The 2016 Council on Legislation gave us some powerful options for changing our clubs for the purpose of building membership by keeping up with the reality of modern life. Sweeping changes were made in rules about meeting frequency, membership qualifications, age limits and club organization. As these changes were disseminated, Rotarians began to discuss how their clubs might adapt to the changing landscape. In many cases club leaders and board members were collectively scratching their heads to figure out a path to change that fit their club. One of our clubs, Genesee Valley, decided to start with a club member survey. Here is how they did it and what it revealed.
Gen Valley, like most clubs, faced the reality that the membership was aging and slowly losing members due to retirement, relocation and health issues. At the same time, new, younger members were not replacing them. Everyone in the club felt this pull but nobody had real answers. There was a lot of table talk during meetings and afterward but there was never a clear consensus as to the direction that the club should take.
The club board, after much discussion, agreed that it needed concrete data about club attitudes, more than casual conversations and gut feelings could provide.  Hopefully to pin things down better, the board decided to take a written survey of its membership. The survey document and the results can be downloaded here. Both the survey and the results, of course, were tailored to this one unique club but the general principal can be applied to any club.
There are several reasons why a written survey was chosen over a simple club assembly discussion,
  • Members must commit their feelings to paper which has been proven to provide more accurate, unfiltered responses;
  • Members all get an equal opportunity to be heard which overcomes a fear among some to speak up;
  • Written responses allow the surveyor to better analyze the results based on respondent traits such as age, gender, income level, etc.
  • Quantifiable data is better for decision making than "he said - she said" discussions;
  • In the case of club surveys, it is a clear indicator as to which members care enough about their club to respond.
So what were the results? Looking at the raw data, we would say that the core members of the current club wanted to change nothing. They were satisfied with meeting time of day, frequency, and how the meeting was organized. Everything was just ducky. However, after applying demographic knowledge a different picture emerged.
First, of the 41 surveys sent out to all active members, 20 were completed and returned. Almost half of the club really wasn't interested enough to spend 10 minutes on a survey. Since the survey was issued six months ago, the club membership has slipped from 41 to 37. None of the four resigning members had replied to the survey.
Second, there was a noticeable difference between how older and younger members responded. For most older members, everything was perfect. For younger members, still working and with families to raise, there was much more dissatisfication. They wanted to meet less often, after hours and felt less interest in traditional club operation.  
Third, while all the respondents loved the projects the club did, not everyone participated in them and none of the "old guard" made suggestions about club improvement. In contrast, the younger members made constructive suggestions about adding new projects and changing club tradition.
The results sent a clear message that if the club was to grow long term, it had to be able to respond to the new generations. Accordingly the club board voted to establish a satellite club aimed at growing membership by attracting a new generation to Rotary.