Category Archives: Leadership Team

The Magic of Thinking Big in Rotary


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!!





ROTARY S.W.O.T. Analysis in District 7620



Ask any Past District Governor (as I have) about the best part of being a DG, and they will, without exception, talk about how great it is to visit the Rotary clubs in their District.  Now that I’ve completed 29 official club visits I can absolutely confirm that they are correct.  It is TOO MUCH FUN to visit the Rotary clubs in our District.

But for me, the best part of the official visit is not the twenty minute program I do for the entire club, although putting on “the show” is something I look forward to.  For me, the opportunity to meet with the club’s leadership team either before or after the club meeting has been extremely interesting and  rewarding.  Why?  Because our conversation is something akin to a Rotary version of a SWOT analysis.  Business types will recognize the acronym as standing for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  To have an earnest and frank conversation with club leaders about their Rotary club is a privilege for any District Governor, but it is especially so for a Rotary wonk like me.  EVERY club’s leadership team is engaged in making their club better….whatever that means to them.  In our conversations club leaders have been extremely frank in their assessment of their clubs, and I’ve enjoyed sharing best practices from around the District with the team leaders.

I thought I would share some of the comments that I’ve been hearing repeatedly from many different clubs.  (I’ve put them in quotes but some of this is paraphrased.)  These comments come from very large and very small clubs from every geographic area of the District.  It turns out that many clubs are dealing with similar issues and have similar thoughts about what makes them unique in Rotary.  Like I said, the conversations have been positive and earnest.  Thank you to everyone who has participated so far!

Regarding “thinking big” about service projects that engage Rotarians and the local community:

“You just don’t understand what it’s like here in Howard County.  We have so many non-profits operating here that there really isn’t much left for us to do.”

“We have a unique problem here in Carroll County because of the number of non-profits serving the community.  It’s pretty difficult to think of a project that isn’t already being addressed.

“Have you ever looked at the number of non-profits in Montgomery County?  OMG!  There is no way to come up with a program that is unique and will engage the community with the kind of services already being provided in the community.”

“Howard County is so rich that if something needs to be built, the county government will build it.  The key is to find “holes” in the social safety net that county services don’t cover.”

Regarding what makes any particular Rotary club unique.  Why should someone join your club?

“Our club is unique because we have a lot of fun.  When people visit they can see that we are good people.”

“Our club is unique because of the fellowship we enjoy.  We do lots of things outside of Rotary that are fun.”

“We have a great group of people in this Rotary club.  That’s what makes us unique.”

Regarding challenges to growing the club:

“It’s been hard to get new members because we are a breakfast club and too many people simply aren’t morning people.  Also, potential members don’t want to have to rush to work after our meetings.  We would do better if we were a lunch or evening club.”

“We are a breakfast club but we don’t meet early enough.  There are a lot of defense contractors in this community and they come to work by 5AM.  Our 7:30am meeting time is too late for them.”

“Our problem is that we are a lunch club.  This is a bedroom community and local residents commute to work so there is no way they could join.  We would be better off as a breakfast or an evening club.”

“It’s hard to get new members because we are a dinner club.  People with families don’t want to tie up an evening with Rotary instead of being home with the kids.  We would be much better off as a lunch club or a breakfast club.”

“Younger people are not really interested in community service.  They are a just too busy raising families and starting their career.”

“We don’t want to be a bigger club because we will lose the special relationships we have with each other as a small club.”

“It would be exhausting to do a “hands on” service project each month.  We simply don’t enough people to do it and everyone is already burnt out.”

Regarding the Rotary Foundation:

“Yes we have a Foundation Chair.  …..No, not the RI Rotary Foundation.  “x” is our club’s Foundation Chair.”

“We were very disappointed to find out last month that our Club Treasurer didn’t properly submit our contributions to the Rotary Foundation.  We don’t know what happened to the funds.”

“We used to give to the Rotary Foundation but a few years ago they refused our application for a grant for our “x” project.  Jim got really pissed off and now we don’t contribute any longer.”

Regarding the club’s strategic plan:

“Yes we have a strategic  plan but we haven’t let anyone see it yet.”

“We did our strategic plan a few years ago.  ….No, I don’t know where it is.”

“I don’t think our members can clearly state the purpose of our Rotary club and what we do for the community.”

“We don’t have a strategic plan but our plan for each year is to win the Presidential Citation.”



Guess what?  Creating and maintaining a vibrant Rotary club ain’t easy.  But the best clubs in our District have at least a few of these things in common.  No surprises here, but here they are:

They have a clearly defined mission in their community.

They engage their members in hands-on projects.

The community recognizes the good works of the Rotary club.

The business community sees Rotary as a networking opportunity.

The club has clearly defined long-term goals.

They have a well structured leadership succession plan.

The club is well organized in terms of the Board.

Only 32 more visits to go!  If you ever get the chance to do this DG gig….THROW YOUR HAT IN THE RING!  You will be glad you did.











The Toughest Role Play in PETS Training – Engagement Part III





Back when dinosaurs walked the earth I used to serve the District by training club President- Elects.  My thinking for the decade that I volunteered to do it was that Rotary Club Presidents have all of the juice, so if you could get one or two of them “turned on” in PETS training you had a shot of really making a difference in the world.  Consequently we developed a lot of great training materials.  The funniest part of our training each year was to do a variety of role plays where we intentionally put our club presidents in hypothetical uncomfortable situations they might encounter during their year.  They all involved interpersonal conflicts that required a clear head, some wisdom, and great management skills, to navigate successfully.

We would either ask for volunteers or randomly pick our victims …er….PEs, who would act out parts in a variety of scenarios.  Each one had a carefully chosen teachable moment. For example, we asked one PE to play the role of club president and another to be a member who is bothered by another club member who tends to shout out wisecracks during the meeting “which isn’t appropriate for Rotary.”  The club president, mindful that the laughter is great for the meeting, must meet the aggrieved member’s objection.  Teachable moment:  It’s one thing to say “is it fun?” is the fifth part of our 4-Way Test, but club presidents have to know where to draw the line.  On other occasions we asked a PE to play the part of a speaker who refuses to stop speaking at the end of the meeting while the club president is trying to ring the bell on time.  We asked a Club President who needed to get a task accomplished to confront the Rotarian who didn’t complete the task, only to find the slacker was in danger of losing his or her job, or worse, had a sick child or parent to deal with.

The trainers would “coach” our role players by whispering suggestions that were either funny, or made the role play more meaningful.  Usually these unrehearsed skits ended up with the class in total pandemonium.  We could always count on the PEs coming up with some truly funny lines, and combining the laughter with teachable moments was a worthy endeavor for all concerned.  (Note:  The role players all got to choose a bottle of wine as their reward for humiliating themselves to benefit the class.)

I always thought the toughest role play was one where the Club President needed to get an important task done during his or her Presidential year, and appointed a very capable club committee chair to get the task done.  The club president tasked the Chair with engaging a committee of club members to accomplish the task.  The role play takes place when the Club President finds out that the task was accomplished perfectly, on time, and in line with all expectations, but the Committee Chair did all the work by his or her self.  The Committee Chair who did the work is congratulated by everyone in the club, but the Club President knows that Rotarians in the club were not engaged in the work.  In the role play the Club President is asked to review with the Committee Chair that getting the work done was not the only goal they were trying to accomplish.


I can tell you that the PE’s who played the part of the Type A’s had a ball with this one.  They acted shocked and surprised that the Club President wasn’t thrilled with their work.  After all, it was great work!  But our poor PE’s that had to play the Club Presidents were always stuck.  And why not?  What DO you say to the Type A who does all the work by his or herself, and does high quality work to boot?  In fact, the context for the conversation was that every other time the Club President delegated work in the club it resulted in disappointment that the work didn’t get done.  In this situation, the work finally DOES get done, but in a way that doesn’t accomplish the President’s goal of engaging all of the members.

Hmmm.  Since we’ve been tackling the issue of engagement and participation versus attendance, I thought I would throw this thought experiment your way.  What would you say to the Committee Chair who is accomplishing the goals, but is doing it “the wrong way?”  Is there even such a thing as “a wrong way” to get our tasks accomplished in Rotary considering that we are a volunteer organization that is always challenged to get anything done at all?   In a world of Rotarians who are volunteers is the Club President simply expecting too much in this scenario?  Should they count a completed task as a victory, no matter who does the work?  In the context of being smart enough to “fight the battles worth fighting,” is risking a disagreement over something that was essentially a victory worth it?

Just my opinion (it is my blog after all) but my answer is yes, no, no, and yes.  Engagement is everything if you want to build a vibrant Rotary club.  Type A’s doing all of the work don’t allow anyone else to participate.  The more club members who actually do the work, the healthier the Rotary club.  It IS worth risking that a task isn’t completed if the “cost” is Rotarians who were not asked to participate.  This discussion means that a Club President believes that engagement is MORE important than a completed task when it comes to a vibrant Rotary club.  And THAT my friends, is asking a heck of a lot of any Club President. NOTE:  There are ways of managing around this so it isn’t a win-lose situation.  All of you personal coaches and management consultant types…please take a deep breath.  I’m trying to make a point here!

Before finishing up,  I have to share one of my favorite clips about management style.  Tom Hanks is brilliant in this scene from “A League of their Own.”  Warning…there is some adult language in this PG rated clip.

One other note worth mentioning here.  Accomplished Type A’s who get things done by doing the work themselves are not used to delegating work, and often don’t know how to do it effectively.  For these overachievers, who are used to earning accolades for “making things happen,” learning to be an effective delegator might be the next big step in their personal and professional growth.  Delegating is a learned skill that needs to be practiced and Rotary is the perfect place to do it.  The irony here is that in this situation the Type A doesn’t see the need to change.  They resent being told that their good work isn’t good enough.  And they will often accuse anyone who interferes with their “do it yourself” behavior as being a “micro-manager.”   In short, while personal and professional growth might be important, they might not agree that it applies to someone who is “the only one getting anything done around here.”  YIKES!

Do you disagree?  Is completing the task more important than engaging the club?  Give it some thought and let me know your thoughts.



The Elephant in the Room, A Letter about Rotary Engagement


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…  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.


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.
Terry R. Weaver
District Governor, 2015-16″

RI President Ravi answers the question about the Rotary Chicken (new members) or the Egg? (member engagement)



RI President KR “Ravi” Ravindran live tweeting a picture of his audience at the RYLA NA Conference in Washington, DC.

I was privileged to host RI President Ravi Ravindran and his wife, Vanathy, for two days last week as he was in town to give the opening address to the RYLA NA Conference in Washington, DC.  He didn’t know it, but he gave us some great insights into the question of “what came first, the rotary chicken or the rotary egg?”  (NOTE:  In this context we are NOT referring to the favorite dish of all Rotarians, Rotary chicken.  Rotary chicken as a meal means saving tons of money in meal costs by serving relatively low cost chicken at Rotary events just short of 100% of the time.)  Never fear RFA reader, I shall further explain.

RI President Ravi has named growing Rotary as the top priority of his year.  To get to the answer of the Rotary growth puzzle, it seems that there are two different schools of thought bubbling around about how to do it.  Let’s start with what I call the equivalent of the Rotary chicken.  This theory of growing Rotary focuses on the activities required to inform the public about Rotary and to recruit new members.  Rotary chicken people suggest that we need to do a much better job of educating Rotary clubs about how to do effective membership drives, and to do them in a systematic way.  Rotary chicken proponents also focus on “the club meeting as a show.”  In District 7620 we have taught a breakout session called, “Enhancing the Life of Your Club” for over a decade to our President-Elects in PETS training.  This class teaches Club Presidents that if you have boring meetings with lousy speakers you will never recruit new members, and never hold on to new members once you have them.  Finally, Rotary chicken-types ask that we do a better job of promoting Rotary in the community.  If we would do more PR then more prospective members would hear about Rotary and they will be more inclined to join once someone asks them to visit as part of the new club membership drive, and more inclined to stay in Rotary based on our new, more vibrant club meetings.

Pic 4 (1) (1)

RI President Ravi at “Rotary Town Hall” meeting with select Area Governors, Club Presidents, and guests.

But….I have to say I’ve become more of a “Rotary egg” person.  Rotary egg people suggest that while all of the above matters, it matters much less than our Rotary service “product” as the means to engage current and future Rotary members.  They say that until and unless Rotary clubs offer vibrant, important, relevant, and visible projects in their community, that inspire Rotarians and others, than Rotary chicken people are focusing on the wrong issue.  I’ve written before about the difference between fund raising projects, “hands on” projects, and “thank you” projects, where thank you projects put Rotarians face to face with the people they serve.  I maintain that the simple formula of having someone say “thank you for helping me” does more to make someone a Rotarian than the most engaging Rotary club meetings.  Proud “Rotary eggers” say that when Rotarians are engaged in this way, they will brag about Rotary without being asked, to anyone and everyone they know.  When that happens, and an entire club is engaged in serving others, then you have a small army of Rotary apostles telling our story and the need for stylized membership drives and PR campaigns fades.  Oh…and the best relationships among members are built when we are doing vibrant and significant service projects.  Having more fun is sure to follow.

caribbean carnival

At the Caribbean Carnival at GW University University Yard the evening before the kick-off of the RYLA NA Conference.

When President Ravi was asked about why Rotary can’t do more to help us with our PR campaigns, he responded as I would have guessed.  “We simply don’t have the money” he said.  Then he suggested that the solution was to “go big” with our community projects. Partner with other institutions in our town to do a project so meaningful and significant that everyone would be asking “who or what is Rotary?”  Of course, President Ravi is a master businessman who has taken his company public and created some of the most successful Rotary/business partnerships ever.  He knows how to do a deal.  In fact, if you ask him (we did) he will tell you exactly how to negotiate a deal, AND he can tell you the differences in negotiating in different cultures.  The elements of the deals we need to do seem easy when he tells the tale.  Rotary supplies well thought out and skillfully designed projects along with the sweat equity or manpower, and local businesses or banks supply the money.  He continually says, “don’t worry about the money.  If you have a great project, the money will come.”  (Note:  There is the small matter that most Rotary clubs have little to no training in putting together these types of partnerships, but that’s a topic for another blog.)


With the District Leadership teams of District’s 7610, 7620, and 7630.  NOTE:  The background is a picture hanging on the wall at the restaurant.  We really weren’t at a construction site. L-R standing: Yours Truly, 7610 DGN Ronnie Chantker, 7620 DGN Greg Wims, 7620 DGE Anna Mae Kobbe, and 7630 DGN Richard Graves.  Seated from left: DG Janet Brown, RI President Ravi, and 7610 DGE George Tyson.

So, I’m thinking that I’m a Rotary egg person, but you might disagree.  In fact, in my business of financial planning, the most recent studies I’ve seen on how to ask for a client referral sound distinctly “egg like.”  They say you don’t have to ask for referrals if you provide an amazing client experience.  My first reaction?….they are absolutely nuts!  We HAVE to ask for client referrals if you want to get them.  You can see the analogy, right? Apparently I’m an egg guy but have a foot in the chicken camp.

How about you?


With 7620 Major Donors at a “high tea” at Edgars at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC.  NOTE:  A high tea means you drink tea while eating a fantastic array of sweets, scones, chocolates, and other fattening stuff in small portions so you don’t feel guilty.  And no…you are not expected to keep your pinkie finger extended while holding the cup.  L-R Standing: Yours Truly, PDG Larry Margolis, PDG Claude Morissette, PDG Raj Saini, PDG Peter Kyle, PDG Rich Carson, and PDG Jay Kumar.  Seated from left:  Gaithersburg club president, Linda Hanson, RI President Ravi, PDG Rob Hanson, 



Rotary Peace Centers – A “Stellar” Program of the Rotary Foundation


Unless you are on the District Leadership Team you don’t get to attend Council of Governors (COG) meetings.  The COG is comprised of District 7620’s Past District Governors. Four times each year the poor District Governor has to drag himself or herself before this distinguished body of Rotary experts and try to explain why the District won’t be imploding any time soon.  I had my first interrogation….er….meeting with the COG early this week.  They were kind and encouraging and let me know, in their wise and twinkly-eyed way, that every single new idea our current team has ever had about Rotary had been tried before in our District…typically with great success.

So I’m minding my own business and wondering if I can eat the sticky buns and juice at the back table without getting icing on my hands and messing up my notes, when I see Past District Governors (PDG’s) Peter Kyle, Larry Margolis, and Rob Brown, in earnest discussion somewhere between the coffee and the sweet rolls.  Because the three of them have collective resumes in and out of Rotary that are extraordinary, and because I had nothing else to do at the moment, I sidled up to listen.  It turns out that all three are heavily involved in one of the most exciting programs in Rotary that you hardly ever hear about.  So I asked them, politely, and deferentially, bowing and scraping before them, if they would permit me to interview them for RFA about the Rotary Peace Fellow Program.  After consulting with their agents, all three agreed to sit for a brief interview after the COG meeting.

(NOTE:  As you will see, all three of these Peace Fellow experts were determined to get their message across to the RFA audience.  I tried to get them to understand that you, my much appreciated readers, are used to me publishing pure Rotary nonsense, but they didn’t seem to get it.  So here is an unusually useful, productive, and educational piece on the Rotary Peace Centers.  I will get back to publishing my typical stupid stuff next week.)

OK.  So let’s get this right.  PDG Kyle chairs the committee.  PDG Margolis is reading the Peace Fellow applications, and PDG Brown is screening the applications before they get to the committee.  Clearly these young men know what they are talking about.  Let’s listen further.

The “stellar program” of the Rotary Foundation?   Six premier universities around the world?  Peace and Conflict Resolution curriculum?  Got it.

I’m sorry.  Did he just say $80,000 to $100,000.  Better watch this again.  I’ll get right back to you.  Yup.  Two years Master program worth $80 to $100k.  That’s real money.

Are you kidding?  In this clip I throw these guys a comedy softball.  I’m talking comedic gold here, and what do they do?  You saw it.  They fairly fall over themselves trying to give each other credit for being the hardest worker or being the most important.  Next time I will coach them a little more so they have some better material.  Oh well…what can you expect from a Rotary Foundation Global Alumni Service to Humanity Award winner (Kyle), a Federal Judge (Margolis), and an Arch Klumph Society Member (Brown)?

Seriously, the Rotary Peace Centers Program has to one of the most fantastic programs offered by the Rotary Foundation.  It’s just another proud moment for District 7620 to have such committed Rotarians working so hard to make this happen.  Thanks Peter, Larry, and Rob for your service.  If you want to learn more about the Rotary Peace Fellows Scholarship Program and the Rotary Peace Centers, check it out at  Or you can download the Rotary Peace Center Program Guide.





I mean this in the nicest way…but YOU’RE FIRED!


I have been privileged to go around the District over the past two weeks in order to fire current Club Presidents.  It’s not that they did a bad job or anything like that, and I’m sure they didn’t deserve to be fired.  But fire them I did.  I have to tell you most of them took it very well….maybe a little too well.  In fact, virtually every Club President that I fired over the past two weeks seemed positively gleeful to receive the news.  Perhaps they were so happy because along with firing them, I was hiring their replacement for the 2015-16 year.  And perhaps they were happy because they were in incredibly good company.

In fact, I informed  them that they joined a parade of about 34,000 Club Presidents all around the world that got fired.  And they were joined by over 500 District Governors that got fired.  And they were joined by this very nice guy from Taiwan, who we all grew to love last year, who asked us to “Light Up Rotary.”  That’s right, RI President Gary Huang got bagged last year as well.  There is some new guy now who wants us To Be A Gift To the World.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wondered about Rotary’s determination to commit corporate suicide every year by firing our leadership team….just when they finally get the hang of the job.  From the perspective of trying to execute a strategic plan, where having continuity of leadership is critical, I can’t imagine anything more dumb….OK….less productive.  Why do we do it you ask?  I have a few ideas about this, but first….I thought I would share a couple of clips about getting fired.  Here’s the gentle “your fired” clip from the very intelligent movie, The Invention of Lying.


Here are three reasons to change Club Presidents every year.  You may not agree with them, but heck…it’s Sunday evening on Fourth of July weekend and I have the microphone.  Here you go.

First, it’s hard to imagine this now, but back in the day being a community’s Rotary Club President was one of the most prestigious positions in town.  There was too much competition for the job to allow any one person to have it more than one year.  Those days are sadly gone now, but it is an interesting thought experiment to wonder what we have to do in our Rotary Clubs to get back to those days.

Perhaps you agree that that reason Number One doesn’t seem to resonate, so let’s go on to reason number two.  Being a Rotary Club President, or a member of a Rotary Club Leadership Team, presents an enormous opportunity for personal and professional growth.  We don’t talk enough about it, but for many of us we will never again have the opportunity to lead in the same way.  Being an effective Club President requires someone to employ numerous skills, including public speaking, planning, recruiting, persuading, engaging, being an expert in peace and conflict resolution, and being a visionary for their Rotary Club.  Why not give everyone the opportunity to give it a try?  Ask Past Club Presidents what they learned during their Presidential year from the perspective of professional and personal growth (as I’ve had the pleasure to do many times) and you will get a long list of really cool stuff.

Before I get to reason number three, I thought I would share a scene from the movie, “Jobs.”  You have to cringe as this is a VERY bad firing.  Fortunately, we have an orderly and cordial change of leadership in our clubs, and I’m using the words “your fired” in order to get a laugh and elicit some thought.  Anyway….let’s hope this never happens to you!

“But Ken, he was the best Club President we ever had, and you just fired him.”  I DON’T CARE.  HE (or She) IS ALREADY FIRED!!!!!

OK.  It’s time for reason number three that we “fire” our Club Presidents every year.  How about this?  There is no better opportunity to change the world for the better than being a Rotary Club President.  Just about every great Rotary club program begins with a great idea from someone in a Rotary club, that usually gets nurtured and implemented by an effective Club President and Club Leadership Team.  As I like to say, there is no “good idea form” in District 7620.  If you have a good idea to improve your club, your local community, or the global community, then the only barriers to your success are your own imagination, skill, capacity for hard work, and determination.  Can you imagine a better job description than that?  With that kind of capacity to promote positive change in the world, then doesn’t it make sense to give as many Rotarians as possible a shot at it?  I think so, even if it means that strategic planning is more of a challenge. Smarter people than me obviously figured out a long time ago that it makes sense to turn the gig over every year so everyone gets a chance.

RI President, Ravi, asks us this year to “Be A Gift to the World.”  Thanks to all of our outgoing Club, District, and RI leaders who served us so well.  And thanks to all of you who stepped up and volunteered to be a leader of your Rotary Club.  It’s your turn to shine.





Lunar Rainbow at Iguazzu Falls

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If you happen to travel to Brazil you should definitely take a few days to check out Iguazzu Falls.  What a breathtakingly beautiful place.  If you are lucky enough to stay at the Hotel das Cataratas, which is located right in the National Park within viewing distance of the Falls, and you are further lucky enough to be staying at the Falls when there is a full moon, then you can sign up for a walking tour down to the Falls at night.  There you can see one of the most wondrous and beautiful sights you will ever see.  Under the moonlight, you can see a lunar rainbow.  Lit by the moonlight, the rainbow turns to a ghostly silver color.  Fans of Tolkien would think they were in an Elvish land.  You need to be a better writer than I to describe how small you feel watching the Falls by day.  But at night it’s even more special.

Interestingly, the rainbow is one of the stars of a visit to the Falls, and by day tourists aim all types of cameras at the many rainbow views and come away rewarded with beautiful rainbow pictures.  But it’s almost impossible to capture a picture of the lunar rainbow.  All of the photographer hacks like me didn’t capture any image of it at all.  How frustrating to know you just experienced one of the most beautiful sights of a lifetime but you couldn’t share it with anyone.

Sao Paulo 6-7-15 1043

All of which is my (typically long winded) way of saying thank you to everyone who showed up my installation event last Saturday.  It went spectacularly well and it seems that a good time was had by all.  But due to time constraints I had to hack copious amount of content from my comments that evening.  I was very disappointed that I didn’t get an opportunity to review all of the accomplishments of our District Leadership Team leading up to this year.  Under the direction of two strong District Governors, Peter Kyle, and Bill Fine, and working within the structure of a well thought-out strategic plan, a whole team of people have accomplished a lot.  But almost all of it is “behind the scenes” kind of stuff.  Building infrastructure, reorganizing, recruiting strong committee chairs, and redefining long-held policies, isn’t necessarily the most inspirational stuff for most Rotarians….but it is for me.

Therefore, as your intrepid RFA reporter, and new District Governor of District 7620, dedicated to the proposition that you, my loyal reader, needs to be informed about all things Rotary, I am going to now list my highlights of two and one half years of work on the Leadership Team.  This list is a tribute to what a team can do when it has a clear vision of what they are trying to accomplish and as you will see, many Rotarians contributed to what has been built.

Here’s the thing.  Very few of our Rotary clubs have felt the impact of this change.  It is very much like the lunar rainbow at Iguazzu Falls.  It’s there, but our Rotary clubs can’t see it….yet.  Here’s the list:

Team Accomplishments:

Strategic Plan

Set new goal of $200 per cap giving for APF

New District Rotary Foundation Chair

New District Grants Chair

Restructured our grants team by Area of Focus

Created new eligibility rules rewarding Foundation giving

Recruited all new Development Chairs, including Claude (Polio Plus), Mike Twigg (APF), Rob Brown (Major Gifts), Larry Leahy (PHS)

Recruited 14 Foundation Advocates to support club Foundation Chairs.

Restarted an old tradition of having a Foundation Dinner in the District – great success.

New plan for Leadership Members: DGN does Foundation development, DGE focuses on AG support.

Held two different PR symposiums to help define PR Committee role in the District

Recruited Dawn Wittfelt as District PR Committee Chair

New emphasis on District blog, District Facebook page, social media training, video training

Restarted our new Foundation Newsletter under the direction of Mary Felter and now Pat Kasuda.

Ready, Fire, Aim Rotary blog

New membership chair in Rich Glover, replacing long-time iconic chair, Darrell Nevin

14 Membership Coordinators to work with club membership chairs

New emphasis on club extensions with new clubs in Howard West and Federal City, with two more per year per our strategic plan.

Held our first Immediate Past Presidents meeting to introduce them to District-level service.

We have two new training committee chairs in Mary Nagle and Sean McAlister

Very successful PETS 1, PETS 2, and Chesapeake PETS first time around

Creating a new role for a training committee in the District

New model for smaller regional training meetings

New District Treasurer in Geoffrey Fenner

Installed new procedures for tracking District expenses

Updated our District reporting

Helped rework the District budget

New communications plan allowing District committee chairs to pmail directly to club committee chairs.

7 new AGs in the District

New model for AGs to work with club presidents emphasizing one on one meetings

New model for Anna Mae to support AGs emphasizing one on one meetings.

Developing new District awards created by PR, Foundation, and Membership Chairs that will allow clubs to win awards in specific important categories.

It took a lot of work by a lot of motivated Rotarians to create this list, and I couldn’t be MORE PROUD to be on this team.  I think our mission is clear for the 2015-16 year.  It’s time to EXECUTE.  We have the right people in the right positions at the right time.  As RI President, Ravi, says so well…”Our time is now.  It will never come again.  Be A Gift To the World.”  OK 7620 Rotary clubs….it’s your turn!  I’m excited to watch all of you make it happen.

Sao Paulo 6-7-15 1047


It’s Time to Install our New Club Presidents

At Mr.  Obama's swearing in.


I thought I would write about installing new club leaders this morning, and then I remembered that more than a year ago I wrote a RFA post about installing new club members.  And guess what?   The rules for a good new member induction and a good Club President installation are the same!  So I herewith present this previous RFA post on How To Induct New Members with the thought that you, my esteemed and learned RFA reader, can easily take this information and translate it from installing new members to installing new club leaders.  

As you read the post below, be thinking of what you would charge new club leaders to do during their year.  How about supporting the club president, coming up with creative new ideas, having a positive attitude, and recruiting new members for their committee? If you speak from the heart its all good.  For new Club Presidents, how about creating a vision for the future of the club, holding members accountable, and working to implement the club’s strategic plan?   As for the actual pledge, it’s REALLY easy.  Do you (say your name) (NOTE:  I have ten bucks if you install a club leadership team and someone doesn’t say, “say your name” instead of their own name.  It’s about as certain as the change of seasons.)  Anyway, “Do you agree to uphold the bylaws of the Rotary Club of “X” and the bylaws of Rotary International.  Bam. Boom.  Done.  It’s the rest of it that’s the fun part!  

So here is the post from January 24, 2014.  And by the way, new Club Presidents, you will find yourselves (hopefully) inducting new members soon after you take office so please take a few notes:


As a member of the District Leadership Team I’m often asked to induct a new member to Rotary.  It kind of goes with the territory and it is a pleasure to do.  I’ve also watched various club presidents do the honors.  Unfortunately, for the most part, inducting a new member seems to fall into a “polar vortex” of public speaking mistakes that cheapens the experience for all concerned.  So….here are some tips to consider for your next new member induction.

Let’s start with Inductions 101 which entails reading the induction ceremony. If you need a copy you can find several sample induction ceremonies available online as a PDF  called New Member Inductions.  The written ceremonies have the advantage of sounding formal and official.  And they allow the inductor to not worry that they have missed anything important or that they will make some kind of “gaffe” that will embarrass themselves or their new member, not to mention the current club members.  

The problem is that READING  the induction breaks every rule of good public speaking.  It’s usually done with no eye contact with the audience.  It screams that this isn’t important enough to do without reading a script, and it’s usually delivered in a monotone.  In short, it is as far from memorable as you can get.  So, my first tip is that if you are going to read a new member induction (or anything that you present as a speaker), you should PRACTICE! Here is what you do.  Go to your bathroom or another room with a mirror.  Read the induction, OUT LOUD, ten times.  Look at yourself in the mirror as much as possible while reading.  Try to memorize at least five different lines.  Listen to yourself!  Try to make your voice conversational while you read.  The key is to HEAR what the induction sounds like in your own voice.  When you actually read the script in front of the club it will sound natural and more like a speech than a reading assignment.  However, if you read the same script each time your club members will know it, and they will pay an appropriately diminishing amount of attention each time you read it.

If you are up to it, (and I think you are),  DON’T READ THE SCRIPT.  Instead, just say what is in your heart to a new member about joining Rotary.  How about starting with talking about Rotary or about your club?  Your club’s history in the community is a great place to start.  Then, you might challenge a new member with what they need to do as a new Rotarian.  If you want a great list for suggestions for new member requirements, go to Rotary Club Central New Members.  Here are a few of my own ideas you might consider:  1) Get to know the people in the club, 2) Sit at different tables, 3) Learn more about Rotary at RLI, 4) Attend the District Conference, 5) Join several club committees, 6) Express your opinion freely and often, 7) Brag about your new status as a Rotarian in the community and bring a guest to the meeting, 8) Do the things your club asks of you in the “fireside chat” and remove your “red badge” of new membership.  9) Aspire to join the club’s Leadership Team, and 10) My favorite….Hold club leaders to the highest standards.  Expect a lot from them.

Andrew Jackson Oath of Office

Jot down your favorite five ideas on a piece of paper and practice saying a little something about each.  Here’s one to get you started, “Get to know the people in our club.  They are not as scary as they look from up here.  (Wait for the laugh….wait for it….wait for it….now proceed.)  You will find one of the greatest joys in Rotary is the friendships you are about to make.”  Don’t be constrained with my ten ideas, come up with eight of your own.  It’s your personal message to a new member so be as creative as you want.  The good news here is ANYTHING is better than reading the script.

Joining a Rotary club should be a momentous occasion for a new member.  It is a chance for club leaders to show off their love of Rotary and their Leadership skills.  Don’t waste this chance to wow your club members and put on a show.  But no matter what you do and how you do it, end by having all the club members stand and have the new member’s sponsor affix the new Rotary pin.  And yes…it’s OK to make a joke about drawing blood.  Everyone does!




If It Ain’t Broke….Break It!



NOTE:  Today’s post was supposed to be about the recent District 7620 District Conference. Unfortunately Ready, Fire, Aim editorial deadlines must be met so the Conference blog will be up next week after I get my hands on the best jpegs from the event.  They will be worth the wait.  Stay tuned….

Two weeks ago, after our Rotary meeting, and during our weekly “meeting after the meeting,” we were discussing changing our long-held club Charitable Trust rules for awarding grants to multiple charities.  Honorary  member, Doris Johnson, whose official classification is Club Fairy Godmother, was asked to opine, and the thought she shared was, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  This particular sentiment made me smile because for the past decade I’ve included a slide in our President- Elect Training Seminars that has a slightly different take on the whole “is it broke” thing.  The slide says, “If it Ain’t Broke….Break It!”  As usual, while I thought I was being clever and kind of ripping off former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s thoughts from his book, “Only the Paranoid Survive,” it turns out that lot’s of folks smarter than me use the phrase.  For example, Prof. Robert Kriegel and Lousi Patter have a book named, “If it Ain’t Broke Break It.”  And famous management guru, Tom Peters, is credited with the quote, “If it ain’t broke, break it (or someone will do it for you.)  Here’s a quote from former Intel CEO Andy Grove:

“a strategic inflection point is a time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end”
Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

What does this have to do with Rotary?  Everything!  We are a service organization that is facing a classic strategic inflection point.  And club presidents, as the Rotary leaders in the trenches who face changing fundamentals every day, are on the front lines of dealing with change.  Whether they can recognize, as Grove says, “the winds have shifted,” is critical to the success of our clubs and of course, for Rotary as a whole.

Before we take on some of the characteristics of Rotary’s strategic inflection point, I thought it would be highly entertaining (in the spirit of “breaking it) to check out a few great Hollywood scenes of things blowing up.  Movie fans will recognize these scenes as the ultimate in “breaking it.”  For scene number one I nominate Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Night blowing up Gotham General Hospital.

There are many signs and symptoms that Rotary is truly at a strategic inflection point. For RFA readers these are recurring themes, but I present them here again for your consideration:

We are getting old.  Our average member is over the age of 50.  We are kind of like Major League Baseball.  If Baseball can’t get a younger demographic to watch the sport, and to play the sport, they are doomed.  Same with Rotary.  Get younger or perish.

Our clubs increasingly do not represent the true leaders in our community.  If you name the top 20 businesses in town ranked by sales, or by employees, are you likely to find them as members of the local Rotary club?  Unfortunately, increasingly, they are not.

Our Rotary club’s do good work, but our charitable endeavors are increasingly irrelevant in the communities we serve.  Clubs tend to specialize in small service projects suitable for small Rotary clubs.  We are in danger of no longer having the scale to make a difference locally.  The exception is, of course, Polio Eradication on an international scale.  Part of our PR issue is that many of our projects simply aren’t newsworthy in our local community.

Well…that was hard to swallow, wasn’t it?  To ease the pain, it’s time for another example of “breaking it.”  For our second example of completely blowing something up, I give you the famous scene from Star Wars Episode 4 – the end of the Death Star:

Luckily for us, we don’t need to “blow up” most of our Rotary clubs.  So much of what we do is right on point.  But there are several items that we can tackle to help us address the “winds of change” that are out there.  The trick is to have an open mind.  Can we really “break it” when it seems to most of our members that “it isn’t broke?”

We can, but it takes true leaders at the club level to rally the troops, share a different vision for the future, and then execute a plan that is likely to take more than one year to implement.  One of Rotary’s strengths is that changing leaders every year gives everyone a chance to lead and to enjoy the personal and perhaps, professional, growth that comes from being on a club’s leadership team.  But the flip side of that coin is that changing leaders every year makes it difficult to face strategic issues, like clubs reaching a strategic inflection point, that require multi-year solutions to difficult organizational challenges.

Before we get to some of the solutions, I’m sorry but we have to watch just one more scene of things getting blown to kingdom come.  What fun!  For our final explosion I give you Indiana Jones in The Crystal Skull surviving a nuclear test explosion in a refrigerator.  Do you remember this?

That is so cool!  I want Indie in our Rotary club.  Does anyone know this guy?  But I digress. Do you want a quick list of things to break in your Rotary club?  Try these on for size. Warning:  PLEASE don’t shoot the messenger.  I didn’t create the strategic inflection point we need to address.  I’m just reporting the news, folks.

Singing your favorite patriotic song at the beginning of a meeting just might turn off a whole generation of Rotarians who just don’t “get it.”  That doesn’t mean they aren’t patriotic.  It might mean they think it is unbearably corny. (Who knows what word they would use for “corny?”)

Believing that young professionals won’t be interested in your Rotary club because your club is too old entirely misses the selling proposition that Rotary has for young people anxious to network and learn from successful community leaders.

The belief that your Rotary club is a “stand alone” organization that can build a brand in your community without partnering with other local Rotary clubs in the same community is a waste of energy, creativity, and time.

Believing that the public is not interested in international projects when the news is filled with international threats of every stripe.  We have to get Rotarians to believe that our mission of world peace through humanitarian service is relevant to “all concerned.”  If we don’t buy it, who else will?

The notion that Rotary clubs are service clubs and not “networking” clubs entirely misses a changing fundamental in our society.  EVERYONE wants to network today, and one of the best ways to do it is to do community service together.  Sneering at people who want to join Rotary to advance their business interests is just shooting yourself in the foot.

OK. Enough for this particular rant this evening.  Remember…if ain’t broke….break it (or someone will break it for you.)  Rotary needs to become an organization that is all about continuous innovation.  Guess what?  There is absolutely no barrier for your Rotary club to change to meet our strategic inflection point.  The only thing standing in our way is us.

We can do this.