The Elephant in the Room, A Letter about Rotary Engagement

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The topic of Rotary Engagement versus Rotary Attendance seems to be at the top of everyone’s list of Rotary conversations of late.  Last week’s RFA post, The Rotary Chicken and the Rotary Egg, took on the subject.  I’ve heard Rotary General Secretary, John Hewko, ask his audience at this year’s International Assembly in San Diego, AND this year’s International Conference in Sao Paulo, “what is more important, Rotary attendance or Rotary engagement?”    And you can bet that our New Generations Summit, fondly known as our Young Professional Summit, to be held at the Howard Community College Health Science Bldg, on Saturday, September 12th, from noon to five PM, at a cost of FREE, for Club Presidents, Club Membership Chairs, and up to two “connectors in your Rotary club, will be wrestling with this subject all afternoon.

Last week a flurry of mails hit our DG inbox as Zone 33-34 District Governors were treated to a fantastic letter on the subject of engagement versus membership.  Most Rotarians can’t get their hands around the notion of a Rotary District, much less a Rotary Zone.  But our two Zones 33 & 34 are comprised of 29 different Rotary Districts!  And I can tell you that the DG’s in this group are the very best, if you measure them by Rotary passion, knowledge, ability to get things done, and generally making me proud to hang around with them. Yes…this is the group that is currently applying for a Rotary Family Health Days TRF grant for the country of Ghana that will be funded by the Rotary Foundation in partnership with ….wait for it…..an  unprecedented TWENTY TWO different Rotary District’s in Zone’s 33 and 34.  And yes, you will be hearing a lot about this when the grant is approved.

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But I digress.  Terry Weaver (DG7750) is one of those District Governors in our Zone that “gets it.”  Normally I wouldn’t like people like Terry because they are generally annoying. You know the type.  He’s the quiet one we knew in school who was secretly laughing at the rest of us because he or she already got their homework done weeks ago.  He is some kind of idiot savant when it comes to databases, mining data, using technology, and that kind of thing.  Whatever Terry has…I ain’t got it.  (I personally think Terry cheats because his wife, Pam, is his District’s secretary/administrative coordinator, and she knows more about Rotary than all of the rest of us so she makes him look REALLY good.) Anyway, Terry recently weighed in on the topic of engagement versus attendance in a letter that was so absolutely fantastic that I begged his permission to reprint it here.

I am pleased that Terry said yes and I get to share his letter with you.  I’m sure you will enjoy it.  Thank you, Terry!

“Hello, Lisa,

     I’m writing club secretaries, presidents and presidents-elect to clarify a misperception several clubs have told me is getting in the way of membership growth.
The elephant in the living room?   ATTENDANCE
    Let’s step back.  Several years ago, the Council on Legislation (Rotary’s governing body) declared almost ANY legitimate Rotary activity as a makeup.   This includes not only attending another club’s meeting, but also a committee meeting, working on a project (some clubs say for at least 1 or 2 hours), a Board meeting, etc.   Etc. means anything that can reasonably be called a Rotary service activity.  Now, of course to get “credit” for a makeup, the member has to report that qualifying activity to the club secretary.   Most clubs use a sign-in sheet at a committee meeting or project and then forward the whole list to the secretary.
    Why did the COL do that?   Because the point of tracking attendance is not to make people come to meetings.   When measured this way, it’s a measure of engagement — a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of how your Rotary club is doing at involving members in Rotary activities.   Believe me, we have the data to prove that when a member isn’t engaged and involved in the club, it’s a short trip to a resignation letter.    Look at your members’ attendance percentages.   Those at the bottom of the list are thinking about resigning.  What can you do to get them engaged, involved, and hopefully passionate about something the club is doing?
    More importantly, tracking engagement (attendance is a surrogate) is an important way of ensuring that members get the return on their Rotary investment they deserve.  Members who don’t show up for club activities aren’t getting the benefit of Rotary, and if we can identify those folks early, we can intervene and get them involved in something they’re interested in.
    So, let’s not only treat attendance as a KPI for engagement, but let’s explain it the same way to prospects.   Rather than “You have to attend 4 meetings a month”, say, “We expect you to participate in some Rotary activity 4 times a month — you pick the activity that works for you, and you pick the time.”    I think that’s a whole different message, and actually what we’re attempting to promote and measure.   It’s not about making people come to meetings.   It’s about offering them a platform where they, in their own ways and based on their own preferences, can Be a Gift to the World.
Thanks,
Terry R. Weaver
District Governor, 2015-16″
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5 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room, A Letter about Rotary Engagement

  1. Hi Ken,
    Thanks for a good blog. I enjoy reading it. I am now a DG in Sweden. I have met our 46 presidents to discuss our challenges. One of the most important is the lack of engagement. We have several “fork and knife” clubs and that’s no fun.
    I am now in the process to see if we can start a pilot of “Club Visioning”. Do you think this can add a spark into the gone fire?
    All the best Nicke

    1. Yup. I think its a requirement. Clubs need to somehow break out of the “usual” and “routine” in terms of community service. Hard to do when you change leadership every year and clubs meet every week. It’s easy to say you are all about community service and then not do a great job with it. Check out last week’s blog where RI President Ravi suggests we “go big” with service projects. Just not possible without taking a step back and trying to figure out how to be relevant and engaging to our members. Good luck!

  2. The distinction between attendance and engagement is an excellent one to make. The whole idea of having to do ‘makeups’ seems outdated and silly. Why do adults have to report to other adults on where they spend their time? You can’t treat people as if you are doing them some kind of favour by allowing them to be in your club. Every member should feel as if their contribution is valued and that has to be based on more than attendance.

  3. Excellent blog. Interesting to read. Talk of Rotary Clubs today. Let us wait for some more outputs
    Jagannathan, IPDG 3000

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