Before we get to "how" let's first understand the meaning of retention.
The word retention is a derivative of "retain" which comes from an Old French root meaning to keep "attached to one's person, to keep in service."
So the answer seems to be obvious:
- Keep people connected, or attached, to each other. Create fun, engaging social experiences to allow people to get to know each other outside of meetings. In my early Net Promoter Score pilots in District 5950, I am finding a pattern that shows that many members want more meaningful social activities.
- Keep people in service. The more you keep people engaged in service activities that connect with personal meaning, the longer they stay. If Rotary gives me an easy, fun and impactful way to make a difference, I am going to stick around.
So how do you create a great membership retention program? Membership retention is really a process of holding people together through meaningful connection. There is an implied agreement in this process, just as there is in a retainer you might arrange with a consultant or an attorney. Here is one way to think about this process:
- Attract and invite qualified candidates. Find people who best exemplify their profession and who can meet the time and financial expectations of being a member.
- Set clear expectations. When a new member joins your club, what is that man or woman looking for in their service experience? Can your club deliver on it? In return, can you explain the financial, time and service expectations and what the new member will get in return for that?
- Create a great club experience. Create a great weekly meeting with engaging speakers. Respect people's time. Communicate clearly and transparently. Thank people for their service. Quantify the impact of your projects.
- Create a high level of engagement. Create a variety of activities that meet the interests of your members. That means you have to keep asking what people are interested in, where they want to put their time and energy, and where they want to direct your club's financial resources. People are far more willing to support your direction, even if they disagree with it, if they have at least had a say in setting direction.
So what do you do about people who have stopped showing up? I think you have (at least) two choices. First, reach out to them, find out what they are passionate about and find ways to engage them. Explain that your club is about having all members be engaged and involved. As you reach out across your club, you may find you need to add new programs or eliminate old ones. Second, if that does not re-engage them, then remind them of the attendance requirement for Rotary and agree to move on.
Now, to many, that seems harsh. Especially if you come from a despiration point of view. But remember the first question of the Four Way Test: Is it the truth? If this person does not attend meetings, does not serve, does not connect with the other members, are they truly a member? Are they truly "retained?" This does not mean you simply eject members who do not attend at least half of your meetings. If you are going to start enforcing attendance, you have to give members an opportunity to respond to the club's expectations, and to give them something valuable in return.
Looking forward, as you invite your next new members, what will they experience? They will find a core of energetic, enthusiastic, involved members who willingly promote your club. This energetic core will welcome new members into the fun and the service that makes your club special.
Remember, retention is simple: keep people engaged in meaningful service.
If your club were to move from where it is now to a broader level of member engagement and service, what would that mean?