If you've wondered how to break into the traditional civic leadership networks, Joan Dixon of the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois explains why the Rotary may be the unexpected solution:
At one point I was the PR director for a large clinic in Champaign with 135 doctors, and my boss was a big time Rotarian. Another fellow suggested I join the Rotary, but my boss said I wasn't highly placed enough. Now that's old school thinking.
So when I started in 2002 at the Community Foundation, our president said I had to join Rotary. Rotary was limited to men until 1989, when the Supreme Court said it had to open its membership to women; but even then there were not many females for a long time. Our club was only 21% female, but, as is typical, we would not have gotten lots of things done without the females. To their credit, most of the fellows in our club now recognize that.
I was a little hesitant to join Rotary because it's an every-week commitment. Our club has lunch every Monday, and you're expected to attend -- one of the clubs meets at 6:45 am and it's "all the bacon you can eat"! If you are traveling you can attend a meeting of a Rotary club in the town you're visiting, or you can go online and fulfill the attendance requirement there. It's turned out to be like going to the gym. It becomes a routine and you plan around it.
How has the community foundation benefitted from your involvement with the Rotary?
I've built the reputation of the foundation through my contacts at the Rotary. I'm always comfortable going to someone and saying, "You've shown an interest in children's issues -- I know that from the work you've done in Rotary. Let me talk to you about how we at the community foundation can help you with that." Through the Rotary I know lots of bankers and lawyers and people that can be helpful to the foundation.
What happens at a Rotary meeting?
We have a large club for this area with about 180 members (some clubs are as small as 20), so there will be about 120 folks at the meeting. We start by singing a patriotic song such as God Bless America, then we have an invocation or thought for the day. That's followed by announcements about Rotary committee meetings, and, if a club member has done something that's made the newspaper, we announce that or there's somebody to be thanked.
Then we have a speaker for 20-30 minutes. For example, next Monday we're having a wheelchair athlete who has won the Boston Marathon and who is involved with helping people in Ghana with disabilities. The week after that the head of the Convention and Visitors Bureau will be talking about what the Bureau is doing. After that we'll have the head coach of the university football team and then the head city planner. So you can see we learn about all kinds of things and I get to meet everybody in the community.
What if you're interested in the Rotary, but are not sure you will fit in?
Go online and find out about the clubs near you and just show up. One club might have a more convenient meeting time, or might have younger members, or just feel like more of a fit to you. People aren't intentionally insensitive, but it does happen. At our club, for instance, some people give a prayer that's just too much, and we have to remind them that it's supposed to be more of a non-denominational thought for the day than a full-blown prayer.
And why should a nonprofit person join Rotary?
The folks in Rotary are interested in the community and they're a good resource: for board members, for volunteers, for donors. Rotary can help you make a connection to many people who can contribute to your organization's success. Don't be thrown off by the time commitment. When your organization needs something, chances are you can get it through one call to a Rotary member or in one more call to whomever that Rotarian refers you.
Who pays the dues?
The cost varies by club; to join our club it's about $300 initially and then ongoing it's about $150/year. The community foundation pays my dues; it's very typical that your organization pays. It's an investment of a few dollars and a lot of your time, but it pays off for the organization.
How did you get to be Rotary president?
It's a great organization, but the truth is, I just forgot to say no!
Joan M. Dixon is President and CEO of the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, based in Champaign and is pictured at a Rotary meeting about to begin. Thanks to years of childhood dance lessons and a BA and MA in theatre, Joan can even provide the entertainment -- in addition to chairing -- Rotary meetings!