On July 1 of every year Rotary rolls out a new administration. From the club level to the 18th floor of One Rotary Center the leadership for our organization makes quietly dramatic team substitution. Each year starts with the hope of pushing Rotary to new levels of success and each year ends with a long sigh of relief.
When I first joined Rotary on July 5, 2001, I learned quickly that a new adminstration was not to take any action, including planning, until July 1, which meant that it was late August before the club leadership could get organized. This concept of not ‘stepping on the current President’s toes’ was an outdated, destructive dogma that held back the club from being prepared and in motion when the first bell rang in July. Somewhere around our Centennial in 2005 I noticed that the attitude was changing and clubs were being encouraged to get the new leadership trained and ready before July 1 and each subsequent year the quality and preparedness of clubs has improved. At least in our District, the class of 2010-11 is perhaps the best prepared for putting words and ideas into action when they stand up in front of the club on Week 1.
But preparing and training only set the stage, it is performance that counts. The world has changed and the role of a service organization that is not bound by religious, political, or ideological motives is more critical than ever in a world where those motives are driving a wedge between people instead of uniting them. Rotary’s constitution and history have freed our members from judging our fellow world citizens before we offer to serve, nor do we serve them with the intention of converting them to our beliefs. Rotary’s motto of Service Above Self means that we are in the unique position of unrequited care and service to others. In 2010 and beyond, the world is in desperate need of that which is the core of a Rotarian’s heart.
But we are faced with a challenge that has been dogging us for years. Despite multiple years of great Rotary International (RI) Presidents, and District Governors, one year looks much like the previous year any many of our key club functions. Our new themes and leadership fail to make any significant headway with the-way-we-have-always-done-things paradigm.
One area that demonstrates this is in Membership. An organization that is stagnant in membership growth cannot expect to meet new challenges and yet for seven years we have sat at 1.2 million members. In our District (5190) the average size of a club has been steadily shrinking. Last year I researched the last five years and found that we have dropped from an average of 53 members per club (June 2005) down to 47 members (September 2009.) As of April of 2010, that average has dropped to 46 members per club. This is not a criticism of our District because I suspect I would find the same data in all the North American Districts. It is apparent that not only is our growth stagnant, but our clubs are shrinking, which means fewer members to take on a bigger role.
The question for each of us is whether this will be another year of Retread Membership or a year of rebirth, (Renaissance,) in Membership? To have a rebirth we must have a new approach and not be locked into medieval thinking. Current RI President John Kenny gave us the theme, The Future of Rotary is in Your Hands, and upcoming RI President Ray Klinginsmith challenges clubs to ‘get bigger, better, bolder’. Both invite Rotarians to not make a Retread of the 2010-11 year, but to spawn a Renaissance of our organization. So what holds us back?
I have had many conversations with Rotarians about membership. I often hear about the barriers and challenges. But what I know is that the difference between a Retread Rotary year and a Rotary Renaissance will be determined not by a theme, or by the words of the RI President, or by great work by a District Governor. Creating a Rotary Renaissance will be determined by individual club members who decide that there are no excuses and that failure in membership growth is not an option. Robert Kennedy is credited with saying, “If not us, who? If not now, when?” Two questions every Rotarian should ask themselves in this new Rotary year.
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