3 lessons I learned as a Rotary club president

By Quentin Wodon, past president of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., USA 

Every year, 35,000 new presidents pick up the reins to guide their Rotary clubs. Having recently completed a year as president myself, I thought it would be beneficial to share three lessons I learned from the experience.

1. Prioritize

Unless you are a member of a large club, it is probably best to focus your club’s energy on only one main goal each year, as opposed to pursuing many different goals. A year goes by quickly. Trying to achieve too many goals may mean not achieving any of them very well.

Our top priority was to rebuild our membership. After many years of decline, we started the year officially with 18 members. Practically, we had at best 15, because two told us they were relocating over the summer and another had to be terminated. Of those 15, only about half were fully engaged. Thanks to a few initiatives I’ve spelled out in a free e-book, and a bit of luck, we ended up with 40 members. In some areas, we did well with our objective. In others, we still have a long way to go. But what helped is we had one main strategic objective.

2. Invest in your local community

Many clubs are involved in both local and international service projects. I work in international development, so it is important to me that Rotary implements projects in developing countries. However, it is also clear to me that what sustains most clubs is local service, not international projects. International projects often involve only a few dedicated members, while local projects are likely to involve many members and attract people who are more likely to be member prospects.

3. Serve your members

Sometimes, there is a bit of a debate among Rotary as to whether we are a membership organization or a service organization. It seems to me Rotary is by nature a membership organization first. Without a strong membership, Rotarians can’t achieve as much in their service work.

Clubs needs to respond to the needs and preferences of their members. This may mean a stronger focus on service in some clubs. But it may mean in other clubs something else, like attracting great speakers. Clubs do need to engage in service work. This is an imperative, and I would not remain a Rotarian if this were not the case. My own priority in Rotary is to engage in service work.

But not all Rotarians have the same priorities, and priorities can change depending on the stage of one’s own life. There are multiple ways to contribute, and all should be celebrated. Diversity is a strength Rotary clubs can embrace.