Caricature of Fred Collignon, by noted Berkeley artist, Stan Washburn

Caricature of Fred Collignon, by noted Berkeley artist, Stan Washburn


The joy of the Six Flags Family Fun Day picnic is still high as I write – the day included a great Club Presidents’ induction by Cliff Dochterman, PDG Ken’s club awards for last year, all the Rotary family members, youth exchange students, Interact students, their parents….. a nice kickoff for the year!

Rotary’s monthly theme for September is Membership. Last year we increased NET membership across the District. Not a lot, but growth. Most clubs seek to grow. And why? Many reasons. More members means more hands and more resources to do our service work. New blood means new ideas, and healthy clubs’ continuation into the future. But also, we simply want to share with others the satisfaction, fellowship, and joy that we experience in Rotary.

What’s NET growth, anyway? Simply, it’s the total gain, after considering both new members AND also members lost. Historically, clubs lose roughly 10% each year. So to see a net gain, we have to add new members to our club equal to that loss, plus one. In short, attracting new members, and keeping existing members, is important stuff.

Retention is key: A big challenge is retaining members. Club by club, in my Governor’s Visits, I am reviewing your clubs’ best practices. What are clubs doing to retain members and reduce attrition? The ideas I hear are not new. Our clubs vary dramatically in retention rates; possibly it’s because of their decision to employ some of these best practices:

  •  Make sure every member has a role – in service and club work, and make sure they know their work is valued.
  •  Provide hands-on service opportunities, celebrate their vocational commitment, and give them voice in discussing club direction.
  •  Make personal calls to each member sometime each year to check out their satisfaction, explore if they want new challenges in the club, and simply let them know the club cares about them.
  •  Experiment with time/day/venue of meetings, so that all have a chance to attend periodically, even if their job or obligations have changed.
  •  Find new or additional types of service and socials so even those with time limitations or frailty can be involved.
  •  Do exit interviews and explore why a member is really leaving. Don’t accept “no” if you can reverse it. Make sure there’s an invitation to return in the future. Follow up for a few years. Recent data shows that for District members whose membership was terminated, more than 10% re-upped within the next 3 years.
  •  Help members who are moving find new Rotary club. Call on your area membership rep or me for help.

Just think – if each club reduced their attrition by one member a year, our District would see a gain of 70+ members a year. That’s significant.

New members are vital: we still need to keep reaching out and attracting new members. We’re good at recruiting our business and professional peers. What else can we consider?

  •  Targeting different age groups – At our Sept 24 and Oct 8 Membership/Foundation Seminars, we will explore how to reach out to and retain Young Professionals under 40, and how to attract those Baby Boomers who are about to retire.
  •  RI is giving ever more latitude in attendance requirements, and is experimenting with different types of membership. (eg Family, Corporate, e-clubs, passport clubs) How might this affect your club’s ability to attract new members?
  •  Our District is pioneering new approaches to membership for Rotary. We are trying to assure that youth in Rotary’s programs know about Rotary, their sponsoring club, and our accomplishments. We want them to become Rotarians themselves when they’ve grown. RI’s most recent surveys show that almost 65% of our Rotary alumni would join Rotary 13 years later if only asked. And our Rotary youth programs have grown fast and furiously the last decade.
  •  Pay attention to the parents! As our youth participants have said, they came to our Rotary youth programs because their parents had brought them up with values like Rotary’s. Those parents give their children to our programs for 2-4 years, so they’ve seen the evidence of our impact on their children. This is no short prospect list – we have 5000+ households with youth in our Rotary programs. Those about to experience the “empty nest” may be those most open to Rotary, so give special attention to the families whose kids are graduating and moving on.

Watch for the emails with links to register for our upcoming Fall Foundation/Membership Seminars. Bring your club members, come and learn more about what you can do to attract and retain members to Rotary. Our District added 1,116 new members over the last three years. IMPRESSIVE given our starting membership of 3,449 If we increase retention and improve our prospecting in untapped but high potential areas, our net growth can rise too. However – don’t do it for the numbers! Do it to strengthen your clubs, expand our service, and sustain our future.

Yours in Rotary,