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The talent around the table

How one club boosted membership and enthusiasm

When past District 5360 governors Mike French and Steve Rickard were looking for a strong leader for the Rotary Club of Calgary West, Alta., in challenging times, they turned to Tony Knight. Club membership had been gradually declining, and energy was flagging. In short order, he proved their judgment had been correct. In 18 months, starting when Knight became president in 2014, the club added 25 members and was re-energized. He was recently appointed district membership director.

Tony Knight

The Rotarian: Calgary West has seen a remarkable increase in membership, for which you are receiving praise. What did you do? 

Knight: Before my term began, I called every one of our members. Those conversations were fantastic. I had people in tears, people who were angry. I also called the district governor and specifically asked about the Rotary rules. I like breaking rules that hold people back. I started a group that totally ignored Rotary rules – what we call our Calgary West satellite group. Millennials, we have about 50 of them. A few have become club members. They like to volunteer for projects, but they don’t want to come to lunch every Friday. They’re trying to hold down jobs. They can’t disappear for two hours during the day. Rotary is steeped in tradition. Some of it is fantastic, but we need to be more adaptive to move forward with the times. 

TR: What were the biggest changes you made?

Knight: I changed the location of our meetings. I told my membership during the first month we were moving to a brand new hotel on indigenous land for one month. After two meetings, people wanted to stay at the new location. We also broke the club down into four teams. Once every second month, we’d have team meetings at four different tables. 

TR: We understand you’ve initiated a partnership project with the Bethany Care Society, a senior care facility, and other Rotary clubs in Calgary.

Knight: I reached out to the other Calgary clubs to raise funds for an atrium within a Bethany care facility for patients with dementia. Rotary is building a covered garden that will be the heart of the facility, an area where people with dementia can walk around in peace, where their families could visit them, where Rotarians and our satellite kids could volunteer. We’re hoping to build atriums in other care facilities in the district.  

TR: What advice do you have for other Rotary clubs to increase membership? 

Knight: Focus on what you can do to make your meetings more exciting. Make sure you have a good venue with a good meal at minimal cost, convenient location, easy parking. Invite really good speakers. Try different things. Try to make things fun. But you want to provide some really stimulating stuff. When you can laugh and cry at the same time, it’s really good!

–Paul Engleman

• Has your club adopted any new membership strategies as a result of last April’s Council on Legislation resolutions? Tell us your stories. Email,  with “COL membership strategies” in the subject line.