Monthly Archives: October 2016

Is Rotary a Franchise Operation? A Random Conversation at the Zone Institute

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RI President-Elect, Ian Riseley, who is an accountant by trade but a great guy anyway!

Just back from the Zone 33-34 2016 Institute where I had the opportunity to listen in and participate in a conversation between a Past District Governor and a Past RI Director. The two are long-time friends and the conversation took place at the lobby bar after everyone had attended their class dinner. I mention this because (in my case) enough alcohol was imbibed to lower inhibitions and keep the opinions flowing. Conversations like these are the reason I love showing up to Zone meetings in the first place. Where else do you get to hang out with Rotary wonks like these guys?

Since you couldn’t be there, I thought I would share my greatly condensed version of the ideas flowing around the table. I didn’t have a tape recorder running but I think I can pass along the gist of the conversation.  If it seems like the participants were  rambling and talking in circles, that’s because they were.

NOTE: In a typical business franchise the franchisor signs a contract with the franchisee that dictates how the business will run in great detail. The franchisee pays a fee to own a franchise to the franchisor. In exchange for these constraints, the franchisee often benefits from lower costs, business consulting, and regional and national advertising. Perhaps most importantly, they benefit from the franchisor’s brand recognition.

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Rotarian A: No way Rotary is a franchise. Rotary clubs are completely different and Rotary International can’t make them do just about anything according to our bylaws. Clubs are independent entities and celebrate their ability to do things their own way.

Rotarian B: Oh really? Then why do we have a constitution and a manual of procedure and why does the COL meet every three years? And why do you think Rotary wants clubs to win the presidential citation? Rotary is trying to institute a certain set of standards that define a “vibrant club.” If every club is doing the activities required to earn the citation then our organization begins to look and smell like a franchise operation.

Rotarian A: I’m not sure that checking the boxes on the presidential citation makes a club vibrant. Do the Rotarians in each club really care about the citation standards? I don’t even know if my own club has won an award in the past few years. If a Rotary club is “doing its own thing” and is happy with their Rotary experience, then they are a vibrant club by the only standard that matters, which is their own.

Me: This reminds me of discussions about good parenting. Do good parents reward the child that tries the hardest but gets a C, or do you reward the child that gets an A, even though it comes easy to them? You seem to be suggesting that effort counts and RI can’t check a box for effort on an online application process.

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RI Director Zone’s 33-34, 2016-18, and another all around good guy, Joe Mulkerrin

Rotarian B: Absolutely not. You reward the “A.” But using data that is collected online is terrible because you can’t tell which clubs are earning the “A.” The data stinks. It was much better when DG’s could simply tell RI which clubs should win based on their knowledge of what a club is doing. Now DG’s are totally out of the loop. DG’s should be able to add their own judgment when RI evaluates whether a club is eligible to win.

Rotarian A: If we really understand that Rotary is a member-driven organization, we will encourage and reward Rotary clubs for being happy with themselves. Where is the award for being the happiest or the most fun? And what if a club is satisfied but it doesn’t fit RI’s thinking about what is vibrant? I realize Rotary wants clubs to improve, but according to whose definition of improvement? RI Presidents change the citation every year.

Me: But if you could operate Rotary like a franchise, then you would have a better shot at defining our brand experience. Once consumers of “Rotary” get a uniform product experience, we could do a much better job of marketing Rotary. As it is, what are we selling? The customer experience for Rotary is a complete mess…you just don’t know what you are going to get when you walk in the door of any particular club meeting.

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RI Trustee, Barry Rassin, reporting on the healthy state of the Rotary Foundation.

Rotarian A: What you get is a group of dedicated people doing community service and having a good time. The Rotary communications and PR team did a good job with describing us as Community Leaders, Exchanging Ideas, and Taking Action, don’t you think?

Rotarian B: Yes, but the clubs aren’t all on the same page. Wouldn’t it be better to have a group of clubs that are striving to achieve the goals set forth in the presidential citation? More foundation giving. More members. More diversity. More PR. If every club is striving to win the citation then we would have a much stronger brand identity…by definition.

Me: I joined AMWAY when I was in college. But I was introduced to the business by David Taylor, the starting left offensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts. I guarantee you that walking past Taylors’ trophy room on the way to our AMWAY meeting had a huge impact on my perception of the AMWAY brand. A pro athlete selling AMWAY? Really? Of course, the last people you would ever want to sell you laundry detergent are a bunch of college males who do their laundry once a month… but that’s another story. (laughter) My point is, what do consumers see when they attend different Rotary club meetings? Without any control from the franchisor, in many communities folks who are interested in Rotary learn about our brand by visiting clubs that could be a lot better.

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Rotarian A: I’ve talked about the same thing but I use Starbucks as my example of a successful franchise and one of the most successful brands. How do people feel about themselves when they pay up to drink Starbucks coffee? It may be just a cup of coffee but it’s branding genius. Rotarians need to think the same way. What is the experience we offer when you join a Rotary club? If the current members are happy with the experience, then do the standards set in the presidential citation matter at all?

Rotarian B: You are too much of a contrarian thinker! (laughter) The citation isn’t for the members and it isn’t really for the public. It IS for club presidents. If a club president wants his club to earn the citation then he or she can get it done. It isn’t THAT hard to win. An awarding winning club best represents our brand in any community around the world.

Me: Rotary really needs to understand that PR is just a subsection of sales and marketing. We need clubs to have a marketing chair, not just a public image chair.  If it’s true that club members and the public don’t know that clubs are winning this award, then that’s a marketing catastrophe. We have to get Rotarians to understand the power of this new brand identity.

Rotarian A:  And with that, gentlemen, it’s time for bed.

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(L) Geetha Jayram, one of District 7620’s two Global Alumni Service to Humanity Award winners.

(R)  Marni Nixon, Coordinator of Club and District Support for the Americas, absolutely radiant at the idea of not having to deal with me anymore.

 

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Rotary Coordinator, Chris Jones, desperately trying to help us have stronger Rotary Clubs.

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(L) RI President-Elect Ian Riseley, (R) Marni Nixon, still thrilled that she doesn’t have to work with me anymore.

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(L) Past RI Director, John Smarge, 2010-12.   (R) RI Director-Elect David Stovall, with PDG’s Cyndi and Peter Doragh.

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(L) Previous boss, Charlene Hall, who encouraged me to write this blog post, with some guy named Robert who hangs out with her.  (R)  Another picture of the current boss of the Zone surrounded by flags and colorful banners.

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RI President-Elect Ian Riseley with ANOTHER District 7620 Global Alumni Service to Humanity Award Winner, Peter Kyle.  (Just sayin)  Peter purchased the alcoholic beverages mentioned in this blog.  Thanks, Peter.