by Paul Kiser
USA PDT [Twitter: ] [Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Skype:kiserrotary or 775.624.5679]
In 2003, Tom Peters wrote Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age. In that book, Mr. Peters takes a visionary look at business and our culture that confronts the traditional…and remarkably stupid concepts of the modern working world. His words have foretold many of the new realities we see unfolding around us.
Recently I have had to face up to some hard realities about Rotary. Rotary is a great organization, but the organization is being held back by an old skin that needs to be shed. Rotary’s membership issues cannot be solved unless RI’s President Ray Klinginsmith’s suggestion of ‘keep what works and drop what doesn’t,’ is absorbed into the organization’s DNA. It’s time we Re-Imagined Rotary, so I will offer up my view of what I would change about Rotary to re-vitalize the organization from bottom to top.
Rotary International (RI)
Club Members should be RI members. Currently Clubs are members of RI, but the Rotarians in the clubs are not. I’m sure there is a rational legal reason for the wall of separation and I know the history, but there is a negative symbol created by the divide between Rotarians and the parent organization.
Council on Legislation (CoL) should be abolished and organizational changes taken directly to Clubs. Currently the Council on Legislation meets once every three years. In a world of rapid change and flattening of hierarchical structure, the CoL is a dinosaur. A significant problem with the CoL is that to be a representative you must be a Past District Governor, and while we have some very smart and forward-thinking Past District Governors, we also have some Past District Governors who see themselves as Cardinal’s in the Church of Traditional Thinking. Change needs to come from the Clubs and a handful of amendments could be presented to the clubs on a monthly basis for voting via the Internet. Discussions for and against the amendments could be made via linked blogs.
Decentralize most of RI. Face-to-face contact is valuable, but often an organization’s headquarters develops a ‘bunker mentality’ which does not serve in the best interest of the whole. VoIP phones, the Internet and webinars can bring people around the world together as well as people in cubicles, in fact, often the Internet tools do a better job in creating an environment of sharing ideas.
Every RI employee has to be a Club member. I don’t know if this is currently required or not, but my feeling is that the paid staff of RI can serve the organization of better if they see Rotary from the viewpoint of being a Club member.
Zone and District
Eliminate the PDG monopoly. Rotary has a wealth of knowledgeable people but all the significant discussions and decisions are made behind doors labeled, “Past District Governors ONLY.” It is not a system of decision-making that brings all the talent to the table. Some of my best friends are PDG’s and I have great admiration for what all of them have contributed to the organization; however, when tackling a problem such as years of declining membership, the people who have dedicated themselves to Rotary and have been rewarded with significant prestige of office, may not be the best people to address why others don’t ‘get’ Rotary.
All Zone and District Leaders must write blogs. Rotary is great in sending out emails and finding people to speak at meetings, but the organization is still in the dark ages when it comes to communicating. Emails just fill up the Inbox and get buried among all the other emails. The concept of ‘just-in-time’ information is not well understood in Rotary. Blogs put information that is Google searchable and readily available when someone needs it. Blogs can offer information, ask questions, or begin a discussion. Blogs allow each club to absorb the information at their own pace.
Zone and District Leaders are consultants, not Lords. This really isn’t a problem for most Zone and District Leaders because most of them approach their position as a consultant for the organization; however, we still have a few leaders who are insulted when some insolent Rotarian suggests a different concept or idea from their own. I have a list of them in our District, and I know I’m on their list.
District Conference and Assembly to be held on the same weekend. It is such a basic idea to increase participation, give respect to the member’s time, and improve the value of both functions that it shouldn’t be an issue, yet it is vehemently opposed by some Past District Governors.
No Club to be chartered without a website. Today, no business or non-profit is taken seriously as a legitimate organization unless they have a website. Any club that wishes to be chartered should start with a website for the provisional club to answer questions, inform, and create methods of contact with the organizers of the club. Once a club is formed the website becomes the 24/7/365 presence for the club. It is so basic to survival it has to be mandatory.
Club member immersion in Social Media. Rotary has always been about creating connections between people and Social Media is the greatest tool ever invented to do exactly that. It is not about one Social Media savvy member creating a Facebook page, but about all members logging in and using the page. All committee meetings, announcements, social events, and projects should be posted on a Facebook page by the person in charge of that activity. The fear that many of our members have about Social Media is a telling indicator of how quickly Rotary is falling out of the real world.
Absolute adherence to the no religion and no politics policy established in the Constitution. Rotary is an organization of business professionals and that should be our public image. Unfortunately, some clubs have a public image of being a sub-organization of a certain religion or a certain political view. If people want to join a church or a political party they can and will, but Rotary is not a place for members to further their personal religious or political beliefs.
A greater focus on Vocational development. Rotary should be a place where smart business people get smarter. Incorporating business seminars into to Club meetings and District Conferences should be standard practice. Rotarians can and should be experts in the latest technology, management and business practices. Some clubs do this, many do not.
Clubs must have a significant focus on the inclusion of family members. Our organization tends to ignore business professionals with children because we have so many members without children. Many Club social activities don’t involve ‘kid and/or teen-friendly’ activities. The status quo is a great way to keep Rotary’s membership in decline.
Club members must be interconnected with other Area clubs. In any community all Rotary clubs should offer a united and coordinated front. I think Rotary is getting better about creating connections between clubs, but this connection should go deeper than just the Club Presidents. Every club member should recognize that they are part of a larger force in their community that includes all Rotary clubs. Good natured competition is great, but petty rivalries between local clubs should be dealt with immediately by District and Area Leadership.
Do or Die Time
I am absolutely convinced that Rotary driving towards a cliff. We either have to make a major change in direction or we will go off the cliff. We are being eaten alive by a monster that is consuming our will to change. We either confront the monster or we die.
Rotary played a major role in my life for the last 9 1/2 years and I have come to appreciate the beauty that arose out of a simple concept of business professionals joining forces for good. I have a profound respect for what Paul Harris created with this simple concept but I fear that he would be very anxious about the fact that Rotary has failed to attract young professionals in most clubs. For Paul Harris and the good of all Rotarians, Rotary must change. It is time to Re-Imagine Rotary and shed the old skin that encumbers the organization.
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