Here they come. Excited. Nervous. Maybe a little unsure of themselves. They are coming as a guest Rotarian to visit your Rotary club. The purpose of their visit? They are coming to unabashedly promote their business and to meet you in order to expand their professional network and perhaps find a business mentor. You see, they joined Rotary in order to do community service and to build their business network, and they were told that in joining Rotary they were joining “the original social network.” And as their fellow Rotarian, you are a part of it. (Their new network, I mean.)
They will have their elevator pitch all shined up and ready to go when the Club President acknowledges them as a guest from the podium and asks them to introduce themselves. They are going to be very clear and professional as they promote themselves and why you should do business with them. Perhaps they work in the same business or industry as you do. Turns out they joined a new Rotary club that was just started in your city and they fully expect that one of the benefits of membership is to meet other Rotarians who might be able to help them build their business. In fact, the club they joined is full of young professionals, but none of them have the knowledge, wisdom, experience, and contacts that you do, by virtue of the fact that you’ve built your business over decades, and you are, in many ways, the successful business man or woman that they aspire to be.
So here they come. Will you say, “How dare they come to my club to promote themselves and their business. That’s not what we do as Rotarians. They haven’t “earned” the right to come to my club and give this business-oriented self-promoting speech. Rotary is a service organization, and we don’t self-promote around here.” Of course, you might not know that this young professional’s Rotary club probably does two to three times as much community service as yours, at least as measured by the amount of “hands on” projects they do. Their new club exists to do community service projects and to build business networks, and they might do as many as two service projects every month. In fact, they will probably be contacting your club to partner in a project that they’ve designed in the near future. They really have some great new ideas for helping people in need in your community.
Hopefully when this eager young professional comes to visit your club, you will do more than extend the usual gracious Rotary welcome. I hope you will actively search out this serious and dedicated professional after your meeting and give them some encouragement. Thank them for visiting. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them. Perhaps offer to meet them for lunch or breakfast to give them some advice. In short, give them a sense of just how valuable building a Rotary network can be to them, both in terms of business advice, and perhaps in time, personal advice as well. If you do this, word might just begin to spread among the next generation of possible Rotarians that this Rotary network “thing” is actually VERY valuable.
Maybe, just maybe, this new Rotarian will be a new member of your own Rotary club. It’s time for all of us to fully understand that growing a professional network is right at the top of the list for young professionals looking to join Rotary. We need their energy, ideas, and enthusiasm. Let’s make sure they feel welcome to our organization. Maybe we didn’t realize it before, but we are a big reason these young professionals joined Rotary.
It’s been some time since I updated you on the progress of the Dare to Dream polio documentary. It is a story that takes place from 1978 to 1988, and sets the stage for what we think of as Rotary’s Polio Plus campaign. We are now well into our shooting schedule and have had the opportunity, and the privilege, of interviewing Past RI Presidents, Clem Renouf and Cliff Dochterman, who were instrumental in forming the first 3H Committee that laid the foundation for Rotary’s polio eradication efforts, and Dr. John Sever, who was deeply involved in helping Rotary choose polio eradication as a priority project and remains a leader in our polio eradication efforts today.
I call these men our living “Founding Fathers” of Rotary International’s polio story. That they can still tell the story first-hand is a gift for all of us since many of our great leaders from that period of Rotary history have now passed away. And believe me, they are GREAT story-tellers! We interviewed each of them for about two hours and they gave us a first hand glimpse into the first steps of what is one of the most important, and historic, public health partnerships ever created.
Here is just a quick teaser of 95 year-old Past RI President, Clem Renouf, interviewed at his home in Australia. You can see the gleam in his eyes as he talks about overcoming challenges.
Here’s a short clip of Dr. John Sever, talking about how we need to continually remind ourselves that polio is a terrible disease.
And finally, here’s a clip of one of Rotary’s great all-time story-tellers, 90 year-old Past RI President, and original 3H member, Cliff Dochterman. We filmed Cliff at his home in California. My DG class had the opportunity to see Cliff give his famous “DG is like conducting an orchestra” speech at the International Assembly in San Diego. His interview for Dare to Dream was awesome.
Now that we have our “stars” on film, our next step is to “fill in” the details of the story. It turns out the story isn’t just about Rotary. It’s also about public health policy and the history of how an NGO could partner with governments and public health organizations to change how health care is delivered around the world. What’s great for us is that Rotary’s actual history with polio eradication is full of drama, suspense, and yes….humor (if you think being tossed out of your own seminar about social mobilization and oral polio vaccine in Geneva is hilarious.) As we continue the research for the documentary, we continue to grow more enthusiastic that we have a great yarn to spin.
If all goes as planned, the production will feature Rotary’s two foremost historians on the subject of polio eradication, Sarah Gibbard Cook, author of Rotary and the Gift of a Polio Free World, and David Forward, author of Doing Good in the World, the Inspiring Story of the Rotary Foundation’s First One Hundred Years. We also will be interviewing Dr. Stephen Cocci, Senior Advisor, Global Immunization Division of the CDC, and Dr. Bruce Aylward, former Director of the WHO. Finally, we have some formidable past and current Rotary leaders scheduled to be interviewed, including Past RI Director and Polio Plus Chair, Bob Scott, and current Chair of Rotary’s Polio Plus Committee, Mike McGovern.
What’s left? Well….we are still trying to raise the money we need to honor the financial commitments we’ve made to the folks who are actually producing Dare to Dream. PLEASE go to www.DaretoDreamfilm.com and click in the upper right corner to make a donation. Oddly, we have several large donors to the project, but comparably few Rotarians who made a small, tax deductible donation. I know a lot of Rotarians who’ve told me they want to support this documentary. Why not go to the website and make a small contribution today?
And while your at it, why not go to www.Rotary.org and make a small contribution to Polio Plus?
We are going to distribute this film to Rotarians worldwide. I hope you will consider a small donation so we can tell this amazing Rotary story.
I often find myself pondering the many ways in which Rotarians seem to ignore the most basic and fundamental rules followed by virtually all successful businesses. I can’t tell you why this occurs on such a routine basis, I only know that it does. Today’s rant is about one of most persistent failures of sales and marketing common sense that I see over and over again in my Rotary travels. It has to do with following up a membership event.
Rotarians are pretty good at planning events, and membership events are no exception. I’m often asked to speak at these events, which take the form of “new member meetings,” “open happy hours,” or a “new member social.” You know what I mean. Members bring guests to a “safe” environment where they will be introduced to Rotary on very positive terms. They will hear from Rotary speakers about our unique value proposition, they will enjoy some fellowship and good cheer, and they will learn about a club’s commitment to community service. We do a pretty good job at these events, at least in my opinion. There are a lot of positive vibes by the end of the evening. Whey then, do Rotarians often feel so betrayed when so few attendees actually join their club after the event?
Don’t believe me? Here is a quick video of Shelley Yore, a recent attendee at a Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent membership event. Could anyone sound more positive about Rotary than Shelley? Do you think she will actually join the club?
The answer almost always lies in the details of what happens, or more accurately, doesn’t happen, after the event. Because when asked about the follow-up to a membership event, too often the answer is very casual. Let’s just say, we could do a lot better. Lets walk through the basics of what to do, and what not to do, after your next membership event so that you can improve the number of attendees that eventually join your club. Remember, the goal isn’t to have a wonderful event. The goal is to increase membership!
1. Get the contact information for every attendee. It is not hard to get this information from people who are typically eating and drinking on your nickel. A simple spreadsheet of names and email addresses is the very basic minimum. Just put a sign-up sheet by the door when they enter the event venue AND have someone there to make sure they sign in. (NOTE: Have the person asking guests to sign in give out the free drink tickets.) If you don’t have the contact information of your guests by the end of your membership event, then you’ve simply wasted your time. I repeat. If you don’t have the contact information for every guest who attends then you will only close the lowest hanging fruit of prospects who attend.
2. Enter the guest information into a simple database. Nowadays virtually everyone has access to simple and inexpensive contact management software. If you are serious about SYSTEMATICALLY adding members to your club, at a minimum add the prospect’s classification information and the potential sponsoring member’s information to the data base. Lacking a database, at least add a few columns to your spreadsheet and add the information there.
3. Figure out what you are offering your prospective new member(s) as a follow up to your event. Are you asking them to join you at the next club social – which is preplanned and has a date already reserved? Do you want them to visit your website? OK. Do you want them to visit the club this week? Next week? When? How about joining you at your next service event? Again – the event should already be planned with a date already set. This offer constitutes your first “close” with the prospect. Make it clear to everyone in the club that this (whatever “it” is) is the action step you are going to to use to quantify the success of your event. NOTE: Closing for membership is OK at your membership event, but some would worry you were being a little pushy. Just keep this in mind, at SOME POINT you are going to close your prospect to join the club. I wouldn’t recommend more than two action steps before closing. If you don’t ask, then don’t expect them to join.
4. Follow up with your guests IMMEDIATELY after your event with a thank you message. IMMEDIATELY after the event. Not two weeks, four weeks, two months, or six months. IMMEDIATELY. A simple email thanking them for coming to your event and expressing how much you enjoyed meeting them and introducing them to your club is fine. Pitch your next step, whatever it is. Consider hand writing the note on Rotary stationary. Aren’t you impressed when someone takes the time to do that in a note to you?
5. Keep track of every prospect. Make certain that the Rotarians who invited guests are held personally accountable for the follow up and get the results into your spreadsheet or database. If you have ten guests come to a membership event, and only one or two take the next step in your closing process, then your membership committee (you have one…right?) must IMMEDIATELY discuss what it is about your Rotary product that isn’t selling. When guests seem to have a great time at an introductory event, but then fail to close as a solid prospective new member, something might be wrong. I would guess a solid closing ratio is something like 50% of guests moving to the next step of your process.
6. Make sure you keep track of those guests at an event that CAN’T come to your follow up event. People have all kinds of valid excuses for not being able to pursue Rotary at this time. Put them on a separate mailing list and continue to send them the club’s newsletter, interesting RI blogs, or interesting community news. You can steal fantastic articles of interest from the Rotarian magazine. Make sure this group is invited to EVERY membership event you hold thereafter, until they tell you to take them off of your mailing list. Every once in awhile have their prospective sponsor give them a call just to check in. If nothing else, invite them to your fundraiser, to buy raffle tickets, or whatever else you are pitching to raise money for your projects.
7. Figure out the path from initial membership event, to next step closing event (whatever it is) to asking the prospective member to join the club. Who will do the ask? When will they do it? Should it be just one person or should the membership chair join the sponsoring member? Should the ask be done over breakfast or lunch? After the meeting?
Believe me. There isn’t one successful sales professional on this planet who doesn’t regard every single qualified prospect as a very valuable asset. Sales pros live and breathe to close these prospects. Nothing is more important to them. Getting prospects to show up at an event is a MARKETING issue. But closing prospects after an event is a SALES issue.
When you can say – before you hold your membership event – who is going to attend, how you are going to track who they are, what you are going to ask them to do, when you are going to ask them to do it, how you are going to ask them, what percentage you expect to say yes, and who is responsible for the asking, THEN you are ready to pull the trigger on your membership event. Follow these rules and your close ratio is going to skyrocket!
OH..and if you follow all of the rules and prospective members are taking a close look at your Rotary club but still aren’t joining, then it’s time for you to take a hard look at your Rotary club. Maybe you have a little work to do to make your club’s value proposition more interesting to prospective new members.
Rotary’s leadership has clearly asked us (begged us?) to be creative in structuring the Rotary experience so it will be relevant to a new generation of Rotarians. Since creativity isn’t necessarily one of our organization’s strongest points, I thought I would pass along a few ideas about this subject. NOTE: I want to give a special shout-out to Rotarian Clarissa Harris and the District 7620 Young Professional team. Many of the ideas below are theirs, although I am admittedly going to take things to another level. It’s OK. They think I’m a lunatic anyway. Since they have already completed steps One through Seven below, I KNOW you can do it too.
Step One: Agree that this new, vibrant club is to populated by members of all ages, sexes, religions, etc., etc. However, we are going to build the club from the bottom up to be attractive to young professionals. Agree that your target market of young professionals is age 25 – 40, time constrained, obsessed with their careers, don’t have a lot of discretionary money, possibly new parents, possibly new home owners, highly educated, interested in community service, globally oriented.
Step Two: Go to the local four-year university and meet with the alumni director. Offer to do a joint project where they offer their alumni a chance to be involved with a great networking event that features the university as co-host, held on campus, with a service project to improve the neighboring community, in exchange for Rotary picking up any cost for the event (other than space), co-promoting, organizing, and managing the event. HINT: Canvas local Rotary clubs near the college or university to find Rotarians with contacts at the school. This is pretty easy. Even if you don’t have an “in,” alumni staff are typically young(ish) and looking for these kind of events. Another HINT: The key is the mailing list. If you can’t do this with an alumni association, find another group with an interesting list to partner with.
Step Three: Find three or four sponsors that want to promote their business as being community-oriented, focused on young people and community service, where the sponsor gets to be a speaker about service-issues on an education panel about careers and service. Figure each sponsor is asked for $1,000 to $2,500 so you have a budget of $5,000 to $10,000 for the event. Once the local college or university is on board, finding sponsors will be relatively easy. “In-kind” donations will also be available if you put together a good event plan.
Step Four: Create an agenda for your event that includes a panel discussion about why community service will help your career. Have the speakers focus on that subject, both as community servants themselves, and potentially as employers (if your sponsor is a business owner.) Have the University President, or perhaps the Alumni Director, be a speaker. The panel discussion is a great way to invite questions from the audience. YP’s want to be engaged while learning. Then, after box lunches purchased at a big discount with sponsor money, create a service event that allows young folks to get busy with a hands-on project. Finally, the day ends with drinks at the bar….er….paid for again by sponsor money.
Step Five: Market the event through the alumni association. Use their mailing list to create an edgy ad that reads something like this:
LOOKING FOR TIME CONSTRAINED, CAREER-ORIENTED, COMMUNITY-SERVICE MINDED, YOUNG PROFESSIONALS, WHO WANT TO GROW THEIR PROFESSIONAL NETWORK WITHOUT WASTING MONEY ON EXPENSIVE LEADS GROUPS. (Find an image on Google or elsewhere that show a harried looking young professional in need of help.)
Join us for a spirited discussion about how to build networks, find mentors, and serve your community at the same time. And help to clean up the “XYZ Park”, and have a few drinks on us, while your at it. Followed by link to web site landing page.
OR – just let the Alumni Association come up with the ad.
Step Six: Figure on having 50 – 150 responses to your mail if the mailing list has 2,000 or more contacts. Ask the DG to distribute this ad to local clubs to distribute to their networks. Have your local young professional committee put the ad on social media. Figure 6 or 7 out of 10 people who RSVP’d will actually show up at your event.
Step Seven: Have a great event. Make sure to have excellent handouts about Rotary and make sure to get the contact information of the guests who post for the event. Let them know you will be following up.
Step Eight: IMMEDIATELY follow up after the event with all attendees and with the other prospects who didn’t attend. Have your committee preschedule a second service project within eight weeks of the first project. Also schedule a purely social “networking event” within four weeks of the first event held on campus. Announce these upcoming events at the first event. At subsequent networking events, meet at any local bar or restaurant that has parking to accommodate a large crowd of YP’s who are used to sharing business cards while having a few cocktails. BE SURE to ask everyone on the list to share these event announcements on their social networks.
Step Nine: After three months you will have shared the experience of at least two service projects and one networking event. Now its back to a venue for another (your second) networking event, AND a pitch to join Rotary. Here are a few key structural points for the new club.
A. The new club does NOT have meetings. The new club has networking events. Specifically, you meet twice a month for networking events. No bell. No pledge. At some point the members have to figure out how to have a short business meeting take place in a bar setting. They will figure it out. Committee work will be done elsewhere.
B. The new club does as many service projects as the members want to do. They are unlimited in terms of how often they do these projects and how they can help the local and international community. “Hands on” service is clearly understood to be different from “fundraising events.” Contributions to the Rotary Foundation are funded by fundraising events and members are not expected to fund TRF out of their pocket unless they can afford it. Of course, older members are expected to be leaders in this regard and step up to higher personal levels of giving.
C. Members pay RI dues and District dues. Other than that, maybe they chip in $40 a year to send the club president to training and that kind of stuff. Figure the total annual cost of membership to be about $200 per year. This is probably $300 – $600 LESS than YPs are already paying for unproductive networking groups that their business coach told them to join.
D. Make sure to have the proper membership paperwork available at the meeting and of course, online. Follow up IMMEDIATELY with everyone on the list – PERSONALLY – to ask them to join.
Step Ten: Make sure everyone knows that the objective is to expand the club’s network to include older members who will be able to help mentor YPs and help them build business and non-business networks in the community. Twice a month the networking crowd should be getting OLDER. Members should also be encouraged to visit other local clubs to build their Rotary networks. Will older professionals want to join this networking group and do community service alongside energetic, idealistic, committed, and enthusiastic younger professionals who want to learn about life and business from them? You bet they will!!!
I suspect YPs will grasp the basics of this plan better than I do, because I stole many of the ideas from them in the first place and they know the networking technology like the back of their hand. Remember, Rotary benefits include 1) business development, 2) community service, and 3) fellowship. YP’s are probably most attracted to numbers 1 and 2. Older folks are more attracted to numbers 2 & 3. Target the benefits you offer to the demographic you are targeting.
And there you go. 10 steps to 100 new Rotarians in four months from your first event. They think of Rotary as networking events and community service. Maybe you will screw this up and it will take six months instead of just four. You can do it!
“If you build it, they will come.” Kevin Costner’s character in the movie, Field of Dreams, hears a mysterious voice with this message while walking in his corn field in Iowa. “Build it” refers to building a baseball diamond, and as James Earl Jones says in this iconic clip, if Ray Kinsella (Costner) builds the field, fans will come to watch the game. This is a three minute clip so skip it if you like, but this is truly one of the great scenes in a great baseball movie.
Anyone who knows anything about the business of major league baseball knows that baseball is wrestling with developing its next generation of fans. And while James Earl Jones speaks poetically about the timeless and somewhat old fashioned virtues of baseball, the sport is in a lot of trouble if they can’t market a better value proposition to a younger demographic. Rotary has much the same problem. We need to get serious about how to position Rotary as a great value for young professionals.
Which brings me (blessedly) to the subject of this post, which is share with you a creative event for recruiting young professionals to Rotary. Past President of the Dupont Circle Rotary Club, and well-known expert in recruiting young professionals, Clarissa Harris, and the District 7620 YP team, including Nomie Hamid, Katie Blyth, Tiffany Nesfield, and Justin Saltzman, are out to change the paradigm for how to recruit Next Gen Rotarians. Here’s the secret….they are not promoting a Rotary membership event. Instead they are “selling” YPs on how community service can help jumpstart their career. That’s right. It turns out that YP’s are looking for opportunities to build their network, be mentored, and practice leadership skills. And yes, they are very interested in doing “hands on” community service. NOTE: This does not mean selling tickets to fundraisers. Just sayin.
The event is called, Generation Lead. To be held on Saturday, September 17th, the agenda is a clever mix of information about leadership development in the morning and a service project in the afternoon. They have created a professional and informative website at www.serviceconnectsucceed.org. Please go there immediately to steal….er…..get the details. Here’s how the day goes: Participants do some basic warm-up networking and then participate in an interactive leadership workshop run by Sarah Alexander with the University of Md.’s Office of Community Engagement. Next is a panel discussion with John Hill, CEO of Pinnacle Advisory Group, Kristin Post, former Peace Fellow and researcher at the Marine Corps Culture Training Center, and Sarah Alexander, discussing how community service has an impact on who they hire, how community engagement impacts how they view their employees, and how community service has impacted their personal career development.
YP guru Clarissa Harris.
After the morning sessions on professional development, the YP’s are off to an interesting service project where they will be planting more than 5,000 bee friendly plants to support three new swarms of bees. The mix of hands on service and high quality information about professional development will clearly illustrate the unique value proposition of Rotary.
The economics of this event can be replicated by any club or District with an interest, although this particular event is funded by an RI grant. (You can substitute corporate sponsors for the RI grant and pull off a similar event.) They key is for sponsors to realize that they can have their company associated with a valuable demographic (YP’s) and also be seen by potential customers and current clients as supporting youth and community service….a powerful combination. In this case the District 7620 YP team found a powerful partner in the University of Maryland, who generously donated the space for the event on campus as well as busses to transport participants from the morning session to the afternoon service project. Perhaps more importantly, U of Md. is marketing the event to the U. of Md. Alumni Association’s Young Professional Group.
What about Rotary involvement? The YP team is directly emailing to Rotary Alumni. (Yes, the data on that list is a little sketchy.) Additionally, each club in the District is invited to send up to five YP’s to the event. Each participant will be strongly encouraged to visit their sponsoring Rotary club after the Generation Lead event. Rotary clubs are also asked to provide volunteers for the day to serve as potential mentors to participants, further demonstrating the value of Rotary as a career building move for YPs. 7620 DG, Anna Mae Kobbe, has written several times to her Club Presidents asking them to participate, and now the YP committee has committed to making follow-up calls to certain clubs making certain that they get the message.
Current attendance is 100+. The goal is 200+. Clarissa and her team have built an extraordinary opportunity for Rotary Clubs to reach out to their local business community and invite young professionals to attend a free event. Generation Lead would benefit any business owner interested in furthering the development of their young professional employees. Why wouldn’t they send them to a free seminar sponsored by Rotary?
Another question might be, why isn’t the event sold out already? (By the way, having 100 registered two weeks prior to an event is somewhat short of amazing considering this is Rotary after all.) Here are a few obstacles to be overcome:
Rotary Club Presidents are now focused on their own agenda as its still very early in their year.
Rotary Club Presidents are getting bombarded with a variety of messages from their DG and from RI and this is just another thing on the list.
For this to work best, Rotarians should be reaching out to the local business community to find YP attendees. Rotary clubs ain’t so good at the “reaching out” part.
Many Rotary clubs don’t recognize the need to get younger. They are fine talking to each other about the grandkids every week.
Rotary clubs think they should be sending their own YPs to this event, as opposed to PROSPECTIVE YPs to this event. If they don’t currently have YP members they think this event doesn’t apply to them.
Well….they apparently built a baseball field in an Iowa corn field and people came to watch baseball played by ghosts. Now the question is, “If you build a fantastic recruiting event so that Rotary clubs can get younger, will they come?
I have been besieged with thousands of inquiries about what I’ve been doing in my new role of Immediate Past District Governor. (Perhaps the actual number of inquiries is zero but my therapist says I specialize in self-delusion and the thought of thousands of inquiries makes me feel better.) It has been several weeks since my last post so it is time to bring you, my faithful RFA readers, up to speed with RFA’s most recent insights into the world of Rotary. Having missed my self-imposed deadline to bring you world peace by the end of this past Rotary year, today I’m breaking a very important story about bagel etiquette at the Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent. (ColPax)
First some background. Like many Rotary clubs, Col Pax is deeply engaged in finding new and innovative ways to make the club more attractive for the next generation of Rotarians. On the list, of course, is to explore ways of reducing cost. And one of those options was to serve a continental breakfast instead of a hot breakfast in an effort to save money. One of the popular items on the breakfast buffet is bagels with the obligatory lox and cream cheese. The problem being that waiting for those connoisseurs who enjoy toasted bagels created a long line at the breakfast buffet. My job as your RFA reporter? To get to the bottom of what is or is not acceptable in terms of bagel toasting behavior.
Here’s long-time club members, and Area Governor, Charlie McCabe, giving his view on the subject. (Note the cameo by DGE, Greg Wims, as he slides by on his way to get his bagel toasted. There was no way Greg was getting caught on camera discussing this issue.)
To give you some idea of how quickly Rotarians try to deflect responsibility for a problem to someone else, here’s another long-time Rotarian, and former District 7620 Membership Chair, Darrell Nevin, pointing the finger at Anne London, the club’s Community Service Chair, for a bagel toasting violation. Note how gracefully Anne passes the blame on to some other nameless Rotarian. In case you missed it, the revelation here is that is seems to be unacceptable to put your bagel in the toaster BEFORE the meeting starts.
In the next clip, Rotarian (and my dentist), Walt Mazzella, freely admits to leaving his bagel to toast while leaving the area to kibbutz with Rotarian Mark Stoner. NOTE: I’ve made it a practice to be very careful about what I say in print about anyone who puts sharp metal objects in my mouth that have the potential to cause me pain. Mark Stoner , on the other hand, is the club’s President-Elect and is smart enough not to weigh in on this particular controversy. I personally thought his response showed a lack of courage (or some other peculiarly male part of the anatomy), but it is the political season and club PE’s around the world are being careful with what they say about just about everything. Interestingly, they are already experiencing the phenomenon of Rotarians not returning their phone calls.
It is ironic that the ColPax Board of Directors has now discontinued continental breakfasts, no doubt due to the extreme tension and conflict caused by bagel etiquette violations. Or because they have other more effective means of lowering club costs, although I can’t be sure. And it is interesting that the ColPax Club, under the direction of Mark Stoner and Club President, Alan Jefferson, recently raised $10,000 for the Summer Enrichment Program which benefits kids in the Head Start Program here in Howard County, Md., with a new and innovative fundraiser, and I thought it was more worthwhile to write about the club’s bagel etiquette.
All of which is my long-winded way of answering the question about what Immediate Past District Governors do. We reengage with our home Rotary clubs and begin to cause real problems based on imagined issues. What fun!
Stay tuned for more hard-hitting journalism from your RFA correspondent.
YOU CAN RECEIVE NOTIFICATIONS OF NEW POSTS ON RFA BY CLICKING ON THE SUBSCRIBE TAB TO THE RIGHT OF THE BLOG TEXT. YOU CAN FOLLOW KEN SOLOW ON TWITTER AT @KENNETHRSOLOW. PLEASE LIKE THE DISTRICT 7620 FACEBOOK PAGE.
The recent Council of Legislation (COL) has emphatically and resoundingly answered General Secretary, John Hewko’s, question, “What’s more important, attendance or engagement?” The answer is now officially, ENGAGEMENT. Having looked at the changes being made to the RI constitution and bylaws, and having had the chance to speak to several COL delegates from several districts, it’s easy to see that representatives were on a mission to remove many of our “old” and “antiquated” rules that acted as a possible headwind to growing our Rotary clubs.
Here a just a few of the changes that Rotary clubs “may” choose to implement:
No more than two club meetings are required each month
Removed admission fees for new clubs
Attendance rules can be determined by individual clubs
Classifications are now optional
Minimum members to start a new club reduced to 20
Rotaractors can have dual membership as Rotaract and Rotary
Corporate memberships are now allowed
Some unimportant dude from Sri Lanka wearing a great tie (left) and District 7620 delegate and PDG, Pat Kasuda (right)
So, because I love to stir the pot, and because it seems to me the new rules throw down an extraordinary challenge for many of our clubs, and pose a variety of questions about what it means to be a thriving and successful Rotary club, AND because I’m a middle child and I’m convinced my mother didn’t love me as much as my siblings, I would like to pose the following question:
What if we agree that engagement is more important than attendance, but the evidence clearly suggests that many of our Rotary clubs simply aren’t engaging? What if they are only fun for the current members and not prospective members? What if they aren’t necessarily relevant in their own communities? What if the reason that Rotary clubs don’t grow has nothing to do with cost of the meals and the frequency of the meetings? What if the reason Rotary clubs don’t grow is that they simply don’t have a compelling value proposition to offer prospective members, and/or to retain current ones?
There are many Rotary clubs who do the same projects, to benefit the same organizations, with a shrinking base of members, and have done so for decades. What if the members don’t recognize their club’s deficiencies (it’s hard to recognize your own club’s deficiencies) and instead decide that the club’s value proposition is just fine, despite the evidence? Instead of taking a hard look at how they do what they do, what if they simply decide to cut the number of meetings to two per month which will reduce the meal cost by 50%, and stop taking attendance because the COL says it isn’t important anymore?
My guess is that unless Rotary clubs see this as a challenge with the greatest possible potential to grow their membership, and use the new rules as a catalyst to reengineer their club and reimagine what Rotary could mean to their community, then membership could actually decline. Why? Because for many Rotarians there is a rhythm and a comforting habit associated with attending weekly meetings. For other Rotarians the weekly meetings allow them to engage in fellowship with members who they look forward to meeting once each week. For those Rotarians who find great value in the fellowship at Rotary meetings, they might find that going to Rotary twice a month just doesn’t scratch their itch. It isn’t too far from going a couple of times per month just for the fellowship, to not going at all.
This admittedly “glass half empty” view of cutting back on club meetings ignores the fact that the younger generation of Rotarians is clearly asking for: 1) lower costs, 2) more flexibility in meeting attendance, and 3) more focus on community involvement.
So here we go. They (the COL) have given us the gift of passing the resolutions that needed to be passed in order for Rotary to move to the next level and reach a new generation of members. OMG! What do we do now? One answer, of course, is to do nothing! We certainly don’t HAVE to make any of the proposed changes in our own Rotary clubs. Change is risky. Actually, change sucks. But, as the guy who writes a blog called, Ready, Fire, Aim, you might guess that I’m 1,000% in favor of the new COL resolutions. Let’s get creative. Let’s rattle some cages.
If you are out there and you are capable of thinking outside of the box, this would be a good time to speak up. Your club needs your best ideas on how to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.
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I am very proud to announce to my long suffering Ready, Fire, Aim readers that this blog post celebrates reaching the milestone of 1/4 of a million visits to RFA since October of 2013. Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to visit. In the 135 posts that I’ve shared perhaps the one theme I’ve been most enthusiastic about is the notion of “scaling” Rotary to do bigger and more impactful projects. I thought we could celebrate in style today by learning about one of the most dramatic and intriguing stories in Rotary history. If you don’t think that the only limit to what you can accomplish in Rotary is your own imagination, then this true story just might change your mind. If you agree with me about the power of this tale, then I am going to ask you to join me in funding an important project that is uniquely important to all of us.
Prologue: In 1923 the delegates to the RI Convention in St. Louis passed Resolution 23-34, which basically prohibited Rotary International from compelling individual Rotary clubs to participate in national or international service projects. It also advised clubs not to seek publicity or credit for their service, but only the opportunity to serve. This was the guiding principle for Rotary International for the next five decades….
Our story begins: 1978-79 RI President, Clem Renouf, created the Health, Hunger, and Humanitarian program which was meant to identify service projects that would be centrally funded and coordinated by RI. This would provide a means to do service projects that could be much larger in scope than any one club could implement. He was inspired by news that the WHO had recently eradicated smallpox at a cost of $100 million. He asked why Rotary couldn’t do something similar. The year before Rotary had created a fund to celebrate Rotary’s 75th anniversary in 1980, called the 75th Anniversary Fund. Rotarians had contributed $8 million to the fund which was designed to raise $12 million in two years and then spend it over the next five years.
Renouf called one of his District Governor’s, Dr. John Sever, who was chief of the Infectious Disease Branch, Institute of Neurological Diseases, U.S. National Institute of Health, near Washington, D.C., and asked his advice. Sever was a colleague of Dr. Albert Sabin, the researcher who developed the live, oral polio vaccine. After consulting with Sabin, Sever wrote to Renouf with his recommendation that Rotary consider eradicating polio for all the children of the world.
From the day Sever wrote the letter to Renouf, to the day when RI President, Carlos Canseco, announced what was then called the Polio 2005 Program, (now known as Polio Plus) in 1985, a few determined and visionary Rotary leaders steered our organization on a course that could lead Rotary to achieve one of the most important public health successes in history. The results of their efforts are so staggering that we sometimes forget that in 1978-79 there were approximately 1,000 cases of polio every day in the developing world. (As of this writing, so far this year there have been nine total cases.)
Shouldn’t we know more about the heroes of this amazing Rotary story? On the eve of our most spectacular success, perhaps you agree with me that it is important to memorialize the men and women who cooked up this crazy idea. What can we learn from them? Names like Renouf, Sever, Canseco, Pigman, Stuckey, Dochterman, and many others, should be etched on Rotary’s own Mount Rushmore. It’s a shame that most Rotarians have never heard of them.
Perhaps the best part of the story is…..it’s a GREAT story. It is a truly INSPIRATIONAL story. Our Rotary history from this period was chock full of high drama. Conflicts get resolved. Challenges are overcome. Who knew? And the best part of telling this particular tale is that many of the heroes are still alive. We still have the opportunity to get first person accounts from them about how we got from there to here. I’ve heard some of these anecdotes and I believe it would be a tragedy if we lose this opportunity to record them for posterity.
With your help, the Rotary District 7620 Project Trust Fund, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is going to produce a documentary called, “Dare To Dream, How Rotary Decided to Eradicate Polio.” Before I tell you more about the documentary and how you can help us fund it, take a look at the movie trailer:
Dare to Dream will be produced by Pixel Workshop, an award-winning production company owned by Dave and Ilana Bittner. Dave is a Past President of the Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent. Co-Producer, Ilana Bittner’s mother was a polio victim. For both of them, this project is a labor of love.
We hope to raise $100,000(U.S.) to produce a one-hour “Ken Burns” style documentary. Our first goal is to raise $50,000 which would fund a 22-minute production, suitable for Discovery Channel, the History Channel, or PBS, as well as being suitable for club programs. We are creating a “Kickstarter-like” campaign that relies on small donations from a large number of donors as our primary means of raising the funds we need. The minimum donation is only $20! Each donation has an incentive for giving.
Once we complete this phase of the campaign, we will create a Kickstarter campaign to fund post-production, if for no other reason than we want the hundreds of thousands of people in the Kickstarter community to see this trailer and learn more about Rotary.
Finally, I want to reiterate that although RI is fully aware of our project, this is a completely INDEPENDENT production. RI is helping us with access to Rotary archives, coordinating international distribution, and helping us to meet celebrities that could help with the production. But this film is NOT financially supported by RI and won’t be produced without your help.
PLEASE send the link to this blog post around to your Rotary friends, and to your non-Rotary friends, if you think they might want to invest $20 or more to help us spin a great yarn….which happens to be true….and which happens to be our own Rotary history.
One final note to Rotary clubs and Rotary Districts: There are special incentives to Rotary clubs and districts who make a $1,000 contribution to the film. We are offering the opportunity to have a custom 3 – 4 minute introduction appended to the beginning of the film with your District or club’s reasons for funding the project, and perhaps your personal request that your members continue to fund Polio Plus. Also, please note that this contribution is tax deductible and is suitable as a grant from both Rotary Club Charitable Trusts and from Rotary District Designated Funds.
Thanks so much to all of you! And now, everyone….let’s get back to working for world peace.
Dr. John Sever shooting the trailer for Dare to Dream.
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I’ve written about this topic several times since RI President, Ravi Ravindran, visited our District and pointed out that the best way he knew to get a huge PR presence in our community was to do a large and impactful project. When I later pointed out to him that our clubs didn’t know how to do large and impactful projects, he shrugged his shoulders and basically said it was time for us to learn.
As your Ready, Fire, Aim guide, spiritual leader, and all-round good guy, I am going to walk you through exactly how to close a deal in Rotary. I absolutely guarantee that you can take the tips I’m about to share and double the impact your club has in your community.
Step one is for you to realize that your Rotary membership entitles you to “sell” certain benefits to business owners and stakeholders in your community. These benefits are of great interest to others who want what we have to offer. These benefits constitute our value proposition to non-Rotary partners and you need to learn them and keep them “top of mind” when talking about what we do. Namely, Rotarians can offer 1) great brand, 2) great ideas, 3) manpower, 4) club/local Rotary Trust money, and 5) Rotary Foundation money. Let’s take these one at a time.
Great brand: You may not realize it, but there are very few impeccable brands out there that businesses would want to partner with. Rotary is one of them. Since 1905 we’ve been delivering objective, non-political and non-religious community service to communities all around the world. It’s likely that the businesses and other stakeholders you will be speaking with will know Rotary, if only because their father or uncle was in Rotary. And while Rotary may still have (in some quarters) a reputation for being “old white guys,” the fact is we are thought of as “old white guys who get things done” in our town. The opportunity for a business owner to put his brand or logo next to ours is a big deal.
Great ideas: Great ideas close sales. What is your big idea? How can you help other organizations “think outside of the box?” Your willingness to take a great idea out to the marketplace will attract the attention it deserves. Think big. Be enthusiastic. Find a project that will make a BIG difference, or a SMALL difference. You don’t have to do a $1 million project to have a large impact that will attract the attention of a business owner in town. Just recognize that businesses ARE interested in your ideas for changing things for the better, especially in their home town. They WANT to be associated with providing solutions to local problems, both for their employees and their customers. What does your community need? Who might be interested in helping you solve them? Most importantly, the idea you fund doesn’t have to be your idea. What problem do the big and small businesses in your community want to solve?
(SPECIAL NOTE: I think going to very large business to do deals is problematic, unless you know someone who is a decision maker there. Once an idea has to be approved by “corporate” you are pretty much lost. Find a business with 100 – 200 employees. That is plenty big enough.)
Manpower: Rotarians must understand that our ability to rally other Rotarians to a cause has value in the marketplace. The secret is that it’s not just the Rotarians in your Rotary club. How many Rotarians are in your neighboring clubs? Let’s say you have five clubs in your county with an average of 30 members. When you talk to Larry’s Automotive Repair and you tell them that you have 150 eager and anxious community leaders in Rotary that want to partner with them to solve “X” problem, Larry is going to be interested. Whatever problem needs to be solved, it’s likely that you will have a lot more hands available to do the work than Larry, and that is a powerful negotiating tool. And don’t think for a minute that Larry isn’t thinking that he would like to get to know 150 new potential customers.
Money: Yes, we have money. Does you club do a fundraiser or two? Do you support 3 – 20 charities and non-profits in your community? Every dollar you distribute to non-profits could be a matching contribution with another business partner to support the SAME charity. When you go to Larry’s Auto Parts and say, “Larry, I have $3,000 to support a project we are doing with “X” charity, we want to partner with you IF you will match our $3,000,” Larry will be intrigued. It could be Laura’s Auto Parts but you get the idea. Larry or Laura is used to being begged for handouts. He isn’t used to being asked to partner in doing a deal. Every dollar you give directly to a non-profit without a community business partner is a dollar that could have been doubled if you just think a little differently. Remember to let Larry know that if he doesn’t do the deal you have two or three other businesses in town that have already expressed interest.
Rotary Foundation money: There is nothing more powerful when talking to a potential partner that discussing the opportunities we have to apply for and receive a local Rotary Foundation grant. If your club, or another club who wants to partner with you, is eligible, then talking about a “matching grant” that is likely to be approved IF a business will partner with you is like talking about crystal meth to a Breaking Bad fan. I promise you that if you submit a well-written grant proposal that includes a matching contribution from a corporate partner, it is going to be well received by your District grant committee. The best part is that you don’t have to actually have the grant. You just have to remember to talk about it and apply for it.
Before I tell you how to structure the deal, it’s time to take a 3 1/2 minutes time out to watch an expert close a deal. I’m not sure Vin Diesel in Boiler Room is the role model we should be aspiring to, but Rotarians need to understand that if we want to have more impact we need to learn how to close a deal. (Notably, there are a lot of Wall Street movies out with similar scenes but this is the only one I could find without sixteen “F” words in the mix.)
To take your newfound knowledge about Rotary’s value proposition out to the market, you need to learn the power of the “IF” statement. Here are a few of them for you to consider:
“Mrs business owner, if I could bring 100 Rotarians and $5,000 to the table, would you be interested in matching our contribution and being a 50-50 partner in a project that you’ve always wanted to do for the community to solve “x” but haven’t been able to get it done?”
“Mr Business Owner, if we formed a partnership to eliminate poverty, hunger, and sickness in our community, and if we could put your company logo along side of our Rotary logo so the 100,000 residents in our community would think you are the engaged and caring person you really are, would you be interested in being a 50-50 project owner?”
“Mrs Charity Administrator, we would like to solve your biggest problem, whatever it is? If we could bring a corporate sponsor to the table, and if we could provide $10,000 in financing, and if we could provide the manpower to get it done, would you be interested?”
“Mr Business Owner, if you partner with us and match our $5,000 contribution to this project, we will submit a grant to our District’s Rotary Foundation for an additional $3,000. Your $5,000 will be leveraged to a total project of $13,000 and we will still consider you a 50-50 partner. Does that sound interesting to you?”
The “If” question is where it all starts. Notice that you haven’t committed to anything. You are just asking whether they might be interested “if” you can make something happen. The power lies in the fact that once someone, anyone, in the deal answers yes to your “if” question, then you can tell others that they will be your partner, “IF” they participate as well.
There you go, folks. Go out and close a deal! You can do it. If we all put together a partnership like this Rotary PR is going to become a whole lot easier….and so will membership. Good luck.
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I’m just back from Chesapeake PETS where President-Elects from four Districts (7600, 7610, 7620, and 7630) gather to get trained to be a great Club President. The Multi-District PETS is a massive operation with more than 200 PE’s getting the best training that Rotary can provide. And they also get the best speakers. The picture above shows RI President-Elect, John Germ, exhorting the PE’s to be “All-Stars.” (Notably, this had to do with some nonsense about next year’s DG Class wearing red Converse All Stars sneakers in San Diego at the International Assembly. Converse All-Stars? Can you still buy them? Has anyone ever heard of NIKE?) But the point was, as it is every year, that being a Rotary Club President is one of the best opportunities an individual can have to make a positive change their club, their community, and the world.
But I submit that despite the highly trained and motivated facilitators that volunteer to teach at PETS, and the professional curriculum for PE’s developed by RI for just this purpose, the very best training for Rotarians doesn’t occur in the breakout or plenary sessions. The best learning occurs in a unique environment called “the hospitality suite.” Regardless of whether the hospitality suite is located at a Multi-District PETS, or located at a District Conference, if you want to find out what is REALLY going on in Rotary clubs in your District, Zone, or around the world, head immediately to the nearest hospitality suite, grab your favorite beverage, and listen to the conversation.
To prove this hypothesis, I bravely decided to shoot some video at the District 7620 suite this year. You will note that many of the attendees have somewhat glazed looks in their eyes due to drinking a few too many margaritas. (Another Note: Yours Truly brought the margarita machine. Special thanks to my partner behind the bar, Rotarian and soon to be First Husband to DGE Anna Mae Kobbe, Doug Newell, for helping to experiment with the ingredients until we ended up with the best margaritas of the evening. Uh….we were actually serving the only margaritas of the evening.) I think the video shows the incredible intensity of the Rotary information being exchanged. You can see how productive everyone was until I showed up.
The next clip is a rare view of a District Governor-Elect motivating and educating her Club Presidents in the Hospitality Suite environment. Here, 7620 DGE Anna Mae Kobbe, was in the middle of explaining how Rotarians can actually finish the job of achieving world peace when I interrupted her with this interview. Unfortunately, even though Anna Mae had the answer to achieving world peace and prosperity by the end of the 2016-17 Rotary year, after she finished her margarita she forgot how to do it. She does remember something about red sneakers, though….
Finally, another benefit of hospitality suites is that you get to interact with the very best and highly trained support staff that Zone 33 has to offer. In this clip I was fortunate enough to capture our Zone Coordinator, Paula Mathews, explaining some of the most intricate and complex issues in Rotary to PE Brahm Prakash, who was desperately trying to understand Paula’s southern accent.
It’s really too bad that none of the Rotarians who attended the hospitality suite seemed to be having a good time.
Not that it matters, but the Rotary clubs in District 7620 are sponsoring seven (count-em) SEVEN hospitality suites at our District Conference. If you want to learn a whole lot about Rotary, that no one will teach you in a classroom, that will change your life, AND have a whole lot of fun, you might want to find one of the hospitality suites and hang around with some interesting and knowledgable Rotarians. TOO MUCH FUN!
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