Rotary’s Classification System: Make it Relevant or Dump It?

by John Borst, Director District 5550, Communications

When Paul Harris created Rotary he wanted to ensure that Rotary provided an opportunity for its members to gain financially from the experience, by doing business with each other.

Although this proved rather contentious and was soon dropped, it resulted in the creation of Rotary’s classification system.   Basically a classification describes the distinct and recognized business or professional service which the Rotarian renders to society.

Harris wrote “Each Rotarian is a connecting link between the idealism of Rotary and his trade or profession.” Other organizations embraced a membership of businessmen, weekly meetings over meals, or an interest in public affairs but many believe that Rotary’s distinguishing feature and the reason for its growth was its classification-based membership.

My intuition tells me this is more myth than verifiable fact. Certainly examples gleaned from the “Ask The Experts” column in Rotary World magazine, with  respect to their relevance to today’s Rotary appear rather weak.

The best Rajendra K. Saboo, past president of Rotary International, could do is say “a glance at a new Rotarian’s name badge and classification provides a very helpful route to conversation.”

A stronger argument is that “if Rotary is to be an instrument of service in a world dominated by experts, we need experts in our Rotary clubs.” This is certainly true, but is that really a distinguishing feature of just Rotary clubs?

A review of any Rotary classification list today will reveal hundreds of categories and many holes. Clubs are encouraged to be creative and customize their list to fit local circumstances.

This clearly leaves the list rather tattered but in my opinion, it does not negate the important principle which underlies the classification system. That principle is the goal of creating a club of diversity. Implied is the corollary that the greater the diversity of professions the stronger is the club and Rotary.

As it stands now Rotary has no way of knowing the extent to which it is fulfilling this important principle. A check with Rotary headquarters reveals that it does not track or attempt to quantify the extent to which either Rotary as a whole represents the breath of today’s professions or the degree to which it achieves this goal by district or club.

In this day and age of hype-quantification it seems to me that we are capable of creating a Classification Diversity Index. (CDI). With the help of university human resource research professionals such a CDI could be created and with the increased use of club-district-RI data integration, it would be relatively low cost and labour intensive to implement.

At the same time Rotary could do a correlation analysis of club growth and service activity to learn scientifically if its belief that a high CDI vs. a low CDI actually makes a statistical difference to the success of the goals of Rotary.

Rotary is long past the stage where beliefs based on its heritage or the majority of its members feelings should be the only reason for maintaining a practice. It needs to use modern research techniques created over the past fifty years through social analytics.

It seems to me that if Rotary does not take steps to make the Classification system more relevant in an analytical way, it has little utility since almost everyone has expertise at a level unimagined by Paul Harris when he created the system. Otherwise it has outlived its usefulness and it is time to dump it.

To learn more about The Job Space graphic LINK HERE

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