Mission Accomplished!

photo(1)February 23, 2012. That was my first post on this blog about my “experiment” to create a new Rotary Club in Oklahoma City. The club was to be a morning club — the OKC Sunrise Rotary Club. My “template” for its development was the successful OKC Midtown Rotary Club – a thriving club of younger members who emphasized service to the arts community. I wanted the Sunrise Club to comprise a wider variety of ages. In writing that post nearly two years ago, I envisioned the club would come together within six to nine months. That didn’t happen! I believe the biggest impediment was the meeting time of day. I found most people I know are NOT morning people! However, as we hit roadblocks in gaining members, I kept saying, “Surely we can find at least twenty morning people in the Oklahoma City area.” I exhausted my list of nineteen people whom I thought would be interested in joining. Of those nineteen, only ONE is actually in the club. However, an interesting phenomenon occurred: As I kept asking, I connected with a former Rotarian who wanted to get back into Rotary. It was his enthusiasm that kept this club alive. He brought in five members. Then, those five asked friends and the club started to grow. We had an initial group of seven, then ten, then thirteen. We were stuck at thirteen for nine months and it seemed like making the push to get the last seven needed members was insurmountable. That’s when I went back and read from that first blog post:

Why would someone want to come to a meeting week after week if they are not having fun or being entertained? … Sometimes the entertainment is education or information … Sometimes the entertainment is the meal, … with a group of friends. Sometimes the entertainment is participating in a club service project or fundraiser. I will posit to you at this point what I consider to be an absolute: IF A ROTARY CLUB MEMBER IS NOT HAVING FUN OR BEING ENTERTAINED, HE OR SHE WILL LEAVE THE CLUB.

At the time I re-read this post, Moore Oklahoma had just experienced the deadly tornado of May 2013. There is nothing “fun” or “entertaining” about the death and damage caused by an EF-5 tornado. However, it gave our fledgling club opportunities for service. We did projects to help victims’ relief efforts. Suddenly, we had three new members! However, none of us saw where we could find four more members needed to charter. We made the decision to become more aggressive with projects and schedule multiple projects in December. We had several individuals who were considering membership and we wanted to convince them our club was where they needed to be. We applied for and received a grant allowing us to replenish school physical therapy equipment destroyed in the tornado. We inquired of a local school for the homeless to see what we could do to help. We made contact with the Salvation Army to find something different to do. Last year, we “rang the bell,” as do many clubs. However, we wanted to do something different. One of our members found out about a volunteer opportunity in a suburb collecting donations at the “Christmas in the Park” light display. With each project, we asked members to volunteer and we scheduled time for fellowship before or after the projects. Since it is often hard to find extra time to help with projects, we scheduled one of them – assembling personal hygiene kits for the homeless school – during our regular meeting. Needless to say, we had nearly one hundred percent participation for that one! We also had twelve help at the Salvation Army’s Christmas Distribution Center. We had eight members deliver the physical therapy equipment and five deliver the hygiene kits. In the process of performing these fun and beneficial projects, we gained our four needed members.

I’m excited about our new club! However, I am also keenly aware that we cannot rest on our laurels of reaching twenty members. I ended my first blog post with this statement:

We get the individual to JOIN, but then we lose them because we — Rotary — was not as advertised. This is where we must change.

It is my belief that because we attracted members to our club through conducting service instead of sitting down for a meal, they might stay. However, merely boasting of past service will not provide satisfaction for long. We are subject to the pervasive attitude of, “What have you done for me lately?” Therefore, in order to be “as advertised,” we must continually look for new and different ways to serve our communities. Membership will take care of itself if we just offer fun, exciting and fulfilling opportunities to serve.

Do Meetings have to be Meetings?

USS Carr Sailor paints a wall during a communi...

USS Carr Sailor paints a wall during a community service project at the Dom Miloserda children’s boarding house (Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

What is a typical Rotary meeting? My experience has been, in every country where I have attended Rotary, that the group meets for a meal and has some casual conversation. The meeting then convenes with an opening, and then there is a speaker, announcements, and a closing. There are often announcements about upcoming service projects, work days, or fundraisers. Members are encouraged to sign up and take part. Of course, many can’t because it is outside of the time they have allotted to Rotary. In other words, they have planned for and are comfortable with scheduling an hour every Thursday at noon or every Tuesday at 6:00 p.m to be a “Rotary Club member” However, they can’t (or won’t) devote other time to that task.

Any Rotarian who has participated in a fun, heart-warming service project knows it is unforgettable! Participating in one of those leaves you longing to do more. Most of my Rotary friends tell me that their “Rotarian moment” – the point when they went from simply being a club member to being a true Rotarian – was as part of participating in a service project. The reason many club members choose to allot only an hour a week to Rotary is that they don’t see the personal benefit to doing more. It’s part of that “What’s in it for me?” attitude. However, it is understandable. You don’t go back to see a bad movie a second time. Many people leave church because they’re not getting anything out it. People leave sporting events when their team is playing poorly. Well, poor or uninspiring Rotary programs evoke the same reaction. However, even good Rotary program need a little variety, right? Well, why not shake things up a bit?

Instead of having your “standard” meeting, why not plan a regular meeting day as a service project day? You can organize an event where members can still show up at the same time and place and wrap presents, assemble personal care kits for the homeless, sort books for distribution, or assemble toys to give away. You can still have food and drink for the members just as you would at a regular meeting. However, instead of sitting and listening to a program, your membership is going to work! There will still be time to “mingle” with your Rotary co-workers. However, instead of only having a few minutes to talk before the program starts, you’ll have the entire hour to work together! Instead of having to TELL a guest or potential member what Rotary does, you can SHOW them and let them participate as well.

Of course, this is not an every-week idea. However, using a regular club meeting to conduct a service project (particularly if you publicize it well) is the best way I know to show that we are an active, functional service club dedicated to our community’s needs. That’s what Rotary is supposed to be….right?

Thinking INSIDE the Box

Think outside the box

Think outside the box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rotarians spend a lot of time finding ways to make their clubs better. However, their ideas are often too ethereal or abstract and don’t or won’t apply to their club. In other words, they try too often to think way OUTSIDE the box. If you read any books on management, I am sure you have heard the phrase “think outside the box.” It is an attempt to get managers and businesses to do something different; break out of their old routine (their old box) and start something new that might stimulate business growth. Although I encourage that, I also suggest Rotary Clubs are well served by thinking INSIDE the box.

I know at some point, all teenagers believe their parents are idiots. They (the parents) don’t know anything! They give lame advice that doesn’t help at all. It is then amazing to see that, somewhere between ages 18 and 23, kids find that the parents seem to become abundantly… smarter! The resources of Rotary International are much like those parents. There are wise individuals who have served Rotary over the years with good ideas and advice you should heed. Of course, you have to cull through it all to decide what is right for your club and your community’s demographics. The main point I want to make is you do not have to reinvent the wheel.

Using programs such as Interact and Rotaract, you can create a “factory” to churn out future Rotarians ready for service. With the advent of Satellite Clubs, you can form another club tied to your club which meets at a different place and time and might be geared toward either younger or older members. Networking with Rotarians around the world through online forums and blogs, participating in Rotary webinars and attending District Conferences, Zone Institutes, and International Conventions can spark ideas for club growth.

My Rotary District has one of the very best RYLA programs in the world. However, several years ago, when the program director and some of her staff attended the RYLA preconvention at the Rotary International Convention, they came back amazed and full of new and better ideas gleaned from the program presentations and from meeting with other program directors. My son (then, the incoming Rotaract president) and one of his friends (then, the outgoing Rotaract president) both attended the Rotaract preconvention program one year. They were blown away by the magnitude of Rotaract in other parts of the world. That meeting allowed them to network with Rotaract Clubs around the world and make their club better and more relevant.

The point is that most (not all!) of what you might try to do in your club has been tried before. Share your ideas with those who have tried before. Research your programs and ideas through existing Rotary resources to see what can be done to improve them. Use your District resources – District Governor, Assistant Governor and District Committee members. Use the club and district resources at the RI headquarters which exist purely to serve you. They are just a phone call or email away and they are VERY responsive. Thinking outside the box is good. However, you should first explore the box!

The Rotary WOW! Factor

English: Sculpture Rotary International, Fueng...

How exciting is your club? When I was District Governor, I would ask club directors to look at club members as they left the meeting. I would warn them, “If you don’t see smiles on their faces, you’re doing something wrong!”

Why is it important to see smiles? I believe there are two reasons. Let me use an analogy to explain those reasons: Suppose you went to a movie that was heavily marketed as the “feel good movie of the Summer.” You’ve read reviews and talked with some friends who saw it and ALL of them said it was the best movie they’d ever seen. I know your interest in the film would be piqued and you would be eager to see it.

SCENARIO ONE:

As you sit down for the movie, you realize the person next to you is texting. After a while, the person starts talking on the phone and the person behind you starts kicking your seat. Next, the air conditioning goes out and you are hot and sweaty. Finally, half way through the movie, the other person next to you (not the one who is still texting and talking!) spills popcorn and Coke in your lap.

SCENARIO TWO:

As the movie begins, you realize the sound is loud. Then, just at the climax of the show, the projection goes bad! The movie stops for fifteen minutes before resuming, but you missed everything during that fifteen minutes.

SCENARIO THREE:

The entire movie plays and, as the credits roll, you realize the movie really wasn’t that good. It just was not your style of movie.

I think most people would accept that, in SCENARIO THREE, it just wasn’t your kind of movie and it was no one’s fault you didn’t like it. Similarly, guests attend Rotary and decide, for whatever reasons, Rotary is just not for them. However, the problem in both SCENARIOS ONE and TWO is you NEVER GOT TO ENJOY THE MOVIE! A poorly run club meeting does not give your members and guests a chance to enjoy Rotary (or should I say “Engage Rotary”?). Similarly, when your club’s officers and directors omit crucial parts of the Rotary “system” from your club, Rotary may not make much sense to new members and guests.

If you’ve been to a modern, state-of-the-art theater, the theater itself is an entertainment experience. Between the colors, lights, furnishings and staff, you could spend the day enjoying the theater without even viewing a movie! That is how your club’s meeting experience should be. That is the WOW factor that must be integral in your club. When anyone attends your meeting they should be impressed by the meeting experience. Your meeting should be lively and interactive. They (your visitor) should be warmly greeted. They should be properly introduced and that introduction should cue other members to personally meet and greet that guest. Your meeting room should be bright and lively. There needs to be energy in the room. Your program should be entertaining (NOTE: Having a high school student come and read the school lunch menu is NOT entertaining!). Of course, make sure the sound system is operating and do a check on both the microphone as well as any visual presentation before the meeting starts.

Your presentation as emcee of the meeting should be entertaining, but don’t “hog” the podium! Announcements should be short and simple. Realize that many of them can be and should be handed out, given privately, or emailed. Use each meeting as an opportunity to highlight some project or committee of your club. Allow visitors to see that you do something other than sit, have a meal, and listen to speakers. There are many other places they can go for that. However, where else can they go to take part in the adventure that is Rotary?

Regularly reassess the WOW Factor is your club. It is crucial to keep your current members engaged, but more important for attracting new members to join in the experience of changing lives.

The Perfect District Conference – Day Three

Conference

For those of you who have been following this blog, I have been describing my vision for a “perfect” District Conference. I have already described the first two days. Here’s how I see the last day going. Realize that, most likely, your staff and even the attendees will be exhausted. You must work to motivate them to be energetic. Of course, that is easier to do as they make new friends, learn new activities and just have fun.

DISTRICT CONFERENCE 2014

Sunday April 27, 2014

7:30 a.m.     Breakfast

Do something different for breakfast! Have a “make your own” omelet breakfast or have your Rotaractors cook breakfast. Remember: This is the last day of the conference and you want to give your attendees something to remember! Couple the breakfast with some raffle drawings or announcements of silent auction winners.

8:30 a.m.     Ecumenical service/memorial service

The Conference is where we should recognize those Rotarians who have passed away in the last year. It can either be a somber affair or an upbeat one. Regardless, it should be short and simple. It should also be non-denominational. Of course, I have also enjoyed Zone Institutes where, instead of making it non-denominational, they make it multi-denominational. Regardless, the focus should be on recognizing the deceased Rotarians, not necessarily on praying for them. When I have been in charge of this service, I have gathered a picture of each deceased Rotarian, along with their dates of birth and death, their club and any position they held in the district. Then, I have put together a musical slide show that is prefaced with a short quote or reading to set the mood. The slide show is played and the room left in silence for a few minutes. Also, several of the families of the deceased Rotarians have asked for copies of the slide show. I have tried to provide copies for them, which has generally been greatly appreciated.

9:30 a.m.     Closing Sessions – Membership/Club Service

This is the last session! By now, most Rotarians are ready to go home. What can you leave them with to inspire them? Most Rotarians are proud of their own club. Most want to see their clubs prosper. Therefore, spending time letting them talk about their clubs and giving them ideas for growth and change will help them leave this Conference motivated. The closing session should be all about that! Not only should it include presentations by club membership chairs talking about their development programs, but it should also include presentations by Rotaractors describing what they like or don’t like about Rotary clubs they have visited and why they might or might not want to join such a club. One of the best presentations I ever heard at a District Assembly was a talk by a brand new Rotarian who told us about how she was solicited, inducted, and then educated about Rotary in her club. It was an “eye opener” to a lot of older Rotarians who never really thought to look at membership from the perspective of that new member. If possible, use breakout sessions or table discussions where attendees can take part in group sessions on a variety of topics. The goal of these groups should be to get everyone involved in brainstorming and idea sharing and then make a presentation to the entire plenary session of ideas discussed for (a) membership recruitment; (b) new member education; (c) member induction; and (d) member orientation. Finally, you want to end this plenary session with a bang! Consider an entertaining motivational speaker who can charge your attendees to go back to their clubs and make them better. After all, that should be the purpose of having the District Conference in the first place!

Noon           Awards luncheon

I believe that the reason many Rotarians come to the awards portion of the Conference is to see who is Rotarian of the Year and which club or clubs are Clubs of the Year. It frustrates them when such announcements are not made or those awards not given. I have seen Rotarians get angry because, although the clubs don’t do their projects and showcase their clubs for recognition, they feel slighted when they are not given some recognition for their achievements, or given an opportunity to compete for that achievement. Hopefully, attendees have enjoyed your Conference and made new friends. Hopefully, they have been impressed by the food, facilities, and quality of programming. Use this luncheon to recognize and thank the President’s Representative. It is customary to give a gift reflective of your community. Recognize your outgoing District Governor. Although they still have a few months in office, this is often the place where Districts exchange the official “governor’s pin.” Recognize your Conference chair and committee. Recognize the Presidential Citation and Governor’s Citation winners. Finally, choose a Rotarian of the Year and a Club of the Year. In our District, we usually name three of each – one for the small clubs, medium clubs, and large clubs. Then, adjourn to let everyone go or stay, depending on their time schedules.

1:00 p.m.    Adjourn

One last thing: Get feedback. It would be great if Rotarians had an evaluation form in their packet. Also, meet with your Conference Committee immediately after the event ends to evaluate. How were the facilities? the food? the venue service? Anyone hear complaints? compliments? What might be changed for next year? Do we want to come back or go elsewhere? These are all things that eventually need to be reported, memorialized and then used for future Conferences.

If you and your District just continue to do the same old Conference each year with the same presenters, at the same location with the same sessions, you’ll never see your District Conference grow. Why would I come back to see all of that old stuff again? The way you gain future attendance and ensure continuing attendance is to give your Rotarians and guests – especially the guests – an experience to remember! A District Conference cannot just happen on its own. You need energetic, motivated, and Rotary-educated people to help make it an outstanding event. Good luck in doing so! I’d love to hear of your successes!

The Perfect District Conference – Day Two

English: Rotaract Club of Chatswood 1989, winn...

English: Rotaract Club of Chatswood 1989, winning the “Rotaraction Award”. Ryde, Sydney, Australia. June 1989. Rotary District 9680 Category:Rotary International (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I last talked about the first day of what I would like to see in a District Conference. You might remember that we ended the day in one of the hospitality suites socializing with our new friends. Now that everyone is settled, you need to concentrate on keeping your staff energized and assaulting the senses of those in attendance. Although this agenda covers an entire convention day, it can either feel like a few hours to those who are participating and having fun, or it can seem like a week to those who are bored. Here’s what I think Saturday should look like:

DISTRICT CONFERENCE 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014

7:30 a.m.     Breakfast (House of Friendship opens)

Breakfast is presented in the House of Friendship. It is open for everyone. It is a good time to recognize Past District Governors, Rotary Alumni, and other “dignitaries.” The program should be minimal. It is NOT a regular Rotary Club meeting. Allow attendees to mingle while they eat and, if the weather cooperates, allow them to go outside too.

9:00 a.m.     Saturday morning Sessions – Youth Services

These should be the sessions where you highlight your Youth Programs. Somewhere you will want to have a break. Do not keep your audience “captive” for three full hours! However, you should present your Youth Exchange participants, RYLA program, Interact and Rotaract clubs and any other youth events.

I have seen Youth Exchange students who can’t or won’t get up and talk. They are teens thrust in front of a crowd of older people. Don’t make them uncomfortable! The best Youth Exchange presentation I saw was a moderated panel discussion. Both inbound and outbound participants were seated on a stage. A Rotarian moderator walked around with a microphone and asked questions. She was able to get everyone to respond. Then, questions were asked from the audience and members of the panel were able to volunteer to answer. It was interesting and entertaining, mainly due to the skills of the moderator.

We have a great RYLA camp in our District. Many clubs take part in it financially. However, few Rotarians actually come to see the camp. Therefore, a part of the morning session could be devoted to having campers and staff talk about RYLA and what it means to them and to also explain to Rotarians how they can get involved.

The Interact and Rotaract Clubs should be asked to give a presentation. They can have ten to fifteen minutes to tell attendees about Interact or Rotaract and how Rotarians can get involved. Depending on the group, you may also want to have a moderator to help them. However, give them a chance to impress you! They can put on a skit, show a slide show about their projects, or have some of their members talk about their experiences. The goal is for the Rotarians to see these clubs in action and then meet their members and connect with them.

Our District annually does a two-week exchange with a District in Japan, called “Wings of Rotary.” It is a longstanding program in our District and one of which I am very proud. The Conference needs to hear from the participants in this program and see photos and videos of their experiences.

12:00            Luncheon

The luncheon should really be a Rotary meeting. Conduct it like a meeting and allow the President’s Representative to make his or her talk. If they gave their talk the night before at the evening program, you can offer them a chance to speak again, or have another interesting speaker (Please! Stay away from political speakers!). A way I found to increase attendance for this event is to ask each club to bring their club bell and have their presidents at the front of the room so that each can convene their club meeting. This gives each club a sense of pride in seeing their club and their club’s banner in the room, and allows you to get more attendees. You can continue the expansiveness of this meeting by having a parade of flags. Allow the exchange students to carry in their flags. Have the Rotary International flag there too. Use a color guard to present both your country’s flag and your state flag (or flags, if your district covers more than one state or area), and have either the playing, singing, or other presentation of your national anthem or other patriotic song. Adjourn the meeting no later than 1:15 so that attendees will have some time to relax before going to the next session.

1:30 p.m.     Saturday afternoon Sessions – The Rotary Foundation

This session should be more than just a report on money raised and a request for more. I believe most Rotarians only remember those parts of Foundation presentations. Rather, these two hours should be spent with meaningful presentations on what the Foundation can do and how your Rotarians can participate. Three of the best presentations I have EVER heard in my Rotary experience have come at Zone Institutes. One was a young woman who had been a Rotary Peace Scholar in the Middle East. Her speech was riveting! Another, was a woman who came, dressed with her hat, vest, and megaphone, and talked about going on a National Immunization Day. Finally, the third presentation was from a Past District Governor who talked about taking his teenage daughter to Haiti for the dedication of some water wells their District provided. Everyone in the audience was choking back tears as he finished! You want – and NEED – presentations that inspire – not just report. Find those and bring them to your District. Once you inspire attendees, you can end the Sessions with a short presentation on how Rotarians can help the Foundation. In summary, show them the needs and successes before you ask for money.

1:30 p.m.     Family Activities!

Remember: You will have spouses and children attending with their Rotarian. Most likely, those “others” will not want to sit in a room and listen to Rotary presentations. Give them activities and events in which to take part. You can arrange for a cooking class, walking tour, or a trip to a local landmark or event. You should also offer “kid friendly” activities such as a painting station or game room. Include a snack bar with these rooms. Remember, if you get the family members to enjoy the conference, it is more likely the Rotarian will return next year! Just make sure you get them all back to the conference site and get the kids cleaned before dinner!

3:30 p.m.     Afternoon “Coffee Break”

This should be a slightly different kind of coffee break. The room should be set up with round tables, each of which can hold six to eight people. Each table should be assigned a different theme, in the form of a sign above it. They might be “Service Projects,” “RYLA,” “District Grants,” and “Wings of Rotary.” Then, as people enter, they will be asked to go get a drink and sit at a table to discuss the assigned topics. Each table will have a moderator. Then, every ten minutes, a horn will sound and everyone must move to another table. It will be pointed out that, at some time, everyone will be asked to stop and there will be a drawing for a prize. Only those seated at a table when the “stop” command is given will be eligible. The drawing will be an announcement of one of the subjects being discussed. Then, only participants at that subject’s table will be allowed to draw for the actual prize. The purpose is to get people in the room, get them engaged in participating in the event (hopefully, they will learn something while waiting for the drawing) and then get someone to leave with a nice prize. If available, you can do two or more drawings during the break.

4:30 p.m.     Rotary Games

Even though we just finished having some “fun” in the Coffee Break, I am sure most attendees will be mentally and physically exhausted from the day. They’ve learned all they want to learn! This is where a Rotary game or two might be good. I have traveled to clubs and presented two different Rotary trivia games and each has been well received. One is Rotary Baseball (if your country does not play baseball, you can develop the game using any other popular local sport). It is a series of questions taken from the Manual of Procedure or the ABCs of Rotary. It also includes local “pop culture” questions, just to make it more fun. With the baseball concept, there are two teams. The room is divided against each other. Each team has a “coach” who is the only one who can answer questions. However, the “team” can discuss their answers and that is where the fun is! The coach is left in that no-win situation of having to choose one of the answers that his or her team has been fighting over and, if they are wrong, they get to bear the wrath of their teammates! The questions are in separate baskets labeled “Singles,” “Doubles,” “Triples,” and “Home Runs”, just like the hits in baseball, getting progressively harder. If the team answers correctly, they advance that many bases. If they get it wrong, it is considered an out and when the team gets three outs, the other team is allowed to “bat.” The fun is that many of the questions are really impossible to answer…the first time. However, whether the correct answer is given by the coach, the announcer gives the correct answer and the question goes back into the basket. In other words, it is very likely it will be asked again and again. That’s where the learning happens!

The other game is similar to the popular television show, “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” It is called “Who Wants To Be A Paul Harris Fellow?” If available, the District, a Club or an individual can give points or money to make the winner a Paul Harris Fellow. The game involves one contestant who must answer a series of progressively harder questions to move up the board, hoping to get to the top and win a Paul Harris Fellow. If they miss, they lose, and another contestant is chosen by drawing. Much like the television game, the contestants have “lifelines” to use. They can use a 50-50 option, which allows the computer to remove two of the incorrect answers. There is a choice to “ask a friend.” This allows the contestant to ask someone in the audience to help answer the question. Nevertheless, as the game advances, the tension in the room increases as the contestant gets closer to the top. Once again, the questions repeat. So, a later contestant might have a better chance of getting to the top and winning the prize.

The games should all end by 5:30 so that the attendees will have time to get to their rooms, change, and get ready for the evening part of the Conference program.

6:00 p.m.     Buses leave for Saturday extravaganza

The evening event should be kept under wraps as much as possible. Let it be a surprise for everyone! There should be chartered buses to take attendees to the venue for dinner and entertainment, and then be available for return to the Conference site, as they refill.

6:30 p.m.     Dinner and entertainment

The Chuckwagon Feast I described for Friday night could be this event, substituting a dinner at the Conference venue for Friday night. On the other hand, you could have the feast on Friday, and then take everyone to another venue for this Saturday meal. It could be a dinner theatre, a museum, or another outdoor venue. Whatever it is, it needs to have a WOW factor!

8:30 p.m.     Return to Conference hotel (Hospitality suite opens)

Since everyone will have had a full day of activity, they will want to relax and have a drink (again!). Most likely, the activity in the hospitality suites will wind down earlier. However, since it is also the last night of the Conference, friends might enjoy spending more time together. Possibly assign two or more clubs to “host” the hospitality suites and provide entertainment or interesting snacks or other “eye-openers.”

This will be the hardest day of the Conference, since it is the longest. You must find a way to entertain your attendees, knowing that some may tire early, some may be overwhelmed with new information received, and some might be bored. It will be challenge. However, with careful planning, this could also be the day your attendees realize coming to this Conference was the right decision!

The Perfect Rotary District Conference – Day One

welcome rotarians

welcome rotarians (Photo credit: andycarvin)

As promised, here’s a partial agenda for a District Conference I would enjoy to be held at a resort site. In my State of Oklahoma, I have chosen Quartz Mountain State Park in far western Oklahoma. It is far enough outside of Oklahoma City so that attendees are going to have to commit to attend the entire weekend. The agenda also combines Rotary education with fellowship and activity. In other words, it is the mesh of the “stealth learning” I mentioned in earlier posts. Attendees are having too much fun to realize they are participating in a meaningful event! Over the next three posts, I will describe each day of the Conference. Here is the first day:

DISTRICT CONFERENCE 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014
8:00 – Noon    Golf Tournament

For those who want to arrive early, the District can sponsor a golf tournament at the resort golf course. There would be an extra charge for playing beyond the Conference fees. However, prizes and “bragging rights” can be awarded to the winners.

Noon – 1:30 p.m.   Registration/Check-in

As attendees arrive, Rotaractors and Interactors  will greet them and give them conference packets. Perhaps the Rotaractors and Interactors can carry their things to their rooms or assist them in other ways, collecting tips as a fundraiser for their club. The goal of this part of the event is to make the arriving attendees feel welcome and overwhelmed by Rotary.

Noon   House of Friendship opens

People who attend Rotary International conventions always talk about the House of Friendship. It is really Rotary’s trade show! It is a great place to spend time, learn about Rotary and its programs and vendors, do some shopping, buy some food, or just hang out. The District Conference should have a similar area on a smaller scale. There should be coffee and other drinks available throughout the day as well as snacks. There should be products from Rotary vendors on display and available for purchase. There should be displays of club projects. There should be booths offering clubs help with “tech” issues, such as websites, computing devices and software useful for clubs. If possible, entertainment should also be provided.

2:00 p.m.  Welcome from the District Governor(s) and President’s Representative

Since we will be in another district, it is customary to allow that District’s governor to welcome attendees to the conference. Additionally, our own district governor will welcome attendees. Both speeches should be short and simple. After the two governors address the group, the Rotary International President’s Representative should be introduced and given an opportunity to welcome attendees. Then the meeting should be turned over to the Conference chair or whom I like to refer to as the “cruise director.” This needs to be a fun, lively person who can excite people and make them comfortable. His or her job throughout the Conference is going to be to do the announcing (sort of like a Master of Ceremonies), direct people to events (like a “border collie”), and get them to mingle (like a “matchmaker”). His or her job is then to let everyone know the rules for the Conference, review the agenda, point out bathrooms, the House of Friendship, the hospitality suite(s), and any other important rooms.

2:15 p.m.  Opening Session – Service Projects

Start with a bang! This part of the Conference is an opportunity to do several things with your attendees. I have seen a lot of Service Project presentations that are just, “Look what we did!” In other words, they were only clubs bragging about their projects. Some of those should be presented. However, the frustration I see with clubs is that they see other clubs successfully doing projects but not really explaining how they accomplished them. So, the start of this Session should be about 15 – 20 minutes of clubs talking about the projects they have accomplished this last year. The presentations should have photos, videos, testimonials of participants. However, the majority of this Session should be devoted to the mechanics of how clubs can do the same thing in their communities. In other words, show them (1) how to find a potential project; (2) how to get the projected approved; (3) how to fund the project; and (4) how to actually conduct the project to maximize participation from members. Attendees should leave that Session educated and motivated to go back to their clubs and do more projects!

3:30 p.m.  Afternoon “Coffee Break”

This break probably isn’t necessary, since the attendees have just been in Sessions for just over an hour. However, your goal in conducting the Conference should be to get attendees to meet and get involved with each other. They can’t do that very well when they are in a classroom! So, this is just another chance to get them to mingle. Use your “cruise director” to present a fun game or mixer during the break. Perhaps something that shows how we are all alike and are all connected through Rotary. Also, have plenty to drink (coffee, tea, sodas, water, etc.) and some sorts of snacks.

4:00 p.m.  RI Convention

Many new Rotarians may not even know they can attend the Rotary International Convention. This is an opportunity to present a report on the immediate past Convention and then present the promotional video and information about the upcoming Convention. It would also be helpful if any “packages” put together from the District can be explained so those interested in attending can start considering them. The presentation from the past Convention should include as many of the attendees as possible. That serves two purposes: One, it gets more people to attend the session, because they are presenting! Two, it allows others in the audience to get other comments from the past Convention so they can see that anyone can attend and have a good time. Since the attendees will be leaving this session to hopefully take part in the planned family event, it will allow the family to have some discussion about the possibility of planning a trip to the next Convention.

4:30 p.m.      Rotary Family Mini-Golf Tournament

This is an activity in which Rotarians and their family members can participate. Handicaps should be given to younger family members and prize should be offered. The competition can be by club, age, or gender. The emphasis should be on family fun and fellowship, just before we gather for dinner. (If there is inclement weather, an option can be an indoor game tournament, such as Jenga, Apples to Apples, or other competitive family friendly games for all ages).

5:00 p.m.     Free time

Give participants some time to relax for a short while, nap, change, or just do nothing. Realize that, although it is one-half hour of free time, those family members who are not Rotarians and not attending the sessions may have had a lot of free time since arriving! Therefore, this is really just an opportunity for Rotarians to “recharge their batteries.”

5:30 p.m.     Governors Foundation reception

This “invitation-only” reception is an opportunity to thank Major Donors, Paul Harris Society members, Bequest Society members, and other invitees who have given to The Rotary Foundation. The invitation, similar to the invitations sent by The Rotary Foundation for their receptions at the International Conventions, should have been mailed — in advance – to invitees. However, the reception should be somewhat “short, sweet and simple” but something where true appreciation can be expressed to attendees for their gifts. Perhaps this is where the RI President’s Representative can address the group and convey the appreciation of the Rotary president and Chairman of the Foundation Board. Perhaps some small token from the Rotary catalog or other item can be handed out to these donors. The reception should be significant, but short enough so that the attendees can then either stay and mingle among themselves, or join the Friday “After Five” reception.

5:30 p.m.     Friday “After Five” Reception

This just needs to be a “Happy Hour” in the House of Friendship. It should be a relaxed environment where Rotarians and guests can sit or stand, have a drink and some snacks and mingle. The District leadership should be there to greet attendees and should move around the room. Have music playing (either recorded music or a live DJ) and have lots of decorations and festive things. If the weather is cooperative, have it outside, or at least offer the option for attendees to migrate outside. Again, you are trying to get attendees to mingle.

6:30 p.m.     Conference BBQ (with entertainment)

One of my favorite family vacations with our children was a trip to Keystone, Colorado. We attended a Chuckwagon Feast. The attendees were driven to the site in covered wagons. There was a campfire in the middle of the seating area and a cowboy with a guitar wandering around playing. There was a horseshoe pit. There was a volleyball net. There was a lot of bench seating which forced attendees to sit together. There was a chuckwagon with LOTS of food. Brisket, roasted corn, potatoes, salad, hot dogs, biscuits. It was a feast! There were all kinds of drinks available from beer and mixed drinks for the adults, to tea, water, and root beer for everyone else. While we were eating, you could smell cobblers being cooked in dutch ovens. Once done, they were served with a scoop of ice cream. As you might expect, most of the kids ended up playing volleyball and/or soccer, while most of the adults sat around and talked. As the sun went down and temperature did too, most everyone ended up a little closer to the fire. Hot cocoa and marshmallow were brought out as the evening wound down and that brought the kids back to the group. The singing cowboy was entertaining, but did not really interfere with conversation. All in all, it was a great evening! That same setting can make for a great, first night event. Remember, this could be the first District Conference for some and they won’t know many others in attendance. Many who have attended before always welcome the opportunity to catch up with their friends from other clubs. An event like this is a great way to get these two groups together for a memorable evening. This is also a good place for the President’s Representative to be able to give his or her main speech. Of course, since it will be outside and there will be family members who may not want to hear any sort of speech, you might want to defer this talk until Saturday.

8:30 p.m.     Hospitality Suite opens!

One of my favorite sayings about Rotary is “Wherever you find four Rotarians, you’ll always find a FIFTH.” Of course, the reference here is to alcohol! In every part of the world where I have experienced Rotary, alcoholic beverages are involved. That is NOT to say you have to drink to be a Rotarian! However, my experience has been Rotarians bond with one another over a beverage. Social custom seems to be to offer such a beverage to a visitor or friend and then share that beverage together. As a result, having a hospitality suite where old friends or newly made ones can share a beverage and relax is a good thing. Again, offer drinks and snacks. At one district conference I attended, they had two hospitality suites, each one sponsored by a different Rotary club. One had soft drinks and chocolates and was more “family friendly.” The other had an open bar and a bartender with other snacks. They were a little ways apart from each other in the hotel. However, it was still easy to migrate from one to the other, if you chose. What I found interesting was, at one point, board games came out. Amazingly, both myself and several attendees stayed until after 1:00 in the morning playing games! Once again, it was memorable and talked about – a lot – the next day at the conference.

Of course, you can set a “closing time” or just let attendees socialize. You WANT them to socialize! The District NEEDS them to socialize. Although the District Conference is to be focused around learning about Rotary, those in attendance are only focused on doing that if you make their conference experience fun and exciting. They won’t necessarily return the next year for the learning. However, they will return for the fun!