Generation Y. Millennials. Echo Boomers. Generation Next. New Generations. Lots of words to describe the same group of people. What we are really talking about is the future of Rotary. Now, our challenge as Rotarians is to develop ways to engage new generations and recruit them to become Rotarians in the future. This may seem like a daunting task, but we already have the resources and opportunities that are needed to be successful in our efforts.
First, there are fairly simple ways to engage the youth in our communities. Is your club sponsoring a student for the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA)? If not, consider doing so this year. It provides your club an opportunity to connect with local youth, and once they have attended, they can present to your club on their experiences. Does your club participate in a Youth Exchange? This is another great opportunity to provide another local youth with a life-changing experience as an exchange student. Consider supporting a local non-profit in your community that works with youth. But do not just write a check to the non-profit. Find a way for your members to engage in hands-on service with these youth, to truly experience the impact you are making in their lives.
Second, build a relationship with the Rotaract Club in your area. Or consider starting one if your community does not have a club. Rotaract is a great opportunity for new generations to begin a connection to Rotary, network with their peers, and engage in some wonderful service projects. Conduct a joint social or service project with the Rotaract Club. You will quickly discover the passion and enthusiasm these members have for making a difference not only in your community, but also the world. One piece of advice though: treat them with respect and as your Rotary equal. Too often, Rotaract can become an afterthought by our Rotary clubs. They are thought of as the group that plans the happy hour social or does the grunt work on a service project. However, we need to embrace them as full members of our Rotary family, and treat them with that level of respect and inclusion.
Third, take a long look at your club and whether it appeals to new generations. Ask a friend or colleague not in Rotary what their perception is of your club. You will probably get a lot of different answers, and I suspect many of them will not be things that appeal to new generations. Ask a young professional what would make your club appeal to them. Determine the needs of this group in your community. What are they looking for in Rotary? How can your club help meet these needs? How can your club adapt and change to meet these needs? One of the most frustrating phrases for this generation to hear is, “Well, because we have always done it this way.” If that is the answer to why your club functions a certain way, then you might rethink that function and whether it is essential to fulfilling the mission of Rotary.
Finally, let’s assume you now have some New Generations members in your club. What do you do to keep them as members? Engage them, encourage them, and empower them. Generation Y may not have much disposable income to donate to the Rotary Foundation or to fund a service project. But they have time, energy, and a willingness to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Hands-on service projects can provide the experience they are seeking. You could also consider adding some of these new members to your program committee. If your weekly programs are not of interest to a younger generation, then you will have a hard time getting them to show up at meetings. You might offer a program on how to use Facebook and Twitter appropriately, which could really benefit all generations of members. What you will probably find is that there are many topics and programs of interest by all generations in your club. The key to success is including these new members in the decision making process of your club so they are engaged and empowered.
The future is bright for Rotary because we are doing something now about new generations. However, Rotary International can only do so much. You must take the lead in your club and community to engage new generations. At one time, each of us was asked to join Rotary and given this great gift. Take it upon yourself to be the difference in your club and share this wonderful gift with a young professional by asking them to join 1.2 million people around the world to provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace.