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Taking Action on the Membership Challenge. Keys to Recruiting and Retaining Members. Rotary’s Growth for the Past 95 Years. Rotary Membership increased dramatically during the last century.

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taking action on the membership challenge

Taking Action on the Membership Challenge

Keys to Recruiting and Retaining Members

rotary membership increased dramatically during the last century
Rotary Membership increased dramatically during the last century

During Rotary’s history there has been a continuous expansion in the number of Rotary clubs and members. Unlike other service organizations that have seen dramatic declines in membership, Rotary’s growth has continued to be strong until the late 1990’s

membership declined for the past 3 years
Membership declined for the past 3 years

RotaryInternational Membership Change Worldwide for the Past Decade






















Charter Members

Existing Clubs

Net Growth

During the past decade, the chartering of new clubs has masked a declining membership trend in existing clubs. Only in the past three years has the decline in existing club membership exceeded that of new club growth resulting in a net decrease! Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War 2 in the 1940s has Rotary seen such a decline.

excuses we hear about meeting the membership challenge
Excuses we hear about meeting the Membership Challenge?
  • Recruiting has been difficult
  • Younger people don’t seem to have the time available for Rotary
  • Changing economy
  • Membership attrition

How have we responded to the Membership Challenge? Often excuses may be heard that recruiting has been difficult; younger people don’t seem to have as much time with demand of families and careers; business has changed and the solid vocations of the past are no longer as prevalent in Rotary. Members have left for a variety of reasons. Yet the global economy is doing well and the population is increasing. Why can’t Rotary continue to grow?

are we spending enough time recruiting and retaining members
Are we spending enough time recruiting and retaining members?
  • In business we spend a significant effort

in recruiting and inducting new staff


  • We also invest a lot of time and effort

in recruiting new customers.

“In business we spend a lot of time and effort in trying to recruit and induct new members of staff. We also invest a great deal of time and effort in recruiting new customers. We recognize that this is only the beginning and that much effort time and expense is required to retain those same members of staff and customers. We must realize that Rotarians entering a Rotary Club need investment of time and skill to retain their membership. If they do not stay the remaining members may become apathetic about recruiting, the activities of the Club decline and the profile of the Club becomes less effective.”

let s meet the membership challenge with proven formulas
Let’s meet the Membership Challengewith provenformulas...

When we visit the doctor for an ailment, we expect rapid diagnosis and proven medications to get us back into the best of health. To get Rotary membership healthy again requires proven formulas as well. Let’s see what the expert Rotary membership doctors prescribe to get your Rotary club back to full strength.



= E + 3R





The formula for membership growth has four attributes, E + 3R. “E” is for “Extend”. Throughout the history of Rotary new club extension has been the dynamic growth factor and needs to continue to be one of the keys to meeting the membership challenge. We’ve heard of the 3R’s from our days in school, but the 3R’s of Rotary membership are Recruit, Retain and Revitalize. Let’s look more closely at the elements of the formula for Rotary membership growth.

extend form new clubs
Extend: Form New Clubs

Opportunity for more people to participate in Rotary by offering more options in your community:

  • Time of day
  • Day of Week
  • Location
  • Club Size
  • Open Classifications

If your town doesn’t have several clubs meeting at different days and times, you’re missing out on attracting some of the most talented people in your community. Some people favor breakfast meetings, while others enjoy the luncheon, some prefer evening dinners and still others may be attracted to meetings without a full meal. Some days may be better than others. So by making several options available in your locality, you will be able to dramatically increase the total number of Rotarians throughout the community.

recruit new members
Recruit New Members
  • Set a challenging goal for your club:
    • How do you feel when you see a low or no growth goal?
    • Do you feel energized and really challenged?
    • How about a goal of 3%? 6%? 9%? 12% 15% more??

One of the best ways to meet a challenge is to set a challenging goal. All too often Rotary clubs have either not set a goal or have set a goal which is minimal. Don’t you feel energized when you set a more challenging goal? “Be brave, be bold, exercise true leadership qualities, examine club practices” and set a goal that will inspire and motivate your club to take action on the membership challenge.

recruit new members11
Recruit New Members
  • Recognize the urgency of Rotary Membership
    • “We’re either Expandable or Expendable” -Robert Schuller
  • Utilize a “fireside chat” to brief entire family before induction

Do we treat the challenge of declining membership as a life and death situation? All too often clubs who have declined over the years fail to arrest the slide resulting in reduced effectiveness and potential dissolution. Dr. Robert Schuller broadcasts a worldwide weekly program, “Hour of Power”, and has emphasized that we are “either expandable or expendable”. We are either growing or declining – few clubs keep a steady state. Let’s use proven techniques to recruit new members and proven methods such as “fireside chats” to fully inform them prior to pinning of what benefits and responsibilities they can expect.

retain your current members
Retain Your Current Members
  • Members are the life blood of a Rotary Club
  • Your club’s most valued asset is its members
  • Nurture and grow your membership!

“Members are the lifeblood of a Rotary Club. It is the role of every member to recruit, educate and retain new members. Attitudes must be affected to ensure that the Club membership welcomes new members, welcomes new approaches, welcomes new attitudes. The ability of the Club membership to express this will be directly proportional to the person who is most obstructive to this attitude. To lose one member in the first five years of membership (excluding death) requires a close examination of the activities of a club. More effort must be employed in ensuring that a member who leaves the area is found a new club as a matter of urgency.”

orient the new member properly
Orient the new member properly
  • Member and spouse if possible
  • Evening of Rotary orientation
    • Club History and Projects
    • Four Avenues of Service
    • Rotary International
    • The Rotary Foundation

An informed Rotarian will be much more effective in communicating to others what Rotary does. Lively orientation sessions that energize new members and equip Rotarians for service is a must. The facilitators of these sessions will also gain more knowledge in their teaching role. Resource materials are readily available from RI and on the Rotary website at www.rotary.org.

induct new members properly
Induct new members properly
  • Significant ceremony with spouse
  • Provide (options)
    • Four Way Test
    • Object of Rotary
    • Rotary Basic Library
    • Certificate of Membership
    • Pin, Badge, Banner
    • Publications

A new member is inducted only once and the ceremony should be one that is well planned and expertly executed. Spouse, family and friends of the new member should be invited to attend this prestigious event, local media can be notified with a press release and the club photographer should be ready. A handsome packet of materials along with a pin, badge and plaque will make a most memorable occasion.

educate the new member
Educate the New Member
  • Most members who leave were never really Rotarians in the first place
  • Up to 80% of a typical club membership know very little about Rotary

It is the role of the club membership committee to educate existing members about Rotary and raise awareness of the level of satisfaction in the club through vehicles such as the membership satisfaction surveys available on the Rotary website. Perhaps some 80% of the typical club membership knows little about the programs of Rotary and have not made the transition from just being a member of a Rotary club to becoming a truly knowledgeable and involved Rotarian.

educate the new member16
Educate the New Member
  • Rotary program once a month
  • good Rotary speakers
  • slides and videos about Rotary
  • Ambassadorial Scholars, youth exchanges, RYLA participants, GSE, Rotaract, Interact

All Rotarians will benefit from continuing education, but the need to have the new members attend these programs is essential. There is such a wealth of resources available such as PowerPoint programs, videos from RI, knowledgeable speakers from outside the club, Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars, Youth Exchange Students, Rotary Youth Leadership Award participants, Group Study Exchange, Interact clubs and Rotaract clubs.

new member badge
New Member Badge
  • Give a Red Badge and a list of requirements to meet before

being given a Blue Badge

  • Potential requirements:
    • club attendance; serving as sergeant-at-arms, greeter, song leader, club committee member; presenting programs; making up; attend board meeting; club social activity and/or fund

raising event; district event attendance

“Ensure that new members become part of the Club from the moment they are inducted. Do this by making them aware of the work of Rotary and use their time and expertise.” The color badge approach is a good way to demonstrate that the new member is working to fulfill new member requirements over an initial period (perhaps six months). Once the set of requirements is completed, the red new member badge can be replaced with the same badge as that held for all other Rotarians in your club. Some of the potential requirements can be: club attendance; serving as sergeant-at-arms; greeter; song leader; club committee member; presenting programs; making up; attending a board meeting, club social activity and/or fund raising event; etc.

involve the rotarian in
Involve the Rotarian in:
  • Club Committees
  • Fund Raisers
  • Board Meetings
  • Club Meetings
  • Club Social Activities

Every member of a Rotary club should be active and involved and this is especially important for new members. “Ensure that they are absorbed into real work and that they feel important and valued. Make them responsible for high profile activities and use their skills and talents.”

assign the new club member
Assignthe new club member

as a delegate to the

district conference

and have them report

to the club

Exposure to the world of Rotary outside the club is so important. “Making up” at other clubs is a great start but going as a delegate to a district conference would give the new member the opportunity to meet Rotarians from all over the district. The International Convention each year brings together Rotarians from around the world!

ask the new member
Askthe new member
  • to find two or three other new members from among his/her peer group

A new member has other peers who would make excellent members of the Rotary club. Emphasize to the new member that it is both a privilege and a responsibility of each Rotarian to propose new candidates for membership. A Rotary club made up of men and women of different ages, nationalities, races and religions reflects the diversity of your community.

what can be done for small clubs
What can be done for small clubs?
  • Continue with current recruiting/retention approach?
  • Merge with another club?
  • Give up Charter and Disband?


Some clubs have declined below their original chartering size and members are pressed to fulfill all the officer and service lane requirements of an active Rotary club. There are several options available but the three listed on the PowerPoint chart are generally unpalatable to most clubs. An answer and our final “R” is to “Revitalize”.

revitalize a small club
Revitalize a small club
  • Evaluate current logistics
  • Draw up a demographic profile
  • Compile a classification survey listing business and professional activities in your community
  • Are you making full use of all types of membership?

In an approach similar to forming a new Rotary club, the club evaluates the current situation. Are the meeting place, time and location satisfactory? What are the vocations that will likely be recruited and from what areas of the community? A list of classifications can easily be generated using the Internet business pages (e.g. Lycos “Yellow Pages”), entering your community name but leaving the type of business blank. You’ll have a classification list in seconds that should give a surprisingly positive picture of your club’s growth potential.

revitalize a small club23
Revitalize a small club
  • Invigorate Programs and Activities
    • focus on service projects that make a vital contribution to the community
    • establish good working relationships with the local media
  • What are your club’s best assets?
  • Use methods similar to new club extension where existing nucleus is weak

Each club has valuable attributes – assess your club’s assets and generate a plan to enhance them. Reinvigorate your programs and activities by focusing on projects that meet vital needs of your community. Effective public relations will make recruiting new members even easier. It is suggested that where the nucleus of the club is quite small, having special invitational meetings where a large number of prospective Rotarians are invited plus having an excellent set of speakers will maximize the effectiveness of your recruiting.



= E + 3R





In review, the four keys to membership growth are to Extend – form new Rotary clubs; aggressively Recruit new members; Reinvigorate your clubs programs and activities and engage new members in order to Retain them; and when the club has fallen below charter levels, Revitalize with some of the techniques used to establish a new Rotary club. This is a proven formula and although it comes from a past governor with a career at NASA, folks this isn’t rocket science!

why join rotary
Why Join Rotary?

Rick King, President-Elect of Rotary International gave 20 answers to this question at the International Assembly...

For many years our RI President-Elect has been heavily interested in Rotary membership development. To emphasize the importance of Rotary he developed a list of twenty answers to the question, “Why Join Rotary?”. These answers will inspire old and new Rotarians alike with reasons for a renewed commitment to Rotary membership.

why join rotary26
Why Join Rotary?

1. Friendship

2. Business Development

3. Personal Growth and Development

4. Leadership Development

5. Community Citizenship

“1 Friendship. In an increasingly complex world, Rotary provides one of the most basic human needs: the need for friends and fellowship. It is one of the two reasons why Rotary began in 1905. 2 Business Development. The second original reason for Rotary’s beginning. Everyone needs to network. Rotary consists of a cross section of every business community. Its members come from all walks of life. Rotarians help one another, and collectively help others. 3 Personal Growth and Development. Membership in Rotary continues one’s growth and education in human relations and personal development. 4 Leadership Development. Rotary is an organization of leaders and successful people. Serving in Rotary positions is like a college education in Leadership: learning how to motivate, influence and lead leaders. 5 Citizenship in the Community. Membership in a Rotary club makes one a better community citizen. The average Rotary club consists of the most active citizens of any community.”

why join rotary27
Why Join Rotary?

6. Continuing Education

7. Fun

8. Development of Public Speaking Skills

9. Citizenship in the World

10. Assistance When Traveling

“6 Continuing Education. Each week at Rotary there is a program designed to keep one informed as to what is going on in the community, nation and world. Different speakers, different topics. 7 Fun. Rotary is fun. A lot of fun. Each meeting is fun. The club projects are fun. Social activities are fun. And the service is fun. 8 The Development of Public Speaking Skills. Many an individual who joined Rotary was afraid to speak in public. Rotary develops confidence and skill in public communication. And opportunity. 9 Citizenship in the World. Every Rotarian wears a pin that says “Rotary International”. And every Rotarian is welcome--even encouraged to attend—in over 29,000 clubs in 194 nations and geographical regions. There are few places on the globe, which do not have a Rotary club. Instant friends in both one’s own community and in the world community. 10 Assistance When Traveling. Because there are Rotary Clubs everywhere, many a Rotarian who has needed a doctor, lawyer, hotel, dentist, advice, etc. while traveling, has found same quickly through Rotary.”

why join rotary28
Why Join Rotary?

11. Entertainment

12. Development of Social Skills

13. Family Programs

14. Vocational Skills

15. Development of Ethics

“11 Entertainment. Every Rotary club and district has parties and activities which provide diversion in one’s business life. Rotary has conferences, conventions, assemblies, and institutes which provide entertainment in addition to Rotary information, education and service. 12 The Development of Social Skills. Every week and at various events and functions, Rotary develops one’s personality, social and people skills. Rotary is for people who like people, or who want to. 13 Family Programs. Rotary provides one of the world’s largest youth exchange programs; high school and college clubs for future Rotarians; spouse clubs and programs, and a host of activities designed to assist family members in growth and development of family values. 14 Vocational Skills. Every Rotarian is expected to take part in the growth and development of his or her own profession or vocation; to serve on committees, and to teach youth about one’s job or vocation. 15 The Development of Ethics. Rotarians practice a 4-Way test, which governs one’s ethical standards. Rotarians are expected to be ethical in business and personal relationships.”

why join rotary29
Why Join Rotary?

16. Cultural Awareness

17. Prestige

18. Nice People

19. Absence of “Official Creed”

20. Opportunity to Serve

“16 Cultural Awareness. Around the world, practically every religion, country, culture, race, creed, political persuasion, language, color and ethnic identity is found in Rotary. It is a cross section of the world’s most prominent citizens from every background. Rotarians become aware of other cultures and learn to love and work with people everywhere. They become better citizens of their countries in the process.

17 Prestige. Rotary members are prominent people: leaders of business, the professions, art, government, sports, military, religion, and all disciplines. Rotary is the oldest and most prestigious service club in the world. Its ranks are executive, managers and professionals; people who make decisions and influence policy. Not every one is invited to join Rotary.

18 Nice People. Rotarians above all are nice people-- the nicest people on the face of the earth. They are important people who adhere to the policy that while it is nice to be important, it is more important to be nice.

19 The Absence of “Official Creed”. Rotary has no secret handshake, no secret policy, no official creed, no secret meeting or rituals. It is an open society -- of men and women who simply believe in helping others.

20 The Opportunity to Serve. Rotary is a service club. Its business is mankind; its product is service. Rotarians provide community service -- to both the local and international communities. This is the best reason perhaps for becoming a Rotarian: the chance to do something for somebody else. And to sense the self-fulfillment which comes in the process. And the return to one’s own life. Rotarians believe in Service Above Self.’”

who touched you
Who Touched You? . . .

And made you a Rotarian?

“And who touched you? Who made you welcome in over 29,000 clubs in 194 countries and geographical areas around the globe? Who continued your education every week as you listened and learned from the club programs? Who gave you the best friends in the world? The support of people who love, who care? Who introduced you to people of different races, languages, colors, nationalities, cultures, politics, creeds and religions -- and made them all your friends? Who assisted your personal growth and development? Your social skills, speaking skills, leadership skills, human relations skills? Who gave you growth opportunities in your vocation, business or profession? Who made you a better husband, wife, father, mother, businessperson, citizen; a better human being than you would otherwise have even been? A citizen of the Planet Earth? Who called you to something higher than self? Who changed your life? Who made you a Rotarian? Who touched you?”

and who will you touch
And WhoWill You Touch?

“And more importantly -- this year -- who will you touch? While it is certainly true that Rotary changes the lives of the people we serve, it changes more the lives of Rotarians! In my judgment, few business and professional people can afford not to join Rotary. But we must touch them and ask them.”

how can we meet the membership challenge
How can we meet the Membership Challenge

We Must Lead.Rotary Club Officers areLeaders of Leaders.Leaders Like to be Led.We must also Lead by Example.

How can we meet the membership challenge? We must lead! We are leaders of leaders. Leaders like to be Led! We must also lead by example! How many people have brought in a new member this year into your club?

don t give up
Don’t Give Up . . .

When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he tried over 2000 experiments before he got it to work...

Don’t give up on Rotary membership. Even though you may have approached many people in the past, we hope this new presentation of formulas and ideas will spark new approaches. Inventor Thomas Edison didn’t stop on the first couple of experiments, he tried over 2000 times before he invented the electric light bulb!

trust the process
Trust the Process

“I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.”Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison never failed once in his 2000 step process. And neither will you with the Rotary Membership Challenge! How many people have you approached with the message of Rotary? Major success is literally just around the corner!

an example of leadership
An example of leadership…
  • July 1997: 18 members
  • November 1998:58 members
  • Sponsored a Rotaract Club
  • Sponsored Seven Interact Clubs

Coincidentally a Rotary club with the name “Edison” had been below charter size for many years. Then a new President took over in July 1997 and the club took off. In a little more than a year the club tripled in size, became a vital force in the community, sponsored a Rotaract Club and sponsored seven Interact Clubs.

light up your club
Light up your club . . .

with new members!

What will it take to light up your club with new members? Make your commitment! Take action! Start today!

taking action on the membership challenge37
Taking Action on the Membership Challenge
  • Additional resources are available at http://www.rotary.org
  • on task force web pages and discussion forums

Be sure to check out the membership development resources on the Rotary web site especially Membership Development and Membership Retention Task Force sites and discussion forums. We’d love to hear about your club’s successes.

course module design team
Course Module Design Team
  • Content: Robert W. Nelson
  • Preparation for Web: Harriett Schloer
  • Rotary Wheel Graphic: Tord Elfwendahl
return to the rotary university
Return to the Rotary University

To Return to the

Rotary University

Online Training Center