Thursday, 22 October 2015

Established Rotary clubs attract young professionals

New Rotarians Namrata Gulani (left) and Felicity Ellis on the Rotary membership recruitment stand at the Stonefields Community Fair in Auckland, NZ. 
Words: Colin and Beryl Robinson  Photos: Bruce Hancock, Rotary Club of St Johns, Auckland, NZ
What is the face of Rotary for the future?  Is it the well-educated and highly connected, tech-savvy professional who joined early in their career and stayed with Rotary because it is an excellent lifestyle option?  Rotary wants to attract young professional women and men to its membership and there seems to be a belief by some that this will only be achieved by creating new clubs that will draw their members from this demographic, but is this correct?  It is only one of the strategic options for attracting younger members.    

Throughout time young people have tested the limits of what is possible and proactively pushed for change.  They do this because they can see the real lag between the reality of the changing world and the ability of the existing structures of society and organisations to cater for changing needs. The same is happening in Rotary clubs, so the clubs that thrive are those who listen to the needs of their future leaders; these are the young professionals who have the passion, enthusiasm, optimism and willingness to do good.   Most Rotarians would relish this reinvigoration of their club.

The experience of an increasing number of established clubs is that they are finding it easier to attract young professionals to their ranks.  These clubs are providing an environment similar to those being provided by Next Rotary Generation (NRG) clubs, but with a major difference ... experience. 
Established clubs can cater for young professionals, as illustrated by the experience of three newly recruited Rotarians - Felicity Ellis (21 years-old), Michelle Baillie (24) and Namrata Gulani (32) - who recently joined the Rotary Club of St Johns in Auckland, NZ. 
How did they discover Rotary?  Namrata was a Rotary website membership enquiry.  Michelle and Felicity are Rotary Youth Leadership Awardees.   
They are well connected to and spend a lot of time with their peer group, but what they want is networking with while working alongside people with greater business experience and wisdom.  Along with this is the fact that an established club has found its place in the community and it has an organisational knowledge of what the needs of the community are and what works best to address these needs, with the networks to match.

Of course all this is of little use if the Rotary club culture was not welcoming or willing to adapt to the needs of its members, but their club adapts to evolving needs. They were welcomed as full Rotarians, equal in every respect from the day they were inducted.  Opportunities to participate to the level they are comfortable with have been encouraged from the outset, and when they put their hands up to take on roles leading aspects of existing projects or made suggestions for new projects, they are listened to and fully supported. 

Rotarian and former Ambassadorial Scholar Wesley Johnson’s wife Elyse, new Rotarian Michelle Baillie (centre) and Michelle’s friend Emma Stuart (right).  Emma applied to join the Rotary Club of St Johns during the Stonefields Community Fair in Auckland, NZ.
The club culture is one of friendship and cooperation, respectful of the fact they led busy lives, but encourages them to participate in the club’s activities as they can. For example, this means that there is no pressure to attend meetings every week, although they soon found that they like the meetings so much that they attend if they can, as these are relaxed, fun events with inspiring speakers that constitute good value for their time spent.  Their fellow Rotarians circulate and are easy to chat with regardless of the topic of conversation.   All new members are assigned a mentor / buddy and the club fully sponsors any member to Rotary Leadership Institute discussion-based training to help them make the most of their membership.  Within two months of joining Rotary, these three new members completed their first RLI day.  They commented they learnt so much of value for them as Rotarians and as individuals that this seminar further reinforced their decision to join Rotary and they are looking forward to graduating from RLI in March.

Felicity, Michelle and Namrata’s experience in Rotary has been so beneficial for them that they have already proactively recruited their friends and colleagues to join their club. 
What can you do differently to attract young professionals to your Rotary club?