How has an organization founded by a man under 40 lost its relevancy among young people in the country in which it began? I adore participating in Rotary, but as I ventured outside of my district, I noticed that in America and around the world, very few millennials are involved in Rotary. People aged 18-35 just don’t come. In session after session, training after training, I heard that Rotary is shrinking in the US. Members are dying off and are not being replaced by younger blood, and something needs to change…stat.
In these sessions, I sat back quietly as people rattled off potential solutions to this giant problem: lower dues and attendance requirements, flexible meetings, more socials, membership drives, etc. But one thing irked me. More often than not, no one thought to ask the millennial in the room.
I’m 27, a millennial, an entrepreneur, and I became a member of Rotary when I was 23 years old. In the early stages of working from home, I struggled to build relationships with like-minded people because my job kept me fairly isolated. After seeing other service clubs, I settled on Rotary because it felt like home. I now serve as my club’s President Elect, Secretary, and Public Image Chair. Rotary changed my life, so I want to see Rotary not just survive, but thrive.
My home club, the Rotary Club of Lynchburg-Morning, Virginia, has been affectionately referred to as the club on steroids. This summer, President Aaron Van Allen (another millennial) and I laid down an ambitious strategic plan for our club. We wanted people to get excited about Rotary again, and our club has been on fire: packed out service projects, phenomenal attendance, increased giving to The Rotary Foundation, and five new members, in only a few months. Life in Lynchburg-Morning is good!
But Lynchburg-Morning wasn’t always a picture of vibrancy. In 2014, we had around 45 members. Now we have 65 members; 48% of our membership is 49 or younger. We’ve also grown from just 3 women in 1987 to 15.
What’s our secret?
Millennials are attracted by the same things that attract retirees, Boomers, and Gen Xers with children. Everyone wants to feel a sense of purpose, know they belong, and make a difference.
Some suggest lowering dues to attract more millennials, but you’ll struggle to retain them if low cost is the primary focus. And by offering lower dues only to millennials, you alienate retired members on fixed incomes and middle-aged members with children. Members of any age may encounter financial hardships that make it difficult to pay dues. I choose to be in Rotary because it is valuable to me. It’s not about lowering the cost; it’s about increasing the value.
Our clubs should reflect the communities in which we serve. In a multicultural community, your club should be multicultural. In a community with a diverse age range, your club should include members in all stages of life. Younger members may add vibrancy. The 20-year members may add wisdom, insight, and financial backing that millennials simply can’t deliver yet.
Creating a family atmosphere will celebrate the differences within your club. Serve alongside each other, then grab a meal. Talk to each other outside of meetings, and learn more than names and occupations. When Rotary began, Paul Harris simply wanted friends and fellowship. Service was a byproduct of the focus on relationships. Millennials crave connectedness, so build meaningful service and meaningful relationships together.
Celebrate wins in your club: children who graduate with honors, job promotions, wedding anniversaries, you name it! Invite other Rotarians to your group for a meal. Build a community of people with a strong belief in putting the needs of others above yourself. People will see that from the outside and beg to be included. You won’t have to twist their arms. When a millennial or anyone else feels like part of a family, you’ve got a Rotarian for life.
LaShonda Delivuk is the owner and brand strategist behind About 90 Marketing, a strategic marketing agency that provides 90-day marketing strategies and web design to small businesses and nonprofits. She serves as the President Elect of the Rotary Club of Lynchburg-Morning in Lynchburg, Virginia. www.about90marketing.com
This article is reprinted from Issue #10 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
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