts since 2010 and while I can’t claim to have read them all, the posts I have read unfailingly inspire me to think and rethink how we go about growing Rotary.

Jim’s Rotary cred is pretty much off the charts.  He’s a past District Governor and has won many of the most prestigious and coveted Rotary awards for service.  I can’t recall ever meeting Jim in person, but over the years we’ve struck up some terrific email conversations about our respective blogs about membership, marketing, branding, etc.  I’ve been giving some thought to how to best introduce you, my loyal RFA readers, to Jim and his sometimes controversial views about Rotary.  Plan A was to give you this link to Jim’s most recent post on Retention Central, Is Rotary International Following Sears?  But instead, I think I’ll go with Plan B and reprint the entire post here (with Jim’s permission) to save you a click.  Take it away, Jim…

Is Rotary International Following Sears?

I am often asked two questions:

  1. Why do I think Rotary International’s (RI) membership in North America and other legacy regions declined?
  2. Do I believe RI is in a permanent membership stalemate or decline?

My response to the first question is that I believe that RI’s fundamental problem goes back to the late 1980s when it began:

    • moving away from its core business of chartering and supporting local Rotary clubs,
    • abandoning the pursuit of its niche market – business, professional, and community leaders, and
    • restructuring operations in an attempt to become a worldwide service organization.

My response to the second question depends upon how its leaders vision RI’s future.  I suspect that RI will continue on its present course until leadership accepts that RI did indeed make these mistakes and aggressively pursues resolutions to each issue.  Along this avenue, I am aware that seminars around the world discuss variations of this question:  Is Rotary a service organization with members, or is it a member organization that performs service?

 If RI chooses to travel the path of being a service organization with members, it will continue to struggle.  Local clubs, the pistons that drive RI’s worldwide engine of influence, will gradually cease renewing charters because of falling membership. That will continually weaken RI’s ability to attract sufficient supporters, which will make it difficult for RI to sustain as an influential worldwide service organization.

If RI centers ALL activities on being a member-driven network of local Rotary clubs that perform community and worldwide service, then I believe it has a chance of having a long, influential future.  Some of RI’s present senior leaders are trying to influence change along these lines.  In an organization as diverse at RI, overcoming long-held philosophies, customs, and priorities is not easy, particularly with frequent changes in leadership.  In fact, it may be impossible for RI to alter its present course without completely restructuring core practices, mind-sets, and operations.  On the positive side, RI does have a basic worldwide structure already in place that could accelerate change, but all of RI’s departments, committees, administrative districts, and attributes MUST support pursuing a singular, differentiating objective.

Is RI going to continue to follow Sears?  What do you think?

Hmmm….what do I think?  I think that abandoning our niche market of business, professional, and community leaders, has been a real problem for Rotary.  I recently wrote about it on RFA and if you missed it you can read my thoughts here: Rotary International – Getting Back to Business.  

I’ll tackle whether Rotary is, as Jim says, “moving away from its core business of chartering and supporting local Rotary clubs,” and “restructuring operations in an attempt to become a worldwide service organization,” in a later post.  For now, I just wanted to thank Jim for being a leader of the conversation and for being an inspiration to many of us.

Next stop is the Zone Institute for Zone’s 33 and 34.  I’m looking forward to seeing my DG 2015-16 classmates!

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Please feel free to share your Rotary ideas and comments below.




Two Movie Nights & (at least) $20,000 raised for Polio Eradication

The big screen at the Avalon Theatre in Easton, Md.

Last week the Rotary world celebrated World Polio Day.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to celebrate along with two different groups of Rotary clubs.  Both evenings featured a Movie Night event where excited Rotarians watched the polio documentary, Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became The Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication, and then collectively raised $22,000 for polio eradication.  On October 24th I shared the evening with the Rotary Club of Easton and their neighboring clubs on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and on October 25th I was invited to hang out with the Rotary clubs north of Baltimore, including my friends in the Rotary clubs of Aberdeen, Bel Air, Havre de Grace, Southern Harford County, and Middle River.

I’ve previously written about the plans for the Easton club’s Movie Night.  If you are interested in planning a similar event you can check out that post by clicking  HERE.  Special thanks to Richie Wheatley, President of the Rotary Club of Easton, my friend John Nanni, who always inspires everyone around him while living with post-polio syndrome, and Tim Kagan, who shared an amazing slide show while discussing doing NID’s in India.  I would like to think the star of the show was the film itself, but I’m afraid the real star was the Avalon Theatre in Easton.  What an amazing venue to watch the film and discuss Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio. (I happen to be a big fan of Kathy Mattea and just want to say that Dare to Dream got to the Avalon just three days before she did!)

As the residents of the Eastern Shore of Maryland will gladly share with you, once you cross the Bay Bridge heading east and get to the “other” side of the Chesapeake Bay, life slows down and people tend to be, well…..nicer.  Here are a bunch of pictures from their event.  Notably, they raised funds from ticket sales AND they featured twelve different sponsors on their program.  According to their website they raised $16,200 for polio eradication AND a great time was had by all.  Great job!

From Left: Co-Chair George Hatcher, Chair Richie Wheatley, Past President Tim Kagan, Yours Truly

The next evening I journeyed to Towson University’s building on the Harford Community College campus (I know its confusing but just go with me here) to watch the movie with the Harford County clubs.  Here’s Nick Champagne, President of the Bel Air club,  to properly introduce you to their event.

This event reminded me of the Dare to Dream premier last October because we held the premier on the campus of Howard Community College in a high-tech lecture hall very similar to the one they used to show the film at Towson.  If you are thinking of doing a Movie Night event, check out the local Community College as a venue.  In both of these cases, the college donated the venue for FREE.

Another technique to copy was they used Eventbrite for RSVPs to Movie Night.  AG Sheryl Davis Kohl told me they used the Eventbrite data to make certain individual Rotarians got their Paul Harris credit for their polio donation.  $2,000 in ticket sales plus the Gates match meant $6,000 for polio eradication that evening.  Not bad for a fun night at the movies!

I’m afraid I didn’t take as many pictures that night, but here’s a few to share.

Treasurer Jim Weber armed with Pennies for Polio bucket and the always welcomed raffle tickets.

From my perspective the only thing missing from both events was a strong effort to promote the evening to non-Rotarians.  Once they saw the film both groups agreed that showing Dare to Dream to prospective Rotarians is a fantastic way to introduce them to Rotary.  If you consider doing your own Movie Night, remember that there are professionally designed and downloadable movie posters and customizable fliers announcing your event available on the Dare to Dream website.

You hear a lot nowadays about “polio  fatigue,” the disorder that occurs when Rotarians are tired of talking about polio eradication.  There were no signs of it last week as both events were filled with enthusiastic Rotarians eager to learn about our Rotary polio heritage.  Thanks to all for a memorable World Polio Day celebration!

To rent or purchase the Dare to Dream documentary, and learn how to produce your own Movie Night event to raise money for polio eradication, recruit new members, and raise the visibility of your club in your community, go to the www.daretodreamfilm.com website.

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