Posted by Peter Frueh

The Current Situation

If we look at our District 9800, we have 65 Rotary clubs. This is down from the 67 of five years ago, and our membership has also declined from around 2,400 to 2,100 in that time, an average of about five members a club, or one per club per year. This is a long-term trend across all Districts in Australia and much of the developed world, but what would it take for us to have a net increase of two each year per club, rather than a decline of one?

Reasons for Leaving

Rotary International survey data shows that the main reasons people leave are:
  • For members under 40 - life changing event (work, move, relationships, children), club environment, cost or time constraint
  • For members 40 to 60 - cost or time constraints, club environment, unmet expectations
  • For members 60+ - life changing event (relocation, health), club environment, cost or time constraint.
Of course, every individual has their own reasons for leaving and by the time they leave, some may not wish to share it. It is therefore up to club leaders and fellow members to observe those members who are perhaps not as engaged or are not attending meetings, and ask them how they are feeling about their Rotary club…is it meeting their needs? If not, can something be done about it.


Some people will be familiar with the U-shape of faults in manufactured goods. Problems show up either early in use, or much later on, as things wear out or age. Membership in Rotary has the same U-shape. In our District, 38% of members who leave do so in the first two years. Then the rate drops to 4% p.a. over the next eight years, before rising again for long term members.


This shows the importance of “onboarding” new members so they feel part of the club, how the club can meet their expectations, and provide learning about the broader aspects of Rotary International. Clubs need to have formal or informal mentoring in place and ensure this is happening. Ask and listen to what your newer club members say about their experience, help them find where their passion might be within Rotary, and then work with them to ensure they are able to initiate or participate in their first project or event. Recognise them publicly and make them part of the Rotary family.
The pandemic has hit all our members in some way or another (work, family, stress, financial). We need to show that we care for one another and allow people to share their issues—as the adage goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. Formal Zoom meetings may not provide the right platform for this to happen, and smaller breakout groups can help for larger clubs. However, nothing beats a phone call at a suitable time from a Rotary friend! You can prepare to make this call by checking out the RUOK website for tips: Also, why not consider reaching out to past members, friends of the club, volunteers and others in the broader Rotary community. We all appreciate this type of support.

Renewing Clubs

Finally, use this time to reimagine your club and get back to grass roots community-based projects in which members can get personally involved. Examples are assisting with food sharing organisations, phone support for isolated elderly people, mentoring of people who have lost their job or are undergoing work transitions, etc. Reach out to local businesses to get their support for your new initiatives or ask them how you could help. Ask the local council about emerging issues in which your members can assist.
A healthy club focuses equally on membership growth and membership retention, and now is an ideal time to look at your club’s approach to both areas.