Posted on Feb 08, 2021
For the last few years, many club and district leaders have taken a long and hard look at membership and spent time researching where the gaps were and still are.
Dissatisfaction, migration or relocation, schedule conflicts, costs, rigid traditions, fixed culture...there are a plethora of reasons and rationales Rotarians and Rotary club have heard either from members who leave or from persons who were considered good candidates but never joined. Then there is the fact that there is a huge divide between Rotaract and Rotary in terms of age, and, that the 30 to 50-year-old age group is hugely underrepresented in our organisation. And let's not forget the persistent issue surrounding Rotary alumni and our failure to transition many of them from programs such as Interact, Rotaract and RYLA and into Rotary clubs as Rotarians.
Recently, many Rotary clubs in District 7030 have been experiencing not necessarily net losses in active membership, as their numbers do not really drop, but moreover, they experience net losses in engagement from and participation of members. This again may be due to one or more factors such as: general malaise in club activities and operations; lack of new, contemporary or attractive experiences and opportunities for members; improper assignment and delegation of roles, responsibilities and involvement; or even, lack of member diversity and/or segregation of membership into cliques.
Ultimately, whether an issue with numbers or with engagement or with transition or with opportunities or with diversity, clubs may struggle to consistently attract or hold on to members and thus successfully sustain both the group and the service it exists to do.
Recognizing many of these instabilities and issues, Rotary proposed the concepts of clubs and membership becoming more flexible, accommodating and attractive to both existing and potential members.

If whilst doing this research into these adaptive developments in Rotary, particularly as a means to address, mitigate or solve some of the membership problems our clubs may be experiencing, many of us will come across ‘passport clubs’ – where the name alone is intriguing and where some of us may be taken by the idea and want to know more.

So what is a passport club...?

A passport club is a Rotary club that gives its members a more flexible club experience by:
  • Encouraging its members to visit other clubs and participate in their club activities regularly
  • Relaxing the attendance policy
  • Offering a variety of meeting formats
The term “passport” refers to the ability to move freely from club to club, attending the meetings or participating in the activities of other clubs. Any Rotarian can attend another club when traveling, but passport clubs encourage their members to do so regularly which brings fresh ideas back to their own club. 
New and existing clubs can decide to implement the passport club model. The clubs may adopt all of the options listed above or choose just the ones that work for them. A club’s name does not need to include the descriptor “passport club,” but the club’s bylaws do need to be updated accordingly (see How Do Club Bylaws Differ for a Passport Club? below).

Because they are Rotary clubs, passport clubs have a club president, board, and committees. The president-elect and other incoming officers attend training seminars like PETS and the district training assembly. And members are encouraged to attend district and international events and to get involved in ways that are meaningful to them.

So what's the purpose of a passport club...? any other type of Rotary club, a passport club is first grounded in its members providing service to its community. But, what sets it apart from traditional clubs is how it purposefully facilitates and accommodates flexibility among members and membership. Some examples of this purpose include: 
  • Attract new and returning members to Rotary who have difficulty attending weekly meetings.
  • Retain members where expense is a drawback to joining or continuing Rotary.
  • Reduce the time a Rotaractor or other alumni transitions to Rotary membership.
In most cases, purpose is determined by besides the list above, there are many other circumstances or solutions for which a passport club may have its purpose.

How do passport clubs work...?

Passport clubs determine how they want to operate. Some common practices of passport clubs include:
  • Meeting less frequently
  • Focusing meetings on service or social activities
  • Setting affordable dues
  • Measuring club health by participation rather than attendance
How do they meet? Meetings can be social gatherings, service activities, virtual meetings, or fundraisers. All Rotary clubs, including passport clubs, need to meet at least twice a month in some way. Service and social activities and online meetings count. So as long as something is on a passport club’s calendar twice a month, the club complies with RI policy. Not all members have to attend to make it a valid club meeting, as long as it’s open to all members and visitors.

How do they measure member engagement? Because members are encouraged to visit other clubs’ meetings and take part in their projects and activities, passport clubs use measures other than meeting attendance to gauge club health. For example, some passport clubs require their members to participate or perform service for a minimum number of hours per year, which can include attending meetings of their own club or any other Rotary club, helping other clubs with fundraisers or projects, or participating in a service activity outside of Rotary.
What about dues? Because they are members of a Rotary club, passport club members pay club and district dues, as well as RI dues. Club and district dues vary, while RI dues are the same for all active members on your membership roster. Passport clubs are free to set club dues at any reasonable amount. Whatever the amount, it’s important to make the breakdown of club, district, and RI dues clear so that everyone understands how much members are expected to pay.

What is the protocol for visiting other clubs? Members of passport clubs visit other clubs because they want to meet other members and have a variety of club experiences. The visits are not meant to make up for a missed meeting or to fulfill an attendance requirement. Just like anyone who wants to visit another club, passport club members should first contact the club’s leaders to make arrangements for visiting. Your club should also discuss how it will host and follow up with guests.

What are the benefits of a passport club...?

While varied and bespoke in many circumstances from one club to the next, the benefits of a passport club can include the following:
  • Flexibility – Having different options for getting involved accommodates members’ busy schedules, allowing them more choices for fitting Rotary into their lives.
  • Engaging meetings – Meetings can focus on service and socializing rather than speakers and meals. By visiting other clubs’ meetings, members can learn what other clubs are doing and bring new ideas to their club.
  • Broad appeal – A passport club often appeals to people who wouldn’t join a more traditional club and helps keep people who might otherwise leave in Rotary.
  • More connections – Members quickly build relationships across the district and beyond.
  • Stronger service projects – Connecting with members of other clubs presents opportunities for clubs to partner on service projects to create greater impact.
  • Affordability – Costs are kept to a minimum because meetings don’t include meals.
Although any club can implement the flexible options discussed here, a passport club sees them as a way of operating, using many of them. These flexible options are appealing to some members while traditional clubs remain appealing to others.

How does a passport club operate...?

Like any club under the Rotary umbrella, passport club members should consist of dedicated people who share a passion for both community service and friendship. Becoming a Rotarian connects you with a diverse group of professionals who share your drive to give back and passport clubs seek to enhance, explore and exploit these connections to yield otherwise unrealized, significant results. Under such a tenet, passport clubs can operate best where:
  • A Passport Club is initially sponsored by an existing Rotary club that agrees to serve as a “sponsor” club.  Members are full Rotary members, with the same privileges and rights as Rotarians in traditional clubs. Therefore, they are required to pay Rotary International and District dues.
  • Passport Clubs can have only four business meetings/year, once per quarter, which can be held at various locations.  Instead of weekly meetings, members are encouraged to engage in humanitarian service – however that works best for them.
  • Membership provides you with a passport to visit and work with any other Rotary Club in the world and to take part in activities, programs and projects that interest and engage you.
  • Members are asked to commit to 40 hours of service each year through projects, fundraisers and/or supporting other non-profit organizations.
  • Members are also asked to donate to The Rotary Foundation.
  • All partner clubs in a district are asked to share their upcoming projects/fundraisers to the passport club so members can pick which projects/events fit their schedules.
  • Like other clubs types, a passport club will need 20 persons to charter as a full club. However, it can also be started as a satellite with a sponsor club whilst it gathers its members up to the 20 required for charter.
  • Keeping in mind...a passport club is non-geographical. So although it is within a district, its members can come from anywhere within its borders.
  • A passport club is a group with full Rotary recognition and adheres to the same ethics and constitution as every other club.
  • There do not have to be any inherent meal or other "typical" administrative costs attached to membership in a passport club. Base member fees can be as little as US $100 (or less) per year so as to cover all Rotary International and District subscriptions.
One vision for passport clubs in our district is where it accommodates those persons who want to serve their communities, both at home and abroad, but cannot commit to the weekly meeting or who do not want to have a meal every week. By mitigating these factors, the benefits of having such persons contribute their time and resources towards service can not only be realized, but moreover, it is not left unfulfilled by either party.
Of key emphasis is that a passport club is not established to "poach" members from other clubs. Naturally, it will appeal to people from other clubs who are struggling with the weekly commitment, but it is primarily intended to be an attractive club for those who have work and family commitments.
The passport name comes from the freedom to roam to other clubs should you wish, to help them with their projects or fund-raising. A healthy passport club can thus also be a great resource for other clubs to use if they need an extra pair of hands for an event they are running.

The formation of a passport club can even develop "hubs". In other regions, this happened naturally where groups of passport club members were situated and with them carrying out projects in their own area and collaborating with other hubs and local Rotary clubs.

Passport club members can potentially gain a great insight into what Rotary does on a larger scale as there will be no limit for members to operate within the four walls of a "home" or traditional club and the pure nature of the passport club will expose members to other clubs in a area, in a district or even globally.

While this new club type might not be everyone’s cup of tea, we need to provide a Rotary platform for everyone and be able to accommodate the needs of current and new members so as to ensure sustained satisfaction and engagement – passport clubs are one example that could lead the way.

We all know that post COVID-19, we may lose a few members from our organisation and there are always people that, come the end of the Rotary year, decide that Rotary is not for them for whatever reason. Now, with passport clubs, we have an alternative for them – one that is less time consuming, less expensive, but with an opportunity to serve within their capabilities.

What if country and territory in District 7030 had a passport club which could offer Rotarians that flexibility in their desire to serve their communities? We would see many more persons both staying in and joining Rotary with this new model available to them. The passport club model is essentially to enable Rotary to fit into your life and NOT for a person to have to fit into the Rotary structure.