Why we need to talk about ourselves

[Rotary News Service]

• Do your friends and co-workers know you’re a Rotarian?

• Do you tell acquaintances about your club’s good works in the community or internationally?

• Did you know that talking about your involvement in Rotary could significantly enhance the organization’s image and boost public awareness?

It’s up to every Rotarian to tell the world what Rotary is and does.

According to a public image survey commissioned by Rotary International in 2010, people are much more likely to know about Rotary and perceive it positively as a charitable organization if they personally know a Rotarian. The finding is just one of many that could shape how clubs and districts promote Rotary in their communities.

RI commissioned the survey of 1,000 individuals in each of six countries — the United States, Argentina, Australia, Germany, Japan and South Africa — to gauge the general public’s awareness and perception of the organization. The results are consistent with those of a similar survey conducted in 2006: While respondents had heard of Rotary, they did not know much about what it does.

Building familiarity is not easy, says Pauline Leung, Rotary public image general coordinator.

“Sometimes Rotarians are doing too many things and can get people confused about Rotary. We must have consistency when promoting the image of Rotary. Rotarians should receive training so they can clearly express our position, our vision, our values, and our areas of focus.”

The survey showed that awareness of Rotary varies from country to country, and culture to culture. Of the six countries surveyed, Australia had the highest proportion of respondents who said they were aware of Rotary (95%), while Germany had the lowest (34%).

But awareness of Rotary doesn’t necessarily translate into familiarity with what it does. While almost everyone in Australia indicated an awareness of Rotary, only 35% of respondents said they had some familiarity with the organization. In South Africa, where 80% of respondents indicated they were aware of Rotary, only 23% said they had some familiarity with what it does.

The survey report concluded that public image efforts will need to be tailored to each country. It also noted that boosting awareness alone will not be enough to get the public to readily associate Rotary with good works, or to generate greater community involvement.

The survey further concluded that demographics play a significant role in whether people have heard of Rotary. The survey included a cross section of each country’s population by age, gender, income level, and education level. In Japan, 67% respondents age 40 or older said they had heard of Rotary, compared to only 38% of those younger than 40. In Argentina, 63% of the highest income bracket had heard of Rotary, while only 20% of the lowest income bracket had. The report concluded that clubs may need to gain a better understanding of what would increase interest among younger professionals.

The public’s view of Rotarians differs somewhat from how Rotarians see themselves. More than 65 percent of respondents viewed Rotarians as charitable, respected, and caring. But only 26% selected the attribute women to describe Rotary, while more than 50% associated the organization with men. In other questions, more respondents said they associated club membership with men than with women. The survey concluded that Rotary is still being seen as a male-dominated organization. Work needs to be directed toward communicating opportunities for women to join.

Interest in contributing time or money to a Rotary club varied by nation. Interest was highest in South Africa, at 49%, and lowest in Japan, at 10%. The survey report concluded that because interest in contributing money varies by nation, Rotarians need to tailor marketing efforts to reflect local club initiatives.

The public’s interest in joining a Rotary club is low. Among the countries surveyed, an average of only 16% of respondents said they would be likely to join a local Rotary club. More than 59% said they would be unlikely to join. In the United States, women were half as likely as men to report interest in joining.

Similar findings came from focus groups that RI conducted between 2008 and 2010. The 40 groups included non-Rotarians in cities where Rotary had been experiencing membership declines. Read more about the results in the October/November 2010 issue of The Membership Minute, or download the full report.

“Because each Rotary club is independent in deciding what services they want to be involved in, this can cause mixed impressions in the communities on what we do,” Leung says. “These surveys underscore the importance of having a consistent message.”

The 1.2 million Rotary club members worldwide are the organization’s greatest strength. Here are a few resources that clubs and districts can use to promote Rotary:

  • Find tips for creating a signature activity.
  • Learn how to apply for a PR grant to enhance Rotary’s image.
  • Find your Rotary public image coordinator.
  • Learn how to plan an End Polio Now lighting.
  • Browse best practices for member recruitment and retention.
  • Download “Be a Vibrant Club: Your Club Leadership Plan” (PDF) to discover ways to make your club more dynamic and increase its diversity.
  • Download the “Membership Development Resource Guide” (PDF) and “Club Assessment Tools” (PDF).
  • Get a catalog of membership development resources (PDF).
  • Learn tips for finding and keeping members.

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