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Starting a Community-Based Rotaract Club

Lessons Learned

Karen C. Loeb

March 2011



This paper documents many steps and considerations in chartering a new, community-based Rotaract Club, based on the author’s experience in recently establishing the new DTC Young Professionals Rotaract Club.  Some of the steps and activities may be unique to this one situation, but nevertheless should be instructive for those planning to establish a new club.  This type of club typically takes 6-9 months to be in a solid position to file for charter, which is Rotary International’s official recognition of a new club.  Recommendations for starting a club and necessary forms to be completed can be found on RI’s website under the Rotaract link.  The paper will cover considerations in launching the club, planning preliminary meeting activities, establishing club leadership, preparing and filing charter papers with RI, and celebrating Charter night.  Note that the goal of starting a Rotaract club is to create a forum and group of young professionals from different work domains and to expand their professional development, leadership development, and service project opportunities.  Other guidelines and useful information can be found in the Rotaract Handbook, also on the RI website.  The comments below reflect the opinions of the author, drawing heavily upon examples from establishing the DTC Young Professionals Rotaract Club, in addition to some regulations from RI.

Launching the Club

Starting a community-based Rotaract club is very different from one that is a school-based Rotaract club.  School-based clubs have the advantages of a large population upon which to draw, easy access to unused classrooms for meeting space, a geographically-close community, diverse faculty to serve as sponsors or speakers, and often a service-oriented program as part of the student experience.  They have the disadvantages of being dispersed or dormant for three months of the year and are likely to have mixed age groups in terms of those who can drink alcohol legally and those who cannot.  In starting a community-based Rotaract club, the originator needs to consider what community of leaders and professionals one is trying to attract, the locale for finding such a population, the communication mechanisms, the meeting room availabilities and logistics, etc.  The most important starting points, however, are the determinations of the Rotary sponsorship and the target audience for membership.

Determination of sponsorship of the new Rotaract club is the critical first step, both in terms of Rotary clubs and specific individuals who will take responsibility for launching the club.  If a Rotary club is a singular sponsor of a Rotaract club, it carries the full burden of support for activities, funding, etc.  If a club shares the responsibility, there’s more opportunity for the new club and Rotaracters to draw on the funds, activities, mentors from a variety of sources.  The DTC Young Professionals Rotaract club was initiated by Karen Loeb with blessings of Denver Southeast club; before the first meeting, it was decided to ask Highlands Ranch, a somewhat smaller, active club to join in as a co-sponsor, given the geographic locale we were addressing.  Note that when multiple clubs sponsor a Rotaract club, this requires the approval of the District Governor, including signature to support the charter with multiple-sponsoring clubs.  This had the effect of expanding resources and activity support for the new club, in addition to drawing in other young adult children of Rotarians.  Artem Guralev of Denver Southeast joined with Karen, while Jan Selinfreund took on the role of co-sponsor from Highlands Ranch.  DSE took major responsibility for planning the initial meetings, the programs, and the refreshments to get the club going, while Jan was a more consistent attendee at the Rotaract club meetings once a leadership team was in place.  Having two clubs support the new Rotaract club did expand the opportunities for the new club and drew a larger audience from the area.

Originally, Karen Loeb was interested in starting a new club, seeded by many former DU MBA students, many of whom already had a passion for serving the community as they launched their new careers.  They were not in a position to join regular Rotary, due to the costs and meeting time requirements.  They also were more mature than most undergraduate students and wanted a club that offered networking opportunities for them, across different avenues of work.  They wanted more flexibility in meeting times and locations as well as a variety of service opportunities that accommodated their lifestyles as well.  RI materials state that Rotaract clubs are designed for ages 18-30 officially, but in light of the current economic situation, having Rotaracters as old as 35 has not been discouraged.

While one source of potential members was past students, other wonderful sources of new membership invitees were the sons and daughters of current Rotarians.  These “children” have already witnessed the enrichment s (and perhaps nagging) that Rotary has brought to their parents’ lives, so they are excellent candidates for membership.  This also extends to young adult children of a Rotarian’s friend and neighbors and co-workers.  With social media a common communication tool for this new generation, it takes minimal effort to expand the invitee network, which also brings considerable diversity to the club.  It basically doesn’t take long to garner 10-15 names of individuals who have some interest in attending an initial meeting.  These initial members are then asked to spread the word for subsequent meetings.

Establishing a location and date/time for initial meetings is non-trivial.  What appears to work best is a conference room in a Rotary member’s building or a party room in an apartment or condominium complex because these accommodations are typically free and convenient.  You want a meeting place that will accommodate about 30-40 people, preferably with some audio-visual capabilities, and will permit bringing in light refreshments.  For early morning or early evening meetings, this is not too difficult to find, at least for the preliminary meetings of the group.

Selection of the day and time of meetings can be challenging.  We tried multiple days and times.  Some preferred  Sunday evenings, but that began to be impossible for skiers and family time.  We tried week-nights after work.  We never tried morning meetings, though ultimately the club decided to meet once a month on Wednesday mornings and once a month on Wednesday evenings around happy hour time.  Note that RI does not place weekly meeting requirements on a Rotaract club; it’s up to the membership to determine both meeting time and club dues.  This Rotaract club has dues of $20/month, decided by the club members.

It is recommended that the established meeting time and dues be determined once club leadership is in place.  This occurred after 5 bimonthly meetings for our club.  Plans should include enough meetings to help new members understand what the concept of Rotaract club entails and its connections to big Rotary; there also needs to some identification of the leadership potential because officers of the new club must be listed on the charter application.  RI recommends a minimum of 15 members to charter a new club.  The author recommends over-shooting that goal since young people are more mobile, job changes affect commitments, etc.  Ultimately, this new club decided to meet twice per month on Wednesdays (one before work and one after work); they set dues at $20/month. We listed 18 charter members on the original application and had 9 meetings before filing for charter.

Preliminary Meeting Activities

There are important objectives of the meetings prior to deciding if there is sufficient interest in creating a new club.  Of course, Rotary’s objective is to groom the next generation of new Rotarians by providing support of younger professionals in activities similar to Rotary.  It also provides connections and fellowship with those in a similar age group across the world.  Prospective members are impressed when they learn that Rotaract was initiated by Rotary in 1968, has more than 7300 clubs in 150 countries and geographic areas, and over 145,000 members world-wide.

In the first meeting, it is important to give some history of the origins of Rotary per se, its leadership structure and Foundation activities and global presence.  In addition, the specific goals of Rotaract should be reviewed (from the Rotaract Handbook):

-        To develop professional and leadership skills

-        To emphasize respect for the rights of others, based on recognition of the worth of each individual

-        To recognize the dignity and value of all useful occupations as opportunities to serve

-        To recognize, practice, and promote ethical standards as leadership qualities and vocational responsibilities

-        To develop knowledge and understanding of the needs, problems, and opportunities in the community and worldwide

-        To provide opportunities for personal and group activities to serve the community and promote international understanding and goodwill toward all people

I asked our District Governor to welcome the audience and also asked the leadership of each club, district Rotaract personnel, and District Vocational leadership to attend the first meeting as well. Importantly, I asked the president of the Metro Rotaract club to speak about her experience in Rotaract. In the kick-off remarks, Rotaract was explained in terms of what it was, for whom, why, when , and how, followed by an ice-breaker activity to facilitate mingling and informal conversation.

Subsequent meetings included some review of the above material (as new potential members were in attendance), again some ice-breaker activities, light refreshments, etc.  We began with the Pledge of Allegiance, as our Rotary meetings do.  The next several meetings included speakers that showed how professional development sessions and general interest topics are part of the Rotary experience.  For example, I had an author/lecturer speak about “code-switching,” which describes how women must speak to be effective in the work environment.  Another speaker was a chocolate therapist who had samples to sell as well.  Lastly, I began to ask attendees to consider not only joining the new club, but also volunteering for a leadership position, as described in earlier meetings.  Attendance sheets and contact info were used at each meeting, along with ID badges.

Establishing Club Leadership

While many young professionals may be eager to join, fewer are interested in stepping up to a leadership position.  The key club positions are President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Community Service Chair, and International Service Chair.  We also established a member-at-large position to help establish a major fundraising event.  We asked the Vice-President to be responsible for meeting programs.

When forms for membership were completed, there was a section for people to indicate their interest in a leadership position and which one.  Most are too modest to promote themselves for President.  Hence, I culled through the applications and made personal calls to those interested and even some who had not indicated interest but showed potential in prior meetings.  All positions were filled, so the slate of officers was elected at the 6th meeting.  Once elected, the officers began to run the meetings, though a charter was not filed until after the 9th meeting.  This was done to secure more members, let the new leadership team take control, and determine meeting logistics going forward.  Important first items for the club to determine are meeting times and places, club dues, club checking account, and non-profit status.  Treasurers from the hosting clubs can help with the financial tasks.  Most importantly, the club must decide on its name before a charter can be filed!

I also thought it was important to introduce the Rotaract leadership team to the sponsoring clubs and especially to their counterparts in those clubs.  I asked them to attend a meeting at each of the sponsoring clubs and purposely sat them with their counterparts.  This was designed to make it easier to reach out to that person if questions later arose and help was needed.

Preparing and Filing with RI

RI requires only 15 members to charter a club.  I personally feel that such a number is too low and unstable, given some early potential members could not commit to the 60% meeting attendance requirement, were moving away, changing jobs, etc.  We submitted the necessary forms with 18 charter members, with plans to grow the club through personal contacts. The club must review the Rotaract Constitution and approve abiding by it.  Meeting times,dues, and a name must be established.

The RI forms require name, age, gender, and address of each member (note this means you must obtain birthdates on the club membership forms).  Officers must also be identified as well as sponsoring clubs.  The Presidents of the sponsoring clubs and the District Governor must sign off on the charter application and $50 (half from each club) must be submitted by the sponsoring clubs to RI.  It takes about 6 weeks for RI to approve and grant the charter.  The charter is returned to a club president; there are blank lines for signatures of sponsoring club presidents.

Celebrating Charter Night

Once a charter has been received and signed, it is important to have a charter night celebration.  This social event also permits the club to recognize its beginnings and those who committed to being charter members.  RI uses the date of the first meeting (in our case, Feb. 21) as the charter date, even though the charter was signed by RI in September.  The celebration was in December.  The timing for the first event and subsequent charter nights is entirely up to the club.  The District Governor spoke as well as key players in creating the club.  The President gave a brief history of the club.  The sponsoring clubs gave the new club a large Rotaract banner, inscribed with the club’s name and the names of their sponsoring clubs.

Following this event, the sponsors try to take on a supporting and mentoring role, helping to gain either financial support for club activities or speakers or community/global service opportunities.  The sponsoring clubs also encourage Rotary club members to support the activities of the new Rotaract club as well as invite Rotaracters to participate in their activities.  Personally, I feel it’s important to allow the club to develop its own identity and directions, just as you give a child roots and wings.  What has been especially exciting is to see not only involvement in community and global projects, but also engagement in starting Interact clubs in high schools in the area.  These Rotaracters are already serving as role models to young students who may one day become Rotaracters!  I have no doubts that these Rotaracters will also become fine Rotarians in the future.

Respectfully submitted,

Karen C. Loeb

March 30, 2011