Do you love to read? I’ve been surprised to learn that not everybody does, and in fact, for many its a chore. But for me, reading has always been a big part of my life. Nowadays I read almost exclusively for entertainment (the years of reading investment research certainly don’t count) and I divide my reading time into “serious reading” and “fun” reading. In fact, over the years I’ve offered book reviews here at Ready, Fire, Aim when I found something I thought was particularly relevant to Rotary.
But lately I’ve found something even more fun than reading. And that is discussing the books I’ve read with others who also love to read. I’ve learned that these discussions tend to be informed, rational, interesting, educational, and an absolute hoot. And guess who I’ve been discussing these books with? That’s right, the Rotarians in our new Rotary Book Club. [Full disclosure: We haven’t come up with a pithy name for the club yet so we seem to be sticking with the endlessly creative name of “book club.”] I did a little research to see if Rotary International has a book club fellowship, since literacy is pretty big on our collective “to-do” list, but I didn’t see one on the list.
If you Google book clubs, or ask the many millions of folks who belong to a book club, you will find that there are endless ways of organizing your club. Don’t feel obligated to do it our way, but just in case you’re interested, here’s how we set up ours:
We meet once a month on the first Tuesday of the month. This implies we are reading twelve books during the year. The meetings are hosted by yours truly at my home with participants gathering around 6:30PM. Discussions usually go from 7PM to 9PM.
We currently have ten official members in the club, but usually get six or seven attendees for any one meeting. Our Rotary club has 50 members or so and even though we are constantly asking others to join us, for the rest of the club a monthly reading assignment just isn’t their cup of tea. We think ten is a good number to manage a robust conversation. ( I have been reliably informed that if we changed the club to the “bourbon and book club,” membership would soar.) If you have more interest in your club you might want to split up the groups somehow. I leave that to you.
Each member gets to recommend a book when it’s his or her turn. Other book clubs decide on books in a much more democratic fashion with members voting on each month’s reading selection. For us, so far at least, it’s worked that a member recommends the book with the proviso that they’ve already read it. If the group hates the book (it hasn’t happened yet) it may be that the member’s choice of books next time around will be more carefully vetted. Anyway, we think this reduces the risk of reading a clunker book because everyone is time constrained and our book reading time is precious.
So far the book list has been very eclectic and I think we are getting a little more ambitious in our book selections as we’ve gone along. Our first four books were nonfiction but the last two were fiction, or at least historical fiction. So far we’ve read:
Hidden Figures, The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly
The Gatekeepers, How the White House chiefs of Staff Define every Presidency; by Chris Whipple.
Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now, by Dr. Gordon Livingston
Factfulness, Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling,
Beneath a Scarlett Sky, by Mark Sullivan, A story about a forgotten hero of the Italian resistance during World War II.
And our current reading assignment – Educated, by Tara Westover
The person who recommends the book leads the discussion. That usually entails asking the group questions about the book. Everyone has their own style as discussion leader, but we’ve found it’s a pretty easy job because everyone is eager to join in and share their views. The conversation is wonderful!
Snacks in the form of a bottle of white, a bottle of red, and a 12-pack of beer, along with inexpensive munchies, are provided by the person who is “on deck” with the next month’s book.
So that’s pretty much it. If you are looking for a creative way to stimulate fellowship in your Rotary Club, to be able to offer another option to new members to get engaged with Rotary, and to actually do something to promote the 5th part of the Four Way Test (Have Fun!….but you knew that), then I highly recommend you start a book club in your Rotary Club.
Happy reading everyone and even happier fellowship!
I will have some very special news to report shortly about the Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became the Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication, documentary. We are re-editing the film and a new 25-minute free version for club programs is on the way. To learn more about this incredible, entertaining movie about Rotary and our history, visit Daretodreamfilm.com.
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Anchoring Bias: A cognitive bias where an individual relies too heavily on an initial piece of information offered (considered the anchor) when making decisions. Anchoring occurs when, during decision making, an individual relies on an initial piece of information to make subsequent decisions.
In our Rotary District 7620, our goal for giving to the Annual Program Fund (APF) SHARE program of the Rotary Foundation is $200 per rotarian. As of 2018 our members generously gave $158 per cap, which is a marvelous statement about how they perceive Rotary’s unique goals and objectives for world peace. In fact, it might mean that Rotarians are giving $58 per member more than it appears Rotary International asks them to give. Why the “average” Rotarian gives to the Rotary Foundation is a subject for another day, but I wonder if, unfortunately, many give because they are told to give by their club leaders, and have no real understanding of what the Foundation does or how it works. And that especially includes the SHARE program.
But as the APF Chair in our district for this year, I am getting frustrated with our member’s fixation with giving $100 per year to TRF. Our goal is $200, but it appears that Rotary is encouraging the smaller contribution. Why? Because to be a Sustaining Member a Rotarian must give $100 per year to the Foundation. And to be an Every Rotarian Every Year (EREY) club, a club must average $100 per capita contribution to the Foundation, with every Rotarian giving at least $25 per year. As I travel around the district discussing TRF development I meet many club leaders who explain they have built $25 per quarter, or $100 per year, into their dues statement as the “suggested” amount members can give to the Rotary Foundation. That many clubs screw up the paperwork so individual members never get their recognition points is, once again, a story for another day. But EREY was established in 2004 and clubs are anchored to that $100 contribution number.
There is nothing magical about $100 per cap giving. I don’t think it has much relevance for many of our members as a suggested giving goal or target. EREY and Sustaining Member simply anchor expectations and make it harder to explain our $200 per cap giving goal to our club members.
ANY gift to the Rotary Foundation is worthy of our respect. But let’s not get anchored to the notion of $100 contributions each year, even if Rotary encourages it. The secret to getting members to contribute $200 to the Foundation is easy…you have to ASK. Educate your members about the good works of our Foundation. Make sure they know they can choose either the SHARE program or Polio Plus, or both, in making their contribution. Help them sign in to MyRotary so they can make recurrent gifts online. And make sure your club properly recognizes members who are hitting new Paul Harris Fellow recognition levels.
Finally, the real secret to getting to $200 per cap giving is to build your club’s Paul Harris Society membership. I wrote about the 10% PHS solution in July of 2014. It still makes all the sense in the world.
In a recent four-part series on membership, I wrote about the conundrum of “lightening strike” Rotary clubs. Amid the wreckage of the vast majority of Rotary clubs that fail to grow, there always seem to be a few outlier clubs who for reasons that are not fully understood, thrive and grow like crazy. Rotary Coordinators dub these clubs, “lightening strikes.” Rotary leaders logically think that if they could figure out WHY these clubs are succeeding, we could replicate them throughout Rotary and voila, we could resolve Rotary’s long-standing membership issues.
One such “lightening strike” club in Rotary District 7620 is the Rotary Club of Metro Bethesda. I first wrote about Metro Bethesda on 2/8/14 in a post called, “What Do Rotary Clubs Sound Like? Loud!” (I know, that’s a long time ago. Have I been writing this blog for more than five years? YIKES!) Anyway, you can check out the post here. NOTE: Don’t worry…that was back when my posts were short and interesting. http://kensolowrotary.com/2014/02/08/what-do-great-rotary-clubs-sound-like-loud/
This subject came up because at a recent meeting at my club a visitor from Metro Bethesda, Tito Reconco, got to chatting with me about a club program they have in Metro Bethesda called, The Pairing Program. I was intrigued. First because whatever this was, they really needed to improve the name of the program. It sounds like a dating service to me. But more importantly, I wanted to find out if the Pairing Program could be one of the programs all Rotary clubs could copy if they wanted to grow. This led to a discussion with Metro Bethesda Pairing Program Chair, and Past President 2012-13, Stephanie Lowet. And this is what I found out…
The Pairing Program is meant to foster conversations among club members who have never had the opportunity to chat during the meetings. Club member, Bob Scholz, who is apparently a computer geek, actually has a program to randomly “pair” members to meet for informal, one on one, conversations. These conversations are typically more personal than professional, and Stephanie describes them as “casual conversations that let you get closer to people.” She says it “is fascinating to get to know someone a little bit better.”
The club suggests pairings to members on a quarterly basis, but the club doesn’t monitor the program to see who met with whom. They email a list around with suggestions and contact information and members take it from there. Every once in awhile apparently Bob or Stephanie might give an extra “nudge” to people to go to their pairing meetings.
That’s all there is to it. But consider this. When Stephanie joined Metro Bethesda there were 13-14 members. When she was club president there were 18 members. When I wrote about the club Barton Goldenberg (now District Governor-Elect) was president and there were 37 members. And today Metro Bethesda has 70 members. Could it be that the secret to growing a Rotary club, or at least part of the equation for growth, is to pay attention to the relationships members develop with each other?
Here’s a few other facts about Metro-Bethesda. Their membership is 50% men and 50% women. They are located in a vibrant community just outside of Washington, DC. According to Stephanie it is “an ideal environment for Rotary, with lots of like-minded, interesting people who want face time in addition to screen time as they build relationships.” She mentioned more than once how diversified the club is. And I haven’t visited lately, but I can guarantee you that the club is still LOUD!
What is your club doing to help your members get to know each other better? Stephanie describes her club as “family.” Do you think members are more likely to brag about their club and ask friends, associates, and family to visit when they feel that way about their club?
I’ve been trying to figure out “lightening strikes” since I began doing PETS training more than fifteen years ago. I chose to teach PETS training because I believe that strong leadership is the key to these rare, but fascinating Rotary growth stories. Barton Goldenberg was Metro Bethesda club president when it took off, and I’m not sure how you clone that kind of talent and energy. But let’s start with the fundamentals. If the fifth part of the Four-Way Test is, “Is It Fun?,” then what could be more fun than finding opportunities to get to know your club members a lot better than you do now?
I’ll be sharing some interesting ideas for promoting club fellowship in upcoming posts.
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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?
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.)
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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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!
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?!
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?!
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
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.
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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)
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
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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