Rotary’s Global Membership Migration…
and what it means for clubs in developed countries - Part 1
You’ve no doubt heard the statistic that our global membership has remained static at 1.2 million for over 20 years, and you may also have heard the statistic that we induct and lose 100,000 members per year. What you may not have heard (unless I’ve spoken at your club recently) is that the 100,000 that join Rotary’s ranks each year not all joining in the same regions as those 100,000 who are leaving. There are a few notable exceptions, but it is overwhelmingly Rotary in the western or “developed” world that is losing those 100,000 members a year, and Rotary in the developing world that is gaining them.
I remember when I first got involved in Rotaract in the 80’s, there were clubs everywhere in D9520 (then 952) and our neighbouring D9500. By the time I left Rotaract and became a Rotarian in 1997, there were only 2 or 3 struggling Rotaract Clubs remaining, including Edwardstown which folded in 1999. But as I sadly watched Rotaract fade away locally, it was growing at a staggering rate in the developing world.
Earlier this year at the Sydney International Convention, we heard from Ramkumar Raju, the Rotaract Representative (Rotaract equivalent of DG) from D3320 in India, who spoke about the astonishing projects undertaken by Rotaractors in India. In that one district there are over 25,000 Rotaractors. Clearly population density has a lot to do with these figures, but I can now see parallels between what was happening in Rotaract then, and what is happening in Rotary now.
There’s a word that seems to be making its way into Rotary membership conversations lately, and that word is RELEVANCE. And with good reason. I believe Rotary in the developed world is struggling with a relevance deficit. Rotary is a very important part of my life, and right now, I couldn’t imagine life without it. But clearly, Rotary is not relevant enough to the members who leave us, or the public who never join us.
I recall spending a lot of time on Maslow’s theory many years ago when I was studying marketing and retail management, and how defining and meeting customers’ needs was paramount in marketing your product and motivating your customers to part with their cash. Those books are all gathering dust in my shed now, but I’m starting to understand how life in a society without basic infrastructure, electricity, potable water and sanitation, shelter, healthcare and education can act as a considerable motivator to join an organisation like Rotary. A service club must appear very relevant in this environment.
In our comparatively fortunate and distraction ridden society however, the motivation to join a service club is clearly not as strong. Rotary is losing its relevance. People are still volunteering, they just aren’t willing to prioritise attendance at meetings as a valuable use of their increasingly rare spare time.
In next month’s issue I will have a crack at addressing how we can become more relevant in our developed world, and you can expect my old mate Maslow to get a mention again.
In the mean time, I’m looking forward to catching up with AG Lesley and the Rotarians from Group 1 on November 16 when we hold a membership seminar in Mildura.
PS Rotaract is starting to make a comeback here in D9520, and no-one is happier than me!