I am frequently asked to share that one tip or special idea that will help clubs find and enroll new members. Here is the bad news: there are no magic bullets. When someone joins Rotary, they are making a lifestyle decision, not just buying a new toaster. I don’t think simple tricks make sense for what we are asking people to do and for the quality of experience we offer.
So what DOES work?
Growing clubs usually do either of 2 things (or both) well: they experiment until they find one simple idea that gets conversations going with new prospects. Or, they launch a short campaign.
That one simple idea might be a free lunch card, as Savage, Minnesota Rotary has used successfully. It might be advertising a top-notch speaker to attract non-members. Some clubs invite non-members to help out on service projects and then follow up with an invitation to explore membership.
I am a big believer in the campaign approach. Why? Most people join Rotary to network and to serve, not to enroll new members. Campaigns help clubs to focus their existing members’ effort without making membership a burden. Short campaigns also increase the chances that nearly every member will participate.
Campaigns also help groups of incoming members to make connections by bringing them in as a group. If 5 members join and go through a mentoring process together, they form their own “club within a club.” This connection takes away one of the biggest challenges for new members: fitting in and finding their own place in the club.
Finally, campaigns can serve as a catalyst to get your house in order. If your message and impact are clear, if your club is well-run, if your programs are compelling, if you go out of your way to help new members connect and feel welcome, your campaign will be more successful.
Clubs who have a clear direction and vision are far more attractive than Tuesday morning social clubs. Don't get me wrong, networking and "acquaintance" are valuable elements of Rotary. They are simply not enough of a foundation to create a thriving club these days..
How do you run a good campaign?
- Make it fun. You are asking people to get outside of themselves and try something new. Fun and humor make good companions.
- Create a focal point. That might be an open house, a series of social or educational events, a direct marketing campaign or perhaps just a target date on the calendar. Make the target date no more than 6-8 weeks away from the start of the campaign.
- Establish goals. How many guests? How many new members? How many spouses of guests and members?
- Communicate clearly. Make it easy for prospective members to understand what makes your club special, in terms of reputation and impact. Make it easy for them to know how they fit in. Set clear expectations for time, energy and money.
- Create momentum. Launch the campaign as a well-planned, organized project. Get the competitive juices going by publishing lists of the members who invite the most guests. Celebrate the big and small efforts that keep people moving toward the goal.
- Celebrate the results. Be sure to show gratitude and to recognize the members for their effort.
- Learn from the experience. Make a point to evaluate the campaign. What worked well and what could be improved? If the campaign was successful, make it easy to do it next time. The best sources of input are the new members who joined – and those who declined the invitation.
Get your club in order. Run a short, focused campaign. If you execute it well, you will get the growth and retention you deserve.
[A version of this posting will appear in the April, 2007 District Governor's Newsletter for District 5950.]