VOCATIONAL

 Could a long neglected “avenue of service” be Rotary’s recruitment panacea? 

So many people have the itch to “ give something back to their community”. Does Rotary offer them an opportunity to scratch it? 

Richard Fox, D1100 Vocational Chair, argues that a 21st century version of old fashioned Vocational could attract and retain new members and as importantly raise Rotary’s local profile. (Go to Vocational page for full article.) 

The Background 

I hope no one doubts that Rotary has a membership problem. New recruits are hard to find and the retained membership on average is getting older. What used to be weekly meetings of a mainly working, business owning and striving membership, living and earning a living in the community has now become, for many of us, groups of retired friends meeting irregularly and somewhat going through the Rotary motions. 

When our movement was formed, over 100 years ago, it was as a business networking organisation. Local professionals and business owners would meet for their mutual advantage and if a small charitable gesture was required well a few dollars from each of them would do the trick. They called it Rotary. This networking idea spread. It began to be attractive to movers and shakers in other communities across the world. 

Rotary’s continued success though depended on it being seen as elitist. Membership of a Rotary club had to be a badge of honour, something to be sought and highly prized. There should be membership waiting lists. So to secure this elite status some restrictions or rules were needed to maintain the network’s credibility. Rules such as one man one vocation, members must be business owners or high ranking managers or professional partner status. These became the Classification rules. There should also be quality standards governing business done between members. This became the 4 way test. The management of these rules fell to a Vocational Service Committee. 

It was a successful formula. Clubs sprang up where ever there was a business community and to Rotary’s credit the charitable aspect assumed a more important role. Happy days! 

But it couldn’t last for ever. Certainly not in the UK anyway. From 1970s onwards the UK demographics began to change dramatically and despite the inclusion of female members membership numbers have shrunk consistently year on year. The reasons for this are many and are well documented. Those old classification rules, originally designed to keep people out of Rotary, were now irrelevant and were unofficially and later officially relaxed or ignored all together. And the 4 way test, though a noble principle, could never stand up to pressure from a good compensation lawyer. 

As a result Vocational Service lost it’s role and purpose and although in D1100 its name survives, albeit linked with Community, it’s been largely forgotten. 

Vocation today and tomorrow 

I want to take Vocation out from the back of the Rotary cupboard, brush off the dust, and by refocusing its role give it a bright new future. 

Rotary was strongest when it was a networking organisation. So let’s recapture that. But instead of a business network let’s use the same formula to network members’ experience, their skills, interests, hobbies, passions and, even better, combine that with similar 

information on members partners, family and friends. This skills “Audit”, as it’s called, will provide clubs with a formidable list of resources at its disposal. 

That audit can be used to target community projects, making sure you get the most out of resources available to you. Your club’s confidence will grow, after all you will be working well inside your club’s comfort zone. And you needn’t be afraid to share resources with Partner organisations. That’s an opportunity to be more imaginative and ambitious when choosing projects. 

But most importantly you should seek the maximum publicity for the project because it’s good publicity that will draw in new members. Consider for a moment what is happening. Your club has found a needed local project. You have club rotarians of all ages using their experience, skills and muscle on the project. Rotarians are rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty doing and achieving something. So your press photos and story line should reflect that combined voluntary effort. 

And when the job’s done you can see, perhaps even touch, the result of your efforts and hopefully later find a photo and story in the local press to prove it. Won’t that make you feel good? Isn’t that more satisfying than shaking a collecting tin? Won’t that new member who wanted to “give something back” be smiling with contented pleasure? And won’t he or she proudly tell the story to friends and others.? That would be 21st century vocation in action. 

What to do now 

1. Appoint a Vocational team. Call it your Human Resources team if you have a problem with the name. 

2. If you haven’t already done it, carry out a skills audit. Include partners, friends and family. Rotarygbi.org has some example templates. But a simple spreadsheet would work very well. But don’t neglect members’ partners, friends and family. They can make all the difference. 

3. Have a routine for keeping the audit up to date. 

4. Influence club project selection to use skills and resources available. 

5. Check that no one is being left out. 

6. Encourage the best use of photography and press copy. Remember press coverage should exist to impress non rotarians, Hopefully your club rotarians are already impressed. 

7. Let your District team know of projects that have successfully used club skills. 

8. Encourage your club to join Rotary Club Central. You can record there the voluntary hours spent on projects. When you add it all up you will be amazed. 


I’m convinced this modern version of Vocational service will improve your club profile within the community, have a positive influence on recruitment and retention, and make all members feel valued. 

Go on have a go. Good Luck!