Category Archives: Membership

“Extending” a new Rotary club…”A Dive into a Pool of Positive Energy”


You get to do a whole lot of fun stuff when you are a District Governor in Rotary.  But I don’t know if you get to do anything too much more exciting than “extending” or “chartering” a new Rotary club.  Nowadays, my DG classmates tell me its a lot easier to start “satellite” Rotary clubs than it is to start a club from scratch, and they are probably right.  But if you’ve ever watched a group of dedicated people come together to learn about Rotary, get to know each other, and figure out just what the heck their club is going to be, I promise you it’s a process that is amazing.  I recently had the opportunity to participate in the charter celebration for our District’s sixty-second Rotary club, the Rotary club of Downtown Silver Spring, and it was a joyous occasion.  NOTE:  Our District strategic plan calls for us to extend two new clubs each year.  Since I closed a club this  year does this count as one or am I still net zero?

I suppose what I like best about chartering a new club is that new Rotary clubs really “don’t know what they don’t know.”  Who or what is to stop these super enthusiastic Rotarians from making a gigantic impact on their community?  Why shouldn’t the members become life-long friends both in and outside of Rotary?  And why couldn’t they become true citizens of the world and become completely engaged with Rotary in all of its international majesty?  I will say it again…(sorry about this)….but there is no “Good Idea Form” to fill out in District 7620.  This group of 26 new Rotarians can do just about whatever they want to do to make downtown Silver Spring a better place, limited only by their skill, imagination, and willingness to work hard at making a difference.  Starting a new club is like taking a dive into a pool filled with positive energy.  At least for this one morning it seemed like there is nothing that this group of men and women can’t accomplish.

Here is a two minute video of Past District Governor, and District 7620 club Extension Chair, Ray Streib, giving the oath of office to the club’s officers.  You might note someone (possibly your RFA editor) calmly and politely asking Ray to hurry up with the speechmaking.  I might add that Ray has been involved with extending more than 20 Rotary clubs.  I might also point out that he doesn’t read from a script when he gives the oath of office….and neither should anyone else.

I think for once I am going to shut up and let the pictures tell the story here.  But I do hope that the new Downtown Silver Spring Friday morning breakfast club does not forget the culture of membership growth that allowed them to grow from a couple of people who wanted to learn more about Rotary, into a new club with 26 members.  I just looked it up and can report that the city of Silver Spring has a population of 71,000.  If we include the Silver Spring-Kensington lunch club we have about 40 Rotarians serving the needs of the city.  I’m just spitballing here, but I’m guessing that about 100 Rotary members would have a huge impact on the city, would get the attention of local businesses as partners, and would make an impression on city government.  Come on Downtown Silver Spring…you can do this!

Here is a quick interview with the new leadership of the Downtown Silver Spring club.  I wouldn’t bet against this club, would you?



L – R  Charter President of the Downtown Silver Spring Rotary Club, Carson Henry, District Governor Nominee “Uncle” Greg Wims, and District Governor Elect, Anna Mae Kobbe.


Club Extension Chair, Ray Streib, making certain that Club President, Carson Henry, doesn’t screw anything up during this important occasion.


New members praying that the speeches will be over soon so that they can finally eat some breakfast.

And finally, the actual Club Charter.  You might note my signature next to some guy named Ravi.  We didn’t have the original at the ceremony so we gave them a cheap copy in a nice frame that Ray had laying around in his basement.  The real Charter will be safely in the hands of the club’s officers shortly.





Steve Jobs and Rotary…reading things that are not yet on the page.


I just got finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.  The book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years, ever since I received it at our Rotary club’s gift exchange a couple of years ago.  We play that game where you can “steal” a gift from others up to three times, or you can choose from the gifts that haven’t been opened.  You know that game, right?   No offense to whoever wrapped this particular book but I’m pretty sure the book wasn’t exactly “new” when I opened it, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, with the release of the new Steve Jobs movie, I thought it might be a good time to finally get down to reading it.  So over the Christmas break I’ve been totally immersed in the incredible and compelling story of Steve Jobs.  As the Founder and CEO of Apple and Pixar, Jobs literally changed our world in more ways than I realized before I read his story. And, as your hard working RFA editor, I managed to find many lessons on Rotary leadership in the book.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from Jobs about his views on customer satisfaction:

Some people say, “Give the customer what they want.”  But that’s not my approach.  Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.  I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.  That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

Here’s how this might relate to Rotary leadership.  When our task is to rethink how to make Rotary more relevant in our community.  How to reengage Rotarians in our clubs.  How to have more impact and make more of a difference in how we serve others, and how to attract the next generation to Rotary, perhaps the last thing we should do is to take a poll of our club members to see what they think the club should do.  It’s possible that they will say “they want a faster horse.”

Maybe what is needed is a leap in imagination. We need our Rotary leaders, at every level, to leapfrog what seems to be the desires of our customers (our current Rotarians) and create a vision that is so powerful that they realize that the new, bigger vision, for Rotary is what they wanted all along.

The Think Different ad campaign for Apple ran from 1997 – 2002.  To be honest with you I never paid that much attention to it before.  Think about Rotary as you listen to this message.  Breathtaking!  (By the way, that’s Richard Dreyfus doing the voiceover in this commercial.  Jobs also recorded the voiceover, but he decided not to use it for the commercial.  They played his recording at the memorial service for him after he passed.)

You might think I’m being overly dramatic, and maybe I am, but our organization allows us to do exactly this.  We have our own Steve Job’s right here in District 7620, and his name is Dr. John Sever.  What kind of dreamer…..or visionary…..or delusional person, would write a letter to the RI President, Clem Renouf, in 1979, and suggest that “we eradicate polio for all the children of the world?”  Sever, Renouf, and Cliff Dochterman, among many others, came up with a vision to eradicate polio more than thirty years ago.  They really did help the rest of us to Think Differently.  I wonder how they must feel today about what Rotary is about to accomplish?

Steve Jobs changed our lives.  Rotary, with our partners, is about to do the same worldwide.  It would be great if this year we all allowed ourselves to be “the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels…” Let’s reimagine Rotary this year.




14 Steps to an AMAZING Community Service Project


61.  The number of Official DG visits that this DG has completed.  Since it is also the number of clubs in District 7620, it means that I’m DONE.  Finished.  Toast.  Complete. Nothing left to do but mail it in.  Take a nap.  Write my memoirs.  And…file my expense report.  Or….maybe just have more time to cause a lot more mischief around here.  What fun!

61 is also the number of one of the most famous home runs ever hit.  Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record with his 61rst home run on the last day of the 1961 season, long before steroids made a mockery of home run stats.  I wanted to show you the clip of Maris’s home run here but I can’t get the YouTube clip to play, so instead, I present to you what is definitely, and without argument, the most amazing home run ever to grace a movie….Roy Hobb’s game winner in the Natural.  It just doesn’t get better than this.  It wasn’t Maris’s number 61, but it should have been.

OK.  I can’t help myself.  I hated this guy when he was with the Yankees, AND when he was with my beloved Orioles, but his home run in the 1971 All-Star Game was as close as you could come to Roy Hobbs in real life.  Off the transformer on the roof of Tiger’s Stadium! Unbelievable really.  (Only 46 seconds.  I promise to get to Rotary stuff in less than a minute.)  Too bad the camera man couldn’t track the ball hitting the transformer.

Back to Rotary.  I promised to get back into HOW TO actually plan and implement a community changing, high impact project, since this blog has focused on the subject more than a few times. Most recently, The Magic of Thinking Big in Rotary, featured a multi-District International project.  In my club visits I’ve been asked how do you do a LOCAL project that meets RI President Ravi Ravindran’s mantra, “Solve a huge problem in your community and your PR and membership problems will solve themselves”?

Here’s the answer in 14 startling easy steps.

  1.  Decide to make a huge impact on your community because as President Ravi says, “The time is now.  It will never come again.”  The next line is “Be a Gift to the World” but you already knew that.
  2. Go to your club’s Board and get them to agree that solving a major problem in the community should be the MOST IMPORTANT element of your strategic plan.  What is the VISION for you club?  What do you want to accomplish?  All of the other rubbish about growing by net one or two members will have to be revised upwards when you come up with an answer that your club is PASSIONATE about.
  3. Have a Club Assembly and inform your membership that the Board has decided it’s time to have a much bigger impact on your community.  Get the member’s feedback and support.  Sell them on a vision that is awesome, magnificent, and inspiring.
  4. Give your club no less than six months and as much as a year to assess your community needs and find strategic partners both in and out of Rotary.
  5. Meet with the largest private business in your town and find out what THEY think is the biggest problem is in your community.  They will probably have a full-time employee whose job is to be a community liaison.  Let him or her know your Rotary club  might want to partner with them to solve the problem THEY think is most important.  Develop a relationship with him or her.  (Your town will have many branch offices of businesses where the home office is located outside of your town.  Find businesses where the home office is located in your community.)
  6. Meet with the next two largest private businesses (public employers are OK too but not as good as private employers) in town and let them know what the largest private business thinks is the biggest problem in town.  Ask them, “IF OUR CLUB IS A PARTNER with the biggest business in town to solve this important community problem,  would you be interested in being part of the deal?
  7. If businesses one through three by size won’t meet with you (they will, but I’m just sayin) then keep going until you find businesses that WILL meet with you.
  8. Meet with city and local and government officials and find out what they think are the biggest problems in town.  Ask if they agree with the opinions of the largest businesses in your town.  Local clergy will also have some great ideas, as will lots of other people, but I don’t want to make this list too long so I’m cheating and mentioning them all here under #8.
  9. Meet with the local Rotary clubs in your area and get their opinions about community assessment.  IF OUR CLUB PUT TOGETHER A PARTNERSHIP with the biggest three businesses in town, would your club(s) want to partner with us to increase Rotary’s impact on the project?
  10. Call your new friends at the LARGEST business in your community and ask them, “would they consider a partnership with you to solve either a) the problem they wanted to solve, or b) the problem that you uncovered in your assessment, IF you could bring the two other prominent businesses AND three or four other Rotary clubs to the table?”
  11. Form a committee consisting of a public- private partnership of community leaders, including government, business, and Rotary, to develop a plan of action for your project.
  12. When designing your project, make sure to tick off the following boxes to accomplish ALL of your objectives.  1) Does the project solve an important problem in your community? 2)  Does your community recognize this as an important problem?  3) Will your project engage your Rotary members?  Will it give them a real “hands on” role that will spark their enthusiasm? 4) Can you promote this project and does it have the kind of “optics” that make for a good PR campaign? 5) Can you build a highly visible fundraiser or other event around this project to further promote Rotary in your community?
  13. You now have a project that offers Rotary’s expertise, sweat equity, and PRESTIGIOUS BRAND, alongside of a large company’s ability to obtain financing and provide PR, alongside of local government’s approval that this project is meaningful and impactful.
  14. Execute!

That was easy, wasn’t it?  Join Leaders.  Exchange Ideas.  Take Action.  Someone in your town is going to want to solve the biggest problems in your community.  Why shouldn’t your club take the lead in finding out who they are?  We can do this!



A Great PR Idea for Multiple Rotary Clubs

2015 Rotary cover


Rotarian Becky Mangus and business partner, former Rotarian Cathy Yost, own the Business Monthly.  Each year they do a Rotary Salute that promotes Rotary and the various Rotary clubs that serve the Howard County and Anne Arundel County area.  This year’s insert is 16 pages full of articles about Rotary Youth Exchange, Rotary Tidbits, short pieces about the Rotary Foundation and Rotary International, our District’s Young Professional Summit and Peace and Conflict Transformation workshop, a nice story about polio eradication, and a variety of articles about club projects.   The ads are purchased by Rotary clubs and Rotarian-owned businesses in the area.

The insert is a wonderful PR tool and it can be used as a stand alone piece to educate potential members about Rotary.  It’s a great handout for club visitors.  The real beauty of this insert is that the clubs buy ads each year that pay for the piece, so any local newspaper could do the same kind of thing.  Why not see if your local paper would be willing to create a Rotary insert paid for by ads about the clubs that participate?  If you are in the local business community, you read the Business Monthly.  Last month their 75,000 readers learned about Rotary in a format that was impressive and, unlike Facebook, doesn’t scroll down the page and disappear.  (Which is one of those not to be forgotten benefits of traditional media.)  Thank you Becky, Cathy, and all of the clubs that participate!

Each year the District Governor buys an ad (of course) and gets the privilege of writing the District Governor’s Letter for the Rotary Salute.   I thought I would share my letter with all of my long-suffering RFA readers.  Would a message like this resonate with the readers of your local paper?  As you will see, I have no problems making bold predictions about Rotary membership.  In this case, I predict Rotary membership is about to explode higher.  Why?  Well….read on.


Oct masthead.indd

Rotary Membership Is About to Dramatically Increase

I believe Rotary membership is about to dramatically increase in Howard and Anne Arundel counties, and across the rest of Rotary District 7620 in Maryland, the United States and around the world. An increase in Rotary membership would be welcome news for the local and international community, because Rotarians have been consistently improving the quality of life in Howard and Anne Arundel counties, and in the state of Maryland, for close to 100 years.

Why am I so sure that membership is going to increase? There are a number of forces at work that are going to make Rotary membership extremely attractive to individuals looking for an opportunity to serve.

One reason to be optimistic about the growth of Rotary in Maryland is an increasing awareness that the unique value proposition of Rotary is still highly valuable for many concerned citizens. Rotarians seek to do community service both locally and around the world. Additionally, While helping others, Rotarians develop strong relationships that help them to develop their business and community interests over time.

Finally, because Rotary clubs meet on a systematic basis, the clubs are wonderful venues to form special and long-lasting friendships. This combination of service, networking and fellowship has been the “secret sauce” of Rotary since the organization was founded.

So what is different today?

For the first time in years, Rotarians are recognizing that Rotary clubs have an opportunity to effect extraordinary positive change in their local communities by working together. Howard County currently has seven very active Rotary clubs. Anne Arundel County currently has nine active clubs.

Traditionally, each club independently approaches community service through a variety of projects. In the case of Howard and Anne Arundel, I estimate that there are a collective total of more than 50 small and important service projects completed each year.

As these clubs begin to better coordinate their efforts, their work is going to be more visible to their neighbors. The scale of the projects they do is going to increase, the impact on local community problems will be dramatic, and Rotary’s efforts will consequently be more newsworthy.

In short, communities are going to be reminded that Rotary is a powerful force for good, and interested parties will want to participate.

Rotary itself is recognizing that without a more proactive approach to promoting itself and the work we do, as well as a new approach to scaling the service work we do through partnerships, the organization is in danger of losing its brand as one of the world’s preeminent service organizations.

With an urgent new focus on promoting change in Rotary clubs worldwide, Rotary International is asking Rotary clubs to be more creative and innovative in meeting the needs of a new generation of members. With clubs finding ways to significantly reduce membership costs while at the same time increasing the flexibility of attendance requirements, Rotary membership will once again have to be considered by anyone who is serious about making a positive difference in his or her hometown and around the world.

At the same time Rotary is recognizing a need to change, other forces that are positive for Rotary are emerging. Baby Boomers are now becoming “empty nesters” and for the first time are considering how they can “give back” to the community.

For many, an accident of history has meant that they weren’t called to serve in the armed forces. And for many, our secular society has not offered them an obvious way to serve others while they were focused on family and career. For this group, Rotary represents an important opportunity to “give back” in terms of time, expertise and treasure. They will find that Rotary’s core value proposition uniquely fits their need to serve, to network and to meet new and interesting like-minded people.

Interestingly, baby boomers are also finding that their social networks are beginning to unravel.  As they reach retirement age, many are realizing that their friends from the kids soccer and other school-oriented pursuits are leaving town to chase the sunshine…or the kids and grandkids.  Rotary as a place to find and build new friendships is an interesting value proposition for boomers seeking to rebuild their networks.

While baby boomers are finding themselves with time on their hands, echo boomers and millennials are faced with a time crunch. Careers for both parents, along with the demands of parenting itself, make time management a precious commodity. Many are hiring career and/or life coaches who counsel time-crunched young professionals to join leads clubs and other networking organizations to maximize their time and form important relationships.

This group is about to find out that Rotary is the best dollar-for-dollar networking opportunity in town. In fact, Rotary has been called the “original social network.” Rotarians have been influencers in their town and business community for years, and doing community service side by side with a Rotarian is the best way to develop real and rewarding relationships. In addition, many young professionals will benefit from real-world opportunities to practice leadership skills afforded to Rotary club members.

Finally, Rotary International is on the brink of pulling off what is perhaps the single most important achievement in public health history: the eradication of the wild polio virus. After 36 years of diligent work, the partnership of Rotary International, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, UNICEF, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is getting very close to achieving its goal. As this achievement becomes recognized, Rotary will receive an unprecedented amount of well-deserved public recognition, again spurring service-minded people to learn more about the organization.

All of the above is providing a powerful cocktail for membership growth in Rotary. If you would like to learn more about Rotary, visit You will find a Rotary club that meets either in the morning, at lunch or in the evening, in a location near you. Visit one soon. You will like the people that you are going to meet.


     Ken Solow, District Governor

     Rotary District 7620

Becky/Cathy 2
Business Monthly owners Becky Mangus (L) and Cathy Yost



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!!





Eight Ways to Reduce the Cost of Rotary Membership



Growing the membership of your Rotary club is all about the value you provide for prospective members.  The value equation is relatively simple and looks something like this:  local and community service + networking and business development + professional growth and leadership opportunities + fellowship + fun / cost of membership = Value of Rotary.  We tend to focus on the numerator in this equation all of the time. ( er…the numerator was all the stuff before the divisor “/” sign.)  Today we are going to focus on the denominator, for the good reasons of  1) cost of membership is cold and lonely and we just don’t talk about it enough, and 2) it is the quickest way to improve the value equation.

The good news is messing with the denominator of membership cost has a huge impact in the membership value equation.  The bad news (depending on your point of view) is that solving the cost issue often goes directly to the issue posed by Rotary General Secretary, John Hewko, ” What’s more important…Rotary attendance or Rotary engagement?’  As you will see, the cost solution often runs directly counter to many of the best known techniques for bolstering attendance.  So if you are a traditionalist who believes that attendance is one of the fundamental core values that Rotary has promoted for more than 100 years and therefore unwinding tools and techniques that promote attendance is a big mistake, you ain’t gonna be happy with some of the suggestions below.

So…here’s what I suggest.  If you are a traditionalist you may find that the following ideas bring your blood to a boil.  In fact, your reaction might be quite similar to this scene from the movie, The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  If you find yourself responding to this post in a similar emotional state, try taking four deep cleansing breaths and then repeat a calming statement like, “I am a calm and reasonable Rotarian.”  I just learned this technique at our District’s Peace and Conflict Transformation seminar this week….not that I particularly needed to attend…

See if any of these ideas might work for your club.  We all understand that the value equation has a lot of inputs in the numerator, but if you can reduce your club’s cost of membership your club will immediately offer better value for potential new members.

1) Unbundle your meal costs from your dues.  “Prepaying” for meals by adding them to member dues payments is a great way to encourage attendance, but it’s a lousy way to encourage engagement and higher membership.  Pay as you go meals takes financial pressure off of members who could save $100 in costs if they miss five meetings at $20 per meal.  If you think that isn’t a lot of money, you are correct.  But the optics of having to pay for meals when you can’t attend are terrible.

2) Closely following number 1, once you unbundle meals you can now discuss your dues  without including meal costs.  “Our dues are $350 per year.  Oh yes….and you pay for your meals when you attend the meetings.”  That sounds a lot better than “our dues are about $1,000 per year.”  Traditionalists say this encourages members not to attend.  Engagers say you will gain 20 new members at a lower price point and if the meetings are interesting then all members will attend.  If the meetings stink, then paying for meals in advance isn’t going to rescue the club anyway.

3) Get rid of all fundraising commitments.  Some Rotary clubs ask members to sell tickets and sponsorships to the club’s fundraiser, with the provision that if the member doesn’t sell a specified minimum number of tickets, they must pay for the difference themselves. Engagers say that if your members won’t sell tickets, then don’t bother with a fundraiser. Fundraising commitments are nothing but a giant negative to membership growth where the costs of Rotary membership may already be daunting.  If the non-profits in your community need your club’s financial support, then rally your membership and have a great fundraiser.  If no one sells any tickets then you might want to rethink why you are doing a fundraiser in the first place.

4) Rule of 35.  The Rotary Club of Washington DC offers special discounted dues to members who are younger than age 35.  The 50% discount comes with the expectation that younger members are active participants in “hands on” Rotary projects.  Rotary clubs can choose any age they want for offering discounted dues, and they could create their own rules for who is eligible for discounts.  Discounts don’t necessarily have to be based on age.  Use your imagination.  For me, any negotiation that exchanges service work in the community for lower dues payments meets the spirit of choosing engagement over attendance.


5)  Have your club schedule a busy season of service projects that can take the place of club meetings.  What if your club scheduled one service project each month and encouraged members to make up at these service oriented events?  As long as the club takes attendance at the service project they will get the double barrel benefit of reducing the cost of membership as members don’t pay for a dozen meals during the year, AND they get a much healthier Rotary club that is seriously engaged in doing service work in the community.  RI tells us service projects count as makeups.  Why not take advantage of the rules as a part of your club’s financial structure?

6)  Reduce the cost of your meals.  I personally love Happy Hour clubs.  Happy Hour clubs are a lot like dinner clubs, with the exception that 1) the happy hour menu is a lot cheaper than buying dinner, 2) you don’t have to order anything if you don’t want to, and 3) the meetings are finished a lot earlier in the evening so members with children get home in time for family commitments.  Breakfast clubs have a similar advantage.  Have members bring their own coffee and bagels twice a month and save on meal costs.  Yes…you have to negotiate with the restaurant where you meet, but reducing meal costs is doable if you are committed to growing your club and prioritizing engagement over attendance.  Maybe mix in a Happy Hour meeting instead of dinner once each month?  Be creative.

7) Corporate memberships are an interesting way to reduce Rotary costs.  No…businesses can’t be Rotary members.  But the Columbia Patuxent Rotary club offers businesses the following proposition.  They ask the owner/CEO to join and pay full dues, including meal costs.  Since the owner is worried about attendance, he or she can name two other employees to be members of the club where they only pay RI and District dues.  In this structure, all three employees are Rotary members, and any of the three can attend the meetings.  If junior employees attend at the same time as the CEO then they are charged for the meal.  Oh…in exchange for this offer Columbia Patuxent asks the company to make a contribution to the club’s fundraiser.  This is a great deal for younger members of the business who should be getting involved in community service and promoting the business locally anyway.

8) Ask members with deep pockets to “sponsor” a new member by offsetting 50% of their membership dues for one year.  The sponsoring member is recognized by the club and the new member is expected to attend all service projects and club social projects during the year.

Maybe it’s time your club challenged some long held ideas and made a serious dent in the cost of membership.






Rotary Sales 101: Selling “small” versus selling “big.”


It may be my particular curse to think that success in life, in Rotary, in just about everything, comes down to sales and selling.  I know.  I know.  There are a lot of important ingredients to success.  And for happiness.  But it seems to me that those people who have the knack for dressing up an idea into a sellable product and then professionally presenting it to folks inevitably meet their goals and objectives.  They get the girl.  They win the game.  And…they have vibrant, growing Rotary clubs.

One of the topics I’ve been covering with club leaders in my travels around the District has been the concept of “selling small” versus “selling big.”  Early in my financial planning career I worked for a behemoth financial firm and learned how to sell big firms to potential clients who were scared of working with a company that was too big for them. Then I left the big firm to start my own very small firm and had to learn how to sell “small” to potential clients concerned about working with a company too small for them.  Now my small firm is becoming a big firm and I’m engaged in teaching our team how to sell big.  It doesn’t matter whether you are small or big, you just need to know how to sell it.

Rotary clubs have the same challenge.  Small clubs have to learn how to sell “small’ to people interested in joining their club.  And large clubs have to learn how to sell “large” to their prospective members.  The rules are the same.  Large organizations need to be able to sell “scale” and “impact.”  Small organizations need to sell “flexibility,” being “nimble”, and being “personal.”

Before I give you my sales “pitch” for large and small clubs, you have to watch this clip of Chris Farley and David Spade in the most horrific sales pitch of all time from the movie, “Tommy Boy.”  No matter how bad you think you are at sales, I promise you that  you are better than Chris Farley in this clip.  Farley at his best….

OK.  Time to flip a coin to see which pitch I write first.  (NOTE:  Both small and large clubs are beautiful in the eyes of Rotary, and in the eyes of this DG.  So please don’t be offended when reading how to best position either kind of club.  Excuse me while I find a coin to flip….back in a second.  OK.  Tails it is.  Small clubs first.)


Bill/Mary, I am so glad you came to visit our Rotary club today.  As you spend this time with us, I ask you to see this club not how it appears today, but how it is going to look tomorrow and in the future.  That’s because we have a small and committed group of people here who really believe we can make our community a better place to live.  But we need to grow.  And when you join us you will find that we are small enough that your ideas, your energy, and your creativity can be immediately translated into action in our club.  It’s important that you fully understand that our small size lets us be nimble in incorporating new ideas in our club, and your new ideas are critically important to us.

You will find it easy to get to know everyone in our club because we don’t overwhelm you with a long list of members to get to know.  You are going to like the people you get to meet in our club, but equally as important, you will find that they are very interested in you.  Believe it or not, you will represent a significant percentage of our club’s membership….at least for now.   Your views count.  And your fellow members will care about your ideas.  I’m not sure what you think should be done to improve our town, but if you bring just a few friends with you to join our club you will find that you have an immediate impact on our Board.  And an immediate opportunity to lead.  Are you interested in being a leader in the community?  In just a few years that’s exactly what our club is going to be…and you have a great opportunity to be a leader among the leaders.  If you have a vision….this would be the place to find a means to express it.

Finally, I’m not sure where you are in your business life.  But we don’t have five of your classification in our Rotary club.  You will be the only representative of your business or industry in our club and you will find that our members will look to you for information about your field of knowledge.  And you will find that after some time doing community service together, our members will naturally want to do business with you if they can.  Why?  Because we all want to do business with people we know, and this club will give you the opportunity to get to know our members, and for us to get to know you, in ways that you could never experience in a larger organization, or in one of those horrific leads/networking clubs.

OK.  Are you sold on a small club?  Good.  Now let’s move on to a large club.


Bill/Mary, I am so glad you came to visit our Rotary club today.  When you visit, notice that even though there are a lot of people in the room, a whole lot of strangers are going to want to meet you.  You are going to be surprised at just how warm and fuzzy our club makes our new guests, and of course, our new members, feel.  Even though we are a large organization, we specialize in making all of our members feel welcome, and important.

Why important?  Because we are a large organization with a large impact on our community.  We rely on our new members to step up to leadership positions in our committees, and because of our size each of our committees offers anyone who wants to be a leader a chance to step up and be one.  For many this is the one place they get to practice their leadership skills in a group large enough to make a difference.  Our club has the scale to do a variety of different projects in the community and we rely on our committee leaders, and our committee members, to make those projects relevant in meeting the needs of our neighbors.

If you join this club, you can immediately take pride in knowing that you are joining one of the most powerful forces for positive change in this town.  If you want to make a real difference, then this is the place to be.

I don’t know where you are in your career, but another thing our club offers to our members is a tremendous opportunity to network.  Due our size you will find community leaders from just about every aspect of our city, including business, government, and the non-profit world.  They will be as interested in meeting with you as you will be meeting with them.  In fact, we like to say that Rotary is the original social network.  You are going to be surprised at just how personal membership in a large organization can be.

Are you sold on a large club?  Good.  Mission accomplished.

Selling big and small is just one part of the sales and selling mission for your club.  What is your  UVP (Unique Value Proposition)?  Does everyone know your club’s particular elevator pitch?  Do they know your club’s mission in the community?  When someone asks, “why should I join your Rotary club?”  what will you say?  When everyone is on the same page with this, your work is done.  Your club will  grow like wildfire and you will smile at all of the good work that your club is doing in the community.  Good luck!




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 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,