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:
- Why do I think Rotary International’s (RI) membership in North America and other legacy regions declined?
- 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!
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.
Please feel free to share your Rotary ideas and comments below.