About the Author

Who is Robyn
Robyn Braley is committed to helping Rotarians grow their clubs to become better equipped to help people who need help. He has led two club teams that were awarded RI PR Awards and served as the District 5360 PR Chair. He has been a Rotarian since 1999.

Rotary Speaker
Robyn draws from his experience as a Rotarian and as a Communications Professional to share ways to more effectively tell the Rotary story to your community. He starts by asking the questions, "Is your club ready to grow, and why does it matter?" The ultimate focus is on attracting new members.

He is available to speak at District Conferences and Rotary leadership training institutes. Content also applies to other not-for-profit organizations.

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Please use any posts for Rotary District or club Newsletters. Include the profile at the bottom of each article, Robyn's headshot and a link to this blogsite. Let him know and he'll promote it to his social media followers.

Contact him at robyn@unimarkcreative.com

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

How the Calgary West Rotary Club Attracted 25 New Members in 18 Months

Unified clubs can do great things!

There is a simple definition of the word brand. Your brand is what others think it is. But, the heart of a brand goes much deeper to what you think of yourself and your company or organization.

The foundation of a strong Rotary Club brand is the feeling of pride members have for their club and the work of Rotary. If they feel good about their club, they will be fully engaged in service while influencing others to collaborate and even become members.

The Can-do Club

The Calgary West Rotary first met in May, 1967. The club soon became known as a "can-do" club that was highly integrated into the community. High-impact service projects reached far beyond the scope of what could reasonably be expected from a club of 80 to 100 members. Thousands of lives throughout the world were forever changed due to a collective passion for service and making a difference.  
Decades passed. Then, things began to change. Over a 5 year period members began to drift away. Many of those who remained were not motivated or engaged. Meeting attendance dipped to numbers in the 20s and 30s.
There was no single reason for the decline. Rather, a number of influences came together in a perfect storm. The future seemed bleak.

Then, it happened! A relatively new member named Tony Knight accepted the position of President for 2014-2015. In one year the club went through a dramatic transformation and revitalization.

Tony thanking speaker Wendy Lowe
Twenty-five new members joined during an 18-month period. Attendance now averages 50-60 with a noticeable “buzz” in the room at every meeting.
As of this date, there are 80 members and 3 honorary members. There are 30 adherents who volunteer for service projects and are connected to the club through social media. Most are mellenials.

A Time for Renewal

How did this renewal happen? There are many factors that explain why the growth of any organization happens. Usually it involves some level of personal and/or organizational marketing. 
I like to say that marketing is a process of thematic thinking in which all parts make a significant contribution to the whole. There was no one reason why the club was re energized. We’re just glad it happened.  

Try New Ideas

Having said that, there is one factor that stands out. President Tony Knight gave permission to members to try new things. Full stop!

There were few “maybes” or “let’s think about this” or “we’ve never done that before or “what will certain members think?” Some ideas worked, and some didn’t. The ideas that did worked really well. 

Aye, aye, Captain Tony
Tony had a history of taking risks. In the mid-90’s he and his wife Arien sold their dental practice and sailed around the world while homeschooling their kids. They have stories of high adventure that include encounters with Somali pirates off the horn of Africa.
During Tony’s year as President many elements came together. Members reached out with new ideas and renewed energy.
  • Meetings were anticipated. 
  • Members were motivated to invite others.
As alluded to earlier, experienced marketers will tell you there is seldom one element that makes or breaks a marketing campaign. Rather, achieving success comes through many small parts combining with a few major pieces to complete the puzzle.

A Retroactive Marketing Plan

When I speak at Rotary clubs or leadership events, I am always asked what the silver bullet was. What was the one thing we did at Calgary West that can be adopted at their club to stimulate growth. The truth is, there was no one thing.

Further, many of the initiatives outlined below were introduced in response to emerging needs and opportunities. To suggest that they were part of a marketing plan developed at the start of 2014 would not comply with the four-way test. Most were tried as the year progressed. However, looking back at how they came together be instructive. 

·        During his President-elect year, Tony surveyed club members by phone or in person to determine their opinions about things that mattered.

·         The board was a mix experienced Rotarians and novices. All were forward thinking. He leaned on several non board members as mentors.

·         As an avid sailor, Tony introduced the theme of members being the crew with him being the captain. The club was the ship. The imagery provided humor while sending a subtle message.

·         Club leaders were challenged to not only think outside the box, but to think as if there was no box.

It was easier to recruit volunteers for service
  •  A risky decision was made to move the club to a venue that was new, bright, professional and offered good food, free parking and a sense of pride when members walked through the door.
  •  Members were continually challenged to look outward rather than inward; to search for new opportunities for service and ways of doing things.
  • Tony liaised with the program committee and encouraged them to maintain high standards of speakers and topics. 
o   Made a conscious effort to “accent the positive” when managing the energy in the room.
o   Introduced production ideas to make the meetings seamless and appeal to millennials and other guests.
o   Supported the introduction of a Signature Series meeting concept profiling speakers with broad attraction – like Jay Ingram, Ken King, the Manning Foundation Awards for Innovation nominee presentation and a political leadership forum – could be spotlighted.
§  Signature meetings provided a “reason” to invite visitors. 
§  They were promoted within the club, through social and mainstream media which increased club exposure.

o   The political leadership forum tripled the average club attendance and was capped at 150. The production and presentation of the event instilled a renewed sense of pride and accomplishment within the club.
§  The number of 150 did not count 50 media.
§  The story dominated mainstream and social media for two days. Global TV, The Herald, NEWSTALK 770 and 660 News livestreamed the event.

·         Tony responded to the challenge of communicating with millennials, who are the future of Rotary, in a way that was relevant, authentic and allowed them to experience Rotary.
o   Launched a Facebook site which was highly successful in attracting millennials to specific service projects.
o   Opened doors making it easy for them to volunteer whenever they could without holding a full club membership.

·         Introduced EventBrite online payment system which made it easy for visitors to purchase tickets to events or fundraisers

·         Commissioned a club brochure designed as a sales tool for one-on-one presentations of Rotary and as a general information piece. Each month members were encouraged to take copies to keep at home or their offices. Brochures also helped keep member recruitment and club marketing top of mind.
o   2,500 were printed for distribution in one year
o   Were available at Signature Meeting events
o   Some were used to stuff envelops with collaborative partner events like the walk for organ transplants

Contracted a professional to design and format a club directory. Improved the
level of engagement and relationship building

Commissioned a marketing focused PowerPoint show with strong
production values profiling club members in action doing service and the
wide variety of speakers who had recently spoken at the club.

Robyn Braley is a marketing specialist, keynote speaker and writer. He is also a Rotarian who is passionate about Building the Rotary Brand. Robyn has led two teams that received the Rotary International PR Award. He has also served as the PR Chair for District 5360. 

Contact Robyn

Email: robyn@robyntbraley.com   Connect on LinkedIn Follow on Twitter: @rtbraley_rotary 


  1. As the spouse of a Calgary West Rotary Club member, I am impressed by your description and summary of the changes Tony Knight initiated to re-vitalize the club.

    Even as Past President, Tony continues to be a true ambassador of your Rotary Club treating all people, however they are connected to Rotary, as if they have something special to say and contribute. Indeed, most of us do.

    One aspect that contributed to Tony's success, was his diligence in acknowledging others' efforts. He continues to do so and his words of appreciation are a bonus to volunteering at Rotary functions.

    It only took one person to change the culture of this club. Tony provides an excellent example and reminder of the power of effective leadership.

  2. You are spot on. As I say in the post, a big part of his leadership package is the ability to inspire others. Then he gets out of the way and lets them do the task at hand.