NOTE: Occasionally the RFA blog takes on subjects that may make readers blood boil as we poke and prod at long-held Rotary beliefs. Today we are taking on the possibly heretical notion that “service” as a fundamental requirement of being a Rotarian can take many forms. Please feel free to violently disagree. Your Humble RFA Editor.
I’m a proud member of the Columbia-Patuxent Rotary club’s “meeting after the meeting.” Participants have been known to hang around for hours after our Friday morning meeting discussing any topic, Rotary or non-Rotary, under the sun. A few weeks ago our discussion focused on tracking club member’s “hands on” service hours. It has been proposed that tracking these hours will:
1) Help us promote Rotary in a way that helps to quantify the dollar value of our volunteer service. How cool it would be to say we give “x” amount of hours of sweat equity in helping others in town and those volunteer hours have “x” dollar value? Plus, discussing our hands-on service would absolutely help to promote Rotary’s brand, especially with prospective younger members.
2) Perhaps tracking service hours will serve as an incentive to members that have not been active in service projects in the past. Seeing how others are participating might inspire them to get off their butt and get into the fray of serving others. And once they enter the pool, who knows? They may just get hooked on this service thing.
To track service hours the club has created a form that basically asks members to self-report the service opportunity they participated in and the number of hours they contributed. I’m sure this data will be tracked on some kind of a spreadsheet.
Even the old and wise…well….old…..Rotarians I hang out with have no objection to #1 above. But (stunning surprise alert) they seem to have a few comments to make about #2. So buckle on your chin straps and lets explore a few thoughts on the topic of engagement.
Lets start by observing that Rotary has several different constituent members who view the value proposition of their membership differently, depending on their demographic. If you are a younger member you are likely to value “hands on” service opportunities and the opportunity to network with older members. If you are a middle-aged Rotarian (don’t ask…I’m not going there) then you may be interested in service opportunities, as well as social and business opportunities. If you are an older Rotarian (if you find yourself bragging about your grandchildren at club meetings then you are “older.” That doesn’t mean you look, feel, or are old. You are just older) it is possible that you are more interested in the social connection that Rotary provides and less likely to be interested in planting trees, road side garbage pickups, stocking the shelf at the local food pantry, etc. The older members get, the more they might value raising money using a lifetime of connections they’ve developed in the community and/or their own personal ability to write a check to solve community problems. While they applaud the energy of younger Rotarians, they could be excused for not being as enthusiastic about expending their own.
If the above is true, and a particular Rotary club has an older demographic (in 2016 Rotarians average age was 58. 40%+ of members were over 60 years of age) then the club might naturally become a sometimes demonized “check writing club” that raises money and gives it away to worthy causes, but seems to do little else. The members are doing what they like to do, but are they RINOs (Rotarian in Name Only) if they don’t post for hands-on service projects? Are we insulting or alienating our older members if we define “engagement” in a way that forces them to do service work they don’t want to do? On the other hand, what are other members to think of this group that is obviously less than enthusiastic about attending volunteer projects?
Is it possible that there is absolutely nothing wrong with members being social and writing checks, if that’s how THEY define Rotary service? Could it be “bad business” to define excellent membership through the lens of hands on service when that isn’t what the majority of members want to do? NOTE: If you are an older member who LOVES to do hands on service, or you belong to a club where the majority of older members LOVE hands on service, congratulations!
Doesn’t it make sense that if clubs want to promote more hands on service that they make it easier for younger members, who generally WANT TO DO hands on service, to join? What if you track service hours for younger members and use them to offset younger member dues payments? Several clubs in District 7620 are doing this successfully. Younger members typically could care less about selling tickets for fundraisers. Let them do hands on service. Let older members have a cocktail and mentor younger members about how we did it better “in the old days.”
And finally (mercifully) there is the question of members who donate substantial time and money to support the club’s internal service. The members who create and manage the club website. The members who plan club programs or plan the club’s fundraising events, the entire club Leadership Team, members working in the District or Zone, etc. etc. What about them? Do we celebrate them in the same way we celebrate members who volunteered their Saturday to plant trees? Let’s hope we don’t somehow devalue their contribution because their isn’t a checkmark on the service hour form for club, District, or Zone service activity.
If there is anything I absolutely love to discuss, its how Rotary and Rotarians resist change. As an organization we need to get a lot better at change if we want to survive. But its easy to point the finger at others when the change doesn’t involve you and your Rotary club, isn’t it?
For the record, here’s my personal opinion:
I think tracking service hours is a brilliant idea.
I think using the hours to promote the club in the community is also a brilliant idea and well worth doing.
I think tracking hours as a means to incentivize older members to do hands on service is doomed to failure. I would be opposed to making the individual hourly service information public to the club for fear it might embarrass certain members.
I think Rotary clubs need to make it easier for younger members, who want to do hands on service, to join clubs. Getting younger is the solution…not trying to change older members into something they don’t want to be.
What do you think about this whole “engagement” issue? Does your club track hours of service? How does it work in your club? One way or the other, its the engagement of our members, however its defined, that will mean success or failure of our Rotary clubs.
This post was brought to you by the Rotary documentary, Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became the Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication. You can rent or buy this one hour documentary at www.daretodreamfilm.com. You can read about using the documentary to raise money for polio eradication, increase the public’s knowledge about Rotary, and recruit new members, by holding a Movie Night in October during World Polio Month. Read more about Movie Night on Ready, Fire, Aim here and here.
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