The Magic of Thinking Big in Rotary

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When asked, “why doesn’t Rotary spend more money on PR?”, RI President Ravi Ravindran responded with the easily predictable answer, “We don’t have the money to do a massive media campaign.”  But what he said next was worthy of our attention.  Speaking to a Town Hall Meeting of forty District 7620 Club Presidents, he related the following advice.  “If you want to solve all of your membership and PR problems, find a solution to a major problem in your community.  We have many smart Rotarians in our clubs.  Come up with the plan and the sweat equity to get the project done.  Don’t worry about the money.  The money will find you.  When the community understands that Rotary helped solve an important problem in your town, all of your membership and PR problems will be solved.”

My initial thought upon hearing this advice, coming from a guy who built what…twenty two elementary schools and a hospital in his home country of Sri Lanka, was ARE YOU KIDDING?  Who is going to teach our clubs how to do deals like that?  But the more I think of it, the more I think he is exactly right. What important, impactful, community changing projects are we involved with in our Rotary clubs?  And how do you figure out how to do such a project?  Who do you partner with?  How do you assess the big needs in your community?  How do you get the funding?  I’ve come to the conclusion that we might not be thinking big enough in Rotary, at least at the club level.

While I’m on the subject of The Magic of Thinking Big, let me strongly recommend you read the classic book on the subject by David J. Schwartz.  It’s one of those books that might change your life.

Here’s a real life “big idea” story that just happened in Zone 33-34.  When the DG class of 2015-16 first got together as DGN’s, they took the measure of each other and realized that collectively they had a remarkable lack of ego.  As they got to know each other better the notion of doing a service project together was broached over an appropriate number of beverages at a hospitality suite at the following year’s Zone Institute in Asheville, NC.   After watching a spellbinding presentation by Marion Bunch, Founder and CEO of the  Rotary Action Group, Rotarians for Family Health and Aids Prevention (RFFHA), at that same Institute, Marion was asked a simple question.  Since we had 29 Districts in our Zone, and if hypothetically all of them contributed $2,000 of DDF to a project, and if we got matched by TRF dollar for dollar, then we would be dealing with a chunk of change of about $116,000. The question was, “hey…can we do a deal with you where we can fund a Rotary Family Health Day for about a $100,000 price point?”

Guess what?  The answer was yes and the Zone 33-34 Ghana Family Health Day project was born.  As it turns out, no one at Rotary International knows of another project that was funded (as it ultimately turned out) by 22 Districts.  Not clubs.  Districts.  Yes, different DGs in the Zone handled the fundraising in different ways, with some getting club contributions.  But most found a way to fund the project using District DDF.  The Ghana Rotary Family Health Day project benefited 40,000+ Ghanians.  The total cost of the project was $114,000.  My District’s investment in the project was $3,000 of DDF.  I hope you will take a second to watch this three and one half minute video about how this got put together.

NOTE:  The video itself was conceptualized, written, and produced, in about three hours at this year’s Zone Institute in San Destin, Fla.  The video itself is a tribute to how a big idea can come to fruition when you have motivated, talented, and passionate Rotarians involved.  We are rewriting the script to focus more on Rotary clubs and I will post the final version on RFA when its complete.  In the meantime, take a look at this.

If you happen to be looking for a great program for the month of November (Foundation Month), why not check out this award winning documentary produced by RI all about RFFHA and Family Health Days.  It’s twenty four minutes long and perfectly tells a story about a Rotarian who learned about thinking big.  (Click on About Us and then Documentary.)

Let’s try to take RI President Ravi’s advice and think bigger.  After all, there is nothing limiting the scale of the service projects we take on other than our own imagination, our skill, our ability to create partnerships, and our determination.  Since its Foundation Month, it might be a good time to remember that if you want to do a BIG project, the Rotary Foundation is standing by to help.   All you need is a great idea that falls into one of the six areas of focus, a bunch of qualified partner clubs who share your vision, a strong international partner, and someone who can write a grant.  Why not?  Let’s do this!!

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