The district membership chair has asked Southtowne how we are recruiting so many new, committed members. Membership/Engagement Chair, Glen Brigham, drafted the following thoughts.
I have been asked about strategies our Rotary club uses to recruit new members. This has been a club effort involving all members. I will try to summarize what has happened with our club, with the caveat that there isnʼt a single solution, strategy or answer that fits all clubs. If some information is helpful, please use it to strengthen your clubʼs membership.
When I see interviews with members of successful sports teams, often the description of the manager/coach of the team is that they are “a players coach.” Common descriptions of the coach are that they seem to be aware of the players strengths and weaknesses. They want the players to succeed, they provide relevant training and they seem genuinely interested in the players total life. The players feel ENGAGED in a group process with common goals.
Isnʼt that an analogy for what membership chairs in Rotary should be doing? Shouldnʼt we adopt the same role? When I joined Rotary, membership was viewed in terms of identifying “friendly fire” situations, where our clubs actions were inhibiting potential new members. Lately the focus has been on identifying the next generation of Rotarians, examining their needs and identifying barriers in our clubs that prevent them from joining.
The real focus on new members should be individually assessing their strengths, identifying goals of what they want from Rotary, and steering them to members and services to make them feel engaged in that process. Itʼs less about how they fit into our “scheme of things” as a club, and more about how our clubs can help them reach their goals.
Time is valuable, potential members have jobs, families, and social obligations. Rotary time should be AS VALUABLE as time in those other areas. If I tell my significant other Iʼm going to a Rotary meeting/project instead of spending time with them, it had better be good!
Engaging members is an ongoing process that has to be accepted by ALL club members. Identify new members (our club uses red badges) with the mantra that it creates an obligation for blue badge members to make sure that red badge members feel welcomed and appreciated. Who wants to join a club with social cliques? This isnʼt high school. We developed a membership drive, using time during regular meetings to try to motivate/educate members on how to look for new members. We tried to create an excitement among our current members.
I have been amazed at the amount of “giving back to the community” comments I hear from our new members. With all the other demands in their lives, giving back is viewed as a desired goal. Perfect for Rotary. We need to stress how we give back to our communities, the power of action from a group versus an individual and take pride in what we do. People should feel that they do make a difference. Engaging new members means sharing the pride we feel in what we do and who we impact. You can offer training programs, brochures, devote club meeting time, to share this pride.
We have to ask ourselves what projects excite new members. Clubs are involved in good and deserving projects. How do we assess projects for our club to fund? How engaged are newer club members in determining this process? Are our new members engaged in both determining and planning new/existing programs?
Engaging new members means providing information to them about club functions. Our club uses a series of training programs. When I joined, some of my learning was by osmosis. Five years later, I am still learning about some of our programs. It is not the best use of new members time to have to “stumble” into knowledge about our programs, especially if it matches their need to give back to the community. Engage new members with education programs about your club and connect them with key players.
When new members apply to join the club, one way to engage them is to consider using a technique related to motivational interviewing. Rather than explain just the history of Rotary and club rules, why not ask them about their goals for Rotary, what they hope to learn by their experience? Identify members in your club who have similar interests and connect them with the potential member. We have used an orientation with all new potential members, trying to create a personal connection with the new member. We welcome significant others and sponsors in this endeavor. I find this one of the most rewarding aspects of Rotary.
The orientation focuses on some basic club expectations such as dues and attendance. We also talk about requirements for a blue badge, not in terms of it being a task, but to engage new members in our club as soon as possible, both socially and program wise. There is no time limit to obtain the blue badge. The goal is inclusion. We challenge our blue badge members to make sure red badge members are included in all aspects of our club functions.
Engagement can include the use of mentors, matched to the new members goals for Rotary. The important issue is that new members must feel all their questions are relevant and can get immediate answers and identify sources to obtain those answers.
Engagement also includes socialization. We have a 5 session training program, but after a period of training, we have a period of socialization. Sometimes, I think the best questions and bonding with the group occur at this socialization time.
Our club formed a committee that deals with engagement issues of members. It can change the focus from what our club has done to what our club can do. This does not mean that what we are doing has no relevance or significance. It does mean considering new ideas. This committee can deal with attendance issues, what constitutes make up for club meetings and types of meetings.
While the purpose of Rotary remains unchanged, the methods to reach those goals have. The club is as important as its members. Change is happening and will continue to happen. Embracing the challenge of change will help both ourselves and our clubs to grow in the community.