Posted on Jan 18, 2021
An analysis of any Districts data will most likely show a significant problem with membership churn. You may well ask - what is membership churn? I shall explain:
  • Rotary inducts a substantial number of new members each year
  • Rotary is suffering a similar but slightly greater number in terminations each year
So, members join, and members leave. The concern is this: how long do members stay in Rotary before they terminate? This turnover ratio represents the membership churn within a club.

To examine membership churn more closely I’ll put some actual numbers to it: In the last five years (July 2014 - June 2019) my district has had a net loss in membership of 192. This is broken down as follows:
  • 584 inductions
  • 776 terminations
We understand terminations occur for a variety of reasons including age, business obligations, deceased, family reasons, health reasons, relocation etc., and some are undoubtedly genuine.
Of the 776 terminations in the last five years the telling statistics are these:
  • 231 or 30% have terminated within two years of joining Rotary
  • 391 or 50% have terminated within five years of joining Rotary
Our problem with membership churn now becomes obvious, we are churning 30% every two years, and 50% every five years. What this shows is that we need to do much better in membership engagement and retention.

What’s the fix?
This is a complex problem, and much has been written and resources have been provided in an effort to equip clubs with the tools to address membership engagement and retention.

I want to put forward a simple proposition: The culture that clubs and districts create, live and model will significantly impact membership churn.

Firstly, I want to go back to reasons for membership termination: If a club member asked a person why they left Rotary, the usual response tends to be quite generic, polite and not too hurtful. Other than the undoubtedly genuine reasons (like moving interstate), typically it would be something like this:
  • I’m just too busy right now … 
  • I don’t think Rotary is right for me …
There has been research conducted which shows that when Rotarians are asked by independent experts skilled at getting to the deeper and more meaningful reasons, and without going into detail, a more realistic and sometimes unpleasant picture is revealed.

After reading and reflecting on such research material I came to the realisation that people left Rotary for one or a combination of three reasons:
  • People felt unwelcome at their club.
  • People felt they were not respected by club members.
  • People felt they had plenty to give but were ignored or dismissed - they were undervalued
If we achieve an environment where we all feel welcome, respected and valued, we are more likely to be engaged with our club and with Rotary in general. And when we are engaged, we stay and enjoy the fun, friendship and fulfilment gained through Rotary.

Resulting from this, D9830 last year introduced and adopted THE THREE TENETS – Welcome, Respected, Valued – as the base from which to build a contemporary District Culture.

Respecting members embraces the broader cultural concepts of inclusiveness and diversity, with religion, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, physical ability and more.
After all, Rotary is an egalitarian organization. We are all Rotarians, we are all equally important, we are all welcome, respected and valued, and as volunteers we can all contribute in a range of ways to the success of our clubs, and ultimately Rotary International.

It’s not rocket science. A club works better when not just a few but all members have a voice - that is all views are respected and all input is valued, and one of the most effective ways to facilitate this is through club visioning.

If all Rotarians feel they are welcome, respected and valued, and actively support one another, we will go a long way in reducing membership churn and retaining our existing members.
Article by PDG C. Ross Carlyle