Websites, Social Media and Rotary Clubs

by John Borst, Director Communications, District 5550

District 5550 has 48 clubs; 14 still do not have a website. Without a website, those clubs have no way of sharing the local Rotary story among their friends, relatives, other Rotarians or the rest of the World. Similarly, many of those who do have a Club website but have not kept them current are in the same situation.

At the same time, Rotary in District 5550 has a membership crisis on its hands. Over the past five years we have had a net loss of over 100 members. Twice as many clubs have had net losses, as had net gains. Obviously this can’t go on forever or Rotary in Central Canada will cease to exist.

There is only one way to reverse this trend and that is for each one of us to put more effort into the recruitment of new members. The best way to do this is still to ask, and ask and ask again, community members in face to face conversations to join Rotary.

But communication in the 21st Century has tools to get the message out about Rotary which have never before existed. As Rotarians if we really care about the continuation of this organization and what it stands for, we simply can’t afford to ignore the new communication tools, provided by social media; not at the International level, not at the district level, not at the club level and especially not at the personal level.

Yes at the personal level. Let me try to explain why this is really the most important level.

The Internet has spawned a nomenclature based on numbers. First there was just The Web. But then a funny thing happened suddenly there appeared something called Web 2.0 programs.  So now we often hear about Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.

First, let’s review how Rotary clubs communicate both internally to its members and externally to the local community. Although I do not have specific numbers, it appears every club has an internal newsletter. Today these are written on word processing software. This is pre-Internet technology but many clubs use e-mail to distribute it so we might classify this activity as Web 0.5; since they are using the web to send the newsletter out.

Web 1.0 is where we are trying to get all clubs. A website is a Web 1.0 communications application. The club simply provides the content and people have to look for the website. In other words newsletters push information out to its members but websites have to pull readers to it. This means they have to be constantly updated, and have an attractive presentation layout. Their advantage is that anyone in the world can find them even if the club is located in some remote corner of Saskatchewan, Manitoba or Northwestern Ontario. Now even the most remote club can promote Rotary. As such every Club becomes a spokesperson for Rotary throughout the whole world.

The beauty of Web 2.0 however is that it combines aspects of push and pull. But most importantly it permits a two way exchange of information to occur.

The first major application to take off in the early years of the 21st Century was the “blog”. Blogs were and still are pre-programmed almost free websites formats which permit individuals or groups of individuals to write articles or post pictures.  They are interactive because a reader can leave a comment on the blog for the author and a conversation could follow. So Web 2.0 became a two way street. It also created a network. People who liked your blog would add it to their blog role. This way your number of visitors expanded. The more blog rolls your site appeared on the more readers you got and more importantly the higher was your placement on a new search engine called Google.

In addition to blogs, sites like Yahoo created discussion groups where people could register for a group. Everyone, for example, who read some obscure magazine, could now “talk” to one another about the article they had just read and share other articles from anywhere on other websites.

As the decade progressed these two systems merged into what we call social media. We know them as Facebook and Twitter. Facebook was conceived as a sort of electronic post-it board for university students while Twitter is known as a blog in 140 characters.

Linkedin is a spin-off from discussion groups aimed at business professionals where your profile becomes as important as the discussions you have.

Pinterest, Rotary’s latest venture into yet another social media format uses the sharing of pictures pined to a bulletin board to share your likes. Each of these interactive formats is also linked to the other.

In a sense each person who creates a post or links to another website creates the content of one or more social media sites.

Hopefully what you can see happening is that there is an ever widening stream of content being created. Think of it as a river. At the source is the content of the Club newsletter. This can and should become the foundational content of the Club’s website. That content can now become the content of an individual Rotarian’s Facebook page or Twitter post called a “tweet”. At each level it is likely that more and more people will be exposed to the work of your Rotary club especially if collectively, every member was to have his or her own social media site where he or she promotes Rotary.

Rotary has also been encouraging Clubs and districts to have their own Facebook and Twitter pages. The thinking is that more people will likely follow the Facebook page than the actual website or that it will lead others to the website. A more important reason for having a club or district Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest page is because it permits others to share the content links more easily with just one or two clicks. Again the best reason for having a club social media site is that it makes it easier for members to spread the Rotary message on personal social media pages.

What is also important to comprehend is that the underlying organizational structure of social media is the very antithesis of the traditional pyramidal top down – bottom up structure. Think of a page with hundreds of individual cells representing clubs, districts zones, and individual Rotarians all sending messages across the entire playing field without regard to position, rank, or years of service and you get some idea of the kind of networking which is taking place within Rotary using social media. I call it a distributive communications system.

But that same distributive system also permits us to get our story out to a much broader non-Rotarian audience. In short the goal is to get Rotary’s message out well beyond the playing field.

As I see it this is where club websites come in. A club website provides the content for the local stories that make up Rotary’s larger story.  Rotary International’s website provides the big story content, such as our efforts to eradicate Polio or exemplary literacy, water or medical initiatives.  Only by RI & Clubs working in tandem can individual Rotarians find the content to share on their personal Facebook, Twitter, and now Pinterest accounts.

We need to understand that it is really at the level of the individual Rotarian where the greatest distributive power lies. Think of it this way, each Rotarian is sharing with friends and acquaintances the work of Rotary when he posts a comment at his Facebook page about something his local club has done and then links it to more detail on the Club’s website.

Clubs cannot depend on a District website to get their message out. Few districts actually structure themselves as a news site sharing club achievements. When I did a comparison of the most recent 200 visitors to a District site vs. a Club site, I found to my surprise, that although the 200 visitors took a longer period of time to accumulate at the Club site, they were actually more dispersed throughout the world than the District visitors. District visitors were far more likely to be from within the District than outside it.

If Clubs wonder who their audience is and why they should have a website it is not good enough to think just about getting the message out to the local community. The reality is that “local” when it comes to Rotary is really the World, especially for a club.

So even if you are a Rotary club in a small village, in an area big city people might call “the middle of nowhere”, you too need to share your unique Rotary stories with the World.

And that’s why 14 District 5550 clubs need to create a website and many others need to get ‘cracken and get theirs current. And you never know we might just get some new Rotarians as a bonus.

About John Borst

John Borst’s career in education spans the years 1960 to 1996. During those 36 years, he spent an equal amount of time working int he English language, Public and Catholic school boards. Borst taught in both elementary and high school environments. Positions of responsibilities held included department head in Geography, curriculum coordinator of Social and Environmental Studies, Principal, Education Officer with the Ministry of Education, Superintendent of Schools, and Superintendent of Student Services. Borst retired in 1996 as Director of Education for the legacy Dryden Board of Education. During this time, Borst has lived in the Ontario communities of Brampton, Toronto, Newmarket, Thunder Bay, Aurora and Dryden. Currently, Borst splits his time between Dryden and Toronto. Since retirement, Borst has served as a Supervisory Officer with a remote School Authority; been a freelance writer of articles on education in particular for Education Today, the magazine of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA); founded and edited from 2006 - 2010 the Education blog Tomorrow’s Trust: A Review of Catholic Education; and from 2003-2010 was a trustee of the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
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18 Responses to Websites, Social Media and Rotary Clubs

  1. 4waytest says:

    Great article John. Well done. Right on the money.

  2. Don Higgins says:

    John, I agree with the need for clubs to have a website accessible to everyone one on the web which can be found via Google etc. I also think clubs need to join the Facebook conversation by creating a club Facebook page and sharing pictures and updates about club events with friends on Facebook.

    I’m the webmaster of my clubs website where we post weekly bulletins. I’m also the administrator of the more recent Facebook page for the club where I post pictures from events and updates about upcoming events which both fans of the page and my friends on Facebook can see. I am also working on getting more club members on Facebook and helping as fans of the club Facebook page. Our club is piloting associate member program as one of 200 clubs in Rotary. We’ve inducted several members a month over the past few months and I’ve become friends with some of them on Facebook and am pleased to see them in trun becoming friends with other members I’ve recommended to them. I’m still learning and it is a continuing process that I do beleive will help grow Rotary and bring in more young people. Young people just coming out of college today, take Facebook and web 2.0 services for granted because they offer multi-channel multi-media by-directional communincations with a world wide network. One in 6 people on planet earth are now on Facebook.

    Don Higgins
    ROSNF Chair 2011-2012 (Rotarians On Social Networks Fellowship
    Member and webmaster Rotary Club Pinellas Park, District 6950 Tampa Bay Florida USA

  3. Mjsielerjr says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I’m a youngster and I would love to see my local Rotary club more active on FB or Twitter. They do a lot of great work in the community. It would be nice to see pictures of them “in the field” working.

    It’s a only a matter of time, before all clubs begin to realize this and start using social media. Look at the business world. They started using social media years ago… Companies that use social media thrive, and those that don’t die a slow death. We’ll start seeing the same thing happen with volunteer organizations.

    If clubs don’t have anything interesting to post on social media, then they aren’t doing enough!

  4. John, very good article, I too agree with the need for the districts to have website and clubs too must have a website. Social media as you explained is essential today it has Many positive and few negatives. IT has brought many changes in the world including ours Rotary world and Face book, Twitter etc. are important to CONNECT, communication, sharing, growing together irrespective of boundaries. I’m the webmaster of my district website from 2009, please do visit and it is being developed again on different platform as first stage received very poor response, second year few were using it and now many are there and many are learning fast but still needs to educate the leaders to use it to the maximum to have the best use of it. I am appointed as Addl. Sec. Public Relation for the coming year.
    I was able to bring good number of Rotarians on Face book and they enjoy sharing now. I arrange small workshops on the issue and teach them the practical and meaningful use also. Photo sharing is largely appreciated, service projects news, news letter circulation, GML being received by larger number, Many clubs introduced electronic news letter for cost cutting, friendship development, vocational growth, most important visiting the Rotary International website and learning a lot, Information is shared like never before …. all is happening. Few days back in meeting I shared Webinar and they are curious so promised for one session as soon as possible. Interesting to observe all this change as responses are gradually getting better day by day. Young Rotarians like it very much, Rotaract Clubs are sharing more now, Rotarians appreciate it as once they learn it is interesting for them otherwise also specially to connect to old friends again. Few learned Skype also. We have started receiving membership application through website. I wish to push advertisement on it so district can have fundraising. Wish to add tourist attraction also. Many aspects are involved and I can see a very happening rapid change ………..
    PP, Dr Seema Singh
    Rotary Club Udaipur Meera, D-3050, Udaipur, Rajasthan India

  5. adele springer says:

    I just read your blog and heartily agree.I am a member of The Rotary Club of Maraval Trinidad and Tobago.Our website is still under construction but I have a Facebook page.We are trying to encourage our members to use these methods of communication but it can be challenging.Thing can only improve.

  6. By Blog standards quite a long article, but well worth the read! It is so good to see Rotary looking for ways to communicate not only internally, but also externally. The arguments in the article are true for most other organisations as well.
    Kind Regards Petra Fisher (click flag in right column for English)

  7. Jim Rushing says:

    Good article! Should be required reading for all clubs.
    See us at and we are new on Facebook as Rotary Club of Socorro, NM

  8. Sue Lyndes says:

    This is a great article and perfect timing as our club is about to integrate ecommerce into the website. I think there is another important point about the Internet and social networking sites. If we want to attract younger members to the organization, we must have these tools. As we are in the days of smart phones where swiping your phone over a QR code will instantly sign you up for an event for example, we have to offer this technology to potential members.

    Just this week, I created an email signature that will accompany any email I send or reply to. You just never know who might show up for lunch!

  9. Drew Ashley says:

    John, I think you are right on here and I learned something new. Pinterest, I will check it out.

    Our club is developing a Facebook page and I am almost finished with a both a Facebook page and group for District 7120 Interact and we involved with a new community based Rotaract club that has both a Facebook group and LinkedIn group. Wow just looked at Pinterest and that is very busy. Something to learn about

  10. Pingback: Websites and Social Media « Rotary District 7040 Public Relations

  11. Well done John! Every Club should read this and put the ideas into action without delay. I had already created a web site for our Club, the Rotary Club of Leek D1210 , RI number 19972, England, but your article has inspired me to create links to Facebook and other social networking sites. Within an hour of creating the links we had a response that allowed us to provide help for a charitable cause. Instant, 2 way and personal communication is provided by the social networking sites and this is more memorable than, say, putting up posters. Please take a look at our site and if you have any suggestions for improvement, please let us know. Martin Edwards, Club communications.

  12. Martin, I just visited the link, Congratulations! I know your club in better way now. Please do keep on working on this and it will bring very meaningful and enjoyable results to club and you too. Social media networking if used properly can bring tremendous positive results. Take care.

  13. It is a pleasure to be here today.From my Point of view that all communications should be transparent — otherwise, you really aren’t communicating.believe that efforts to communicate “too much” can backfire or result in confusion.Yet, this is most likely to be the case when communications lack clarity. Others seem to equate clear communications with providing a degree of omniscience about the future — omniscience that, of course, doesn’t really exist.

  14. Russ Mann says:


    May I provide a link To your post in our District 5370 Newsletter? I believe it would be a good piece to add.


  15. Simon Bryan says:

    Getting the message out is all very well, but you also need to look at the message. We need to publicise and promote the SMALL things Rotary does as well. Several of my members and potential members have all commented along the lines of either thinking of leaving or not joining as they feel guilty not being able to be involved in all the big international projects that get all the Rotary press – I and the PE are trying to refocus the club on local achievable projects, if we fail then I am concerned for the future of the club.

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  17. Clara says:

    Heya this is kind of of off topic but I was wondering
    if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise so
    I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience.
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