Strengthening clubs through local partnerships

By Quentin Wodon, Author of the Rotarian Economist Blog, President of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and Lead Economist at the World Bank

Most Rotarians are professionals with deep skills in their area of expertise, yet many club service projects do not make systematic use of their members’ expertise. We see exceptions when Rotarians who are passionate and knowledgeable about a particular topic implement global grants. But in terms of the service work, my impression is that the great initiatives we undertake are limited in impact simply because they may not be truly strategic or may not make full use of Rotarians’ areas of expertise.

One solution to increase the impact of our service work is the concept of Pro Bono Rotarian Teams. On 1 July, my club launched partnerships with a half dozen local nonprofits in our community as part of a pro bono initiative. These partnerships bring four benefits: better service opportunities for members and greater impact in the community; more visibility for our partners and our club; attracting new members; and strengthening teams. Let me briefly explain these four benefits in case they may inspire other clubs to adopt a similar model:

Better service opportunities and larger impact: Rotarians in our club, as elsewhere, are professionals and/or business leaders. We are building on these skills by organizing pro bono strategic advising with small teams of 4-5 individuals (both Rotarians and non-Rotarians) that support local nonprofits in solving issues they face. This makes our club more interesting for our members in terms of the service opportunities we provide, and it also increases the impact that we have in the community because our engagement becomes more strategic.

More visibility for our partners and our club: Higher visibility is achieved in several ways. First, we are sharing our work on social media using the main community blog, The Hill is Home. We publish posts not directly about our club, but about the great work of our nonprofit partners and the fact that we are working with them. We also started writing short articles about our partner nonprofits in the main monthly community magazine.

New members: Our club has been losing members for several years, but since 1 July, we increased our membership by 50% from 18 to 27. Our pro bono initiative and our partnerships with local nonprofits is helping us recruit new members.

Stronger service teams: Our pro bono teams work for a period of three months with local nonprofits, and they include both Rotarians and non-Rotarians. We hope that some of the non-Rotarians working with the pro bono teams will become Rotarians, but this is not the main goal of combining members and others in our teams. The main goal is to build strong teams and benefit from the expertise of friends and colleagues who are ready to help, but may not be interested in Rotary. Think of this as our own model for a Rotary Community Corps, whereby we all work together to support and strengthen great local nonprofits.

There are multiple ways for Rotary clubs to partner with local nonprofits in a strategic way, and some clubs have a long history in doing so. Our new model emphasizing pro bono consulting teams working closely with local nonprofits may not be the right model for all clubs, but it does appear to be working for us, and it ties in nicely with our efforts at improving our public image and recruiting new members. If you would like to know more about our new model, please do not hesitate to post send me an email through the contact me page of my blog at The Rotarian Economist.

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