As we all know, every month in the Rotary calendar we nominate a special emphasis. January is “Rotary Awareness Month”. This should be an important focus but Rotary in Australia takes a break for the first part of the month and it always seems to take a few weeks for clubs to get back into the swing of Rotary. As a result, this area of focus perhaps gets less attention than other areas of focus.
There is also the matter of whether the emphasis is on making the community aware of Rotary or improving the knowledge of Rotarians about Rotary. The answer of course is that it is both.
The history of a club, especially those that have been around for a while is often not well known, especially to newer members. The activities of Rotary International let alone its history are incredibly broad and far-reaching. Most of us just see part of it. Rotary awareness is not only about our history but also our future; knowledge of history helps define the future.
For the community at large Rotary is seen through our good works and contribution to society. Even then much of what we do is invisible to the wider community or not necessarily attributed to Rotary. I think most Rotarians get rather agitated every time they see a media report on polio eradication wherein Rotary is not mentioned at all or rates barely a passing mention.
At the broadest level we have to concede that Rotary as an organisation, as a club and Rotarians as individuals have not been effective at creating that awareness that we should be achieving.
Companies selling into the consumer market apparently spend as much or more on brand recognition than they do on the particular product they are trying to sell. In a way Rotary has been losing brand recognition in a sea of competitors. Charity is a huge business in Australia. The Not for Profit sector encompasses groups seeking to achieve a community, altruistic or philanthropic purpose. It is huge (more than 600,000, mostly unincorporated) of which 56,000 charities are endorsed for tax concessions. In total the Productivity Council estimates these NFP’s have one million employees and 4.6 million volunteers. All of them are fighting for brand recognition and the charity dollar.
Rotary does not have a lot of money to put into promotion and brand recognition and it is fair to say that much of what has been spent has been ineffectual. This year the five Victorian Rotary Districts banded together on a combined effort, mainly through the RACV journal, the most widely read publication in Victoria. In the main this provides brand recognition, although we are promoting the rewards of being a Rotarian.
We occasionally see street promotions employing people wearing “sandwich boards”. Rotarians can also be a walking promotion with far less inconvenience. When we are serving the community it is good if we wear Rotary apparel – shirt, jacket, cap or hat but all times it is good if we wear our Rotary pin. To be sure this was easier when suits were the order of the day but we can still wear it on our regular apparel. This is not just subliminal brand awareness but often the start of what could be a game changing conversation.
RI President Sakuji Tanaka had the following to say on the subject: “I am asking all of you to wear your Rotary pin and to raise awareness of what the pin means. I believe having that pin changes you. It makes you think more before you speak and before you act. It makes you remember, all the time, that you are a Rotarian – and that as Rotarians, we are here to help.
All of us should be ready to talk about Rotary. When someone asks you about that pin, you should be ready to answer them. What is Rotary? What does Rotary do? These are questions that each of us should always be prepared to answer”.
We don’t always have to do big things to do worthwhile things. So a simple but effective outcome from Rotary Awareness month might be for us all to work on how you will answer the questions posed by RI President Sakuji. In any sales pitch you apparently only have few words in which to make or break a sale.
Once the person you are talking with is engaged then you have time to go into more depth about what it is that Rotary is about. You don’t even have to think about this matter because Rotary International has already done the hard work.
I like the “Core Essence of Rotary” statement, which defines Rotary as “A worldwide network of inspired individuals who translate their passions into relevant social causes to change lives in communities”.
If you prefer, the more traditional Rotary Mission Statement also works for me: “We provide services to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through our fellowship of business, professional and community leaders”.
It is worth taking the time during this month to familiarise Rotarians with some of the big picture things that are going on around the Rotary world. The latest (and positive) news on polio eradication is always worth sharing.
There is always a lot to share locally. Lower club attendance at this time of the year often means that meeting programs are less formal, without an outside guest speaker. So what about using this time to have members share their “Rotary moment”, that special time when something happened that changed them from being a member of a Rotary club to a Rotarian. Their Rotary moment will usually be inspirational and stimulate positive discussion.
It is also an opportunity to provide some Rotary history or some information about Rotary programs and activities.
Like all theme months, the activity does not stop just because a new month arrives. Rotary awareness is ongoing so in April, which is Rotary Magazine Month, our awareness campaign will go into overdrive with Rotarians at Work Day on April 21. Of course we want the entire family of Rotary to participate – friends of Rotary, family members and even others who have no idea what Rotary is (but they soon will have)!
District Assembly will be held in May, and this will most certainly increase Rotary awareness and knowledge. Some of you will be attending Rotary Leadership Institute and some clubs will be doing Club visioning.
Many Rotarians will be exposed to the visiting Group Study Exchange team from District 1080 in the UK, which arrives in Melbourne on Rotary’s 108th birthday on 23rd February. That will certainly increase Rotary awareness.
So my Rotary friends, Rotary awareness is multi-dimensional, reflecting within and reaching out to the wider community. All of the many things we do in Rotary should and can create awareness but so often the dots do not seem to connect.
Those dots will connect for you when we get together for our district Conference from 14 - 17 March. Of course we are using our Conference to provide our focus for the March theme of World Literacy but our conference will certainly promote awareness and knowledge.
We have now released details of some of the keynote speakers at the Conference and they are all world class speakers who will stimulate your mind and your senses and inspire you in new directions of thinking.
Our Conference will demonstrate the theme we have chosen for our Conference: Rotary – it’s amazing.