Exploring Rotary’s Membership Challenge from Within
I am currently grappling with the decision of whether to leave Rotary, and I have been doing so for quite some time. To be clear, I don’t want to leave Rotary, in fact I would love to get even more involved.
But as a busy forty-one year old with young children and a demanding career, I am finding it increasingly difficult to stay engaged. And as I ponder my options I can’t help thinking about the broader challenges and the hundreds- if not thousands- of Rotarians who share my dilemma.
Just last month I had the privilege of chairing our district’s President Elect (PETS 1) trainings at which issues of membership featured heavily. Our incoming presidents were told of the “revolving door” phenomenon and its implications for our collective work and the future of our beloved organization. The offered solutions focused on keeping members engaged, ensuring their involvement in committees and fundraisers, and keeping meetings fun and stimulating.
While these solutions all make sense, they fail to touch my own issues and reasons for considering leaving. To be clear, I am already engaged. I became president of my club less than 3 years after joining, and I had a wonderful and successful year. Following my presidency I happily agreed to get involved at the district level, chairing the president-elect training and also helping to develop and facilitate workshops focused on club growth and vitality.
So engagement is definitely not the issue, nor is the notion of having fun. In fact, I couldn’t imagine a club being more fun and lively than ours (Buffalo Sunrise). Within our membership of approximately 30, we have a clown, a humorist, a body builder, two singers, and a diverse assortment of accomplished professionals who love to laugh, have fun, and enjoy one another’s company.
So why would I ever consider leaving? Simply put, I feel guilty. As a person who wholly commits to everything I do, I’m having a hard time giving my club and Rotary all it deserves and asks of me as a member. Although my president is understanding and my club forgiving, I feel my engagement slipping. And since my career and family life promise to grow even busier in the years ahead, I don’t see this pattern changing.
To be clear, I don’t want to leave Rotary. On the contrary, I would love to help steward its growth and sustainability as we work through the changing landscape ahead.
But when I consider what it will take to rise through the ranks of Rotary to become an agent of change, I do not think it is feasible. The shear time commitment involved in virtually every aspect of leadership has far-reaching implications for the profile of leaders who will continue to emerge.
How we respond to the constraints and needs of Rotarians like myself while staying true to the core of the Rotary tradition presents a dilemma that is both critical and complex.
I am hopeful that we will rise to the challenge.