So what is the ‘new normal’ for Rotary now that the five-month lockdown is easing?
Since March, clubs have been forced to abandon their weekly face-to-face meetings in favour of meeting online. Some, sadly, have not met at all, and one fears for their future.
This is what one Rotarian from the Midlands wrote: “We are holding our weekly meetings via Zoom and, while this has been quite effective for those who feel comfortable with technology, we have several members who are completely IT illiterate and reluctant to try out any technological solution.
“I am concerned these members are going to become more disconnected from our Rotary fellowship the longer we continue to meet virtually.”
Kevin McLeod from Alloa Rotary in Clackmannanshire, said they had addressed this problem by setting up a WhatsApp group and a weekly members’ newsletter to ensure everyone was kept up-to-date with information.
The club has been meeting on Zoom during lockdown, and they will continue to do so until it is safe to meet socially.
“I believe that some members will take longer to return to meetings as they’re considered high risk, but we hope to include them by Zoom as long as it is felt necessary,” he said.
“As membership director, I have approached several potential members who have stood out locally for supporting the community, and I think that social media has helped identify potential members who may have previously not been visible in the past.
Since March, clubs have been forced to abandon their weekly face-to-face meetings in favour of meeting online. Some, sadly, have not met at all, and one fears for their future.”
“I believe that Rotary life after COVID-19 will require significant adjustment, but this has provided the opportunity to adapt and use technology.
“This will ensure that Rotary has become a more modern and potentially inclusive organisation, in that we can demonstrate the traditional face-to-face meeting is not the only way to run a club.”
Can Rotary capture the thousands of people who volunteered during the pandemic or will the ‘new normal’ be – just normal?
Cath Chorley is a founder member of the newly-formed Forth Bridges Rotary in Rosyth, which formed a COVID-19 response team helping with shopping and collecting medication for the vulnerable.
She said: “I doubt we will capitalise on the volunteering which has come to the fore during the pandemic.
“Volunteers who offered to look after shielded people were clear in what they were being asked to do, which was essentially to collect shopping and befriend people.
“They didn’t have to pay a fee to do it. Nor did they have to attend meetings to discuss doing it and listen to a speaker who was totally irrelevant to what they were doing.
“I think that many clubs will revert to meal meetings with a speaker and hold fund-raisers to give money away to other people’s charities.
“I don’t mind that because, for many people, it is what Rotary is about.
“But we know that there are people out there who want to volunteer, so we should be encouraging new clubs to set up.”
So on the Rotary Membership Ideas’ forum on Facebook, I asked members for their thoughts on Rotary life after COVID-19 and what they believed the future held for their clubs.
Here are a few thoughts:
Greg Wilkinson: There is an opportunity to open up our Zoom meetings to a wider audience. However, many of us feel concerned at the potential loss of control by doing so. What would current members think? Are we missing a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow membership?
Gordon Downing-Stewart: It is important to get new members into our Rotary, but clubs should be looking at retaining their members at this challenging time.
Martin Brocklebank: Retention is as important as acquiring new members.
Les Goodchild: One of my concerns with the suggestion that there has never been a better opportunity for Rotary to tap into the army of volunteers currently supporting their communities, is that whilst we might recruit new members, retaining them could be an issue. If we bring these volunteers into our clubs and don’t provide the right experience, we could do more harm than good.
Chris Slocock: Whether we like it or not our Rotary clubs had to become more relevant. Growing Rotary will be about that relevance to the next generation. COVID-19 will be the catalyst to change. The meal at most Rotary meetings is the least important thing in the new Rotary. Communication is now everything and we have the world open to us.
Nick Gidney: For many years the younger members of our traditional clubs have been the driving force for change in their clubs. They have been slowly converting the membership to the concepts of modernisation. Dropping grace in favour of “a thought of the day”, relaxed dress code etc. The revolution to virtual meetings during lockdown has been a breath of fresh air to these forward thinkers and a clear example of how Rotary could be in the future.
Gary Gardner: My personal view is that all Rotary clubs should seriously consider becoming hybrid clubs, with individual clubs deciding on the balance of face-to-face and online meetings. If there is one positive we can take from COVID, it’s that it is possible for Rotary clubs to meet online.
Jill Pietrusinski: This has caused Rotarians to rapidly embrace innovative ways to stay connected. I envision the future being a hybrid of in-person and online options for clubs and definitely for districts as they co-ordinate training and assemblies. This opens up opportunities as well to reach a broader audience for membership where they need more flexibility.
Lesley Hutchings: The Rotary Club of Swindon has been having some very well attended zoom meetings. We seem to have more members having a verbal input then we do at the usual lunch meeting.
Neville Wright: Like everyone else we are concerned over member retention and new members. Not sure what my one big wish from Rotary is but for the not too distant future it should be ‘charity begins at home’. I say this because Rotary needs to be seen doing good in the local area if we are to gain their support for our international projects.
Selma Ferreira: I believe that the satellites and e-clubs will be more respected, as our actual tech is what the ‘normal’ clubs do not often have. We have to prepare ourselves to visit those clubs and do live speeches about our experiences and how to adapt.
Richard Spalding: Perhaps our most innovative and different idea is to create more honorary members who are key pillars of the community and then more proactively engage with them and other key members of Winchester – each of these has already been assigned a ‘buddy’.
Ian Millar: We are worried, but also determined to deal with life post Covid (whenever that is!) We have a very old membership which worries us more than the fund-raising. We intend to meet both online and at our usual location. After lockdown we still want to serve others who are in need. Volunteering to help with education may be one aspect worth exploring.
Terry Dean: As for Rotary after lockdown, we won’t be going back to where we were. Since then, Rotary has advanced technically beyond anything we would have imagined. Clubs not using Zoom, or similar, are now in the minority. I see that as a good thing. When I was a new Rotarian, we were constantly shown graphs depicting the inexorable downwards trends in membership over the following five or ten years. And how if we don’t do something about it we’ll be going to hell in a handcart!
David Skertchly: I would like to see Rotary harness the power of Internet fund raising such as ‘Just Giving’ and crowd-funding”. Let’s face it, standing in the rain and rattling a collecting tin has far less effect nowadays than a well-placed centenarian walking around his block of flats accompanied by a media frenzy.
Brenda Parsons: I just hope the new normal will include a little spare time! I have been working on Rotary full-time for 12 weeks. I am shattered!
Ric Canham: We have a golden opportunity to decide what we want the future to look like. The ‘new normal’ is whatever we choose it to be. So, start planning now and, as the situation eases, we can hit the ground running!
Glyn James: We’ve had better attendance of Zoom meetings than we did face-to-face. Meetings are shorter and very rarely go beyond an hour. Speakers on Zoom can be from anywhere in the world. Going forward, we will only meet three times a month.
Gordon Garment: Rotary should avoid any changes. Fellowship and peace must continue as our central theme. Let us avoid phrases like ‘the new normal’ – whatever that means!
Jerry Noble: I think the new normal for Rotary should be to meet in person only once or twice a month, have a quality meeting to enjoy a meal and fellowship. And to conduct our business via video links. This will achieve a huge reduction in costs as well as in time.
Paul Bayley: If we are going to attract younger and more active members, we do need to change our outlook. We should look at ways in which we can engage with these people and what means we need to do this; Zoom, later meetings, changes of venues etc.
George Chapman: I can’t predict how our club will move forward after Covid, but we are meeting twice monthly on Zoom. I am exploring the wider realms of global virtual Rotary and, where possible, passing on my experiences to the club.
Phil Lewis: We are in unprecedented times and, with Rotary’s record of service in local communities, it seems certain that there will be many opportunities to provide support, service and action in areas; old and new. However, many of our activities involve children, vulnerable adults and children, social events and, of course, Rotary meetings. In the foreseeable future, all these areas are the subject of requirements as set out by government and other advisory bodies. Rotary clubs will need to be very aware of all these new recommendations as we move forward.
Bill Palmer: Every time some major event comes along, it is followed closely by some soothsayer declaring it either the end of days or the new normal. Isn’t it time that we stopped acting surprised every time a civilisation re-orientating event occurs?
Change is a constant. Like it or not. It’s happening all the time, but like trying to spot a tree growing, if you watch it, you won’t see it.
If you let your attention wander for a few months you will see a difference. So, if change is an immutable constant how do we ride the tiger? There is a straightforward solution, and again it is underscored by an old adage.
If you do not write your own story you are part of someone else’s. In other words, if you do not choose to transform, change will happen to you whether you like it or not.
Jim Rawson: The ‘new normal’ for Wigan Rotary is to try hard to continue growing the membership (now 59) and maintain the levels of fellowship, fund-raising, support given to needy folks across local, district and international communities, and supporting The Rotary Foundation. Be safe, and may the Rotary year 2020-21 be a good one for all members and clubs in Rotary Great Britain & Ireland.