Anyone who’s taken part in Rotary knows that our organization is so much more than a collection of clubs. It’s a force that puts us in touch with millions of others who share our belief in making the world a better place. It connects us with new ways to make a difference, and new networks of people with whom to make that difference.

Energy like that can spread exponentially, if we nurture it.

Last fall, I visited a Rotary club in California: a successful club, but one that didn’t have the membership numbers it needed to complete its project on its own. The club partnered with a new Rotary Community Corps to bring in more volunteers—which meant more meaningful action, and more new participants eager to work together.

That’s the true beauty of being a Rotarian: coming together to build friendships that span decades, cultures, and continents—all while changing lives around us for the better.

The value of these connections hasn’t changed in the slightest—but the number of them has. Rotary’s membership numbers have been stagnant for years and have even declined in some places. Membership is down by as much as 18 percent in North America, and Latin America has seen a decrease of more than 10,000 members between 2013 and 2020. The year 2018 set a new record for the most members leaving Rotary.

This is why we’ve made enhancing participant engagement the third strategic priority of Rotary’s Action Plan, so that more Rotarians feel a reason to stay with us for the long haul.

We know our members are seeking experiences that feel personally and professionally relevant and fulfilling. They’re looking for meaningful ways to evolve and grow with us. As an organization, it’s Rotary’s responsibility to deliver those experiences.

To make sure we’re doing so, we need to ask ourselves:

  • What would improve the Rotary experience?
  • What skills could people learn through Rotary?
  • How can we better develop our leaders?

And to answer those questions, we need to take a close look at the opportunities we offer. If those opportunities don’t provide the fellowship, integrity, diversity, service, and leadership our members come to us for, we need to update them so that they do—or discontinue them.

Our efforts shouldn’t be restricted to our members, either. Let’s improve the overall Rotary experience for anyone who affiliates with us. Every encounter with our communities is a chance to show our people what Rotary can do for them.

Maximizing engagement on every level is a big goal, but it’s one that will allow Rotary to achieve its full potential in the years to come. And I know we’re capable of it, because we’re people of action.

Here’s something we can all do, right away: when people volunteer with us or attend our events, let’s be very intentional about saying and showing “We’re thankful you’re here.” That simple, very human acknowledgement is only a starting point. What are the next steps we can take to show our participants that they matter to us?

When we understand what our members and communities are looking for from Rotary—and when we dedicate ourselves to providing it—we’ll be prepared to grow and thrive long into the future. Together, let’s recommit to putting the needs, expectations, and growth of our participants at the center of everything we do.