Monthly Archives: April 2015

DG Bill’s Master Class on How to Use Video to Promote Rotary


If you get the chance to hang out with District 7620 District Governor, Bill Fine, you will quickly find that he is 1) passionate about Rotary, 2) one of the funniest humans on the planet, and 3) one of the best salesman around.  This week DG Bill treated us to a Master Class on how to sell Rotary, both by using video as a creative media for spreading our message, and by using “the media,” which in this case is Comcast Cable’s Newsmaker show.  Hopefully we can all learn a little something from DG Bill about how to get better at spreading the Rotary gospel.  And along the way we might learn a little something about Rotary Youth Exchange and the District 7620 District Conference.

Recently District 7620 held a workshop to teach us how to use video to promote Rotary.  To see North Bethesda Rotary Club President, Gonzalo Accame’s, notes from his highly acclaimed workshop go to the following link for the Video Workshop.

Exhibit A in today’s lesson is an interview DG Bill did last week for Comcast Cable’s Newsmaker show regarding Rotary Youth Exchange.  The airtime is free as part of Comcast’s corporate community service.  According to District 7620 PR Chair, Dawn Wittfelt, most TV stations have time set aside to air community service spots.  In this case Dawn is on Comcast’s mailing list and they have contacted her to fill several different spots.  As you watch this interview with Bill you might be thinking about how you or someone in your club can make contact with a local station near you.  Check this out and then we can discuss what makes this such a great performance.



First off, Bill is obviously an expert on the subject.  If you are going to be interviewed by professional media about Rotary, make sure you know what you are talking about.  In this case DG Bill has been involved with Rotary Youth Exchange for years and it shows.  7620 PR Chair Dawn informs me that in many cases, like this one, the station allows you to give them the questions you want to be asked in advance, so as always…practice, practice, practice!  It’s natural to be nervous the first few times (and maybe more than that) you are in front of a microphone, so be prepared.

Second, did you notice how short and to the point Bill’s answers are to every question?  If you are looking for soundbites that get the message across in a short period of time, then here you go.  Think about how you are going to answer questions, like “what is Rotary Youth Exchange” without allowing your listeners to get lost in the translation.  How about these quotes?  “Student’s are like non-paid US ambassadors.” Or, “World peace, 1 to 1, one person at a time.”  Terrific.

Third, did you notice that Bill threw in a brief personal story about his own experience with Youth Exchange?  Remember that personal testimonies make for some of the most gripping, and memorable stories, which is of course what makes the difference between a good interview and a great interview.

Fourth, notice how Bill keeps eye contact with the interviewer and doesn’t get distracted by the camera.  Also notice that he allows his personality to come through as the interview goes along.  A few smiles and a little humor goes a long way.

If you didn’t know about Rotary Youth Exchange don’t you think you would be interested in learning more about the program after this very short, four minute interview? Do you think you might be interested in learning more about Rotary?  I think so.  Here’s something else to consider.   Regardless of who does or does not see this on Comcast (most of us are surprised at how many people comment that they saw you on TV or heard you on the radio, even for public interest spots), can you think of other creative ways to use this video?  Let’s move on to Exhibit B.

The next Bill Fine video performance is a promotion for District 7620’s District Conference. Bill assures me you are all invited to come and I’m pleased to extend this invitation on Ready, Fire, Aim.  But there are some teachable moments here worth mentioning as well. First, this YouTube video cost less than $200 to make.  Bill did this performance in ONE TAKE.  YouTube is a great resource for those who want to use video to promote Rotary. You can make your own videos by using your smart phone or home digital camera, or you can hire someone to help and find out that it isn’t as expensive as you thought.  This District Conference promo is a great example of a high quality product for a lot less money than you thought it would cost.


If you create a video like this, then how would you use it?  The obvious answer is social media: LinkedIn, Facebook, your club’s website and Facebook page, Twitter, etc., are all looking to feed on good, relevant Rotary content.  Why not show your video (or this video if you are in District 7620) during your club announcements?  Or, share the link by Pmail or Email to various networks you’ve created?  I’ve been guilty of using video shot on my smart phone to educate and entertain RFA readers.  You can do the same.

Thank you DG Bill for reminding us how to use these tools to their best effect to better promote Rotary in and outside of our District.  I hope all of my readers are taking good notes on this.  Awesome stuff!  CHECK OUT THE LINK TO THE VIDEO WORKSHOP!




The Two Most Powerful Words in Rotary


Surprise.  This isn’t where you are going to find my post about “The Two Most Powerful Words in Rotary.”  To find this post you have to go to My Rotary and look it up under Rotary Voices, Stories of Service From Around The World.  I understand that what I should do is provide you with a link to this blog post so it’s easy for you, the reader, to actually read about this amazing story.  But I’m not gonna do it.  Instead I’m going to shoot myself in the foot and ask you to open another tab on your browser, go to www.ROTARY.ORG.  Navigate to MY ROTARY. Sign in (get yourself a password if you haven’t already), run your curser over to MEMBER NEWS, and then find ROTARY VOICES in the drop down menu second from the left. My post is the second one on the page.  I realize that most of you won’t actually do this, which means you are going to miss a great story about an unprecedented joint venture between 22 different Rotary Districts in Zone’s 33-34.  It is a story about the power of asking “What if,” as in, “What if every District in Zone 33-34 participated in a joint project together?”

The answer will surprise you.  At the end of the day, over 40,000 men, women, and children in 40 communities in the country of Ghana are going to benefit because DGE’s rose to the task and answered a “what if” question with an equally important reply:  “Why Not?”  So go ahead, if you haven’t been on the ROTARY VOICES blog you really should check it out, and check out all of the other neat content available on MY ROTARY while your at it.  Special thanks to Arnold Grahl, Editor and Web Content Producer in the Communications Group at RI for inviting me to blog for them.  Very cool!


Since I’m on a “what if” rant today, how about these other “what if” questions?

What if Rotarians didn’t procrastinate and do everything at the last minute?  (Yes…that would be me included.)

What if Rotarians actually put their goals in Rotary Club Central and used Rotary’s online tools to our best advantage?

What if young professionals in our community saw Rotary as the best choice for their marginal dollars to advance their careers by networking with successful Rotary business leaders and being mentored by experienced and caring older Rotarians?

What if Polio was eradicated and Rotary won the Nobel Peace Prize?

What if Rotary membership wasn’t 1.2 million, but instead more than doubled over the next ten years to 2.5 million?

What if DGE’s in Rotary Zone Institutes all around the world decided to work together on joint projects where each District contributed small amounts of DDF to fully fund $100,000+ humanitarian projects with the help of TRF grants?  (Hint, hint…read the article on Rotary Voices.)

Why not explore the possibilities of asking “What If?’ when it comes to Rotary?  Wouldn’t it be be a shame if not asking this important question is leading to a collective failure of imagination about how much good we could do in the world?  If you have some What If’s to share, let me know.  I’ll be happy to post them so everyone can ponder them.

In the meantime, even if you don’t go to MY ROTARY and check out ROTARY VOICES, you might check out and learn something about the Rotary Action Group, Rotarians for Family Health and AIDS Prevention Inc.






Warren Buffett’s Take on Rotary….(kind of)


Since the Four Way Test applies here at RFA, I should start by disclosing that I have no idea if Warren Buffett, probably one of the best known investors in the world, has any opinions about Rotary.  And if he did, I would be the last to know.  Most people know Buffett as a witty, “grandfather figure” who gives us great investment advice as well as being one of the richest men in the world.  They probably don’t know that Buffett is the greatest living disciple of two other investing icons, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd.  Their book, Security Analysis, first published in 1934, gave investors a framework for determining the value of publicly traded companies.  By using discounted cash flows and other financial tools to determine the fair value of a business, investors learned to find stocks that traded so far below their market value that they were considered to have a “margin of safety.” The term “value investor” is applied to investors who insist on evaluating the financial fundamentals of businesses, including profits, sales, cash flow, assets and liabilities, in order to uncover businesses that the average investor, or “Mr. Market,”  has priced incorrectly.  Buffett is the acknowledged master of the value investing game.  When he buys or sells shares the entire investing world pays attention.  He is a one man repudiation of the notion that financial markets are efficiently priced.

So now that you know why Warren Buffett deserves to be the investment icon that he is, let me help you look at Rotary through his eyes.  (Forgive me Warren, but you are a multi-billionaire and I’m just having fun writing a blog post on a Sunday morning before the final round of the Masters.  Cut me a little slack.)  One other note:  We all know that Rotary is not a publicly traded company, AND it isn’t a for profit organization.  It is a service organization full of wonderful people trying to make the world a little better.  So please let me make this analogy without getting your underwear in a bunch.  Not even 2015-16 RI President Ravi wants to take Rotary public.


Warren Buffett would have a strong buy on Rotary.  He would see our organization as being “mispriced” in terms of our stakeholders expectations for our firm, based on more than one indication that our assets are underutilized.  He would see several catalysts to unlock the value of our shares, and use membership as a proxy for stock price.  He would urge his shareholders, in his famous Berkshire Hathaway annual report, to be patient while “Mr. Market” discovers our brand and our value explodes.  In short, Buffett would be long Rotary and short Polio.  However, he wouldn’t put his shareholder’s money at risk without good reason.  Here’s what Buffett would see if he analyzed Rotary as a value investor.

Product and Productivity:   Rotary is delivering a product of community and global service that is dedicated to the notion of world peace through humanitarian service.  This particular proposition often gets lost with Rotarians who tend to look at community service through the lens of how we have always done things in the past in their particular club.  There is a huge, largely untapped, opportunity for Rotary clubs to reinvent how they actually serve others both locally and globally, where the only barrier to bigger and better service projects is a failure of a Rotary Club’s imagination.  In Buffett’s view this is very bullish and he would make the case that Rotary Club’s are significantly undervalued from the perspective of the potential to increase the productivity of our community service goals.  Interestingly, Rotary “bears” don’t believe that Rotarians can change in this regard.  They would say the organization is so focused on the past that a “turnaround” isn’t possible.  As a value investor Buffett would disagree.  So do I.  Buy this theme.


The Catalyst:  Value investors like Buffett often look for what’s known as a “catalyst” before they buy.  The issue is that stocks are often underpriced for a reason and buying companies, or organizations, when the stock price is low can often be a “value trap.”  That means the price is low for a good reason and buyers should be cautious that the price could move even lower.  A catalyst is an event that changes the market’s perception about company value.  In Rotary, we have a new potential catalyst in the organization every year. The catalyst is our Rotary club’s new leaders.  EVERY YEAR new club leaders are given the opportunity to make a massive, positive change in their Rotary club and in their community.  Again, this is a bullish development as the value of the current club could be dramatically oversold prior to the arrival of the new club leaders. Imagine, a built in catalyst every year.  Buffett loves it.  You can buy this theme as well!

The other catalyst, in Buffett’s eyes, is Polio Eradication.  He would see the five-year path for the Polio End Game as an amazing opportunity with a clearly defined time horizon.  He would want to own Rotary shares well before the news breaks and Rotary’s stock, in terms of prestige, honors, membership, opportunities for partnerships, and other service opportunities, goes vertical.  Again…buy it.

Our Market:  Baby Boomers are healthy, wealthy, new empty-nesters, who are very aware that many didn’t serve in the armed forces and feel an obligation to serve.  This huge cohort of potential community servants lies almost entirely untapped with no organization laying claim to this particular market share.  In fact, if we consider Rotary’s international membership to be comparable to our stock price, the price has been flat for decades.  Our 1.2 million total members hasn’t changed even though the world’s population, wealth, and need for our services, has increased dramatically.  Rotary is ready for a “breakout” in membership.  Any technical analyst trained in reading stock charts would tell you that any breakout to the upside following such a long period of price (membership) consolidation is extremely important.  (Buffett would throw up at this reference to technical stock analysts but at this point, what the heck?)  This is a case of increasing demand meeting our fixed supply.  Buffett would argue membership, and consequently Rotary’s significance as a force in “doing good in the world,” has huge upside potential.  This is especially true in many communities in the U.S.  Buy it!

Underutilized Assets:  Buffett would love the amazing infrastructure that Rotary has built around the world of 34,000 Rotary clubs with 1.2 million Rotarians all living by the Four Way Test.   No other organization offers it.  AND I doubt that any other organization can build it from scratch.  In short…we have a monopoly on controlling a 200+ country grid of service providers who have the freedom to direct funds and labor directly to where it is needed almost anywhere in the world.  Bullish.  Buffett would also point out that the Rotary Foundation allows funding decisions to be decentralized around the world so that assets can be deployed extremely efficiently directly to projects overseen by Rotarians. Bullish.  Finally Buffett would love Rotary’s upper management and their increasing recognition that change is necessary to remain a vital and relevant organization in today’s crowded market of service opportunities?  Bullish again.

I am very familiar with the notion that for every buyer there is a seller, and if you want to take the opposite side of this trade you certainly can.  But I wouldn’t recommend anyone trade against Buffett.  His deep value trades have a high percentage chance of paying off if you are patient.  How long it takes for “Mr. Market” to recognize Rotary’s value is anyone’s guess, but I think this monster is about to wake up.  And when we do we are going to cause quite a stir.  Go long Rotary.  Get your friends and associates engaged in what we do.  Try something new in your club.  Make a bigger difference in the world.




Thoughts about Rotary Club Foundations


You won’t find a lot of words written about Rotary club charitable foundations. Perhaps because donations to our club Foundations are thought to compete with contributions to the Rotary Foundation?  I dunno.  But I’ve been spending a lot of time lately counseling Rotary club President-Elects about real and perceived concerns about their club foundation.  So… I thought I would share some opinions (these ain’t facts, folks!) and observations about the proper care and feeding of Rotary Club Foundations.

(NOTE:  I don’t know if it’s properly Rotary Club, rotary club, Rotary club, club Foundation, club foundation, or Club Foundation.  You are likely to see all of the above iterations in this missive.  Please forgive the horrifying grammatical lapses that are sure to come.)

For the most part, Rotary clubs set up their own Charitable Trust or Foundation so that they can have a legitimate non-profit entity be the beneficiary of their fund raising events. Having a 501c 3 entity allows event tickets and other donations to be tax deductible.   And that’s really important. (Another note:  If you are a tax accountant and are feeling the need to share those instances where event tickets and donations are not tax deductible, please get over it.  We have bigger fish to fry here.)

One of the most basic tenants of a 501c3 is that it has to be a separate, stand alone entity apart from the Rotary club that creates it.  And therein lies most of the tensions that evolve with regards to Rotary clubs and their Foundations.  While the Foundation presumably “serves” the Rotary club with regard to the non-profits that  are funded by the Foundation, in fact the decision making has to be legally separate from the club.  So while Rotary club members typically raise the money and provide the sweat equity for running fund raising events, it is the members of the Foundation Board that legally make the final decisions about what charity or charities will ultimately receive the funds.  How these decisions are made and the perceptions about the Rotarians who make them are critical to the health and well being of a Rotary club.

Different clubs have different rules for who serves on their Foundation Board, and the rules are critical to the long-term health of the relationship between the Foundation/ Charitable Trust, and the Rotary Club.  I would suggest the following steps for good governance and transparency for Club Foundation Boards:

Board Members should have clearly defined terms that are not so long as to raise a concern among club members that they won’t have a reasonable chance to serve on the Board.  Three to five years at the longest seems about right.  Many club leaders have never even seen the by-laws for their club’s Foundation.  Be sure that the rules for rotating Trustees are being followed.


The eligibility requirements for being named to the Foundation Board should not be overly exclusive.  For example, clubs should consider rules that allow Past Presidents AND non-Past Presidents to sit on the Foundation Board.  Allowing newer, younger members, a seat at the table allows for a fresh approach to understanding current club concerns about serving the community.  The best Foundation Boards consist of current club leaders serving on both the Club Board and the Foundation Board, Past Presidents with institutional knowledge of past club and community activities, and other club members who can represent the concerns and interests of newer members.

The rules for how the Foundation Board members are nominated and elected should also be clearly understood.  There is nothing worse that club members feeling like there is a “shadow group” of “powerful” Rotarians making decisions about the money they worked so hard to raise on behalf of the Charitable Trust.  In many clubs one of the motivations to serve on the club’s leadership team is the opportunity to eventually be nominated to serve as a Trustee of the club’s charitable trust.

The Trustees of the Club’s Foundation should consider some mechanism for allowing the Rotary Club to suggest philanthropic ideas to the Trustees of the Charitable Trust.  For example, in the Columbia Patuxent Rotary Club the responsibility for making grant recommendations belongs to the club’s Community Service Committee.  All club members are invited to serve on the committee if they have an interest in doing so.  The committee evaluates member recommendations for grants and then submits the recommendations to the Trustees.  The Trustees feel obligated to honor the wishes of the club as much as possible under the rules of the Foundation.  In this way all club members feel they have a voice in how the Charitable Trust makes grants to the community, while at the same time preserving the independence of the Trustees.

Another “best practice” to consider is for the Trustees to ask for an opportunity to present the Trust financials and Trust operations to the Club once each year in a Club Assembly.  During the presentation the Trustees are reintroduced to the club, the prior year’s financials are disclosed, and perhaps most importantly, the rules for how the Trustees evaluate charitable opportunities are fully reviewed.  As  a long-time trustee of the Columbia Patuxent Charitable Trust, I was always surprised at how much information was forgotten from year to year about how the Trust served the club.

It is inevitable that club members, new and not so new, will at some point become confused between the operations of their Rotary Club Foundation, and “The Rotary Foundation.”  It’s easy to see why.  I’m constantly involved with discussions with PEs about their goals for Foundation giving only to find out five minutes later they were discussing their club’s Foundation and not TRF.  Make certain that new members understand the difference between the two entities and position them both as important parts of their Rotary story.  There is no need for a “competition” between the two different non-profits with similar names.  Both should be fully supported.

Clubs that have large endowment funds have a special obligation to be as transparent as possible to club leaders and club members.  Often the sums distributed each year from a large endowment equal or exceed the annual fund raising activities of the club members.  Be sure that EVERYONE fully understands the rules for how money is distributed by the endowment and how the Trustees decide how the funds will be used.

Finally, Rotary Clubs and their Club Foundations should consider how “democratic” the grant process should be in their community.  Approving numerous small grants allows the Trust to fund many different worthy projects and allows the Trustees to serve the interests of many club members with different views of community needs.  But small grants tend not to be overly impactful to any one charitable organization and may not be easy to promote in your community.  Clubs that don’t “pass through” 100% of their fundraising proceeds each year in terms of grant giving, and instead reserve funds each year in order to reach a much larger charitable giving goal, may find they can stir more excitement in their members, have much more impact on any particular charitable project, and create much more buzz in the community, by promoting and funding one very large grant.

It is surprising how much tension can be created between Rotary clubs and the Foundation’s they create to serve their needs.  With careful planning and good will from all concerned, both should be able to coexist in ways that meet the needs of Foundation Trustees as well as Rotary club members.