The Club Finder application will give you the details for all Rotary Clubs in your vicinity. Hopefully one of them is a good match for you. It may be though that there are few/no clubs where you live or work or perhaps the clubs that exist are not a good fit because of the meeting day/time, dues, organizational culture, or some other factor. If that’s the case, you can still make a difference in your community and others around the world by starting your own Rotary club. Newer Rotary Clubs are often innovative, energetic, and appealing to younger people. While creating a Rotary Club takes time and energy, it can also be extremely rewarding – but where to start?
First get to know your community. Are there neighborhoods with no Rotary Clubs at all or that would benefit from having another club – for example one that met in the evenings instead of in the morning or over lunch? Visit the other clubs to learn about their similarities and differences.
Next, think about club format. Do you want a traditional Rotary Club that meets once a week? Another option is to start an E-Club. E-Clubs meet online, carry out service products offline, and socialize both online and offline. E-Clubs work best for people who live in different places throughout the year, travel frequently, or have limited mobility. An E-Club needs to have a dedicated website, founding members who are able to manage the club’s website, an online meeting platform to host meetings, private sections of the website that only members can access (to protect their personal data), online financial transaction systems so members can pay dues, and a way to document that visiting Rotarians have taken part in a meeting. More information on starting an E-Club can be found here.
Now you can reach out to your Rotary District expressing interest in establishing a club. Usually the right POC is going to be the District Governor or New Club Development Committee. Ask for their feedback. They will likely appoint an Advisor to walk you through the whole process. It is also normal to have a sponsoring club. That will often be the club that the Advisor belongs to but not always. There can be more than one sponsoring club if desired. For the first few months, your Advisor should plan on attending your meetings once or twice a month.
Start growing your team. New clubs need a minimum of 20 people to become chartered. Recruit people who already have Rotary connections such as those who have benefitted from scholarships or who once belonged to Interact or Rotaract Clubs. Many of my club’s founding members were previous recipients of scholarships. The founding members of another club in Washington DC were involved with Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) and Rotaract. Recruit people who have never heard of Rotary before but want to make a difference in their community. Try to assemble a diverse team with women, different ethnicities, different generations, members of the LGBT community, etc. As part of your recruitment plan, use both traditional and social media. Start a Meetup Group and Facebook pages (one public and one for internal discussion). You could also have a simple blog until you have a proper website. The members of the sponsoring club are an important part of your team too. They can help new officers understand their roles and responsibilities and partner with you on service projects and fundraisers until you get the hang of it.
I asked one of our founding members what advice she would offer to people interested in starting a new Rotary Club. She recommended that people have distinct roles even before the club is chartered. It helps to have clear points of contact for you, for the district, and for interested members. Everyone who is involved should have discrete tasks that make them feel they are contributing – this could include writing by-laws, scheduling service projects, lining up speakers, plugging in new members, maintaining contact with potential members, developing a club logo, building a website, etc. Another founding member recommended that new clubs have an outgoing and energetic membership chair. Simply inviting friends to your events (social, service, or regular meting) is one of the best ways to grow membership.
On a side note, most clubs have speakers at least periodically. You don’t need to have a speaker every week like some clubs do. You can also use weekly meetings to socialize, for presentations by members about themselves and issues they consider important or for committees to get things done. Speakers could include elected representatives, law enforcement, business owners, as well as activists and advocates. A new club may be especially interested in having speakers from other Rotary Clubs to learn what has and has not worked for them.
Once you have twenty members, you are ready to select a club name and complete the club application. Think about the name carefully. Do you want a very specific name such as “Rotary Club of Friendship Heights” or something with a bit more geographic wiggle room such as “Rotary Club of Northeast DC”. A club I belonged to previously found out with very short notice they could no longer meet in their venue and had a hard time finding a new one in the same area. The venues where my club has met have all been free. We currently meet in a tavern where we purchase eighty dollars worth of light snacks for our weekly meeting, drink a lot of craft beer, and tip our bartenders well. Most of us really like our venue although it is unfortunately not handicap accessible. There are always going to be tradeoff. Having a free venue keeps the costs down but you may find yourself with fewer choices and switching venues from time to time as you outgrow them or your Club’s needs change.
When you do charter, make a celebration out of it! Invite other Rotary Clubs, service organizations, as well as local leaders and entrepreneurs. More information on starting a new Rotary Club can be found in this useful guide. Good luck and please feel free to contact me for with any questions.