Posted on Aug 19, 2020
Our presenter on August 19th was Lauren Heinonen, the Director of Public Image for the Ann Arbor Rotary Club.  Her topic, How Rotary Can Attract Young People.
Lauren is 24 years old and joined the Ann Arbor Rotary Club in 2018. She has always been goal oriented – getting into a good college (U of M), writing her senior thesis and graduating, and obtaining a job in her area of study (biological anthropology). All of which she accomplished, but she still felt like something was missing. She knew she wanted to give back to the community by joining “something” that was already in place, could do work on a larger scale, and would last over a period of years. But what?
One day, while on Facebook, Lauren saw a Michigan congresswoman’s post about visiting Rotary clubs and it included the 4-Way Test. This led Lauren to attend an Ann Arbor Rotary meeting. At first, she was wasn’t sure if Rotary was right for her, with the older, not very diverse, membership and the meetings having a bell and singing. However, the members were very welcoming, ensuring her that the Club could use someone with her perspective and skill set. She could also see how passionate they were about their numerous service projects.
Lauren has greatly benefited from being a Rotarian. She was looking to give back to the community through service projects and has been able to do this but is also now being mentored and doing mentoring, networking, and developing leadership and public speaking skills. Most importantly, she is gaining friendships and is overall happy.
If Rotary Clubs would like to attract young members, they should ask “why?”. Is it to gain new perspectives? To increase diversity? To bring in new skills. If yes, change is necessary. For example, focusing less on business backgrounds and more on whether a person is willing to give back, having flexible attendance requirements, and possibly flexible dues (community service hours to lower the dollar amount). Also, a Club’s social media and website should appeal to young people, focusing on the environment and social justice, for example.
Finally, engagement is the key. Members cannot be too welcoming to visitors and potential new members at their meetings.