I was on a flight going south a few years ago. The person in the seat beside me turned out to be the neighbour of a Rotarian I knew quite well from another community.
We had a great chat and, as I usually do, I turned the conversation to Rotary. She was fascinated by the concept of Rotary and the opportunities for meeting like-minded people and making a difference.
“How do I become a Rotarian?” she asked.
I gave her the lowdown we left it at that.
The thing that struck me was that my seatmate on the flight was living next to a very good and active Rotarian. They didn’t just know each other as neighbours over the fence. They had been to each other’s homes for barbeques. Why did she have to sit next to some random guy on an airplane to find out about Rotary?
How often does that happen in our lives?
Why did my Rotary friend never invite her to a meeting?
I have a few theories. Perhaps he thought she wouldn’t have time. Perhaps he thought she wouldn’t be interested. Perhaps he felt that she wouldn’t enjoy his Rotary club. Perhaps he felt that his club would not welcome her.
Those are theories. Maybe he just never thought of it.
We all have those instances. Those are the roadblocks to growing our Rotary clubs. If we assume that someone would not be interested, or would not have time, or might not fit in with our club, we are starving our clubs of their lifeblood.
If we truly wish to be inclusive, we must let people know that Rotary exists, and we must let people know that we would welcome them to membership. Talking about inclusivity without actually inviting people to Rotary is just empty rhetoric.
We all admire Rotarians who get things done. We applaud the Rotarians who organize the fundraisers, the work parties, the international projects. We often recognize them with awards. Wouldn’t it make more sense to acknowledge their efforts by ensuring that our clubs have enough members to make their efforts more effective?
Think back to that woman that I met on the plane. I am confident that she would make an enthusiastic Rotarian. As far as I know, she was never invited to join a Rotary club. Did she lose out? I think so. She didn’t get the opportunity to pursue a passion for doing good. Did Rotary lose out? I think so. Rotary missed out on her talents. Rotary missed out on her enthusiasm. Rotary missed out on her circle of influence. Rotary missed the change to use her connections.
When we don’t invite someone to Rotary, we don’t just miss what that person could do as a Rotarian, we miss out on the people that could be influenced by her enthusiasm for Rotary.
It is the same when someone leaves Rotary. We don’t just lose that Rotarian. We lose the people they could influence.
Who can bring people into Rotary? Who can influence Rotarians to enjoy their time in Rotary?
It’s us. Or we can wait until they meet some random guy on an airplane.