The changing face of Rotary

Aug 12, 2011

Mention Rotarians and most people's thought bubble consists of this: A group of older white guys in suits meeting for breakfast. But that's changing. In fact, there's a Rotary club in Seattle that's working hard to buck that stereotype.

Seattle's Fremont Rotary Club is one of a handful in Seattle to hold evening meetings instead of getting together for breakfast or lunch. Chris Peraird, who's 40,  is the president of the club. He says that's hugely attractive to young professionals who can't leave work in the middle of the day. It's also good for parents with young families.

"We happen to meet at a brewery, we have beer and we also have a nanny. So we get to bring our kids, and drink  beer and have a Rotary meeting."

In the United States and Canada, 74% of Rotarians are over 50. Meaning that without the Baby Boomers, the Rotary Club would barely exist. The organization says it needs to attract younger recruits. And by younger, we're talking about people in their 30s and 40s.  The Fremont club is one of the local groups that is making headway in this area.

Rotary clubs, including Fremont's, are also making an effort to recruit women. When Rotary was founded 106 years ago, it was a men's only club. Women were allowed in by 1987 but even today they make up only a third of all members. But bringing in more women is just part of the larger plan to go after generational diversity.

Tad Druart, with Convio - a company that's conducted national surveys on the philanthropic profile of younger generations - says today, the younger generation not only wants to give their money...

"...but they want to take an active role in volunteerism, in advocacy, and actually being part of the mission more so than the past and part of that is driven by technology."

Druart adds that if young people are going to give their time, they want immediate access - no long sign-up processes or initiation periods.

To its credit, that's something Rotary International has already realized. Many clubs now have a Facebook page. And the Rotary Foundation - which is the global arm of the organization - has regular status reports on its current mission to eradicate Polio around the world.

The Fremont Rotary club, says president Peraird, is all about doing good for the community but it's also about having fun while doing it, hence its slogan which was recently shouted out during its summer "booze cruise" on Seattle's Lake Union:

"Do good. Feel good. Drink beer."