By Gordon Matthews, past governor of District 6920 (Georgia, USA), Rotary Club of Savannah East
A panel of three young members spelled out for us the issues that block young people from joining Rotary during our spring assembly a few years ago — scheduling, cost of dues, and rules.
I’ve been active in developing leaders in our community and have worked with our Group Study Exchange teams in the past, so I know the energy and potential in this “under 40” generation that we need to tap for Rotary. But I’ve also seen several Rotary clubs try to do this with limited results, because they stayed too close to the traditional model and dues structure.
Breaking the mold
To break that mold, I asked the son of a fellow member to gather a group of young people in the metro area of Savannah to explore the idea of starting a new club. I told them their are really just a few rules – to meet weekly, pay dues, and train a president-elect. The rest are just a lot of traditions. They were directed to develop a format that would meet theirneeds.
The team included young professionals with a Rotarian parent, past exchange participants, and others who were just interested in tackling the challenge. Several had taken part in our leadership development program and wanted to keep learning about the community. Others were in a social group that met monthly but craved more substance.
A recent service project.
After an initial meeting or two with district leaders, the team met on their own for six months to craft a plan and draw up a list of candidates. When they had 75, they invited them to a reception to introduce the concept and explain how to become a charter member. Applications came in quickly and they froze the group at 50 to submit their charter application, adding the remainder to a waiting list.
The Metro Savannah Rotary Club started with a bang and has never looked back. They are careful to add members who maintain their diversity and bring in unique perspectives.Their membership includes engineers, construction managers, attorneys, graphic designers, sales managers, librarians, and non-profit directors.
Annual dues is $300. Members stay up to date on Facebook. They meet for lunch the first and third week of the month, calling in sandwich orders. Another week, they network at a pub over drinks. This in itself invites membership inquiries from others in the pub. And at least one meeting is a service project. The club has had at least 12 projects every year.
After a year, the board held a full day retreat to examine their format and make tweaks. Attending only as an observer and resource, I was impressed these busy young professional gave up most of their Saturday to evaluate and plan.
The club continues to thrive with more than 60 members, most under the age of 40. It’s a great model for other districts who want to launch dynamic clubs of young professionals. And with the recent action by Rotary’s Council on Legislation, it’s easier than ever to step out and try new things. For more information how we got this idea off the ground, contact me at Gordon.firstname.lastname@example.org