Club Innovation: Meeting flexibility attracts young professionals
Innovation: Flexible attendance requirements and lower costs – members bring snacks to meetings to reduce meal expenses – attract service-oriented people, many of whom say they might not otherwise have joined Rotary. The twice-monthly meetings are not mandatory, but participation in projects is.
Service with a smile: The Rotary Club of Invercargill NRG – the abbreviation stands for Next Rotary Generation – relishes its reputation as a projects-focused, hands-on team. A diverse group with members from all over the world – most of them women – the club has restored playgrounds, helped build a house that will be auctioned for charity, and distributed comic books to promote literacy. It has also adjusted some rules to make membership more feasible for younger people.
When Leon Hartnett, originally from Ireland, moved to Invercargill, New Zealand, he started looking into local service organizations. “I wanted to find something I could do to connect – and to help people.” When a colleague invited him to a Rotary meeting, Hartnett addressed practical concerns upfront. “I asked, ‘How does this work and how much does it cost?’” he recalls. “I had a young family and we had bought our first house. It sounded like a great organization, but I could not afford to be a member.”
Shortly afterward, in May 2015, District 9980 brought Holly Ransom, an Australian who as a 22-year-old had been one of Rotary’s youngest-ever club presidents, to speak at a local community center. Hartnett left that talk inspired – and convinced that Rotary was devoted to new approaches to finding members. He was not mistaken. With the support of the district, he and a small group started doing projects, and soon they had enough people to charter a club. To make the club attractive to younger members, they looked at the costs associated with membership. “We decided no meals. Too expensive. We’ll have nibbles,” he recalls. He estimates that each member saves about NZ$700 a year on restaurant meals.
With an emphasis on service projects, the club made attendance at meetings optional. “But you are required to be active in the club through service,” Hartnett says. “Some of our club’s most involved members rarely attend meetings, but they are always the first to share ideas, give feedback, and then do the actual work. We do still have a good turnout at meetings, with an average of about 70 percent of members attending.”
These changes have attracted younger people. “When our club chartered, we had the youngest average age in Australasia – 28,” says Hartnett. The members now range from 21 to their mid-50s (Hartnett is 43).
The club often works with other local clubs. “We did a glow-in-the-dark golf event with the Rotary Club of Invercargill South. Their average age is 20 years older than us,” Hartnett says. “They brought logistical skills that we didn’t have, but we had some ways of doing things they hadn’t thought about. They thought we needed to create a website for the tournament. We said, ‘No, we can use Google Docs for people to sign up. Let’s not spend money on a website.’”
Despite the club’s novel approach, Hartnett says, “as time goes by, we tend to evolve into a more traditional Rotary club. At first we said, ‘Let’s not have a board.’ Now we have a board.” Some things they simply needed to discover for themselves.
“We are Rotarians in every sense of the word. We’re just doing it our own way.”
• What is your club doing to reinvent itself? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.