What is Rotary?
Rotary International is an association of Rotary clubs worldwide. It’s made up of more than 33,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. The members of these autonomous clubs are called Rotarians, and they form a global network of 1.2 million business and professional leaders, all volunteering their time and talents to serve their communities and the world. Individual Rotary clubs, in turn, belong to the global association called Rotary International. Find out more about Rotary’s history and structure.
How do I become a member of Rotary?
If you’re interested in joining a local Rotary club, submit a Prospective Member Form , though individuals must be sponsored or proposed for membership into a club. Rotary International staff will process your information and forward it to local Rotary club leaders. You can also contact a local Rotary club directly. Use the Club Locator to find clubs in your area.
Often, a person being considered for membership is invited by a club member, or sponsor, to attend one or more club meetings to learn more about Rotary. In this case, the sponsor submits the candidate’s name to the club’s membership committee.
World Understanding Month
The month of February is designated World Understanding Month on the Rotary calendar. The month also includes the anniversary of the first meeting of Rotary held on 23 February 1905, now called World Understanding and Peace Day. To observe World Understanding Month, the Rotary International Board asks all
Rotary clubs to plan programs for their weekly meetings and undertake special activities that emphasize “understanding and goodwill as essential for world peace.”
In February, many clubs arrange for international speakers, invite Youth Exchange students and international scholars from schools and universities to club meetings, plan programs featuring former Group Study Exchange team members, arrange discussions on global issues, present entertainment with an international cultural or artistic theme, or plan other programs with an international emphasis.
Many clubs take the opportunity to launch an international community service activity or make contact with a Rotary club in another country. It is a good month to initiate a Rotary Friendship Exchange or encourage support for Rotary Foundation programs.
World Understanding Month is a chance for every club to pause, plan, and promote Rotary’s continued quest for goodwill, peace, and understanding among people of the world.
The Classification Principle
Virtually all membership in Rotary is based upon a “classification:’ Basically, a classification describes the distinct and recognized business or professional service that the Rotarian renders to society.
The principle of Rotary classification is somewhat more specific and precise. In determining the classification of a Rotarian, it is necessary to look at the “principal or recognized business or professional activity of the firm, company, or institution” with which an active member is connected or “that which covers the active member’s principal and recognized business or professional activity.”
It should be clearly understood that classifications are determined by activities or services to society rather than by the position held by a particular individual. In other words, if a person is the president of a bank, he or she is not classified as “bank president” but under the classification “banking.”
The classification principle also permits businesses and industries to be separated into distinct functions such as manufacturing, distributing, retailing, and servicing. Classifications may also be specified as distinct and independent divisions of a large corporation or university within the club’s territory, such as a school of business or a school of engineering.
The classification principle is a necessary concept in assuring that each Rotary club represents a cross section of the business and professional service of the community.
The Standard Rotary Club Constitution specifies three conditions under which a Rotarian’s membership will automatically be terminated for nonattendance. These circumstances are: failure to attend or make up four consecutive club meetings, failure to attend or make up 60 percent of club meetings each six months, and failure to attend at least 30 percent of the meetings of one’s own club in each six-month period. Under any of these three cases, a member will lose Rotary membership unless the club board of directors has previously consented to excuse such failure for good and sufficient reason.
When a member misses four consecutive regular meetings, the board will inform him or her that nonattendance may be considered a request to terminate membership in the club. Thereafter, the board, by a majority vote, may terminate his or her membership.
To some individuals, these rules may seem unusually rigid. However, being present at club meetings is one of the basic obligations a member accepts upon joining a Rotary club. The constitutional rules merely emphasize that Rotary is a participatory organization that highly values regular attendance. When a member is absent the entire club loses the personal association with that member. Being present at a club meeting is considered a vital part of the operation and success of every Rotary club.
Sharing Rotary with New Members
Are you aware of the responsibility or obligation most Rotarians fail to perform? Paying their dues? Attending meetings? Contributing to the club’s service fund? Participating in club events and projects? No — none of these!
Of all the obligations a person accepts when joining a Rotary club, the one in which most Rotarians fail is “sharing Rotary.” Rotary International clearly supports the position that every individual Rotarian has an “obligation to share Rotary with others and to help extend Rotary by proposing qualified persons for Rotary club membership:’ It is estimated that less than 30 percent of the members of most Rotary clubs have ever made the effort to propose a new member. Thus, in every club, there are many Rotarians who rarely share their positive experiences of Rotary membership with other individuals.
The Rotary International Constitution states with respect to club membership:
“Each club shall have a well-balanced membership in which no one business or profession predominates.” One merely has to glance through the pages of the local telephone or chamber of commerce directory to realize that most clubs have not invited qualified members of all businesses and professions into Rotary. One of the founding principles of Rotary is a fair and equitable representation of the professional and business population of the community it supports. To remain relevant, Rotary clubs must be inclusive of all professions and businesses within a community.
Only a Rotarian may propose a customer, neighbor, client, supplier, executive, relative, business associate, professional, or other qualified person to join a Rotary club. Have you accepted your obligation to share Rotary? The procedures are very simple, and everyone must know at least one person who should belong to Rotary.
Tolerance of Differences
Occasionally, there is a temptation to criticize the laws, customs, and traditions of another country that may seem strange or contrary to our own. In some instances, illegal practices or customs of one nation are completely lawful and acceptable in another.
As members of an international organization dedicated to world understanding and peace, it behooves Rotarians to exercise restraint in judging our Rotary friends and citizens from other countries when their behavior seems unusual to us. A Rotary policy has existed for more than half a century relating to this dilemma of international relationships.
The statement, adopted in 1933, says that because it is recognized that some activities and local customs may be legal and customary in some countries and not in others, Rotarians should be guided by this admonition of tolerance:
“Rotarians in all countries should recognize these facts and there should be a thoughtful avoidance of criticism of the laws and customs of one country by the Rotarians of another country?’ The policy also cautions against “any effort on the part of Rotarians of one country to interfere with the laws or customs of another country.
As we strive to strengthen the bonds of understanding, goodwill, and friendship, these policies still provide good advice and guidance.
Unusual Make-up Meetings
Which Rotarians have to travel farthest for a make-up meeting? You are right if you guessed the 34 members of the Rotary Club of Papeete, Tahiti, which is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is the club that is most remote from any other. The southernmost Rotary meeting is that of the Rotary Club of Base Marambio-AntArtida in Antarctica. To visit the northernmost club, you must travel to the Rotary Club of Svalbard on the Svalbard island group far north of the Norwegian mainland.
It is said that there is a Rotary meeting being held someplace in the world every hour of every day. If you attended one meeting per day, it would take more than 80 years to visit all of the more than 31,000 Rotary clubs in the world, and by that time, no doubt, there would be thousands more new clubs to attend.
Vocational Service is the second Avenue of Service. No aspect of Rotary is more closely related to each member than a personal commitment to represent one’s vocation or occupation to fellow Rotarians, and to exemplify the characteristics of high ethical standards and the dignity of work. Programs of vocational service are those that seek to improve business relations while improving the quality of trades, industry, commerce, and the professions. Rotarians understand that each person makes a valuable contribution to a better society through daily activities in a business or profession.
Vocational Service is frequently demonstrated by offering young people career guidance, occupational information, and assistance in making vocational choices. Some clubs sponsor high school career conferences. Many recognize the dignity of employment by honoring exemplary service of individuals working in their communities. The 4-Way Test and other ethical and laudable business philosophies are often promoted among young people entering the world of work. Vocational talks and discussion of business issues are also typical Vocational Service programs at most clubs.
Regardless of the ways in which Vocational Service is expressed, it is the banner by which Rotarians “recognize the worthiness of all useful occupations” and demonstrate a commitment to “high ethical standards in all businesses and professions?’ That’s why the second Avenue of Service is fundamental to every Rotary club.
In many Rotary clubs throughout the world, wives of male members have been affectionately called “Rotary Anns?’ This designation was never one of disparagement, but rather grew out of an interesting historical occasion.
The year was 1914 when San Francisco Rotarians boarded a special train to attend the Rotary Convention being held in Houston. In those days, few wives attended Rotary events, and until the train stopped in Los Angeles, the only woman aboard was the wife of Rotarian Bru Brunnier. As the train picked up additional convention-bound delegates, Mrs. Ann Brunnier was introduced as the Rotarian’s Ann. This title soon became “Rotary Ann?’ Since the clubs of the West were inviting the Rotarians to hold their next convention in San Francisco, a number of songs and stunts were organized that would be performed in Houston. One of the Rotarians wrote a “Rotary Ann” chant. On the train’s arrival at the Houston depot, a delegation greeted the West Coast Rotarians. One of the greeters was Guy Gundaker of Philadelphia, whose wife was also named Ann. During the rousing demonstration, someone started the Rotary Ann chant. The two petite ladies, Ann Brunnier and Ann Gundaker, were hoisted to the men’s shoulders and paraded about the hall. The group loved the title given to the two women named Ann. Immediately, the same term of endearment was used for all of the wives in attendance.
Guy Gundaker became president of Rotary International in 1923 and Bru Brunnier was elected president in 1952. Thus, each of the two original Rotary Anns became the “first lady of Rotary International?’
Lessons In Rotary Geography
Were you aware that the Rotary Club of Reno, Nevada, USA, is farther west than the Rotary Club of Los Angeles, California, USA?
Would you guess that the meetings of the Rotary Club of Portland, Maine, USA, are farther south than those of the clubs in London, England?
Can you imagine that the Rotary Club of Pensacola, Florida, USA, is west of the Detroit, Michigan, USA, club?
It’s a fact that the Rotary Club of Cairo, Illinois, USA, is south of Richmond, Virginia, USA.
There are 141 Rotary clubs with the word “Tokyo” in their club names.
The Rotary Club of Nome, Alaska, USA, lies west of the club in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, and the Santiago, Chile, club is located east of the Rotary Club of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Rotary geographers will know that virtually every Rotary club meeting in Australia is east of the Hong Kong Rotary club.
What do the Rotary clubs of Quito, Ecuador; Libreville, Gabon; Singapore; and Kampala, Uganda, have in common? You guessed right if you said they all meet approximately on the equator.
Invocations at Club Meetings
In many Rotary clubs, it is customary to open weekly meetings with an appropriate invocation or blessing. Usually such invocations are offered without reference to specific religious denominations or faiths.
Rotary policy recognizes that throughout the world Rotarians represent many religious beliefs, ideas, and creeds. The religious beliefs of each member are fully respected, and nothing in Rotary is intended to prevent each individual from being faithful to such convictions.
At international assemblies and conventions, it is traditional for a silent invocation to be given. In respect for all religious beliefs and in the spirit of tolerance for a wide variety of personal faiths, all persons are invited to seek divine guidance and peace in their own way. It is an inspiring experience to join with thousands of Rotarians in an international “silent prayer” or act of personal devotion. Usually all Rotary International Board and committee meetings begin with a few moments of silent meditation. In this period of silence, Rotary demonstrates respect for the beliefs of all members, who represent the religions of the world.
Since each Rotary club is autonomous, the practice of presenting a prayer or invocation at club meetings is left entirely to the traditions and customs of the individual club, with the understanding that these meeting rituals always be conducted in a manner that will respect the religious convictions and faiths of all members and are nondenominational in nature.
How do you find out when the Rotary club meets in Toowoomba, Pondicherry, or Recklinghausen? Simply turn to the Official Directory of Rotary International. The approximately 825-page annual publication is filled with current information about Rotarians and Rotary clubs. The meeting day, time, and location of every one of the more than 31,000 clubs is listed. From the Rotary Club of A’Famosa Malacca, Malaysia, to Zwolle-Noord, The Netherlands, the Official Directory provides the name, street address, and e-mail address if available of each club president and secretary, as well as the number of club members and charter date.
The Official Directory also records a wealth of information about the approximately 530 Rotary districts, as well as the composition and purpose of all official RI committees and task forces. Included are names and addresses of the current RI Board of Directors and all previous boards. There is a list of all past RI presidents with the themes for their year. An excellent directory of hotels around the world and a list of vendors licensed to sell Rotary merchandise are added features. It is a perfect guidebook for making Rotary contacts when you travel.
Available in a print version or on compact disc, the Official Directory can be ordered from RI World Headquarters or the international offices. Rotarians can also find information on club meetings in the Where Clubs Meet section on the RI Web site.
And, by the way, Toowoomba meets every Monday at 1800 hours, Pondicherry on Wednesdays at 1930, and Recklinghausen on Mondays at 1900. Now, that’s good to know!
Opportunities for Fellowship
Most Rotarians are successful professional and business executives because they hear opportunities knock and take advantage of them. Once a week, the opportunity for Rotary fellowship occurs at each club meeting, but not all members hear it knocking.
The weekly club meeting is a special privilege of Rotary membership. It provides the occasion to visit with fellow members, to meet visitors and new members, and to share your personal friendship with other members.
Rotary clubs that have a reputation for being “friendly clubs” usually follow a few simple steps. Members are encouraged to sit in a different seat or at a different table each week or to sit with a member they do not know as well as their longtime personal friends. Members are asked to invite new members or visitors to join their table and share the conversation around the table rather than merely eating in silence or talking privately to the person next to them. Rotarians also should make a special point of trying to get acquainted with all members of the club.
When Rotarians follow these easy steps, an entirely new opportunity for fellowship knocks each week. Soon, Rotarians realize that warm and personal friendship is the cornerstone of every great Rotary club.
Harry Ruggles was the fifth man to join Paul Harris in the conversations that led to the formation of the first Rotary club in Chicago in 1905. Harry was a fellow who enjoyed singing, and this was a popular activity at the turn of the century. At an early meeting of the fledgling group, Harry jumped on a chair and urged everyone to join him in a song.
Group singing soon became a traditional part of each Rotary meeting. The custom spread to many of the clubs in the United States and is still a popular fellowship activity in the Rotary meetings of such diverse countries as Australia, Japan, Nigeria, New Zealand, and Canada. Some clubs sing a national song as the formal opening of the meeting. Social singing, however, is seldom found in the Rotary clubs in Europe, South America, and Asia.
Types of Membership
There are two types of Rotary club membership — active and honorary. An active member is one who has been elected to membership in the club under a classification of business or profession and enjoys all the obligations, responsibilities, and privileges of membership as provided in the RI constitution and bylaws. Active members may hold office in their clubs and serve RI at the district and international levels. They are expected to meet attendance requirements, pay dues, and bring new members into Rotary.
Honorary Rotary membership may be offered to people who have distinguished themselves by meritorious service in the furtherance of Rotary ideals. An honorary member is elected for one year only, and continuing membership must be renewed annually. Honorary members cannot propose new members to the club or hold office and are exempt from attendance requirements and club dues.
Many distinguished heads of state, explorers, authors, musicians, astronauts, and other public personalities have been honorary members of Rotary clubs, including King Gustaf of Sweden, King George VI of England, King Badouin of Belgium, King Hassan III of Morocco, Sir Winston Churchill, humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, Charles Lindbergh, composer Jean Sibelius, explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, Thor Heyerdahl, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Bob Hope, Dr. Albert Sabin, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and many of the presidents of the United States.
Membership in Rotary International
If you asked a Rotarian if he or she belonged to Rotary International, the individual probably would look puzzled and answer, “Of course I’m a member of Rotary International:’ But in this instance, the confident Rotarian would be technically wrong. No Rotarian can be a member of Rotary International!
The explanation of this apparent contradiction is simple. The constitutional documents of RI state that membership in Rotary International is limited to Rotary clubs. More than 31,000 Rotary clubs belong to the organization we call Rotary International.
A Rotary club is composed of persons with the appropriate qualifications of good character and reputation and a business or professional classification and who serve in an executive or managerial capacity. The Rotarian belongs to a club — the club belongs to Rotary International. This technical distinction is not obvious or even known to most Rotarians and seldom does it create any problems or complications. It does explain, however, why the Rotary International Board of Directors places expectations upon and extends privileges to Rotary clubs, rather than to individual Rotarians.
If someone asks if you belong to Rotary International, your most accurate answer would be, “No, I belong to a Rotary club?’ But it is doubtful anyone would understand the difference, or, in fact, would really care.
The district governor performs a very significant function in the world of Rotary. He or she is the single officer of Rotary International in the geographic area called a district, which usually includes about 45 Rotary clubs. The district governors, who have been extensively trained at the International Assembly and regionally at the governors-elect training seminar, provide guidance and leadership to the more than 31,000 Rotary clubs of the world. They are responsible for maintaining high performance within the clubs of their district.
The district governor is a very experienced Rotarian who generously devotes a year to the volunteer task of leadership and makes at least one official visit to each club in the district. The governor has a wealth of knowledge about current Rotary programs, purposes, policies, and goals, and is a person of recognized high standing in his or her profession, community, and Rotary club. The governor must supervise the organization of new clubs and strengthen existing ones. He or she performs a host of specific duties to ensure that the quality of Rotary does not falter in the district, and is responsible for promoting and implementing all programs and activities of the RI president and Board of Directors. The governor plans and directs a district conference and other special events.
The Role of Assistant Governors
The office of assistant governor was created in 1996 as a key element of the District Leadership Plan, the organizational structure for all districts that was adopted by the RI Board in an effort to help district governors better support their clubs. Assistant governors are appointed by the district governor to assist in the administration of assigned clubs. These key Rotary leaders help incoming club presidents plan for their year and for the governor’s official visit, advise clubs on strategies to achieve goals, and visit their assigned clubs at least four times a year.
In addition to providing more responsive support for clubs, assistant governors also form a pool of well-trained district leaders from which to select future governors. The assistant governor serves as an important resource for both the clubs and the district governor, helping to ensure that everything runs more smoothly within the district.
The International Assembly
An International Assembly is held each year prior to 15 February to prepare district governors-elect from around the world for the office they will assume on 1 July. Accompanied by their spouses, some 530 incoming governors join a host of experienced Rotarian leaders for a week of training and motivational sessions. At the assembly, they meet the special Rotarian who will serve as RI president during their year as governors, and they learn the RI theme for the coming year around which they will build their district’s activities.
The first International Assembly was held in Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1919. Later assemblies were held in Lake Placid, New York, USA; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Boca Raton, Florida, USA; and Nashville, Tennessee, USA. In recent years the assembly has been held in Anaheim, California, USA. But regardless of the venue, the message on the sign above the plenary hall has remained unchanged for years: “Enter to learn . . . go forth to serve?’
The District Assembly
In view of the annual turnover of Rotary leadership each year, special effort is required to provide the more than 31,000 club leaders with appropriate instruction for the tasks they will assume. The annual district assembly is the primary training event for incoming club officers.
The district assembly offers motivation, inspiration, Rotary information, and new ideas for club officers, directors, and key committee chairs of each club. Some of the most experienced district leaders conduct informative discussions on all phases of Rotary administration and service projects. The assembly gives participants valuable new ideas to make their club more effective and interesting. Usually 8 to 10 delegates from each club are invited to attend the training session.
Another important feature of a district assembly is a review by the incoming district governor of the theme and emphasis of the new RI president for the coming year. District goals and objectives are also described, and plans are developed for their implementation.
The success of each Rotary club is frequently determined by the club’s representation and participation in the annual district assembly.