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|Engaging the Next Generation in Rotary|
|5 Strategies for Growing Your Club with Young Members|
If you believe all you read about Generation Y, you could be forgiven for assuming that the very last thing this group would want to be a part of is Rotary. After all, aren't they the most self-absorbed, materialistic, impatient and disloyal generation of young people the world has ever seen? Much of the media would have us believe so.
While sensationalist descriptions like these may sell newspapers, they are simply not accurate. Contrary to the negative press Gen Y have received in recent years, this dynamic group born between the early 1980s and late 1990's actually represent exciting news and a huge opportunity for Rotary.
In contrast to their older cousins Generation X (born mid 1960s to early 1980s), Gen Y want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. This is a group who crave community, truly want to make a difference, and have been raised with the confidence and self esteem to believe that they really can. What's more, they are an ambitious cohort who are actively looking for opportunities to network and connect with mentors in order to gain a competitive edge in their careers. What all this means is that Rotary represents many of the things this group are looking for. It's just that they don't know it.
That said, it can be very challenging to capture the attention of Gen Y and attract them as potential Rotarians. Below are 5 simple ideas that may help you engage the next generation as club members at a local level.
1. Look Back to Plan Forward
In the same way that businesses can accurately predict future sales by looking at their 'pipeline' of prospects, contacts and past activity, Rotary clubs would benefit from adopting a 'pipeline' perspective to membership growth, particularly with younger people.
The most common question I am asked by Rotarians as they look to attract young members is 'where can we look to
find them'. My response is that the young people you should be looking to invite to join your clubs are not somewhere 'out there', in fact, you probably already know them!
In theory, there need be NO shortage of young people coming through as new Rotarians. After all, every year thousands of youth are involved in a myriad of programs run by local clubs and districts. Whether it is past participants in youth exchanges, RYLA camps, RYPEN programs, Interact or Rotaract clubs, I would urge you to think about all the young people in your local community or district who have been positively impacted by Rotary. Where are they today? Are they members of your club? If not, why not? Could it be that they were never invited to join?
If you want to grow your club with new members, a good place to start is to re-connect with the mass of young people who already know you and have benefitted from what you do. You may be surprised at how many of them will be very eager to 'give back' - all they may need is someone to ask.
2. Start Small
It is true that young people today are often very hesitant to make long-term commitments. Regardless of why this
may be the case, if you are looking to attract younger members to your club you may find it more effective to start
by inviting them to be a part of small, short-term projects rather than trying to persuade them to lock into a longterm
Only a few short weeks after I joined Rotary, the world was confronted with the devastation of the Christchurch earthquake. In response, my club organized a collection drive in our local area one Saturday and I put out the word on Facebook to see if any of my non-Rotarian friends were able or interested in helping out. Within minutes, Luke
eagerly replied saying he'd love to lend a hand. As we spent the afternoon collecting funds, conversation naturally turned to Rotary - what it was all about and why I had joined.
Whether Luke ever joins a Rotary club or not is beside the point. The key message here is that many young people will be more than willing to help out with short-term targeted projects. As they do so, they may well 'catch' the vision and DNA of Rotary and start making the relationships with other club members which makes the choice to become a full member a less daunting one.
3. Let Your Light Shine
Today's youth want to make a difference and often have a strong sense of service. Contrary to their self-centered reputation, a study in 2005 indicated that over 70% of Gen Y actively volunteer on a weekly basis. If clubs want to attract this cause-driven and socially active group, the key is to show how being a part of Rotary will enable them to fulfill their driving ambition, to change the world.
Although the Rotary wheel may be one of the most identifiable brands on earth, I would suggest that many younger
people have very little real idea of why Rotary exists and what it is that Rotarians do.
As an indication of this, I recently conducted a survey of some young people to find out what their perceptions of
Rotary were. You'll be pleased to know that the vast majority of the respondents surveyed viewed Rotary very
positively. However, when asked to describe what Rotary is about, the most common response was that they
perceived it as an exclusive club for wealthy, retired men who meet once a week to socialize and eat bad food.
Clearly these perceptions are far from accurate and yet the challenge you face is to change them!
If you want to attract ambitious youngsters as Rotarians, let your light shine. Be bold and let them know what Rotary
is all about. Tell them the inspiring story of an army of 1.2 million people worldwide mobilizing to make a real and
sustainable difference on the planet. It is this message and mission that will make the biggest impact on young
4. Go for Commitment over Compliance
Younger generations have been raised in a far more fast-paced world than the one that existed 30 years ago. The
demands on their time, energy and attention are enormous.
Unfortunately, many Rotary clubs can become so heavily focused on the need to comply with expectations of
meeting attendance and committee involvement that potential young members are scared off and simply perceive
Rotary as a lot of restrictive rules and time-consuming hard work.
There are very few things that will turn Gen Y off as quickly as a long list of processes, rules, procedures and
protocols that don't seem to connect with a purpose. As such, your challenge is to communicate to young people the
compelling reasons and benefits of committing to Rotary membership, not simply the compliance-driven
requirements of being a Rotarian.
5. Concentrate on Common Purpose not Common Interests
The things that tend to cause the most conflict between generations are so often incredibly trivial. Indeed, they tend
to be more matters of preference rather than substance.
One of the things that makes Rotary so unique and powerful is that way in which the guiding purpose and core
values of this organisation bring together people who would otherwise have very little in common. Rotary
transcends ideological, political and cultural divides in a way few organisations can.
While it may be true that Rotary is very effective at building communities that bridge continents, in the coming years
the challenge you face is to build communities that bridge generations too.
It is highly likely that this next generation of Rotarians will look, sound and think differently to you. One young
Rotarian I spoke with at a district conference recently described the surprise of club members when they discovered
that she had a belly button ring and tattoos. For her, it spoke volumes that her fellow Rotarians were able to see
past their initial shock at differences in outward appearance and rather focus on the thing they had in common -- the
purpose of being a Rotarian.
With currently only 2% of Rotary's membership worldwide being under the age of 30, there is enormous room for
growth in attracting the next generation of Rotarians.
Young people truly do represent a huge opportunity for Rotary in the years and decades ahead. I assure you, there
are a generation of passionate, talented and inspired young people in your communities who are ideally placed to
join your ranks and continue the amazing work of Rotary.
However, it is up to local clubs and members to make sure they have the invitation and opportunity to do so.
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