One of our Rotary membership challenges is that when prospective new members ask about our Rotary club, we have a difficult time answering the question, “What does your Rotary club do?” Aside from weak platitudes about “we have fun” (every service organization says they have fun) and we do “service above self,” (every service organization does worthy service), it’s hard to come up with a short, accurate description of what we do. Some clubs actually give the prospect a list of activities that the club is involved with, and basically say to the prospect, “this is what we do.” I’ve noted on several occasions that the list often includes non-profits that are funded by the club’s fundraising activities but has nothing to do with what members actually “do.”
If the list of projects that your club does is too short, then you run the risk of appearing to have little impact in the community. You also run the risk of not engaging your current members in enough activities to keep them interested in Rotary. If the list of projects is too long, then it becomes harder to come up with a theme for everything going on in the club. A typical list might be: 1) We ring bells for the Salvation Army over the holidays, 2) We do the dictionary project, 3) We volunteer at the shelter serving dinner to the homeless twice each year, 4) We interview students for scholarships, 5) We stuff backpacks with food for students in low income communities. You get the idea. How the heck do you put all of that into a succinct answer to the question of “What does your club do?” that has a prayer of differentiating your club from other service choices someone has in the community?
Let’s face it. We live in a competitive world of service. Potential members can choose any number of fraternal organizations that claim to be fun and do worthwhile service. Many join the Boards of non-profits that interest them and directly serve in a way that resonates with their personal interests. Ask yourself, why should they join your Rotary club instead of some other option? What is the high impact, important, interesting, worthwhile, and relevant problem your Rotary club is solving in your community? Why should someone spend their extremely valuable time (and money) serving through Rotary and not some other way?
Ironically, it turns out that the longer the list of activities that a club is involved in, the harder it is to describe to someone else. Interesting isn’t it?
One part of the solution is to be very careful with your choice of words. Can you describe your activities using language that makes your projects sound relevant and important? Here’s an example. On a recent club visit I learned of a project called, “the butterfly garden.” The club tends a garden at an elementary school and teaches children about butterflies and other lessons about nature. I suggested that this project was actually a STEM project (Science, technology, engineering, and math) where the club “promotes STEM learning by mentoring elementary school students in biology and zoology.” Please don’t tell prospective members you do “the dictionary project.” How about, “we are engaged in supporting literacy at the elementary school level.” (You can do better than this but I’m just trying to get you thinking about it.)
Perhaps the best thing to do is to shorten your list and take a lesson from the best sales and marketing pros. Try to develop a market niche. Don’t try to be all things to all people, at least in terms of describing what your club does. You may do 14 service projects each year, but perhaps several of them fall into the category of “working with disadvantaged children.” Do your mentoring projects fall into the category of workforce development? Your niche doesn’t even have to be about service. How about, “We provide opportunities for personal and professional growth for young professionals.” “We provide baby boomers with a chance to build a new social network after retirement.”
Any of these niches will allow you to more effectively answer the question, “what does your club do?” And don’t worry about choosing a niche that is too small. If you attract a fraction of the people in any niche you can think of and they are interested in your club, your prospect list is about to explode.
Think about it. Rotary suggests that we are an organization of leaders, who regularly meet to discuss community problems, and then take action. Fine. But what does your club do? Figure out a a short, succinct, impressive answer and then make sure everyone in your club knows what it is. Have a club assembly where everyone gets a chance to role play talking to a prospective new member. It will be fun. And your club will be on the way to growing.
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