How can Rotary grow membership and retain its members? An article in the January, 2013 Rotarian magazine explored whether new clubs are the path to membership growth. I propose that new clubs are not the complete answer. Instead, how can we capture the positive qualities of new clubs and bring them to existing clubs?
Let me begin by acknowledging that newly chartered clubs indeed have advantages. A new club brings novelty and freshness. Forming members can shape the club to their liking, to their passions and their lifestyle. The article opened with an all too common scenario of a dual income working couple that struggles to meet all of its time demands. The new club can shape its schedule and routine to attract members who otherwise would not join another club. For example, evening meetings might be easier for many who have to get kids off to school, or who cannot take more than 30 minutes for lunch.
A new club brings the energy that comes with a focused project or mission. The forming team has clear goals. It must attract a minimum of 25 20 charter members. Since it does not have the workload associated with many established projects and events, charter members focus time and energy on finding and engaging those 25 20 members as quicly as possible.
The club also receives dedicated support. New club leaders receive dedicated mentorship from the District. A sponsoring club or the District put up initial funding to get the club started. District leaders rightly publicize and celebrate the new club.
So let me be clear before I get everyone's blood pressure rising here, new clubs are an attractive and viable option to attract members. They are especially valuable for attracting members who are very different in lifestyle, interests and age versus established clubs. But they are not THE ONLY option. Here is why:
First, the statistical analysis upon which the case is based is partially flawed. If I look at district membership data in a year where one or more new clubs are formed, it will always show that new clubs are the dominant source of growth. That is an easy mistake to make with "Big Data." The error comes from the fact that I am cherry picking a part of the data and inferring causality from that cherry-picked data. So I need to look deeper at the data.
Second, retention rates for new club members are biased. To be fair, Chuck Musgrave did notice that the retention rates for new clubs was higher than the retention rate for new members of established clubs. However, given the personal investment in the club that charter members have in launching the new club, one would expect this. Retention is never one hundred percent because members do things like move, change jobs and change priorities.
But the bright shiny object of a new club only keeps its luster for so long. Retention rates of new clubs from five years ago will eventually trend toward retention rates of 10 year old clubs. The article also noted that new clubs eventually become not-so-new clubs. District leaders shift the focus to the next new club and the cycle repeats itself. We need another new club to churn out new numbers. But is that an efficient approach?
Instead of getting into a cycle of churning from old to new, how about capturing some of the essence of the new club and applying it to the established (I won't say old) clubs?
- Reshape the member experience. I have found that the barriers to existing member engagement is often the reason clubs don't attract new members. If you are not excited about your own experience of the club, you are not likely to invite others to join. Survey your members. Ask formerly engaged members why they are not as involved as they once were - and what could change to bring back their energy.
- Take a mission focus. Decide that you are going to attract 25 new members. Set that as a goal and assemble a team that is passionate about that goal. Are there clubs that have grown by 25 members within 2 years? Yes - and mine was one of them. Find out what others did that worked - and find a way to apply it to your existing club.
- Ask for help. Your District has a team of people who are dedicated to helping clubs find new answers. Sometimes that means having folks from the District engage with your team by asking questions that provoke action, rather than merely dispensing advice. The Club Visioning process is an exceptional way to stimulate new ideas and approaches.
- Believe you can change. This may be the most important. If you assume that people, whether individually or as a club, cannot change, you are right. If you assume that people can indeed change, you are also right. (Read the book, Mindset, by Carol Dweck and review my previous post about Mindset here.) Research shows that about half of you reading this have a fixed mindset and half of you have a growth mindset.
We raise amazing amounts of money on behalf of projects and causes because we believe it will make a difference. We volunteer tremendous hours on behalf of individuals and populations because we are certain that our effort will be rewarded by change. New clubs offer new experiences that we rightly believe will attract new members. How is it that we assume existing clubs cannot offer as great or greater opportunities for growth?
We must believe in our ability - and our obligation - to adapt, to change, to adjust. We need the same level of faith in change in our fellow members as we have in those whom we serve.