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Building effective clubs


San Juan Capistrano Rotarians Shawn Simmons and Howard Hart at the recent Los Rios cleanup day.

Being part of a vibrant and lively club is a real joy. When building such a club, there are two schools of thought on the best way: First attract new members, or concentrate on impactful projects.


Attracting new members might seem like the obvious first step. This is often pushed by the District or Rotary International because it addresses the immediate problem of membership decline.  The thinking goes "We need to attract more members so we can do more/bigger projects." Tactics are focused on bringing in new people, inviting them to attend club meetings or social events, or discounting costs. This allows potential members to get a feel for the club without committing too much.


However, this approach has drawbacks. If meetings lack energy, the speakers aren't engaging, or members not welcoming, guests might leave without any interest in returning. Just like in a restaurant, a dull atmosphere or bad food can spoil that crucial first impression, and if people don't feel welcome, they're not likely to stick around. And even if they join, there’s also a risk of "churn," where new members soon leave.


I’ve always advocated a projects-first strategy for two primary reasons. First, it answers the "Why" question: why are we a club; what’s our purpose? Second, I've always had a bias toward action - giving people opportunities to get involved. If they do, they generate their own desire to join. Organizing community cleanups, clinics, charity events, or other meaningful projects is a way to show what your club is about. Rotary emphasizes "People of Action," and this approach is an effective way to show that.


But this strategy also has some cons. Projects take time and effort, which might be too much for some potential members. If a project feels small or doesn't seem to offer much value, people could view it as a waste of their valuable time. Plus, if your projects are tied to other groups, it might seem like the club isn't leading but just assisting, which can reduce its appeal.


So which approach is better? It depends on your club's style, goals and whether other elements are in place. Many clubs find that a mix of both strategies works best, allowing them to draw in new members while focusing on projects that make a real impact. This balance creates a vibrant club that's constantly evolving and growing.


Membership is not the goal. It is the primary indicator of a club’s health. And membership decline is a symptom. Ultimately, flexibility and adaptability are key to a successful club. By staying open to new ideas and trying different approaches, we can create effective and meaningful clubs that grow organically.

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Ray, I completely agree. The way to grow a club's membership is through fun, interesting and compelling events and projects. This will make the club and Rotary attractive to prospects looking for a good service organization in their community that they can join. Let the projects and events build membership and grow your club.

Polub

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There is no "silver bullet" to membership. I like your analysis. Rotarians are members of clubs, not RI. That's why it's difficult to come up with a top-down formula for membership growth.

Polub
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