The Rotary Club of Hanover changed it's meeting schedule and structure - with positive results. This is a success story of how change in a Rotary club can help it become more engaged and more active in the community.
The crisis point was at the start of the new millennium - as Al Morrow put it:
"The decline came to a head in the few years after the turn of the century (2000). Our membership had dwindled to about 8 members (from a high of 30+) and something had to be done and in reality, thinking back, it could have gone either way."
The full story - courtesy of Al Morrow - follows.
THE RE-INVENTING OF THE HANOVER ROTARY CLUB by Rotarian Al Morrow (Hanover Rotary Club)
The era of the “service club” has spanned the majority of the last 100 years and it reached its peak after the Second World War. I personally have fond memories of my father going off to his Rotary meetings in the evenings when I was just a young child in the early 1950s. As young children are want to do, I mistakenly thought it was “rodeo” and later could never picture my dad riding horses or roping steers. So, Rotary has been part of my life for all of my sixty-eight years, my father having joined the Hanover Club in 1946 - 3 years before I was born. Service clubs expanded and grew quickly after World War II with a lot of men returning from overseas and life getting back to normal. Our Rotary Club in Hanover (founded in 1939) was no different and recorded it highest number of members in the time frame between 1950 and 1970.

Rotary was different back then – much more formal with suits and ties being the required dress. There are, no doubt, a few clubs who still meet dressed in this fashion. Weekly meals were held at a local restaurant with toasts and O’ Canada (maybe even God Save the Queen) to open the meeting, followed by a meal and a business session and often a “sing-song” out of the old “Rotary Song Book” and if you had musician in the Club - a piano player to keep you in tune. All members were men in those days, so it was like a male choir.

Classification rules prevented too many men of any one profession from dominating the membership and it was strictly observed. Attendance was also enforced and if you missed a meeting, you were very strongly encouraged to “make-up” your attendance at a neighbouring club. I have always felt that these restrictions while they did improve regular attendance to a degree, they hampered the growth of the Club especially being located in a larger urban setting where there were other clubs and groups to choose from with much less restrictive rules.

But, we were an active club and our history shows a wide variety of useful and important projects completed over those years.

Such was the state of the Hanover Rotary Club as it entered the last quarter of the 20th century.
I was invited to join the Club in 1978 as a young man of thirty years of age. I had some knowledge of Rotary – mainly that it was made up of well-to-do businessmen and that if you got to join a Rotary Club, you could consider that a mark of success and distinction. At that particular time, I was struggling to get ahead in my teaching career and with a young family, it was sometimes hard to come up with enough spare money to pay the dues and the cost of the weekly meals. I remember mentioning this to another older Rotarian at one of the clubs in another town and his answer was simply this…”Rotary only takes the top leaders of each profession – you should be able to afford it if you are the top of your profession.” I never forgot that and it sure didn’t sound very friendly or inclusive to me. I was not the top of my profession, but I was very good at what I did. I’ve always felt that to be more important. The Club in Hanover has always been very welcoming so I really couldn’t complain and I was content to stick with it.

Rotary in Hanover started to decline in the 1980s and 1990s. The loyal, older members, of which there were many, slowly began to die off or could no longer attend and while we did gain a few newer members, it was never enough to cover the natural attrition. We were always active and the important work got done, but fewer of us were doing it and in time, we were starting to get burned out. Some of the top positions like President and Secretary were tough to fill and without the willingness of dedicated members taking multiple terms in these positions, it would have been impossible to continue.
The decline came to a head in the few years after the turn of the century (2000). Our membership had dwindled to about 8 members (from a high of 30+) and something had to be done and in reality, thinking back, it could have gone either way.
At this point in time, what I call “a miracle” happened – we suddenly gained two new members. They were good members and are still with us today. They brought enthusiasm and much-needed renewed energy to the Club. We had turned a corner.
Some changes, we felt, however, were still needed. Four meetings a month (weekly meetings) were too much. We could not compete with other service clubs for members, who were operating with a two meeting per month format. Society has changed and in today’s working households, both husband and wife are often employed. Some want to take part in community service, but many cannot manage a night out every week and every week along with all their other commitments of both work and family. The Hanover Rotary Club immediately began to meet twice per month and we have been the first club in the District to do this. The Rotary District leaders were, at first, skeptical and somewhat concerned at our abandoning of this long-standing Rotary tradition. We persevered, however, and immediately found it much easier to talk up Rotary with new prospective members. Membership began to increase.

We next did away with the expense of restaurant meals. At one meeting we conducted business, usually with coffee or tea and maybe a cookie etc. The second meeting of the month became a “pot-luck” with everyone bringing a little something for supper or dessert. We have always had more than enough food and usually some to take home. This is more of a social gathering with plenty of Club Service happening. Rotary partners are invited to this meeting and many do attend if they are able and this swells the ranks and increases the fun. A lively fine session is always included and a guest speaker for the enjoyment of all.

The location we moved to has been a good fit as we rent a small facility (Masonic Lodge building) for two evenings (6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.) a month from September to June. Fortunately there is a well-equipped kitchen for our use. In the summer months (July and August), we meet (4X) in Rotarian’s back yards for our summer BBQs. In essence, we “rotate” from one back yard to another in true “Rotary” fashion.

Dress code has finally become more relaxed as it has, too, in the business and professional world as a whole. That is not to say that Hanover Rotarians don’t dress up, as often we do for some formal events, but, more likely, you will see us in our yellow and blue club T-shirts which state proudly on the back…”Rotarians at Work”.

The limiting classification system, I am happy to say, has been relaxed or largely disappeared as we all realize, we cannot afford to turn away proven, good, prospective members.
The Hanover Club is taking every opportunity to advertise both by making sure that Rotary events get coverage in the media and by purposely spending some funds to promote Rotary. A good example of this is the “Why I became a Rotarian” feature in the local paper highlighting members of the Club and the reasons they joined Rotary. The Club has also become active in social media.

Allowing women in Rotary which came about almost thirty years ago now has been somewhat of a boon to our membership. Some clubs, no doubt, found it more difficult than others adjusting to this and maybe there are clubs where it hasn’t happened yet. It has been nothing but a positive thing for our Hanover Club and we would wish for more women to join those who have already paved the way. Encouraging couples to join, if possible, is a great way to gain two members at once. The Hanover Club currently has three such couples.

The Hanover Rotary Club is currently entertaining the request of a young blind gentleman to join the Club. While this presents a whole new set of challenges, we are taking steps to be more inclusive and make it happen.

With all the steps mentioned above, the Rotary Club of Hanover has increased its membership from the 8 members of ten to twelve years ago to 24 members today – not as large as some clubs but a far cry from those sad days when the Club teetered on the edge of extinction.

We have renewed vigour, energy and passion and also renewed commitment to the ideals of Rotary and we are ready to go confidently into a future world that will need the ideals of Rotary and the great work that we do.

(Al Morrow is a 39 year member of the Hanover Rotary Club and his father served the Club for 62 years.)