Danville Rotary examining how to change with the times

Published 9:16 am Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Danville Rotary

Service clubs are an American innovation that has evolved into a worldwide institution.  Service clubs like Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis and Shriners are thought of as the backbone of communities. They have flourished until recently, but all have been in significant decline over the past two to three decades. The clubs have not changed; the country has changed.

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Rotary and Kiwanis groups’ memberships have declined by 58 percent in the period 1975-2000. Since most service club leaders are in office for only one year, they shoot for short-term quick fixes such as a membership drive. However, for most of our service clubs the issue is not recruitment, but retention. The dominant reason cited is time pressures and schedule conflicts.

Emerging generations of Americans think of community by those with whom they have affiliations, e.g., their church, alma mater, or profession. Most members of these “communities” join to be part of a group of shared interests and beliefs. The service clubs which will thrive in this new era will probably increase the diversity of their membership, particularly age, gender and interests.

Time has become the most prized position of many millennial families, since many two-parent families are both working. With leisure time being very precious, joining any club must improve the enjoyment from use of leisure time. The structure of club meetings needs to be more social and offer thought provoking ideas and more shared experiences.

Speakers are one means; so are reflective dialogues among members, exchanges which require members to think deeply about a topic of interest.

Consider the magnitude of change that American society has undergone in the past three decades. Supreme Court rulings have mandated that women be accepted in the workplace and in social service organizations. The corner grocery was replaced by the supermarket and now supermarkets are being challenged by online ordering with home delivery. Cell phones are privatizing leisure time and limiting direct social interactions.

The movement of women into the labor force has decreased available family time. Automation has replaced many jobs and lessened the job security for many employees.

The stability of homeownership and time in a community has also changed for many millennials. The U.S. is becoming a majority nonwhite country; by 2020 more than half of the children born in the US are expected to be part of a nonwhite race or ethnic group. All of these factors demand that Rotary and other social service organizations evolve to survive.

August was Membership Month across Rotary’s 35,000 clubs. Rotary’s international president wants all clubs to focus on ways to increase AND retain memberships. To that end, District 6710’s telecommunications industry leader, Dave Weller, came to Danville on Oct. 18 to share his industry and club experience and challenge club members to think about what changes the club needs to make.

Some of the insights Weller shared are:

  • 31% of prospective Rotarians said they really want the opportunity to make a difference in the world, make a difference at home, or in the world.
  • 27% want personal development and training opportunities.
  • 46% came to enjoy local service projects (that was #1.)
  • 41% find out that they stay to enjoy the fellowship with other members (second-highest)
  • 29% said they want to connect with people outside their fellow workers.

The results of Weller’s luncheon table-by-table exercise, “What changes does your club need to make?” were collected and will be analyzed by the board to be presented to the total membership for further consideration and follow-up. Those highlighted by Weller at the meeting were:

  1. Formation of satellite clubs centered around shared common interests, flexible meeting schedule and location.
  2. Monthly or quarterly meetings at local companies and/or associations to learn more about those organization’s needs and interests.
  3. Varying meeting formats, with more inclusive participation by family and friends.
  4. Assuring that every member has some role in the club’s activities.

If readers are interested in visiting a Rotary meeting, visit facebook.com/danvillekyrotary and click on the send email button. You will be asked for your name, phone number and your question. You will receive an invitation to visit us at the Danville Country Club for a Friday 12-1 p.m. luncheon.