The end of the year is approaching, and the District Assemblies – just like the Governor visits and RI nationally in the U.S. – are emphasizing membership retention. We’ve written about best practices several times in past newsletters. We’ve learned we need to involve new members quickly in the club, but we need to make sure we’re providing all members, even the veterans, with opportunities for service and a club voice. In this District, unlike the rest of Rotary, our loss of members has been greater among veterans than newer members the last few years. What can be done to counteract this trend? The best tactic is for the President-Elect and President to call each member and ask one-on-one how that member would like to be involved in the coming year. Just letting them know a club leader wants to hear what they like and don’t like, and in what ways they now want or don’t want to participate in the club’s activities, is often enough to keep a veteran on board. If someone begins to drift away, don’t prune your club roster thinking that’s good management. It’s not. If you have a member who’s been paying dues and active over the years, don’t quickly drop them if the dues don’t come in. Work to keep them.
The bigger issue is the one I raised in my Governor’s talk at each club. We’ve been stressing satisfying our customers – our club members – for several years. With newcomers, that means giving early value – helping them integrate into the club, access the networks in the clubs to the community, giving them early experience in hands-on service and a sense of the club accomplishments both internationally and especially in the local community. With veterans, we know that what they value may change. As an example, interest in international service greatly increases with time in Rotary, even though when asked, most members may emphasize local service. In recent international surveys, Rotarians were asked what they most wanted from their clubs that they were not getting: 65% said more international service opportunities. That’s because almost all clubs already know how to deliver fellowship and local service opportunities.
Rotary’s customer satisfaction challenge is a bit like the marketing problems Steve Jobs described with Apple. Customers don’t understand what Rotary really is offering until they see and experience the product. The challenge is to get the Rotary member to that moment when, as Cliff Dochterman describes, the member realizes he or she is a Rotarian and not just a member of a Rotary Club. They’re a part of something much bigger than themselves and their club. They’re part of a movement, one that’s unique in history and more needed that ever in today’s deeply divided society.
Clubs provide the avenue for members to become Rotarians. We must quickly provide those opportunities to new members, and keep providing it to veteran members. We must also recognize that veteran members’ abilities and personal resources may change over their life. Clubs need to make sure the veteran members also continue to thrive with Rotary experiences, even as their definition of Rotary experience adjusts and decreases over their life.
For most of us, there is great pride in what our Rotary clubs achieve – achievements we know we couldn’t have pulled off by ourselves. That pride makes us want to stay part of our club and the Rotary movement. Wise clubs make sure to foster that pride, brag about our past achievements and celebrate the current ones. The Centennial sought to remind each club and its members of all their club had done over time. Continue the story! Continue to brag about all you’ve done this year, and are planning to do next year. Continue to involve each of your members in your club’s work. The customer – our members – will be left with only one choice. They’ll want to stick around for more!