Thursday, 9 July 2015

Fostering new member engagement

Aubrey Richardson-Jones, Ainie Kwok, Miles Cain, Helen Richardson-Jones and Anastasia Grigoryeva
To retain new members, the common cry is “hold a ‘fire-side chat’ within six months” to educate them about what Rotary has to offer them and provide an orientation to the club and district.

Yet few clubs actually do this and the most common cited reason is because new members see this a little like giving up valuable time going ‘back to school’ for a dry, even boring session of having information crammed down their throats in one go with a ‘thou shalt attend’ mentality. Knowing this, the experienced members are often embarrassed and reluctant to try and organise these events. In any case many clubs simply do not get enough new members to make such a session viable other than every year or so. 

The Rotary Club of St Johns in Auckland, NZ found such evenings ineffective, despite careful planning, so asked the question, “What do new members really want at each stage of their early journey in Rotary?” The answer was they wanted good quality information at different times. 

For the prospective member, they want enough information about what the club can offer them, including upfront details about their time, cost and other commitments. Then following their induction and assignment of a buddy/mentor and to a service/project committee, they want the opportunity to get involved immediately which helps them become familiar with how the club and committees work while being able to get to know their fellow members by working alongside them.

It does not take long before the new member starts developing a curiosity about Rotary beyond what they are involved with in the club, so the club encourages new members along to Rotary Leadership Institute (RLI) and this has proven to be an extremely smart move. Doing so has reinforced the new member’s decision that Rotary is the community organisation for them, and without exception, these new members become more involved in club activities. Most move quickly into positions of responsibility, such as project leaders or other organisational/leadership functions of the club and some even join district committees in line with their interests.

The final step in this process is the annual new members and their partners’ evening where they casually get together as a group with senior club leadership at a member’s home for dinner. This evening is strictly social and because it is for them, they get a real feeling they are valued as full, albiet new, members of the club.