John Germ, chair of Rotary's US$200 Million Challenge, announces that Rotarians have met the challenge and need to continue to advocate and fundraise for polio eradication during the 2012 RI Convention in Bangkok, Thailand. Rotary Images/Alyce Henson
At the end of this month, Rotary’s Challenge for polio eradication comes to a close. Through the hard work of Rotarians around the world, we’ve raised over US$200 million, more than six months ahead of schedule, in response to $355 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Now that we’ve reached this milestone, we need to build on our success by promoting the final push to end polio and continuing to raise funds until the world is certified polio-free.
Rotary Foundation Trustee John F. Germ, chair of the Rotary’s US$200 Million Challenge Committee, sat down with The Rotarian to discuss how club members got the general public involved in fundraising – and what’s next. “We could not have done this without the tremendous support of individual Rotarians around the world,” he says.
THE ROTARIAN: Rotary met the $200 million challenge six months ahead of schedule during the worst global economy in 60 years. Why such success?
GERM: It’s dedication, it’s commitment, and it’s a challenge. Rotary has been dedicated to this cause for a long time – we started on the fight against polio back in 1979, when James Bomar, who was president of Rotary International, went to the Philippines under a 3-H [Health, Hunger and Humanity] grant project to give the first drops of polio vaccine to children in that country. I think Rotarians saw this challenge as a way to further the commitment. If you look at the challenge in dollars, it’s a pretty good investment in itself – you couldn’t take $200 million and invest it and get $355 million anywhere. So Rotarians took to that part of it too.
TR: This is Rotary’s third major fundraising campaign for polio eradication. What was different this time?
GERM: In the previous two campaigns, in 1985 and 2003, we surpassed our goals, but donations to the Foundation’s Annual Fund decreased. This time, the Annual Fund increased each of the three years of the challenge. We were able to raise this additional money for polio at the same time because we said, “Get the community involved.” It gave us a chance to enhance Rotary’s public image by having Rotarians working with local leaders, holding pancake sales, swimathons, bike rides – you name it, it’s been tried. And that helped raise the money in the community rather than depending only on Rotarians. People were willing to expose Rotary to the public, whereas in the past, Rotary had kept its light under a bushel, so to speak. Now Rotary is willing to put its light out there.
The other thing is that if you look at the Rotarians of today versus the Rotarians of 1985, there had to be an education process about polio. Many regions are now polio-free. What’s going to make younger Rotarians make a commitment to go out and raise funds for this disease? We had to teach why it’s important, and how polio migrates and can pop up anywhere if you don’t eradicate it everywhere.
Getting Itzhak Perlman – a world-renowned violinist and a polio survivor – to help raise money and appear in a “This Close” ad helped get other celebrities, from all different countries, to participate in our ad campaign. It was important that they came from different countries. It showed that polio eradication isn’t just a Rotary program, but a worldwide program – and that polio is important enough that these individuals, who are highly recognized within their communities, were willing to take their time to do those ads.
TR: How did Rotary use the Internet to reach new donors?
GERM: If you want to reach young people, you’ve got to use the media form they’re accustomed to – so, Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook. We had a microsite for the “This Close” campaign where people could upload their photos and make their own “This Close” ad to post on social media. We also took advantage of online giving. Several times, we gave double recognition points for online contributions. We found out that Rotarians are no different from anybody else – they like a bargain. When we did it in 2010, about 3,800 people registered for Member Access. The next year, we did it in 12 currencies. There were 8,077 transactions during those five days. Brazil alone came through with over $730,000 – it was phenomenal. We raised a total of $2.6 million that time.
TR: What role did large donors play in reaching the milestone?
GERM: We had several large donors. Google gave us $3.5 million. Honorary Rotarian Rajashree Birla, from India, has given $5 million. Others, including Harshad and Naina Mehta, Usha Mittal, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association of America, and the Charina Endowment Fund, a foundation connected with the Goldman Sachs group, have given substantial amounts.
The majority of the money, though, was raised through a lot of people giving small amounts. Yeah, we wanted the big dollars, but we also wanted participation. And I think that’s the key – we had great participation.
TR: What sort of organizational structure was in place to facilitate the fundraising? Will it remain after the challenge ends on 30 June?
GERM: We had a US$200 million challenge committee and challenge zone coordinators who reached out to the districts. We sent them reports on which districts had contributed and how much, and had conference calls to talk about what was happening. We really left it up to the coordinators to come up with those unique fundraising ideas for their countries. We then shared the ideas throughout the Rotary family. Unfortunately, about 20 percent of the clubs have not made any contribution in three years – about 8,000 clubs. If the certification of the eradication of polio is Rotary’s highest priority, then everybody ought to be involved.
Starting in 2012-13, we won’t have challenge zone coordinators, we’ll have End Polio Now coordinators. Although India was recently taken off the endemic countries list, we still have to concentrate on getting the other three endemic countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria – polio-free. It takes about $1 billion a year worldwide to provide the vaccine and the support to keep giving this vaccine.
TR: What’s next?
GERM: We’re looking at the $200 million as a milestone, not the goal. The goal is the certification of the eradication of polio. A country has to go three years without any cases of polio before it is certified polio-free. So while India is considered no longer endemic after one year without any polio cases, it will be another two years until the eradication of polio there is certified. And then we have to stop polio transmission in the other three countries and achieve certification there as well.
We have to keep stressing that we need to stay involved. We made the commitment many years ago. We’ve had dedicated Rotarians working on it. We need to stay there. And we’re going to stay until we get this thing whipped.