Clubs like Rotary, Lions, Apex and many others make a substantial contribution to our society.

Like most clubs, including many other sporting and community clubs, these service clubs are dying. Their membership today is a fraction of what it was 10 years ago and most of the members are over 50.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for clubs to attract and retain members – especially those members young enough to take the club into the next decade and the one after that.

What is more the executive members of these clubs at the local, state, national and international levels are thrashing around trying to find solutions – largely without success.

But all is not lost, there is a solution. The difficulty is that the solution lies beyond the comprehension, and well beyond the comfort zone of the aging club members who have long forgotten what innovation is, if indeed they ever knew.
Strange as it might seem, the solution lies in two things:
– The evolution of the computer
– The failure of the Magna 380

In just a few years the computer has evolved from a building filling monster that needed to be fed cards, to a desk top, to a laptop, to an iPad to an iPhone. These devices have become simpler and simpler, smaller and smaller – whilst all the while doing exactly the same thing.

In other words the core essence of the device has not changed, just the way it is packaged and delivered. The FOUR WAY TEST at Rotary can remain the same, but the way it is lived and packaged must change.

The Magna 380 was launched as a revolutionary vehicle, when in truth there was nothing remotely revolutionary about it. The advertising said it had changed when it had not. The Managing Director promised on television that the Magna was innovative when it was not.

The Magna 380 failed for the same reason clubs fail – the executive is not listening to the market and delivering true innovation. Changing from a lunch meeting to a breakfast meeting is not innovation.

Underpinning these two issues are two more issues:
– Putting the market before the product
– Getting out of the comfort zone

Great marketing is not about finding markets for products – but rather finding products for markets. Great marketing starts with a definition of who your market is and then developing a product that addresses those needs and wants.

Clubs can retain their core reason for being, but they have to address it in a way that also addressed the needs and wants of their target market – a market few have defined and even fewer understand.

Most clubs don’t change because the powers that be put their own comfort ahead of the service that their organisation delivers to its community. Almost by definition innovation involves discomfort and few members of Rotary, Lions and Apex etc are prepared to endure that discomfort.

Change involves discomfort, but change and real change at that is essential if the club is to survive. Members have to put the ideals of the club ahead of their own comfort. They have to put community service first, not just in words but also in deeds.

Under pinning these two principles are two more:
– Market intelligence
– Putting service before self

If you don’t understand your market, how can you develop a product that addresses their needs and wants. Few baby boomers understand each other’s needs and wants let alone those of the X and Y generations. They rely on gut feeling and intuition, something no forward thinking corporation would rely on.

They have to get out there and talk to potential members and review the outcomes of research objectively and with a determination to make the changes indicated by that research.

Rotarians talk of SERVICE BEFORE SELF and it is an outstanding idea. Having said that, the biggest barrier to regenerating Rotary clubs and clubs in general is that the members, and in particular the older members are putting self before service. Regeneration will occur when club members – regular and executive – embrace the revolution that has occurred in the computer industry. They have to retain their core principles and objectives and put everything else up for grabs – no matter how uncomfortable they find it.

Many will say that they understand this – but if they did these clubs would not be terminal, and the reality is they are terminal.
Most people say they thrive on change when we know that most people are scared of change. Most people say that they understand innovation when Steve Jobs showed us clearly that few do. True innovation involves allowing the market to lead you.

Any genuine service club who would like to hear from me on this subject can do so without fee. I believe in service clubs. I believe they can have a strong future. I believe that most I not all will be gone in 10 years without change on a scale few members are considering.

It is not hard, but it takes some thinking differently and it takes people willing to get out of their comfort zone. Are you?
If you are, I am available to help.

Just a thought


This issue will be discussed in detail on THE D. JOHN CARLSON NETWORK –

John Carlson is a behavioural scientist, strategic planner and lateral thinker focusing on branding, marketing, communication, personal advancement, business development and behaviour management.

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