Three Immutable Laws of the Rotary Universe

RI President Elect Ravi Ravindran explaining how Rotary, Lego, tea packaging, and Victoria Secret are all related….somehow.

It’s time for District Governor Elects (DGEs) to set their membership goals for next year. I thought it would be interesting to give the topic of  goal setting in Rotary a little bit of ink.  So pull up a chair, grab a yummy beverage, relax, and see if you can hang on until the end.

Goal setting in any organization is limited by what I call the “tyranny of the average.”  That’s because we are expected to set “reasonable” and “attainable” goals and what seems reasonable or attainable is anchored by our observations about what is going on around us in the organization.  Our Rotary membership goal-setting in North America is anchored by the fact that we are consistently losing members.  Therefore, when we set a goal for membership that includes just about ANY amount of growth it is considered downright heroic, or downright stupid, depending on your point of view.  Let’s face it, very small net increases look really good when the paradigm is net negative.

Before delving into the horrifying conundrum of setting reasonable goals, let me introduce you to Rotary President Elect and soon to be RI President, Ravi Ravindran.   RI PE Ravi is the CEO of one of the largest tea packaging companies in the world.  He is also a very smart dude.  One of his messages is that we should add a little more Rotary in our business, and a little more business in Rotary.  When he talks about cost cutting, effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity in Rotary, you can tell he means…business.  At the recent Zone Institute he talked about how he modeled the efficiency standards for his company after the Lego Company, which sets the goal of 0.001% defects in their products.  (It might be 0.0001%, or 0.00001%, but who’s counting?)  That’s a pretty high standard for performance in any business.  (He also told us a great story about Victoria Secret but I can’t repeat it here because this is a family blog.  You had to be there.)

99.99% is considered an achievable goal for Lego.  So how should a sane, rational DGE choose a meaningful goal for growing District membership?  Before we get to this important issue, let’s take a look at the official clip of bloopers from the recent Lego Movie.  I’m not sure but I think this makes the 99.99% success ratio for Lego a little suspect.  Too many bloopers here for them to be at 99.99%)

OK.  Let’s quit fooling around and consider some real numbers.  My District has 63 Rotary clubs and 2,300 members.  Suppose we choose a goal of every club adding one net new member.  (Net meaning that a club that adds 10 new members and loses 10 members in the same year is net 0 new members.)  If we choose a +1 net new member goal we need to grow by 63 members, because we have 63 clubs, which is a 2.73% growth rate.  Here’s a sobering thought to consider.  Our District actually gained 32 net new members last year making us the NUMBER ONE District in Zone 33 for membership in terms of net new members AND percentage growth.  (Not that we’re competitive or anything.)  To hit the 63 member goal we would have to DOUBLE last year’s award winning membership growth.  YIKES!  Choosing a 2% growth goal that requires ONLY adding 46 net new members sure seems a lot safer, doesn’t it?  But last year we were number one in the Zone and only added 32 net new members AND we got an ovation for doing it.  Maybe its best to keep the goal at 32 new members?  What to do?

Zone 33-34 DGE Class for 2015-16 just prior to falling unconscious from lack of sleep trying to figure out reasonable Rotary membership goals.  It was either membership goals or too much time in the hospitality suite.

Are you still there…..anyone?  If so, let me offer you three immutable rules of the Rotary universe:

One:  If you wear a pair of khaki trousers that have just been dry cleaned you will slop food on them the first day you wear them.

Two:  No matter how hard you try not to do it, if you eat pancakes with syrup there is no way to avoid getting sticky syrup on your hands…no matter how hard you try.

Three:  Rotary clubs do not care about membership goals set by the District Governor.  They only care about membership goals they set themselves….goals that are important to them.

Regarding immutable Universal Rotary Law number 3, this is as it should be.  Despite all of the goal setting angst above, it turns out that DGEs DO NOT set meaningful goals for Rotary clubs.  Clubs set meaningful goals for Rotary clubs.  Club President Elects must answer these questions:  1) Why should we care about growing our membership?  2) If we set a goal, what commitment should we make to achieve it?  And finally, 3) Why should we set a stretch goal when no one is asking us to do so?  And even if the PE believes in the goal, it still doesn’t mean anything unless his or her entire club believes in it.  In short, if clubs don’t OWN their membership goal, and then ENGAGE their members to achieve the goal, then it’s game over as far as membership discussions are concerned.

Here’s a hint for our Rotary PE’s:  Commit to growing your club ONLY if you are interested in having more energy, more new ideas, more money, more influence, and MORE FUN, in your club.  You can make it happen this year….if you are willing to take the risk.  BE UNREASONABLE.  Dare to GO BIG!  GET CRAZY!  How about adding two net new members this year?  Or three net new members?  OMG!

How to get there?  Check out District Membership Chair, Darrell Nevin’s, GROW booklet for a zillion ideas.   Here’s one quick tip from Zone training.  Instead of concentrating on recruiting new members, why not concentrate on RETAINING new members?  Want to retain new members?  Here’s how.  If you send two new members to your District Conference AND to Rotary Leadership Institute (RLI) they have a much higher probability of becoming long-term Rotarians.  (Based on a $2.4 million study commissioned by me addressing member retention issues.  Trust me….it works.)  You could increase membership growth from plus one to plus three by simply retaining two more members than you would have otherwise.  That seems doable, doesn’t it?

So…what do you think?  How should Rotary clubs set “reasonable” and “meaningful” membership goals?  Why not weigh in and share your opinion?

DSC_0940RI PE Ravi Ravindran presenting a Major Donor award to Terry and Pam Weaver at the Zone 33-34 DGE Class Dinner at the GETS/Zone Institute. Very Important Note: RIPE Ravi is NOT wearing a tie. Just sayin….

DGE class curriculum includes working with agents, signing endorsement deals, and managing the media. Here we are learning how to ignore the paparazzi.
L-R: Yours Truly, soon to be District 7620 First Lady, Linda, RI PE First Lady, Vanathy, and RI PE Ravi, all practicing for the official picture to be taken in San Diego.
Universal Law Number 2


Universal Law Number 1






One thought on “Three Immutable Laws of the Rotary Universe

  1. Ken,
    Good stuff, reading on Sunday am, like the membership tips. You are on point. A good challenge for PE’s, the clubs must want to grow members, the DG can provide the support. Sending new members to district conference and RLI, good foundation, a great way to retain members. Your message makes sense, funny and easy to read. “Right on”. DGE JB

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