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A bold Action Plan sets Rotary’s course for the future

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down and impacted us all in different ways, but we are still united, still connected, and guided by an Action Plan that focuses our work and prepares us for a stronger future. Rotary has quickly adapted to the times, with members finding new ways to respond to this pandemic through connections, action, and service.

— Rotary International General Secretary John Hewko

In 2019-20, Rotary marked its 115th year — a testament to the staying power of our unique model of service and leadership. To guide our future and build upon our legacy, we launched Rotary’s Action Plan, a strategy to fulfill our shared vision for the organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our lives and communities, but, together, we’re adapting and finding solutions to stay connected and help those affected by the coronavirus. It’s a perfect example of how we’re implementing the four priorities of our Action Plan: increase our impact, expand our reach, enhance participant engagement, and increase our ability to adapt.

And while clubs continue to connect with their members and communities, Rotary International staff remain committed to supporting Rotarians, Rotaractors, clubs, and districts. From providing resources so clubs can still operate to making personal connections to help club and district officers, engaging with our members continues to be our primary priority.

Approximately 1.2 million Rotarians in 36,000 Rotary clubs, serving together with over 200,000 Rotaractors in more than 10,000 Rotaract clubs.

Increase Our Impact

Through the progress we’ve made in the fight to end polio and the expansion of our grant programs and fundraising efforts, Rotary continues to make a difference in the world. To increase our impact, however, we must establish systems to identify and measure our results, learn from our successes and failures, and build on our partnerships.

Assigning value to Rotary’s global impact

What is the true value of Rotary’s work? Our efforts have been historically hard to quantify, but two leading institutions helped us begin to get answers:

  • The Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies estimated that Rotary members volunteered nearly 47 million hours in a typical year. If communities had to pay for the services Rotary provides, that figure would translate into $850 million.
  • Harvard University estimated that Rotary clubs contributed $1.15 billion in cash to charitable activities in their local communities in 2018. This is in addition to contributions made to The Rotary Foundation.

By using innovative measurement tools, Rotary can better understand and measure our inputs, outputs, and outcomes, and begin to quantify and maximize the wide-reaching impact of our efforts.

The Rotary Foundation as a tool for change

The number of Rotarians and clubs contributing to the Foundation increased this year, providing more support for our causes, including the areas of focus, polio eradication, and disaster response. We redesigned the Rotary Direct landing page to make it easier for donors to enroll in recurring giving. As of April, we’ve raised $336 million. If contributions during the last few months of the Rotary year are as strong as in past years, we’ll meet our $400 million fundraising goal.

This year, we renewed our long-standing fundraising partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which generates $150 million annually for polio eradication. Rotary aims to raise $50 million a year for PolioPlus over the next three years, with each dollar to be matched with an additional two dollars by the Gates Foundation.

Doing good through Rotary grants

Rotarians supported the Disaster Response Fund by donating more than $2 million towards COVID-19-related projects. (Data as of 1 June 2020)

Responsive and innovative grant programs have inspired greater rates of participation, leading to more opportunities for members to help communities.

Global grants spending is at an all-time high, with 1,344 grants approved this Rotary year, totaling over $104 million (as of 1 June). Since we launched the global grants program in 2013, the number of approved global grants has risen more than 55%, while the average global grant award amount has increased by 42% percent.

In response to COVID-19, The Rotary Foundation released $3 million to the Disaster Response Fund. And, with additional contributions from our donors, as of 1 June, 207 districts have received more than $5.1 million in grant funding to provide critical aid to communities impacted by the virus.

We also introduced programs of scale grants — one grant of up to $2 million is awarded each year. Each grant will support a large-scale project, lasting three to five years, that benefits a large population in a significant geographic area. Programs of scale grants align with at least one of Rotary’s areas of focus and require sustainable, evidence-based action and measurable outcomes for impact.

  • $58.80 mil

    in disease prevention and treatment grants

  • $11.70 mil

    in community economic development grants

  • $15.40 mil

    in water, sanitation, and hygiene grants

  • $8.90 mil

    in maternal and child health grants

  • $7.00 mil

    in basic education and literacy grants

(Data as of 1 June 2020)

  • $2.60 mil

    in peacebuilding and conflict prevention grants

Investing in peace education

More than 1,350 peace leaders have graduated from a Rotary Peace Center since 2002, earning master’s degrees or professional certificates in peace and development studies.

Recognizing a need for professional peacebuilders who are trained and knowledgeable about the underlying causes of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, Rotary announced its first Rotary Peace Center in Africa, established at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Courses will begin in 2021 and rely on regional expertise and the experiences of people affected by conflict.

  • 1350.00

    Rotary Peace Center graduates since 2002

  • 660.00

    qualified applications received in 2019-20

The power in our partnerships

Working toward peace is an underlying tenet of each service project Rotarians undertake, and this year, with our partner the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), we launched the Rotary Positive Peace Activator Program. We are training peacebuilders and developing a network of 150 Positive Peace Activators in six regions to support Rotarians in building lasting peace in their communities.

Rotary volunteers and USAID technicians share lessons learned over mobile apps such as WhatsApp and apply these learnings going forward.

Our decade-long water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) partnership with USAID is another example of our impact. Rotary club volunteers combine business and project management skills with USAID’s technical expertise to improve water and sanitation in Ghana and Uganda. The direct beneficiaries of this partnership include the 160,000 people in Ghana who now have clean water and access to sanitation and hygiene. An additional benefit of our long-term involvement is that we can actively analyze more than 10 years of project data to learn what worked and what didn’t, so future projects will have an even greater impact.

Although every partnership is important to Rotary, one of our most effective collaborations continues to be the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Polio once paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children every year, but thanks to the tireless efforts of Rotary and our GPEI partners, world governments, and thousands of health care workers, just two countries continue to report wild poliovirus transmission.

Nigeria reached three years without a case of wild polio, which means the entire African region soon could be certified wild poliovirus-free. We are implementing new strategies to address the remaining challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which saw increases in cases of wild polio in 2019 caused by poor immunization campaign quality, insecurity, mobile populations, and, in some cases, vaccine refusals.

Together with our partners, we are learning from our successes and challenges so we can be strategic about finding new ways to move forward.

Real-time impact of our polio network

A global emergency requires that we adapt. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the polio infrastructure Rotarians helped build is being used to address and help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The GPEI, with its thousands of polio workers and an extensive laboratory and surveillance network, now supplies the critical resources needed to support countries in their COVID-19 preparedness and response.

Expand Our Reach

Rotary brings together individuals who use their talents, skills, backgrounds, and connections to solve problems and effect change. And we can achieve even more when people know us and unite with us.

Representing the communities we serve

The Rotary Club of Selma, Alabama, USA, worked with a local high school on a scholarship program. Scholarship recipient Jerria Martin joined the club after college. At age 29, Martin was elected club president and led new projects for at-risk youth, inspiring future generations to follow in her footsteps.

When diversity is reflected in Rotary clubs, it can open doors and build bridges. We all have the responsibility to cultivate a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture for all Rotary members and participants.

Change starts at the top, so last year, Rotary’s Board of Directors set a goal to increase the number of women in Rotary to 30 percent by June 2023. To support this goal and remove barriers to leadership, Rotary hosted the webinar We Are Rotary: Advancing Women as Leaders.

We also developed tools to help clubs and districts diversify, such as the Diversifying Your Club assessment and Rotary’s Learning Center courses like Building a Diverse Club and Committing to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We are featuring Rotary’s diverse voices and experiences across our various channels to educate and inspire others.

Sharing our stories

We have a compelling story to tell the world. As people of action, we live our vision and increase public awareness and understanding.

To help clubs communicate about Rotary in a clear, consistent way, we added new People of Action promotional materials and Rotary-branded virtual meeting backgrounds to the Brand Center. As of 1 June 2020, there have been 1.4 million total visits to the Brand Center, and 1 million total asset downloads. During 2019-20, members downloaded over 30,000 templates to create their own People of Action ads, social media graphics, digital banners, and brochures to show the impact Rotary members are making in their communities.

Our robust news coverage and social media engagement showcased Rotarians in action throughout the world, generating interest in Rotary and support for our causes.

  • Our media efforts secured more than 750 news stories featuring Rotary, including our leading role in ending polio, the new Rotary Peace Center at Makerere University in Uganda, and how Rotary’s people of action are addressing challenges in their communities at home and abroad.
  • The 2019 Rotary International Convention in Hamburg, Germany, generated 691 media stories, with 51 of those appearing in top-tier national outlets.
  • Rotary’s social media channels continue to invite engagement with our organization, providing updates in eight languages for more than 2.5 million fans and followers and generating 210,000 engagements per month.

Rotary members and heroes in the fight to eradicate polio, from left, Tayyaba Gul, Dr. Hemendra Verma, and Sergii Zavadskyi.

World Polio Day, Rotary’s annual event to raise global awareness for polio eradication, inspired record participation in 2019:

  • More than 4,000 clubs and 479 districts held over 5,900 events in 136 countries.
  • This year’s World Polio Day Online Global Update recognized the heroes of polio eradication, highlighting the efforts of Rotarians in countries where polio is endemic or has had a recent impact. The program was broadcast across Rotary’s social media channels, receiving more than 177,000 views in nine languages. Total World Polio Day social media content reached 13.49 million people.
  • Rotary raised more than $415,000 in online contributions to PolioPlus, exceeding our fundraising goal of $250,000.
  • We generated 4.8 million social media engagements, four times more than our goal of 1.1 million.
  • Approximately 1,160 news stories mentioned Rotary and World Polio Day thanks to the efforts of Rotary and its members.

Through these efforts, more people are learning about Rotary and our global people of action.

Most recently, Rotary has leveraged all of its channels to communicate regularly to members, participants, and the public about how Rotary is responding to the pandemic. An increase in views, clicks, and responses shows our information is being well-received.

Enhance Participant Engagement

Many volunteer organizations offer membership, so it’s important for Rotary to provide a distinctive, one-of-a-kind experience. We at the Secretariat continue to find ways to meet our members’ needs and enhance the overall membership experience.

Keeping members engaged

COVID-19 changed the way Rotary clubs meet and operate. While many clubs moved their meetings online and found other ways to stay engaged, some may not have made the transition. This could lead to members feeling disconnected from Rotary during the global health pandemic.

Rotary staff, senior leaders, regional leaders, and district leaders are working together to reach out to clubs to offer support and share resources that help them re-engage with their members.

Member benefits

Rotary formed a new alliance with Toastmasters International, a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to helping its members become more effective speakers, communicators, and leaders. This alliance provides new professional development opportunities and new connections to Rotarians and Rotaractors through collaboration with local Toastmasters clubs. Toastmasters is also developing a series of communication and leadership courses for Rotarians and Rotaractors.

Rotary members receive discounts on a variety of products and services through Rotary Global Rewards. For example, the program now offers a 20 percent discount on Zoom videoconferencing services, which members are taking advantage of to host virtual meetings and connect with one another.

Membership leads are waiting for us

Potential member inquiries through the online Membership Leads program are at an all-time high, but the conversion rate is very low — only 3 percent of theses leads become members. If we want to continue to grow Rotary membership, we must follow up on every lead and every opportunity to welcome more people into Rotary.

The Secretariat is working with district leaders to improve the conversion rate and better engage with potential members and participants.

A new era for Rotaract

The 2019 Council on Legislation elevated Rotaract as a type of Rotary membership. The Board also approved removing the upper age limit, allowing clubs the flexibility to retain members over the age of 30. A Rotaract club can now also establish itself with or without a sponsor, sponsor another Rotaract club, and co-sponsor an Interact club.

These changes create greater flexibility for Rotaract clubs to design an experience that meets their needs and interests. Rotaractors can stay in the Rotary family longer, providing greater opportunity to join a Rotary club when they’re ready.

  • 200030.00

    Rotaract members

(Data as of 1 June 2020)

  • 10544.00

    Rotaract clubs

Increase Our Ability to Adapt

As a network of business and community leaders, Rotary members understand the importance of innovation and flexibility to move forward in changing times. Recently, we’ve shown our capacity to adapt and serve as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of many in-person Rotary and Rotaract club meetings and events, including the 2020 International Convention. Our members, however, found new ways to stay engaged, connect with one another, and serve their communities, even while remaining physically apart.

Connecting virtually

Many club meetings now take place online, and some clubs are even inviting local and international speakers, such as health experts and financial consultants, to join remotely. Some of these guests include members of Rotary Action Groups, who are sharing their expertise with fellow Rotarians and Rotaractors. Clubs and districts are learning about the best practices for carrying out their service projects while adjusting to physical distancing policies.

Rotary Fellowships play a pivotal role in uniting the Rotary family through shared hobbies, interests, and professions. Fellowships are also connecting online to offer a reprieve during trying times — presenting digital concerts, exchanging at-home exercise and training tips, and learning new skills like photography.

Because of the growing interest in online meetings, the Rotary Learning Center created a new topic, Meeting Online, where members can share their own resources and best practices with one another. The Learning Center also offers more than 600 courses in 20 languages.

Rotary staff adapt and serve – from home

Practically overnight, Rotary staff all over the world transitioned from working in an office environment to working in their homes, and they did so seamlessly. This was no small feat, but our staff, like our members, are prepared to adapt and overcome challenges. Rotary staff is dedicated to serving and supporting our members.

A new kind of convention

In March, we sadly announced the cancelation of the 2020 International Convention due to COVID-19. Quickly though, we shifted our focus to hosting a virtual convention instead. In less than three months, Rotary staff produced a free, online convention — the first of its kind for Rotary.

Now More than Ever, Rotary Connects the World: The 2020 Rotary Virtual Convention takes places 20-26 June 2020 and features breakout sessions, keynote speakers, and even a virtual House of Friendship.

Piloting new experiences

Many community members who share our ideals — including younger professionals — are looking for opportunities to collaborate and serve, but not all are ready or able to join a club. How can we expand our reach and introduce new participants to Rotary? By developing ways people can engage with Rotary outside of the traditional club model.

Rotary is piloting a new online community in Chicago, Illinois, and in Houston, Texas, USA, called Connect, where participants can meet to discuss professional development and service-related topics. There will be virtual and in-person networking events, when conditions permit, and participants will have the chance to be matched with a mentor or mentee. Through Connect, participants can access and share career and community service resources and find ways to get involved in local volunteer opportunities, including Rotary and Rotaract club activities.

Connect is an innovative way to present Rotary’s values and vision to new participants, and one of our very first efforts to introduce new paths into our organization. Although testing begins in Chicago and Houston, we’re looking at how we can expand to other areas.

To take advantage of the new ways that people are contributing, Rotary is also piloting a new online tool that allows members, participants, and donors to raise funds for The Rotary Foundation in celebration of their life events and activities, like birthdays, weddings, and sporting pursuits. These online social network fundraisers are another way to promote Rotary causes more widely. We hope to begin offering this feature to a limited audience during the 2020-21 Rotary year.

New programs like these demonstrate how Rotary continues to connect communities and adapt to current events. A challenging year may lie ahead, but no one is more equipped to find solutions that make a difference than Rotary’s people of action.

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down and impacted us all in different ways, but we are still united, still connected, and guided by an Action Plan that focuses our work and prepares us for a stronger future.