Recently I attended Part 1 of the Rotary International leadership training at the Rotary Leadership Institute.  The class was scheduled early on a Saturday morning so I had to get up even earlier than I usually would for work to get there for the pre-class buffet breakfast.  I fought past the urge to sleep in and made my way down the turnpike wondering what was in store for me today.  What was I getting myself into now? 

Having been in the Rotary nearly 3 years I really didn’t know much about the history of the organization and its inter-workings.  My only real experience had been from attending our weekly club meetings and more recently become a member of the board of directors.   Early on I told myself just sit back and don’t take on any responsibility.  If asked I would help out, but not much was asked of me.  I didn’t do much, and didn’t make regular attendance.  I didn’t think that I was that important since I had no responsibilities and most people didn’t know me so  I figured who would miss me?  Little did I know but retaining new members was a huge problem nationwide within Rotary. 

An article in the Inquire stated new membership is dropping across the board.  New initiatives to expose Rotary to our youth are being established, but I wonder if a solution to increasing membership isn’t such a grand challenge.  If we focused more on the newbie Rotarians, getting them involved, keeping them involved in a conscious formalized effort, couldn’t we grow simply by retaining our own members? 

At the training we were told 80% of newbies leave before 2 years.  Often I see new members being proposed and we vote them in and more often than not they disappear.  They never get hooked by the Rotary bug, that’s what I call it since I got it at the institute’s leadership training.  It was a real rush to be with likeminded people who perhaps on their own couldn’t launch a service project, but became empowered when teamed together with others who would support them in their endeavors. 

It was uplifting to hear the stories of other Rotarians both newbies as well as veterans of the organization.  Everyone had a different story but each shared a passion for service.  Leaving there that afternoon I not only had a clearer idea of what Rotary was, but a clearer idea of what I wanted out of Rotary.  It dawned on me that I wasn’t just someone who ate lunch with a group of strangers once a week.   I was now a solid member of the club and had the support of not only the club but the entire Rotary community outside of our club.