Is Rotary a Franchise Operation? A Random Conversation at the Zone Institute


RI President-Elect, Ian Riseley, who is an accountant by trade but a great guy anyway!

Just back from the Zone 33-34 2016 Institute where I had the opportunity to listen in and participate in a conversation between a Past District Governor and a Past RI Director. The two are long-time friends and the conversation took place at the lobby bar after everyone had attended their class dinner. I mention this because (in my case) enough alcohol was imbibed to lower inhibitions and keep the opinions flowing. Conversations like these are the reason I love showing up to Zone meetings in the first place. Where else do you get to hang out with Rotary wonks like these guys?

Since you couldn’t be there, I thought I would share my greatly condensed version of the ideas flowing around the table. I didn’t have a tape recorder running but I think I can pass along the gist of the conversation.  If it seems like the participants were  rambling and talking in circles, that’s because they were.

NOTE: In a typical business franchise the franchisor signs a contract with the franchisee that dictates how the business will run in great detail. The franchisee pays a fee to own a franchise to the franchisor. In exchange for these constraints, the franchisee often benefits from lower costs, business consulting, and regional and national advertising. Perhaps most importantly, they benefit from the franchisor’s brand recognition.


Rotarian A: No way Rotary is a franchise. Rotary clubs are completely different and Rotary International can’t make them do just about anything according to our bylaws. Clubs are independent entities and celebrate their ability to do things their own way.

Rotarian B: Oh really? Then why do we have a constitution and a manual of procedure and why does the COL meet every three years? And why do you think Rotary wants clubs to win the presidential citation? Rotary is trying to institute a certain set of standards that define a “vibrant club.” If every club is doing the activities required to earn the citation then our organization begins to look and smell like a franchise operation.

Rotarian A: I’m not sure that checking the boxes on the presidential citation makes a club vibrant. Do the Rotarians in each club really care about the citation standards? I don’t even know if my own club has won an award in the past few years. If a Rotary club is “doing its own thing” and is happy with their Rotary experience, then they are a vibrant club by the only standard that matters, which is their own.

Me: This reminds me of discussions about good parenting. Do good parents reward the child that tries the hardest but gets a C, or do you reward the child that gets an A, even though it comes easy to them? You seem to be suggesting that effort counts and RI can’t check a box for effort on an online application process.


RI Director Zone’s 33-34, 2016-18, and another all around good guy, Joe Mulkerrin

Rotarian B: Absolutely not. You reward the “A.” But using data that is collected online is terrible because you can’t tell which clubs are earning the “A.” The data stinks. It was much better when DG’s could simply tell RI which clubs should win based on their knowledge of what a club is doing. Now DG’s are totally out of the loop. DG’s should be able to add their own judgment when RI evaluates whether a club is eligible to win.

Rotarian A: If we really understand that Rotary is a member-driven organization, we will encourage and reward Rotary clubs for being happy with themselves. Where is the award for being the happiest or the most fun? And what if a club is satisfied but it doesn’t fit RI’s thinking about what is vibrant? I realize Rotary wants clubs to improve, but according to whose definition of improvement? RI Presidents change the citation every year.

Me: But if you could operate Rotary like a franchise, then you would have a better shot at defining our brand experience. Once consumers of “Rotary” get a uniform product experience, we could do a much better job of marketing Rotary. As it is, what are we selling? The customer experience for Rotary is a complete mess…you just don’t know what you are going to get when you walk in the door of any particular club meeting.


RI Trustee, Barry Rassin, reporting on the healthy state of the Rotary Foundation.

Rotarian A: What you get is a group of dedicated people doing community service and having a good time. The Rotary communications and PR team did a good job with describing us as Community Leaders, Exchanging Ideas, and Taking Action, don’t you think?

Rotarian B: Yes, but the clubs aren’t all on the same page. Wouldn’t it be better to have a group of clubs that are striving to achieve the goals set forth in the presidential citation? More foundation giving. More members. More diversity. More PR. If every club is striving to win the citation then we would have a much stronger brand identity…by definition.

Me: I joined AMWAY when I was in college. But I was introduced to the business by David Taylor, the starting left offensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts. I guarantee you that walking past Taylors’ trophy room on the way to our AMWAY meeting had a huge impact on my perception of the AMWAY brand. A pro athlete selling AMWAY? Really? Of course, the last people you would ever want to sell you laundry detergent are a bunch of college males who do their laundry once a month… but that’s another story. (laughter) My point is, what do consumers see when they attend different Rotary club meetings? Without any control from the franchisor, in many communities folks who are interested in Rotary learn about our brand by visiting clubs that could be a lot better.


Rotarian A: I’ve talked about the same thing but I use Starbucks as my example of a successful franchise and one of the most successful brands. How do people feel about themselves when they pay up to drink Starbucks coffee? It may be just a cup of coffee but it’s branding genius. Rotarians need to think the same way. What is the experience we offer when you join a Rotary club? If the current members are happy with the experience, then do the standards set in the presidential citation matter at all?

Rotarian B: You are too much of a contrarian thinker! (laughter) The citation isn’t for the members and it isn’t really for the public. It IS for club presidents. If a club president wants his club to earn the citation then he or she can get it done. It isn’t THAT hard to win. An awarding winning club best represents our brand in any community around the world.

Me: Rotary really needs to understand that PR is just a subsection of sales and marketing. We need clubs to have a marketing chair, not just a public image chair.  If it’s true that club members and the public don’t know that clubs are winning this award, then that’s a marketing catastrophe. We have to get Rotarians to understand the power of this new brand identity.

Rotarian A:  And with that, gentlemen, it’s time for bed.

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(L) Geetha Jayram, one of District 7620’s two Global Alumni Service to Humanity Award winners.

(R)  Marni Nixon, Coordinator of Club and District Support for the Americas, absolutely radiant at the idea of not having to deal with me anymore.



Rotary Coordinator, Chris Jones, desperately trying to help us have stronger Rotary Clubs.

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(L) RI President-Elect Ian Riseley, (R) Marni Nixon, still thrilled that she doesn’t have to work with me anymore.

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(L) Past RI Director, John Smarge, 2010-12.   (R) RI Director-Elect David Stovall, with PDG’s Cyndi and Peter Doragh.

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(L) Previous boss, Charlene Hall, who encouraged me to write this blog post, with some guy named Robert who hangs out with her.  (R)  Another picture of the current boss of the Zone surrounded by flags and colorful banners.


RI President-Elect Ian Riseley with ANOTHER District 7620 Global Alumni Service to Humanity Award Winner, Peter Kyle.  (Just sayin)  Peter purchased the alcoholic beverages mentioned in this blog.  Thanks, Peter.



If You Build a Terrific Young Professional Recruiting Event….Will They Come?


“If you build it, they will come.”  Kevin Costner’s character in the movie, Field of Dreams, hears a mysterious voice with this message while walking in his corn field in Iowa.  “Build it” refers to building a baseball diamond, and as James Earl Jones says in this iconic clip, if Ray Kinsella (Costner) builds the field, fans will come to watch the game. This is a three minute clip so skip it if you like, but this is truly one of the great scenes in a great baseball movie.

Anyone who knows anything about the business of major league baseball knows that baseball is wrestling with developing its next generation of fans.  And while James Earl Jones speaks poetically about the timeless and somewhat old fashioned virtues of baseball, the sport is in a lot of trouble if they can’t market a better value proposition to a younger demographic.  Rotary has much the same problem.  We need to get serious about how to position Rotary as a great value for young professionals.

Which brings me (blessedly) to the subject of this post, which is share with you a creative event for recruiting young professionals to Rotary.  Past President of the Dupont Circle Rotary Club, and well-known expert in recruiting young professionals, Clarissa Harris, and the District 7620 YP team, including Nomie Hamid, Katie Blyth,  Tiffany Nesfield, and Justin Saltzman, are out to change the paradigm for how to recruit Next Gen Rotarians.  Here’s the secret….they are not promoting a Rotary membership event.  Instead they are “selling” YPs on how community service can help jumpstart their career.  That’s right.  It turns out that YP’s are looking for opportunities to build their network, be mentored, and practice leadership skills. And yes, they are very interested in doing “hands on” community service.  NOTE:  This does not mean selling tickets to fundraisers.  Just sayin.

The event is called, Generation Lead.  To be held on Saturday, September 17th, the agenda is a clever mix of information about leadership development in the morning and a service project in the afternoon.  They have created a professional and informative website at Please go there immediately to steal….er…..get the details.  Here’s how the day goes:  Participants do some basic warm-up networking and then participate in an interactive leadership workshop run by Sarah Alexander with the University of Md.’s Office of Community Engagement.  Next is a panel discussion with John Hill, CEO of Pinnacle Advisory Group, Kristin Post, former Peace Fellow and researcher at the Marine Corps Culture Training Center, and Sarah Alexander, discussing how community service has an impact on who they hire, how community engagement impacts how they view their employees, and how community service has impacted their personal career development.


YP guru Clarissa Harris.  

After the morning sessions on professional development, the YP’s are off to an interesting service project where they will be planting more than 5,000 bee friendly plants to support three new swarms of bees.  The mix of hands on service and high quality information about professional development will clearly illustrate the unique value proposition of Rotary.

The economics of this event can be replicated by any club or District with an interest, although this particular event is funded by an RI grant.  (You can substitute corporate sponsors for the RI grant and pull off a similar event.)  They key is for sponsors to realize that they can have their company associated with a valuable demographic (YP’s) and also be seen by potential customers and current clients as supporting youth and community service….a powerful combination.  In this case the District 7620 YP team found a powerful partner in the University of Maryland, who generously donated the space for the event on campus as well as busses to transport participants from the morning session to the afternoon service project.  Perhaps more importantly, U of Md. is marketing the event to the U. of Md. Alumni Association’s Young Professional Group.


What about Rotary involvement?  The YP team is directly emailing to Rotary Alumni.  (Yes, the data on that list is a little sketchy.)  Additionally, each club in the District is invited to send up to five YP’s to the event.  Each participant will be strongly encouraged to visit their sponsoring Rotary club after the Generation Lead event.   Rotary clubs are also asked to provide volunteers for the day to serve as potential mentors to participants, further demonstrating the value of Rotary as a career building move for YPs.  7620 DG, Anna Mae Kobbe, has written several times to her Club Presidents asking them to participate, and now the YP committee has committed to making follow-up calls to certain clubs making certain that they get the message.

Current attendance is 100+.  The goal is 200+.  Clarissa and her team have built an extraordinary opportunity for Rotary Clubs to reach out to their local business community and invite young professionals to attend a free event.  Generation Lead would benefit any business owner interested in furthering the development of their young professional employees.  Why wouldn’t they send them to a free seminar sponsored by Rotary?

Another question might be, why isn’t the event sold out already?  (By the way, having 100 registered two weeks prior to an event is somewhat short of amazing considering this is Rotary after all.)   Here are a few obstacles to be overcome:

Rotary Club Presidents are now focused on their own agenda as its still very early in their year.

Rotary Club Presidents are getting bombarded with a variety of messages from their DG and from RI and this is just another thing on the list.

For this to work best, Rotarians should be reaching out to the local business community to find YP attendees.  Rotary clubs ain’t so good at the “reaching out” part.

Many Rotary clubs don’t recognize the need to get younger.  They are fine talking to each other about the grandkids every week.

Rotary clubs think they should be sending their own YPs to this event, as opposed to PROSPECTIVE YPs to this event.  If they don’t currently have YP members they think this event doesn’t apply to them.

Well….they apparently built a baseball field in an Iowa corn field and people came to watch baseball played by ghosts.  Now the question is, “If you build a fantastic recruiting event so that Rotary clubs can get younger, will they come?

Let’s hope so!




Proper Rotary Bagel Etiquette



I have been besieged with thousands of inquiries about what I’ve been doing in my new role of Immediate Past District Governor.  (Perhaps the actual number of inquiries is zero but my therapist says I specialize in self-delusion and the thought of thousands of inquiries makes me feel better.)  It has been several weeks since my last post so it is time to bring you, my faithful RFA readers, up to speed with RFA’s most recent insights into the world of Rotary.   Having missed my self-imposed deadline to bring you world peace by the end of this past Rotary year, today I’m breaking a very important story about bagel etiquette at the Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent. (ColPax)

First some background.  Like many Rotary clubs, Col Pax is deeply engaged in finding new and innovative ways to make the club more attractive for the next generation of Rotarians. On the list, of course, is to explore ways of reducing cost.  And one of those options was to serve a continental breakfast instead of a hot breakfast in an effort to save money.  One of the popular items on the breakfast buffet is bagels with the obligatory lox and cream cheese.  The problem being that waiting for those connoisseurs who enjoy toasted bagels created a long line at the breakfast buffet.  My job as your RFA reporter? To get to the bottom of what is or is not acceptable in terms of bagel toasting behavior.

Here’s long-time club members, and Area Governor, Charlie McCabe, giving his view on the subject.  (Note the cameo by DGE, Greg Wims, as he slides by on his way to get his bagel toasted.  There was no way Greg was getting caught on camera discussing this issue.)

To give you some idea of how quickly Rotarians try to deflect responsibility for a problem to someone else, here’s another long-time Rotarian, and former District 7620 Membership Chair, Darrell Nevin, pointing the finger at Anne London, the club’s Community Service Chair, for a bagel toasting violation.  Note how gracefully Anne passes the blame on to some other nameless Rotarian.  In case you missed it, the revelation here is that is seems to be unacceptable to put your bagel in the toaster BEFORE the meeting starts.

In the next clip, Rotarian (and my dentist), Walt Mazzella, freely admits to leaving his bagel to toast while leaving the area to kibbutz with Rotarian Mark Stoner.  NOTE:  I’ve made it a practice to be very careful about what I say in print about anyone who puts sharp metal objects in my mouth that have the potential to cause me pain.  Mark Stoner , on the other hand, is the club’s President-Elect and is smart enough not to weigh in on this particular controversy.  I personally thought his response showed a lack of courage (or some other peculiarly male part of the anatomy), but it is the political season and club PE’s around the world are being careful with what they say about just about everything.  Interestingly, they are already experiencing the phenomenon of Rotarians not returning their phone calls.

It is ironic that the ColPax Board of Directors has now discontinued continental breakfasts, no doubt due to the extreme tension and conflict caused by bagel etiquette violations.  Or because they have other more effective means of lowering club costs, although I can’t be sure.  And it is interesting that the ColPax Club, under the direction of Mark Stoner and Club President, Alan Jefferson,  recently raised $10,000 for the Summer Enrichment Program which benefits kids in the Head Start Program here in Howard County, Md., with a new and innovative fundraiser, and I thought it was more worthwhile to write about the club’s bagel etiquette.

All of which is my long-winded way of answering the question about what Immediate Past District Governors do.  We reengage with our home Rotary clubs and begin to cause real problems based on imagined issues.  What fun!

Stay tuned for more hard-hitting journalism from your RFA correspondent.




What I Won’t Miss Now That My Term is Over

7620 DG Anna Mae Kobbe and First Gentlemen, Doug Newell.

The past few weeks have not been profitable for the “smart money.”  First, the Brexit vote was horribly miscalculated by bookies who had the “stay” vote the heavy favorite. Pandemonium ensued.  Your RFA correspondent can now report that the bookies lost even more as the “over and under” bet on Yours Truly making it all the way until the end of his term was just as lopsided.  For Rotarians willing to bet against the odds, BIG MONEY was made when we peacefully transferred power to new District Governor, Anna Mae Kobbe, on July 1rst.   I won’t miss the Vegas crowd…that’s for sure.


The Vegas smart money crowd tries to cover their bets.

Another group that I will not miss is the District Governor’s secret service detail.  You may not know that Rotary provides a security detail to provide for the protection and safety of Rotary’s biggest  power brokers, namely District Governors.  Rarely seen, but incredibly effective, the Rotary secret service does not like it when the entire District leadership team is in one room at the same time. (For obvious reasons.)  I can now reveal just how stressful it was for Linda and I to put up with these guys for the entire year.   I’m looking forward to going out to dinner without the stupid dogs sniffing for explosives prior to my arrival.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have to admit I will mess flying in Rotary One.


Rotary One hovers in the background prior to one of my club visits last year.

There is one other group that I won’t miss as I pass the District’s leadership baton to Anna Mae, and that is the paparazzi.  While Rotary’s secret servants are annoying, the paparazzi that followed me around all year were downright rude.  If I would have known how intrusive they would be as they tried to photograph every aspect of my personal and professional life, I wouldn’t have accepted the gigantic groundswell of support and adoration that forced me to me accept the DG nomination last year.  Good riddance to all photographers.  Hey pal, If you want a picture of me going forward, you will have to see my agent!  Oh…and no more requests for autographs….please.


What WILL I miss?  I will miss helping  Rotary clubs achieve their goals as DG.  I will miss the seemingly unending goodwill of Rotarians everywhere who seemed so appreciative of the time and effort it takes to do the job.  I will miss representing RI President Ravi Ravindran, who’s theme for the year, “Be a Gift to the World,” was a gift to the rest of us.  As was his choice of class tie.  (Just sayin)  I will miss working with the leadership team in my District. I will also miss working with my Club Presidents.  As the year progressed it was impossible not to be impressed by the collective good that is done by our Rotary clubs.  I will also miss working with our Area Governors.  They made me look good, which was quite a feat.  And of course, I’m grateful to our District 7620 Rotarians.  They do all the work and they do it because they truly want to make a positive difference in the world.

What’s left for me, now?  Well first, its time to collect on my Rotary stock options.  On July 1 my options on Rotary’s stock, symbol BGIFT, vested.  BINGO!  Next I have to speak with my Rotary agent about my upcoming worldwide speaking tour.  (sigh)

Here’s a few photos from Anna Mae’s big night.  Enjoy!

What a fantastic Leadership Team.  From Left:  DGE Greg Wims, DG Anna Mae, and DGN Rich Glover.
Past DG’s from Left front, Raj Saini, Bette Lewis, Anna Mae, Pat Kasuda, Bob Hanson.  Top Left: Bill Fine, Bob Grill, Andy Baum, Claude Morissette, Ken Solow, Bob Parkinson, Ray Streib, Jay Kumar, Peter Kyle.
Immediate Past First Lady, Linda, affixing a well-earned Past DG pin.
Award Winning Columbia Patuxent Club President, Laurie Reuben, gets a IPDG hug.
DG Anna Mae finally collects her much coveted margarita machine.
PR Chair, Dawn Wittfelt, and Awards Chair, Larry Leahy, scheming on how to get 26 awards delivered in 30 minutes.
Three of my Rotary mentors, from Left:  PDG’s Bill Fine, Andy Baum, and Peter Kyle.
Can you see whose name sits atop this leadership org chart?  That’s right!  District Secretary Sherry Whitworth,


You can get automatic notifications of new Ready, Fire, Aim blog posts by clicking on the subscribe button to the right of the blog text.  You can follow IPDG Ken Solow on Twitter at @KennethRSolow.  Please “like” the District 7620 Facebook page.


An Amazing International Conference in Seoul Korea


Yours truly clowning around at Gyeongbokgung Palace

I took more than 500 pictures during my trip with District 7620 First Lady, Linda, to Japan and then to Korea for the International Conference.  Because the pictures are incredible I thought I would cherry pick 20 or so to share with you and try to give you a little flavor of what its like at an International Conference.  RI President Ravi didn’t have the final numbers, but thought this might be the biggest ever International Conference with 45,000 or more attendees.  The biggest news from the Conference?  Be prepared to take advantage of the biggest single PR and membership windfall in Rotary history next year as Rotary begins to string together a number of polio-free months.  Enjoy the rest of the pictures!

The scale of the plenary sessions and opening and closing sessions was massive.


Colorful outfits were everywhere.  Korean performers taking a break.


I just wanted another excuse to try to spell Gyeongbokgung Palace.  The weather was beautiful all week.


A Shinto shrine in downtown.  The colors were amazing.  The culture is amazing.

I had a hard time choosing the right skyline shot.  This is just a small view from Seoul Tower.  Seoul impressed everyone as being gigantic, clean, modern, efficient.  The whole package.  The people were incredibly friendly.  If you ever get the chance to visit, I highly recommend it.


Korean barbecue is as good as advertised.  Kimchi, a popular Korean side dish made from fermented vegetables?  Not so much.  Can I have a side of fries, please?


We stayed in the Gangnam section of Seoul, which is in the Southeast section of the city.  Just about everyone seemed to have a one hour or more bus ride to the Kintex center.  Gangnam is the young, hip, place to be in Seoul.  I fit right in.


Current You Tube star  Psy is a cultural icon in Korea and probably its biggest star.  His song, Gangnam Style is famous worldwide.  His performance at the closing ceremony was sensational.  Turns out his grandfather and father were Rotarians!  


The House of Friendship was always packed.  Here is a random shot of some serious shopping going on.


The Kintex Center is actually not in Seoul, but west of Seoul in Goyang City.  Here I am at the rose festival, just two short stops away on the Kintex shuttle.  


The Rotary Host Operating Committee did an outstanding job.  Everywhere you traveled there were signs like this welcoming Rotarians to the Conference.  This was at the flower festival in Goyang City.


Arch Klumph?  Anyone ever heard of Arch Klumph?  I think he must live in Atlanta, Georgia.


For all of my snobby, craft beer drinking friends, you should know that I LOVED Korean (and Japanese) beer.  Crisp and light.  Just like Coor’s Lite!


Early in the morning before the crowds came pouring in.  The place is just gigantic.




Rotary Club of College Park, Md., Rotarian, Chris Puttock, with soon to be former Zone 33 RPIC, Sue Poss, hanging around the House of Friendship.  Sue doesn’t know it but she is about to win a free Samsung tablet from LG.  Guess what?  So did I!


More ancient mixed with the modern.


The Koreans are nutty about baseball.  But imagine my surprise when we arrived at the airport and the Orioles game was playing on a giant screen at the departure gate.  Turns out that Hyun Soo Kim, a lifetime .318 hitter over 10 seasons in Korea, is currently batting over .400 coming off the bench for my beloved Orioles.  Koreans are not especially happy with O’s manager, Buck Showalter, because Kim isn’t starting….yet.


More colorful costumes at Kintex.


I gave out plenty of Dare to Dream business cards during the trip.  Thanks to everyone who agreed to pitch in $20 to help us get this fantastic documentary about the “founding fathers’ of polio eradication produced.  If you haven’t done so already, please check it out at


Hard to believe how close North Korea is to Seoul.  This is from our tour of the DMZ between North and South Korea.  Strangely beautiful, isn’t it?


I’ll see you next year at Atlanta.  I’ve gotta meet this Arch Klumph character.





Congressional Champions of Polio Eradication Reception


Dr. John Sever, the MC for the evening who is also THE Rotarian who formally recommended that Rotary undertake polio eradication as a world-wide challenge, and RI President-Elect, John Germ.

If you ever find yourself completely depressed about politics, politicians, the political process, and all the things that you see and hear about government that make you want to cringe, I suggest you find a way to wangle an invitation to the Rotary Congressional Champions Reception held each year at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The event honors the Representatives who best champion U.S. giving to the polio eradication effort.  I promise it will make you feel a lot better about the understanding, caring, and downright good stuff being done by our Representatives in Washington, DC.  The numbers are staggering.

According to Kris Tsau, my favorite head of Rotary’s advocacy efforts for polio eradication, here are a few facts that are sure to impress:  In FY 2016 the US provided US$228 million for the polio eradication activities of the CDC (US $169 million  – 10 million above the FY 15 level); and USAID ($59 million – level funding from FY 2015).  This a significant achievement considering an overall reduction to CDC’s budget.  Kris says we are asking for a total of $233 million next year: $174 million for CDC and $59 million for USAID.  NOTE: THIS IS A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY!!!

I’ll get to our Congressional Champions in a minute, but first, your intrepid RFA reporter was able to track down some of Rotary’s top leaders in our international polio eradication effort for an interview.  Here’s a gal you may have never heard of, but who does an amazing job for all of us:

Pretty interesting about finding the virus in the environment and treating it, isn’t it?  Director of Rotary’s Polio Plus Program……not too shabby.  Or, how about this guy?  (Note: These Rotary leaders seem remarkably cheerful even though they had to tear themselves away from the free food and open bar to do these interviews. I guess $228 million tends to cheer you up.)

Did you catch that?  Mike is the Chairman of the Rotary International Polio Plus Committee….another Rotarian who we might want to thank for his efforts.

Finally, I thought you should meet one of the most selfless Rotarians I know who travels the country teaching us about Post-Polio Syndrome.  Thanks, John, for everything you do for us.


About those Congressional leaders that we should be so proud of.  Here they are:

  • Senator Roy Blunt (M)), Chair of the Senate Labor Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee
  • Senator Jef Merkley (OR)
  • Senator Brian Schatz (HI)
  • Representative Tom Cole, Chair of House Labor health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee
  • Representative Dave Reichert, Co-chair, House Global Health Caucus.

Other members who took the time to visit with us included:

  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9 – Represents the district that includes RI HQ)
  • Rep. Gary Palmer (AL-6, Member, Rotary club of Birmingham)
  • Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-2; Member, Rotary club of Columbia)
  • Senator Bob Corker (TN)
  • Senator Thad Cochran (MS) (Rotary Foundation Alum – Graduate fellowship scholarship in 1963).

So, we need to keep doing our part by giving to Polio Plus each year. Of course, I can’t let you go without reminding you that we are producing a documentary about the Rotary “founding fathers” who had the courage and foresight to put us on the road to polio eradication.  The documentary is called, Dare to Dream, and we really need some help with the funding.  So AFTER you cut a check to Polio Plus to help eradicate this terrible disease, please see if you can scrape up as little as $20 to honor the unsung Rotarians who deserve our recognition and our thanks.

Click on this link to visit the Dare to Dream page and see the movie trailer.

No reason for this picture at all but I thought it looked “arty”

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PDG 7620 and Rotary Foundation Global Alumni Service to Humanity awardee, Peter Kyle, with Past RI Director, Anne Matthews


L-R:  7620 Young Professional Task Force leader, Clarissa Harris, Rotary Peace Fellow, Kristin Post, Dupont Circle Membership Chair, Rachel Eisen, Kaiser Permanente Health Plan, Janini Ramachandran,  Deputy Director of the CDC, Anne Schuchat, and  Elliott Larson, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan

Champion's Dinner Sever

Dr. John Sever with his daughter, Valerie Kappler

Champions classmates

With DG classmates Janet Brown, DG 7610, and Alex Wilkins, DG 7570.  Notice that JB and Alex are rocking nifty DG pins.  Me….not so much.


The COL Speaks….It’s Engagement in a Blowout! But Now What?



The recent Council of Legislation (COL) has emphatically and resoundingly answered General Secretary, John Hewko’s, question, “What’s more important, attendance or engagement?”  The answer is now officially, ENGAGEMENT.  Having looked at the changes being made to the RI constitution and bylaws, and having had the chance to speak to several COL delegates from several districts, it’s easy to see that representatives were on a mission to remove many of our “old” and “antiquated” rules that acted as a possible headwind to growing our Rotary clubs.

Here a just a few of the changes that Rotary clubs “may” choose to implement:

No more than two club meetings are required each month

Removed admission fees for new clubs

Attendance rules can be determined by individual clubs

Classifications are now optional

Minimum members to start a new club reduced to 20

Rotaractors can have dual membership as Rotaract and Rotary

Corporate memberships are now allowed


Some unimportant dude from Sri Lanka wearing a great tie (left) and District 7620 delegate and PDG, Pat Kasuda (right)

So, because I love to stir the pot, and because it seems to me the new rules throw down an extraordinary challenge for many of our clubs, and pose a variety of questions about what it means to be a thriving and successful Rotary club, AND because I’m a middle child and I’m convinced my mother didn’t love me as much as my siblings, I would like to pose the following question:

What if we agree that engagement is more important than attendance, but the evidence clearly suggests that many of our Rotary clubs simply aren’t engaging?  What if they are only fun for the current members and not prospective members?  What if they aren’t necessarily relevant in their own communities?  What if the reason that Rotary clubs don’t grow has nothing to do with cost of the meals and  the frequency of the meetings?  What if the reason Rotary clubs don’t grow is that they simply don’t have a compelling value proposition to offer prospective members, and/or to retain current ones?

There are many Rotary clubs who do the same projects, to benefit the same organizations, with a shrinking base of members, and have done so for decades.  What if the members don’t recognize their club’s deficiencies (it’s hard to recognize your own club’s deficiencies) and instead decide that the club’s value proposition is just fine, despite the evidence?  Instead of taking a hard look at how they do what they do, what if they simply decide to cut the number of meetings to two per month which will reduce the meal cost by 50%, and stop taking attendance because the COL says it isn’t important anymore?


My guess is that unless Rotary clubs see this as a challenge with the greatest possible potential to grow their membership, and use the new rules as a catalyst to reengineer their club and reimagine what Rotary could mean to their community, then membership could actually decline.  Why?  Because for many Rotarians there is a rhythm and a comforting habit associated with attending weekly meetings.  For other Rotarians the weekly meetings allow them to engage in fellowship with members who they look forward to meeting once each week.  For those Rotarians who find great value in the fellowship at Rotary meetings, they might find that going to Rotary twice a month just doesn’t scratch their itch.  It isn’t too far from going a couple of times per month just for the fellowship, to not going at all.

This admittedly “glass half empty” view of cutting back on club meetings ignores the fact that the younger generation of Rotarians is clearly asking for:  1) lower costs, 2) more flexibility in meeting attendance, and 3) more focus on community involvement.

So here we go.  They (the COL) have given us the gift of passing the resolutions that needed to be passed in order for Rotary to move to the next level and reach a new generation of members.  OMG!  What do we do now?  One answer, of course, is to do nothing!  We certainly don’t HAVE to make any of the proposed changes in our own Rotary clubs.  Change is risky.  Actually, change sucks.  But, as the guy who writes a blog called, Ready, Fire, Aim, you might guess that I’m 1,000% in favor of the new COL resolutions.  Let’s get creative.  Let’s rattle some cages.

If you are out there and you are capable of thinking outside of the box, this would be a good time to speak up.  Your club needs your best ideas on how to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.




Dare To Dream, The most important Rotary story you’ve never heard.


I am very proud to announce to my long suffering Ready, Fire, Aim readers that this blog post celebrates reaching the milestone of 1/4 of a million visits to RFA since October of 2013. Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to visit.  In the 135 posts that I’ve shared perhaps the one theme I’ve been most enthusiastic about is the notion of “scaling”  Rotary to do bigger and more impactful projects.  I thought we could celebrate in style today by learning about one of the most  dramatic and intriguing stories in Rotary history.  If you don’t think that the only limit to what you can accomplish in Rotary is your own imagination, then this true story just might change your mind.  If you agree with me about the power of this tale, then I am going to ask you to join me in funding an important project that is uniquely important to all of us.

Prologue:  In 1923 the delegates to the RI Convention in St. Louis passed Resolution 23-34, which basically prohibited Rotary International from compelling individual Rotary clubs to participate in national or international service projects.  It also advised clubs not to seek publicity or credit for their service, but only the opportunity to serve.  This was the guiding principle for Rotary International for the next five decades….

Our story begins:  1978-79 RI President, Clem Renouf,  created the Health, Hunger, and Humanitarian program which was meant to identify service projects that would be centrally funded and coordinated by RI.  This would provide a means to do service projects that could be much larger in scope than any one club could implement.  He was inspired by news that the WHO had recently eradicated smallpox at a cost of $100 million.  He asked why Rotary couldn’t do something similar.  The year before Rotary had created a fund to celebrate Rotary’s 75th anniversary in 1980, called the 75th Anniversary Fund. Rotarians had contributed $8 million to the fund which was designed to raise $12 million in two years and then spend it over the next five years.

Renouf called one of his District Governor’s, Dr. John Sever, who was chief of the Infectious Disease Branch, Institute of Neurological Diseases, U.S. National Institute of Health, near Washington, D.C., and asked his advice.  Sever was a colleague of Dr. Albert Sabin, the researcher who developed the live, oral polio vaccine.  After consulting with Sabin, Sever wrote to Renouf with his recommendation that Rotary consider eradicating polio for all the children of the world.

From the day Sever wrote the letter to Renouf, to the day when RI President, Carlos Canseco, announced what was then called the Polio 2005 Program, (now known as Polio Plus) in 1985, a few determined and visionary Rotary leaders steered our organization on a course that could lead Rotary to achieve one of the most important public health successes in history.   The results of their efforts are so staggering that we sometimes forget that in 1978-79 there were approximately 1,000 cases of polio every day in the developing world.  (As of this writing, so far this year there have been nine total cases.)

Shouldn’t we know more about the heroes of this amazing Rotary story?  On the eve of our most spectacular success, perhaps you agree with me that it is important to memorialize the men and women who cooked up this crazy idea.  What can we learn from them?   Names like Renouf, Sever, Canseco, Pigman, Stuckey, Dochterman, and many others, should be etched on Rotary’s own Mount Rushmore.  It’s a shame that most Rotarians have never heard of them.

Perhaps the best part of the story is…’s a GREAT story.  It is a truly INSPIRATIONAL story. Our Rotary history from this period was chock full of high drama. Conflicts get resolved. Challenges are overcome.  Who knew?  And the best part of telling this particular tale is that many of the heroes are still alive. We still have the opportunity to get first person accounts from them about  how we got from there to here.  I’ve heard some of these anecdotes and I believe it would be a tragedy if we lose this opportunity to record them for posterity.

With your help, the Rotary District 7620 Project Trust Fund, a 501(c)(3)  non-profit organization, is going to produce a documentary called, “Dare To Dream, How Rotary Decided to Eradicate Polio.”  Before I tell you more about the documentary and how you can help us fund it, take a look at the movie trailer:


Dare to Dream will be produced by Pixel Workshop, an award-winning production company owned by Dave and Ilana Bittner.  Dave is a Past President of the Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent.  Co-Producer, Ilana Bittner’s mother was a polio victim.  For both of them, this project is a labor of love.

We hope to raise $100,000(U.S.) to produce a one-hour “Ken Burns” style documentary. Our first goal is to raise $50,000 which would fund a 22-minute production, suitable for Discovery Channel, the History Channel, or PBS, as well as being suitable for club programs.  We are creating a “Kickstarter-like” campaign that relies on small donations from a large number of donors as our primary means of raising the funds we need.  The minimum donation is only $20!  Each donation has an incentive for giving.

Check out the website at    

Once we complete this phase of the campaign, we will create a Kickstarter campaign to fund post-production, if for no other reason than we want the hundreds of thousands of people in the Kickstarter community to see this trailer and learn more about Rotary.

Finally, I want to reiterate that although RI is fully aware of our project, this is a completely INDEPENDENT production.  RI is helping us with access to Rotary archives, coordinating international distribution, and helping us to meet celebrities that could help with the production.  But this film is NOT financially supported by RI and won’t be produced without your help.

PLEASE send the link to this blog post around to your Rotary friends, and to your non-Rotary friends, if you think they might want to invest $20 or more to help us spin a great yarn….which happens to be true….and which happens to be our own Rotary history.

One final note to Rotary clubs and Rotary Districts:  There are special incentives to Rotary clubs and districts who make a $1,000 contribution to the film.  We are offering the opportunity to have a custom 3 – 4 minute introduction appended to the beginning of the film with your District or club’s reasons for funding the project, and perhaps your personal request that your members continue to fund Polio Plus.  Also, please note that this contribution is tax deductible and is suitable as a grant from both Rotary Club Charitable Trusts and from Rotary District Designated Funds.

Thanks so much to all of you!  And now, everyone….let’s get back to working for world peace.


Dr. John Sever shooting the trailer for Dare to Dream.


How to Close a Rotary Deal


I’ve written about this topic several times since RI President, Ravi Ravindran, visited our District and pointed out that the best way he knew to get a huge PR presence in our community was to do a large and impactful project.  When I later pointed out to him that our clubs didn’t know how to do large and impactful projects, he shrugged his shoulders and basically said it was time for us to learn.

As your Ready, Fire, Aim guide, spiritual leader, and all-round good guy, I am going to walk you through exactly how to close a deal in Rotary.  I absolutely guarantee that you can take the tips I’m about to share and double the impact your club has in your community.

Step one is for you to realize that your Rotary membership entitles you to “sell” certain benefits to business owners and stakeholders in your community.  These benefits are of great interest to others who want what we have to offer.  These benefits constitute our value proposition to non-Rotary partners and you need to learn them and keep them “top of mind” when talking about what we do.  Namely, Rotarians can offer 1) great brand, 2) great ideas, 3) manpower, 4) club/local Rotary Trust money, and 5) Rotary Foundation money.  Let’s take these one at a time.

Great brand:  You may not realize it, but there are very few impeccable brands out there that businesses would want to partner with.  Rotary is one of them.  Since 1905 we’ve been delivering objective, non-political and non-religious community service to communities all around the world.  It’s likely that the businesses and other stakeholders you will be speaking with will know Rotary,  if only because their father or uncle was in Rotary.  And while Rotary may still have (in some quarters) a reputation for being “old white guys,” the fact is we are thought of as “old white guys who get things done” in our town.  The opportunity for a business owner to put his brand or logo next to ours is a big deal.

Great ideas:  Great ideas close sales.  What is your big idea?  How can you help other organizations “think outside of the box?”  Your willingness to take a great idea out to the marketplace will attract the attention it deserves.  Think big.  Be enthusiastic.  Find a project that will make a BIG difference, or a SMALL difference.  You don’t have to do a $1 million project to have a large impact that will attract the attention of a business owner in town.  Just recognize that businesses ARE interested in your ideas for changing things for the better, especially in their home town.  They WANT to be associated with providing solutions to local problems, both for their employees and their customers.  What does your community need?  Who might be interested in helping you solve them? Most importantly, the idea you fund doesn’t have to be your idea.  What problem do the big and small businesses in your community want to solve?

(SPECIAL NOTE:  I think going to very large business to do deals is problematic, unless you know someone who is a decision maker there.  Once an idea has to be approved by “corporate” you are pretty much lost.  Find a business with 100 – 200 employees.  That is plenty big enough.)

Manpower:  Rotarians must understand that our ability to rally other Rotarians to a cause has value in the marketplace.  The secret is that it’s not just the Rotarians in your Rotary club.  How many Rotarians are in your neighboring clubs?  Let’s say you have five clubs in your county with an average of 30 members.  When you talk to Larry’s Automotive Repair and you tell them that you have 150 eager and anxious community leaders in Rotary that want to partner with them to solve “X” problem, Larry is going to be interested.   Whatever problem needs to be solved, it’s likely that you will have a lot more hands available to do the work than Larry, and that is a powerful negotiating tool. And don’t think for a minute that Larry isn’t thinking that he would like to get to know 150 new potential customers.

Money:  Yes, we have money.  Does you club do a fundraiser or two?  Do you support 3 – 20 charities and non-profits in your community? Every dollar you distribute to non-profits could be a matching contribution with another business partner to support the SAME charity.  When you go to Larry’s Auto Parts and say, “Larry, I have $3,000 to support a project we are doing with “X” charity, we want to partner with you IF you will match our $3,000,”  Larry will be intrigued.  It could be Laura’s Auto Parts but you get the idea.  Larry or Laura  is used to being begged for handouts.  He isn’t used to being asked to partner in doing a deal.  Every dollar you give directly to a non-profit without a community business partner is a dollar that could have been doubled if you just think a little differently.  Remember to let Larry know that if he doesn’t do the deal you have two or three other businesses in town that have already expressed interest.

Rotary Foundation money:  There is nothing more powerful when talking to a potential partner that discussing the opportunities we have to apply for and receive a local Rotary Foundation grant.  If your club, or another club who wants to partner with you, is eligible, then talking about a “matching grant” that is likely to be approved IF a business will partner with you is like talking about crystal meth to a Breaking Bad fan.  I promise you that if you submit a well-written grant proposal that includes a matching contribution from a corporate partner, it is going to be well received by your District grant committee. The best part is that you don’t have to actually have the grant.  You just have to remember to talk about it and apply for it.

Before I tell you how to structure the deal, it’s time to take a 3 1/2 minutes time out to watch an expert close a deal.  I’m not sure Vin Diesel in Boiler Room is the role model we should be aspiring to, but Rotarians need to understand that if we want to have more impact we need to learn how to close a deal.  (Notably, there are a lot of Wall Street movies out with similar scenes but this is the only one I could find without sixteen “F” words in the mix.)

To take your newfound knowledge about Rotary’s value proposition out to the market, you need to learn the power of the “IF” statement.  Here are a few of them for you to consider:

“Mrs business owner, if I could bring 100 Rotarians and $5,000 to the table, would you be interested in matching our contribution and being a 50-50 partner in a project that you’ve always wanted to do for the community to solve “x” but haven’t been able to get it done?”

“Mr Business Owner, if we formed a partnership to eliminate poverty, hunger, and sickness in our community, and if we could put your company logo along side of our Rotary logo so the 100,000 residents in our community would think you are the engaged and caring person you really are, would you be interested in being a 50-50 project owner?”

“Mrs Charity Administrator, we would like to solve your biggest problem, whatever it is?  If we could bring a corporate sponsor to the table, and if we could provide $10,000 in financing, and if we could provide the manpower to get it done, would you be interested?”

“Mr Business Owner, if you partner with us and match our $5,000 contribution to this project, we will submit a grant to our District’s Rotary Foundation for an additional $3,000.  Your $5,000 will be leveraged to a total project of $13,000 and we will still consider you a 50-50 partner.  Does that sound interesting to you?”

The “If” question is where it all starts.  Notice that you haven’t committed to anything.  You are just asking whether they might be interested “if” you can make something happen. The power lies in the fact that once someone, anyone, in the deal answers yes to your “if” question, then you can tell others that they will be your partner, “IF” they participate as well.

There you go, folks.  Go out and close a deal!  You can do it.  If we all put together a partnership like this Rotary PR is going to become a whole lot easier….and so will membership.  Good luck.






ALL About Hospitality Suites


I’m just back from Chesapeake PETS where President-Elects from four Districts (7600, 7610, 7620, and 7630) gather to get trained to be a great Club President.  The Multi-District PETS is a massive operation with more than 200 PE’s getting the best training that Rotary can provide.  And they also get the best speakers.  The picture above shows RI President-Elect, John Germ, exhorting the PE’s to be “All-Stars.”  (Notably, this had to do with some nonsense about next year’s DG Class wearing red Converse All Stars sneakers in San Diego at the International Assembly.  Converse All-Stars?  Can you still buy them?  Has anyone ever heard of NIKE?) But the point was, as it is every year, that being a Rotary Club President is one of the best opportunities an individual can have to make a positive change their club, their community, and the world.

But I submit that despite the highly trained and motivated facilitators that volunteer to teach at PETS, and the professional curriculum for PE’s developed by RI for just this purpose, the very best training for Rotarians doesn’t occur in the breakout or plenary sessions.  The best learning occurs in a unique environment called “the hospitality suite.” Regardless of whether the hospitality suite is located at a Multi-District PETS, or located at a District Conference, if you want to find out what is REALLY going on in Rotary clubs in your District, Zone, or around the world, head immediately to the nearest hospitality suite, grab your favorite beverage, and listen to the conversation.

To prove this hypothesis, I bravely decided to shoot some video at the District 7620 suite this year.  You will note that many of the attendees have somewhat glazed looks in their eyes due to drinking a few too many margaritas.  (Another Note:  Yours Truly brought the margarita machine.  Special thanks to my partner behind the bar, Rotarian and soon to be First Husband to DGE Anna Mae Kobbe, Doug Newell, for helping to experiment with the ingredients until we ended up with the best margaritas of the evening.  Uh….we were actually serving the only margaritas of the evening.)  I think the video shows the incredible intensity of the Rotary information being exchanged.  You can see how productive everyone was until I showed up.

The next clip is a rare view of a District Governor-Elect motivating and educating her Club Presidents in the Hospitality Suite environment.  Here, 7620 DGE Anna Mae Kobbe, was in the middle of explaining how Rotarians can actually finish the job of achieving world peace when I interrupted her with this interview.  Unfortunately, even though Anna Mae had the answer to achieving world peace and prosperity by the end of the 2016-17 Rotary year, after she finished her margarita she forgot how to do it.  She does remember something about red sneakers, though….

Finally, another benefit of hospitality suites is that you get to interact with the very best and highly trained support staff that Zone 33 has to offer.  In this clip I was fortunate enough to capture our Zone Coordinator, Paula Mathews, explaining some of the most intricate and complex issues in Rotary to PE Brahm Prakash, who was desperately trying to understand Paula’s southern accent.

It’s really too bad that none of the Rotarians who attended the hospitality suite seemed to be having a good time.

Not that it matters, but the Rotary clubs in District 7620 are sponsoring seven (count-em) SEVEN hospitality suites at our District Conference.  If you want to learn a whole lot about Rotary, that no one will teach you in a classroom, that will change your life, AND have a whole lot of fun, you might want to find one of the hospitality suites and hang around with some interesting and knowledgable Rotarians.   TOO MUCH FUN!