I have been really encouraged by the efforts and successes of many of our Clubs in securing new members into Rotary.
I know it's a challenging task and requires an effort on so many fronts.
In this post, I've put down a few thoughts I have about the major issues facing us in regards to member retention, and what we can do to alleviate them.
I welcome any feedback.
Membership growth, or its lack of, is one of the greatest issues facing Rotary International.
Rotary needs a healthy and ever-growing membership base to ensure that its mission is fulfilled.
Membership growth is the result of two things: The number of new members who join, and the number of existing members who leave.
Unfortunately, the current trend appears to be that more people are leaving than are joining. Additionally, about half of the members who leave, have been members for less than three years.
Rotary International’s research has found that the main reasons people leave are, by age group:
Under 40:
  1. Life changing event (work, relocation, relationship, children)
  2. Club environment
  3. Cost or time constraint
40 to 60:
  1. Cost or time constraint
  2. Club environment
  3. Unmet expectations
Over 60
  1. Life changing event (relocation, health, death)
  2. Club environment
  3. Cost or time constraint
Which reasons can we address?
We CAN’T change a member’s work commitments, relationship issues, health issues or need or desire to re-locate.
We CAN, but only partially, address cost or time constraints. Offering different meeting times through changing club, or being a member of a satellite club, duty roster concessions, and perhaps fee subsidies can all help.
We CAN, however, address the two remaining reasons which, between them, may account for over half of members who leave.
  1. Club environment
  2. Unmet expectations
Club Environment:
Meetings should be fun, energetic, and entertaining but should always include an element of Rotary service. Fellowship is important, but as Rotarians, we have made a commitment to serve. A healthy mixture of both is the answer. In addition, interesting guest speakers is vital. Any member, old or new, will at some time look around themselves at a meeting and ask, “Is this where I want to be?”
  • Feeling welcome:
    Consider the club environment in relation to new members. Is the club welcoming? Many organised groups like our clubs can be cliquey. It can be quite intimidating to a new member who doesn’t feel welcome. Make sure that every member is made to feel welcome within the group. Presidents and senior club members should always be monitoring this situation and identifying potentially divisive cliques early.
  • Involvement of members:
    Try to find projects that will personally involve members like:
    assisting with food sharing organisations
    assisting at youth programs
    providing assistance to elderly in the community
    getting involved in mentoring programs.
    Members need to feel involved and engaged. This is especially important with newer members.
Unmet expectations:
We are always happy to welcome new members and often just take it for granted they are happy just to join. And simply leave it at that.
All new members will join with some expectations. These may be self-generated by their perception of how Rotary works or maybe the result of promises made by their sponsor or someone similar. Unless this person feels their expectations are being met or exceeded, they are likely to leave.

It is vital that a new member has the opportunity to explain their expectations so that we can ensure that, within reason, these expectations are met. It is highly likely that if this is the case, not only will the new member be happy, but the club is sure to benefit as well.
An ideal situation would be where we are able to match directly with a member’s expectation an activity or level of involvement. For example, if a member joins a Rotary club because they admire and support the work of the Rotary Foundation, assign them a role associated with the activities of TRF like Grant Applications or member and club contributions.
What can we do better with new members?
  • At induction, all members make a point of personally welcoming a new member.
  • Make a point of welcoming them at meetings and encourage fellow members to do the same.
  • Sit down and discuss their expectations, and their willingness to be involved
    Find their areas of interest, or passion.
  • Provide some education about Rotary as a whole.
  • Have a resource of new member information on the District website.
  • Hold regular group “new member” education sessions.
  • Get them set up on My Rotary and explain offerings of the Learning Centre.
  • Encourage them to either initiate or participate in a particular project, program, or event.
  • Recognise their contribution publicly.
  • Appoint someone to follow up regularly with a new member to discuss their experiences, positive and negative, since joining the club. Don’t leave this till too late!
Ian Ballantine