Rotary’s Annual Themes, an Internet P. R. Nightmare.

by John Borst,

Oh, Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for oh

What do I stand for? What do I stand for?

Most nights I don’t know anymore…

Lyrics “Some Nights” by fun

The above lyrics from “Some Nights” by Fun (stylized as fun), 2012’s super group with six Grammy nominations seems to express perfectly the dilemma web-editors and social media folk (Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, Twitter etc) and likely just plain Rotarians must be feeling when every January, Rotary’s President-Elect roles out his new theme for the coming Rotary year.

Last-10-RI-themesAfter only three years I am beginning to ask “Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what Rotary stands for; oh What does Rotary stand for?  What does Rotary stand for?

Engage Rotary, Change Lives, Peace through Service, Reach Within to Embrace Humanity, Building Communities, Building Continents, The Future of Rotary is in Your Hands, Make Dreams Real, Rotary Shares, Lead the Way, Service Above Self, and Celebrate Rotary 100 years together represent the past decade. And everyone one of them can still be found on one or more club or even in a few cases on District websites.

What a mess! As a Rotarian who has volunteered for the past year and a half to be the District Communications chair I can only wonder,  over the next six months, what message I am supposed to be spreading. Heck most Rotarians aren’t familiar with the outgoing presidential message let alone the new one.

In 2012 Rotary released a statement and I quote:

To support the implementation of the strategic plan, RI will no longer have presidential emphases that change every year. This decision will help us to have greater continuity in our service, and achieve more significant goals over the long term.

So what happened in 2013-14?

As a web-editor, I am likely more aware than most Rotarians the extent to which Rotary is attempting to digitize the management of clubs. Data Integration and Rotary Central are being rolled out. Electronic dues direct and Foundation direct deposits are still in their infancy. Crowd funding methods are on the way. Why? Partly, because we have the technology to do it but more importantly because  it reduces our management costs. Changing those themes not only creates confusion in “What we stand for” it costs money; money which could be better spent on other management initiatives.

Rotary has a study underway to address its image and messaging problem. It is scheduled to report over the next, I believe, four years. Sorry that is too long. We need one message, one consistent Rotary PR program, and we need it now.

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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2 Responses to Rotary’s Annual Themes, an Internet P. R. Nightmare.

  1. John
    You are confusing the presidential emphases with the RI theme. Prior to 2012-13, in addition to a theme, the president selected two or three emphases. That was what was done away with beginning in the 2012-13 year.
    I’d also like to point out that more than 60 Rotarians have commented positively to the theme on RI’s website, traffic on the blog has been the highest ever, and the story announcing the theme gets the most views of any story we do. Clearly, Rotarians get excited by the theme. All else aside, the theme motivates people. Is that such a bad thing?
    Arnold R. Grahl
    RI LinkedIn group comoderator

    • noronwe says:

      Arnold, thanks for the clarification. However I am not alone in my interpretation. I got the graphic and the quote from a page on the RGHF (Rotary Global History Fellowship) website. I just checked and they have removed the quote from the page I referenced. The link in the article takes you to the speech by then PE Tanaka.

      The news release says that the DG Elect stood and cheered the theme. that is what I would expect them to do. and I will be changing and updating the websites dutifully. However that does not mean that I do not think we confuse our message to the public and to Rotarians.

      Last year in a discussion on this question, someone from RI headquarters wrote that the president’s theme was for internal consumption only. In this day and age of the Internet that is an impossibility. What is internal is external. That is why the word “Internet” is in the title.

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