The Reasons Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce are Dying

By | January 26, 2011

Have you ever been to a Meetup? Tweetup? Flashmob? Social Media event? What about using Foursquare to connect with people in the same location you just checked into?

Do you even know what these are?

These gatherings have no attendance requirements and have no annual fees. You pay as you go for the events you want to attend and sometimes they are simply free.

Rotary groups have an attendance requirement and a rigid schedule of meetings at least twice a month. Chambers of Commerce are constantly struggling to come up with services to justify membership. Both require annual membership fees. Why? Mostly to support overhead that may no longer be necessary. This is what is wrong with these groups: the model no longer fits the business world. Today’s business world is fluid, leaders are schedule challenged, and people only want to pay for exactly what they want and attend only those meetings that interest them.

Tell me I’m wrong – have you never gone to a Rotary meeting only because you felt you had to even though the presenter was of no interest to you?

Tell me I’m wrong – when it came time for your annual chamber dues check to be written, have you hesitated, wondering how to justify spending the money since you no longer feel you are getting your money’s worth?

Remember buying an entire album or CD for the one or two songs on it you really liked? Today people pay by the song, when they want it, 24/7. No more paying for what you don’t want to hear and no more waiting on store hours to buy it. Business gatherings are now the same way.

I have attended open invitation gatherings of local business people connected by Twitter (tweetups). I have made great connections over these lunch gatherings.

What exactly is a tweetup?

An organizer announces on Twitter a gathering at this restaurant at this time on this day. Those available and interested come and exchange business ideas over lunch. All of us know the best exchange of information at any chamber event or Rotary meeting occurs in the side conversations, so why not just have those? That is what a tweetup is to our group. Sometimes we have 12, sometimes we have over 30. The point is it is fluid, come if you can, and you only pay for your lunch. Simple and organic. No annual fees or restricted membership.

I also attend social media events. For these I pay a small fee. Once again no membership dues, I only pay for a ticket to attend those meetings that interest me. I obviously don’t get to as many meetings as I would like because of my schedule. Business travel just doesn’t allow for it. Were I paying an annual fee or had an attendance requirement, I’d probably drop out of the group, and that is what is causing Chambers and Rotary groups to lose members.

As one CEO told me when he got a letter from Rotary informing him his attendance was lacking, “They say they want movers and shakers, but today moving and shaking is very different from the 1950s.” Needless to say, he dropped his membership.

In addition, the younger generation of upcoming leaders are more expense focused, more immediate results oriented and more mobile. They do not identify as closely to their geographic location, traveling freely for business and pleasure and often working for companies hundreds of miles away.

I argue that membership fees are a trap for bad programming. If your meetings or offerings were that awesome, people would flock to your meetings and pay to get in Like TED conferences.) The fact is the majority of the people attending current functions are doing it out of obligation, not desire, because they have been trapped by membership fees. As more and more people are realizing that, memberships decline.

If Rotary groups and Chambers of Commerce want to increase involvement and attendance of younger, more active leaders, they need to create better programs and drop membership requirements, attendance requirements and overhead. Flash gatherings and meetings of substance are thriving with business leaders who make a difference. The traditional model just needs to be updated to attract them.

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