For more than 40 years, my Rotary club in Middlesex has always met on a Wednesday evening for supper and a speaker.
With chains of office, a bell to bring everyone to order, the loyal toast, plus a Rotary toast to conclude, this has been pretty traditional Rotary.
And while modernists may decry the bling and tradition, they should remember that Rotary is no longer one size fits all.
It is now a customised model.
However, as club president this past Rotary year and in the wake of COVID-19, it was apparent that change was necessary.
Like many Rotary clubs in March, once we could no longer meet face-to-face, we quickly moved online to Zoom.
Busy morning of #Rotary district assemblies. Spoke at the Rotary #Ireland assembly on public image, and then dropped in on sessions on public image and Rotaract for my own 1090 District covering the Thames Valley. @RotaryIreland @RotaryGBI pic.twitter.com/T3afmlsp30
— Dave King (@Rotaryeditor) May 30, 2020
We had to maintain momentum, it was important we all stayed in touch.
But as Albert Einstein once said: “In the midst of every crisis, lies a great opportunity”, so it was vitally important to use these online meetings as a free showcase to Rotary for our local community.
An opportunity to grow membership.
This meant creating Rotary meetings which were not traditional. Meetings which were 75 minutes’ long, that were fun and engaged everyone. Yes, fun!
We now begin each meeting with a Kahoot quiz played on your mobile phone.
We introduced fun elements to the meetings, attracted a number of guests thanks to some entertaining speakers, and made sure we told everyone about our Rotary meetings on social media or through a weekly newsletter, which is also uploaded onto our club website.
Now, we’re by no means Rotary paragons of virtue. There’s still more we can do. We’ve got to keep reaching out to those members who don’t use technology. A weekly phone call and an emailed copy of the club newsletter is simply not enough.
As Albert Einstein once said: “In the midst of every crisis, lies a great opportunity”
But we are making strides. On President’s handover day, we inducted three new members. Now I’ll take that as a result.
However, as restrictions ease, so thoughts turn to life after lockdown.
What will happen once we are able to return to face-to-face meetings which we are anxious to resume? How can we properly fund-raise or get involved in socially-distanced community projects?
My club gets Zoom. Yet, when I proposed in April a post-lockdown change from weekly face-to-face meetings to fortnightly gatherings, with online meetings fitted in between, I held my breath.
The proposal required a two-thirds majority of club members to pass. With fewer than 20 members, had we had stayed normal, I feared for the club’s future.
Remarkably, the proposal passed, thanks to some brave and unselfish decisions made by long-serving Rotarians who still enjoy the weekly fellowship and the mouth-watering rotational menu of chilli, fish and chips, roast or lasagne!
Our three new members are dynamic go-getters who have plunged the club’s average age to a nose-bleeding 60!”
“I will be sorry to see the weekly face-to-face meetings go, but for the long-term future of the club I support the move,” wrote one member.
Amid a huge wave of uncertainty which is sweeping us all, I am feeling more certain about the future of my Rotary club. By halving the cost of hiring the local cricket club pavilion for our meetings, we’ve reduced membership fees.
By going online, we’ve also made ourselves more accessible.
Our three new members are dynamic go-getters who have plunged the club’s average age to a nose-bleeding 60!
We’re working on an exciting dementia project in the borough, continuing to financially support our overstretched foodbank, helping to launch of a new Rotaract club at Brunel University, as well as hosting a Rotary scholar from Nepal – who happens to be a Rotaractor.
Albert Einstein was a shrewd cookie!