If you took time to think about what you really enjoy about your Rotary club, what are the 3 things that keep you coming back. Could it be supporting each other through hard times; or working together on successful projects and building close relationships as a result; team building and leadership skills learnt in a friendly environment? When was the last time you read an article in the mass media, or saw an ad about Rotary that touched on those things that you hold dear?
As a young man I was attracted to join Rotary as at that time in my life I was searching for a charity that I could give to and ensure that whatever donation I made would have an impact on the lives of the intended beneficiaries. When I joined a Rotary club, I was immediately given a responsibility, and as they say the reward for good work is more work, I quickly rose through the ranks to become club president in record time.
I had the time of my life as club president going through every human emotions possible in quick succession, fear, doubt, pain, rejection and when I wasn’t doing that I was going through joy, pride, privilege, acceptance, belonging, challenge, inspired & motivated.
But most of all, during those 12 months I got, what my mentor calls, CEO training for free. I learned how how to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds and various generations, I learned that leadership not only needs to be visionary, but needs to to be administratively sound to be most effective.
The experience I picked up during that time has certainly shaped the course of my career. It is clear to me that this experience is what many young people would like to go through today. When I hear the youth talk about how hard it is to find a good job today, and the struggles they go through to grow their career, I think ‘just join a Rotary club kid’.
This only one idea among many upon which we can develop communication messages. When Rotary started 108 years ago, and for many years following, it was believed that the good work and friendly environment would speak for itself. Perhaps in the past that may have been the case, when there was less competition for people’s time, less traffic, generally less travel for business or leisure, and the list goes on.
From the time when 4 people formed a Rotary club in Chicago to the early 80’s when the membership reached 1.2 million the club saw incredible growth. A lot of this was based on the eager Baby Boomers, who joined clubs for the social benefits of succeeding together. When the Generation X were of age they had a belief in themselves that made them feel that they didn’t need to join a club in order to succeed. It appears that it is due to this group that the growth in Rotary and most other membership organizations began to stagnate.
The Generation Y on the other hand portray a need for joining groups and the success of the digital social networks proves just this. But unlike the previous 2 generations, Generation Y does not just join groups for the sake of it, but they do it after evaluating ‘what’s in it for me?’
This is another reason to communicate the benefit of personal development in our message. The changes in society and on the modern individual have made it necessary to for our international club to project it’s image. This doesn’t mean that what we are doing has less relevance in society, but it addresses the fact that we live in the over communicated society as identified by Al Ries and Jack Trout In their concept of positioning popular since the ’70s.
People are commonly bombarded by thousands of messages and our brains filter the messages so that they can keep what they deem important. It is those organizations that communicate their essence in a relevant and engaging way to their target audiences that tend to cut through the clutter.
With this in mind, we should establish what the efforts of enhancing our public image can deliver in the context of our overall strategic plan.
While working in an advertising agency I learned that from organizational goals we draw marketing objectives and from the marketing goals we get or communication goals. From our communication goal we define our advertising and PR objectives. And in this way are we able to identify the lines of responsibility to the bottom line. All our activities need to support the overall organizational goals and if they do not, then the activities are not worth doing.
So lets look at some pressing needs for Rotary in Africa. Africa has 14 districts; 14 districts for 55 countries. France has 14 districts as does Germany. Africa has close to 27,000 Rotarians in a continent of 1 billion people. Korea has 55,000 Rotarians in a country with 50 million inhabitants.
The low numbers in Sub-Saharan Africa is the reason we half of a zone, Zone 20A. The US has 5 zones. An RI Director is drawn from Africa every 8 years. For a continent with 1 billion people this is low representation. Yet majority of humanitarian needs rest in Africa. It is for this reason that we need to get, as the past chairman if Reach Out To Africa Committee Tom Branum says, more members and more money.
So if our goals in Africa is to aggressively grow membership and increase our impact on the communities that we serve, then our public relations efforts should support this. Public relations can be described as good organizational behavior clearly communicated. So each and every club needs to be a high performing club as the first part of our pubic image.
Lets do bigger, better, bolder projects yes; but let also enhance the fellowship experience for everyone; lets give new members responsibility immediately and expand the space for individual members to gain life skills and grow personally; let each Rotarian own our membership growth and bring in one member this year, and let our clubs fulfill the Rotary vision; a worldwide network of inspired individuals who translate their passions into relevant social causes to change lives in communities.
Let us work on our clubs as the first part of enhancing our public image. The RI President has a Facebook page which he uses to promote the work of Rotary. As he does, is there any good reason why all our club presidents in Africa shouldn’t? Let get all our club presidents to create Facebook profiles which they will use to promote the good work we do here. By the end of the year we should have all 1000 clubs in Africa to have a Facebook page for their presidents.
Also, I’d like to have at least half of the Rotarians in Africa connect on Facebook and talking about how we translate our passions into relevant social causes, creating awareness of Rotary and enticing people to join. That would mean that we would have 13,000 people in Africa on Facebook promoting Rotary.