The Pairing Program – Following Up a Rotary Membership Success Story

In a recent four-part series on membership, I wrote about the conundrum of “lightening strike” Rotary clubs. Amid the wreckage of the vast majority of Rotary clubs that fail to grow, there always seem to be a few outlier clubs who for reasons that are not fully understood, thrive and grow like crazy. Rotary Coordinators dub these clubs, “lightening strikes.” Rotary leaders logically think that if they could figure out WHY these clubs are succeeding, we could replicate them throughout Rotary and voila, we could resolve Rotary’s long-standing membership issues.

One such “lightening strike” club in Rotary District 7620 is the Rotary Club of Metro Bethesda. I first wrote about Metro Bethesda on 2/8/14 in a post called, “What Do Rotary Clubs Sound Like? Loud!” (I know, that’s a long time ago. Have I been writing this blog for more than five years? YIKES!) Anyway, you can check out the post here. NOTE: Don’t worry…that was back when my posts were short and interesting.

Thursday morning at Metro Bethesda. You can join them for breakfast at 7:30AM Thursday mornings at the Redwood Restaurant, Bethesda La., in Bethesda, Md.

This subject came up because at a recent meeting at my club a visitor from Metro Bethesda, Tito Reconco, got to chatting with me about a club program they have in Metro Bethesda called, The Pairing Program. I was intrigued. First because whatever this was, they really needed to improve the name of the program. It sounds like a dating service to me. But more importantly, I wanted to find out if the Pairing Program could be one of the programs all Rotary clubs could copy if they wanted to grow. This led to a discussion with Metro Bethesda Pairing Program Chair, and Past President 2012-13, Stephanie Lowet. And this is what I found out…

The Pairing Program is meant to foster conversations among club members who have never had the opportunity to chat during the meetings. Club member, Bob Scholz, who is apparently a computer geek, actually has a program to randomly “pair” members to meet for informal, one on one, conversations. These conversations are typically more personal than professional, and Stephanie describes them as “casual conversations that let you get closer to people.” She says it “is fascinating to get to know someone a little bit better.”

Stephanie Lowet and Bob Scholz

The club suggests pairings to members on a quarterly basis, but the club doesn’t monitor the program to see who met with whom. They email a list around with suggestions and contact information and members take it from there. Every once in awhile apparently Bob or Stephanie might give an extra “nudge” to people to go to their pairing meetings.

That’s all there is to it. But consider this. When Stephanie joined Metro Bethesda there were 13-14 members. When she was club president there were 18 members. When I wrote about the club Barton Goldenberg (now District Governor-Elect) was president and there were 37 members. And today Metro Bethesda has 70 members. Could it be that the secret to growing a Rotary club, or at least part of the equation for growth, is to pay attention to the relationships members develop with each other?

Here’s a few other facts about Metro-Bethesda. Their membership is 50% men and 50% women. They are located in a vibrant community just outside of Washington, DC. According to Stephanie it is “an ideal environment for Rotary, with lots of like-minded, interesting people who want face time in addition to screen time as they build relationships.” She mentioned more than once how diversified the club is. And I haven’t visited lately, but I can guarantee you that the club is still LOUD!

What is your club doing to help your members get to know each other better? Stephanie describes her club as “family.” Do you think members are more likely to brag about their club and ask friends, associates, and family to visit when they feel that way about their club?

I’ve been trying to figure out “lightening strikes” since I began doing PETS training more than fifteen years ago. I chose to teach PETS training because I believe that strong leadership is the key to these rare, but fascinating Rotary growth stories. Barton Goldenberg was Metro Bethesda club president when it took off, and I’m not sure how you clone that kind of talent and energy. But let’s start with the fundamentals. If the fifth part of the Four-Way Test is, “Is It Fun?,” then what could be more fun than finding opportunities to get to know your club members a lot better than you do now?

I’ll be sharing some interesting ideas for promoting club fellowship in upcoming posts.

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