Most of us have been through the process of selling a home at least once. I guess there are cases where a quick sale is important, but I would imagine for most vendors, getting the highest dollar return is the number one priority. So it’s in the vendor’s interest to make sure that potential buyers see the home in the best possible light. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of mowing the lawn, pulling a few weeds and cleaning the windows, but sometimes more effort is required to maximise returns, such as that kitchen and bathroom renovation, new flooring and a lick of paint.
Surely everyone knows that if you are going to add value to the house, the time to do it is before putting it on the market and holding open inspections; before the photographer arrives, before the home is listed online. A good real estate agent will be able to give sound advice on what improvements are likely to maximise the sale price, not just because that is their profession, but because they can be objective.
Objectivity is sadly a bit rare in Rotary. We Rotarians look at Rotary through a different lens to that of the general public, and that can blind us to some of our recruitment barriers. What many Rotarians don’t fully appreciate is that when a visitor attends a club meeting, they too are conducting an open inspection. Many of us have become quite attached to things like fines, songs, presidential bling, flags and raffles, in the same way we became attached to linoleum floors, orange cupboards, popcorn ceilings and pink bathrooms, and we simply cannot fathom why outsiders wouldn’t find these things attractive.
Quite simply, if they like what they see, they are likely to make further enquiries, and may in the end commit; whether inspecting a home or visiting a Rotary club, it’s the same concept. So if said guest ends up joining Rotary, we rightly pat ourselves on the back for our recruitment efforts. But what happens if we never see them again? For sure, Rotary isn’t for everyone, but there must be at least some interest, or they wouldn’t have agreed to come along in the first place. Can we be sufficiently objective in our mindset so as to look at our clubs and the way we operate, and question if our recruitment problems may well be related to the product? When the prospective buyers are circling, are we putting our best foot forward? Or are we shooting ourselves in said foot?
I regularly use the example of Kodak 35mm film in my membership presentations. I point out that 20 years ago, everyone had one, and you could purchase one anywhere: supermarkets, pharmacies, service stations, etc. Try finding one now. They are still available - some photographic enthusiasts still prefer 35mm film, but I would imagine they can only be sourced online or from photographic specialists. So, why did they disappear from our lives and our supermarket shelves? What was wrong with them? Well, there was nothing wrong with the product, we simply found a better way and moved on. There’s a good reason supermarkets no longer sell this product; the market evaporated.
In a similar way, many Rotary clubs are trying to sell the same version of Rotary that we were 20 years ago, and when asked why, the response is, “Well, it worked fine back then”. The problem is, it isn’t working so well now. So why are we still trying to sell it?
We often seem to put the cart before the horse when it comes to recruitment. Once we recognise that membership is a concern, our knee-jerk reaction is often to ramp up promotion of the product, when what we really should be doing is making sure the product is right. How many adverts do you see these days for 35mm film, or street directories, or encyclopaedia sets or fax machines? All are products that have outlived their life cycle.I simply can’t beat around the bush on this one, so I’ll be blunt.
Every dollar you spend, and every minute you contribute to promotional and recruitment initiatives is completely wasted if the product you are selling has passed its use by date. I’ll take it a step further than that. It’s not only wasted, but counterproductive. If, through your efforts, you bring people into a Rotary environment that is a complete turn off, it’s not only likely that you’ll never see them again, it’s likely they’ll tell all of their friends about the experience, which can tar all Rotary clubs with the same brush.
Capisce? Good. So, here are five questions to ask before you embark on that recruitment campaign:
1. Why would someone want to join?
What's in it for them? How will membership of your Rotary club enhance their life?
2. What are your club's service priorities?
If you cannot easily answer that question, you're in strife. Each club should have at least a few causes that really resonate with the members. International service projects are important, but we often fail to see challenges right under our noses. What are you doing to help people within a 5km radius? You'll have a better chance of gaining traction with potential members if you can easily answer that question.
3. What happens with new ideas?
Do you have an environment that actively encourages blue sky thinking and appreciates bright, new ideas? Or do a select few make all of the decisions, most of which are in keeping with the way you've always done things. There's no point in bringing in new people if new ideas are stifled.
4. Other than club meetings, what is on your club calendar?
We have this tendency to promote meetings as the epitome of Rotary life. But "the product", as I refer to it, is about so much more than meetings. It’s about helping people, volunteering, youth development, partnerships, local and international projects, personal growth & training, fundraising, socialising, global connections, networking and so much more. We seem to place a high priority on getting guests to meetings, as if it's the recruitment version of getting to first base. But if your entire list of activities across the Rotary year offers little other than meetings and the occasional sausage sizzle, your balance is out of whack.
5. How's your kerb appeal?
Whilst meetings need not necessarily be the first experience of Rotary for a visitor, it is often the case that they are, so a positive first impression is vital. Does that view of your home from the street cause passers by to stop and stare, or just walk on by? That first glimpse of your club better be adding value to the Rotary product and not detracting from the great work we do. Beauty is often only skin deep, but ugly Rotary usually goes all the way to the bone.
The biggest challenge with all of these questions is getting an unbiased answer. It may be worthwhile speaking to your assistant governor or getting the assistance of a someone from your district membership committee. Invite one of your kids or grandkids to a meeting, and get them to give you an honest impression.
Remember - you wouldn't invite friends over for a dinner party, and hand them the dustpan and broom as they walk through the door. You'd do all that cleaning up first. It's the same concept when we make up our minds to launch a recruiting campaign. Pull the weeds, clean the windows, and throw on that coat of paint. Get your product ready for sale, then - and ONLY then, promote the gizzards out of it!