The Board Told Me I Had to Join Rotary

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!

Comments (15)

  • Thanks Joan for your information about Rotary. I joined Rotary when I came to a town of about 8,000 and it has been an ideal way to meet the "who's who" in town as well as other young professionals. Blue Avocado, thanks so much for telling a story from the Midwest! We love your work and sometimes get a little jealous of the West Coast! :) Annie

    Aug 24, 2010
  • I'm also the president of a community foundation and have been in Rotary for 5 years. It has opened quite a few doors for me. I enjoy the weekly lunch meetings, as it is a nice break in my routine. Unfortunately, legal counsel has advised me against serving on the Rotary board, as they have several funds at our foundation. I do participate in their committees and have thoroughly enjoyed that. I would recommend Rotary to everyone.

    Aug 24, 2010
  • Anonymous

    This was a great article. I'm a member of a service organization, Pilot Club, which focuses on improving communities and includes a foundation that focuses on brain-related disorders. The connections, friendships and knowledge I've gained from the group could never be found anywhere else. It's been a blessing!

    Aug 24, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I also thought this was a terriffic article and was wondering how we could use it to encourage people to join Pilot. Then I saw your message mentioning Pilot. I am the Assistant Director of a Non-Profit and was asked to join Pilot when my boss at the time could not because the local club at the time only had female members.
    Currently I am the governor of the Virginia District of Pilot.

    Sep 03, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Service organizations are a great benefit to non-profit professionals. Rotory tends to be a lot more expensive to be a part of than Kiwanis though.

    Aug 24, 2010
  • Anonymous

    For anyone considering membership, check the organization's other fees beyond dues. There are the weekly meals, the raffle tickets, the required tickets to the fundraising events, buying items for gift baskets, etc. The beginning fee of $150 can end up being closer to $850 a year. It's still a worthy endeavor, I'm just saying that if agency (or your own) money is tight, be sure you know what the total commitment would be.

    Aug 24, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I have to agree with you. I was a guest at a couple of Rotary meetings last year. When I asked the gentleman next to me what I need to join, he said 'Money!". Later I asked the person who brought me about it and she said he was not joking. Having said that, I think Rotary is a good organization - my father has been a member for as long as I can remember. I just need a larger salary before I can join!

    Aug 24, 2010
  • Joan, you've got the right attitude. We could use a lot more people like you. I forgot to say no also. I was a Club President, Asst. Governor and last year a District Governor. I had no intention of doing any of this when I joined in 1995. Perhaps you will continue to forget to say no. PDG Larry

    Aug 24, 2010
  • Every Rotary club is different - including club "personality," signature project, singing or non-singing, invocation or thought-for-the-day, and dues. Some clubs have smaller initiation fees and lower dues than others. It often depends on whether the club prefers to write checks or do fund-raising, or is more interested in hands-on projects. Meal costs can vary depending on time of day and venue. I've noticed that the costs for lunches in metropolitan areas tend to be higher than in the smaller communities. Some clubs have arranged for a coffee only option for those who prefer not to have a meal. Some of the newer clubs have adopted the "After Five" model which usually means having a beverage at the meeting (food is optional) and going home to have dinner with the family. And --- Rotary clubs across North America have been assessing, and reducing where possible, costs in light of the tight economy. I would strongly suggest that anyone interested in knowing more about Rotary ask all the questions that are important to you - the club should tell you up front about all potential costs. I think you will find it to be a good "value" for your time and resources! Judi Beard Strubing, Past District Governor Zone Rotary Coordinator

    Aug 25, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I live in a small town in the UK.
    I have joined a group associated with the Rotary called Inner Wheel. Traditionally it was the wives of Rotary and now they let in any one interested in fundraising for charity. I do admit there are not any men clammering to attend!

    I would prefer to be in the Rotary groups in town (there are three) but as mentioned before it comes down to money. Rotary would be more useful in meeting the business owners, but eventually I am getting to know the husbands after three years.

    Inner Wheels exist all over the world and in its hey-day there were many group visits abroad to host groups. Our strongest link is in Turkey for instance.

    The major draw-back now-a-days is that the younger more progressive business owners are in BNI (Business Network) and any of the Rotarians are beyond retirement age. They just can't do the active fundraising like they used to, and it comes down to cheque-book fundraising.

    Projects this year have included Water-Aid boxes for Haiti and now Pakistan, rentable mobility scooters for the town's visitors and short-term disabled (a bit like a car-share scheme) and donations to local youth clubs and scholarships. We also do shopping for the elderly in hospital care. They rarely have any family and it makes a small but essential difference to them.

    Aug 26, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I've been an active member of Kiwanis since 1989. I was invited to join when membership opened up for women because I was the Director of an organization that this club had supported for many years. I've enjoyed many benefits from this participation:

    1) Exposure to a wide range of people who are not in the non-profit world eg. lawyers, bankers, engineers, accountants, business owners, real estate agents, professors, even a meteorologist!

    2) Ability to volunteer for a variety of worthwhile community projects that I didn't have to plan and organize.

    3) Weekly program speakers that are interesting, informative, and thought provoking.

    4) Friendships that are both professional and personal.

    If your only reason for joining is for professional contacts you will probably not be a happy, long time member of any service club. If, however, your motivation is to give back to your community you will find that membership allows you to leverage your limited time in a fellowship of like minded individuals. My organization is very small with tight budget constraints. I budget the annual dues of $150 as Professional Membership but pay for my lunch out of pocket. I would encourage membership in Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Optimists, etc. as something that is important for nonprofit staff both professionally and personally.

    Aug 26, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I'm a past president and currently treasurer of our Rotary Club. I carry my lunch, saving the $7.25 per meal, so I only pay quarterly dues of $32.50. I bet the cost of Rotary membership varies from Club to Club, so do check into it. Being an active member of a service organization has always been part of my job description as executive director of our United Way. Actually, it's a pleasure to serve and be with these wonderful volunteers.

    Aug 30, 2010
  • Anonymous

    I'm an atheist and feel excluded from many groups because they expect their members to belong to some sort of religion. I'm uncomfortable even with a non-denominational prayer because even those prayers assume religion and belief in god. I keep my efforts focused on groups that don't introduce religion and make people like me feel as if we are second class citizens and somehow inappropriate to participate in community activities.

    Sep 06, 2010
  • To the Anonymous atheist: Well, I don't think EVERYBODY has to be comfortable at EVERYTHING. There are some things that Christians don't feel comfortable in. Some places that agnostics aren't comfortable in. Just because you aren't comfortable doesn't mean you are being made to feel like a second class citizen. Just because you aren't comfortable doesn't mean a group is doing something wrong.

    Sep 07, 2010

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