A Year As A Rotary Club President

At my Induction with my husband Gordon and daughter Amy
At my Induction with my husband Gordon and daughter Amy

Becoming a member of Rotary International is a privilege and an honour. Becoming the President of your club after being a Rotarian for just two and a half years is just darn right terrifying! Throw in being the Public Image (PI) Chair of your District (District 9370) and life becomes just a little bit insane!

I am not adverse to speaking my mind. I was awarded Stirrer of the Year.
I am not adverse to speaking my mind. I was awarded Stirrer of the Year.

I have always believed (as my Dad drummed it into me and my 3 brothers): “If you are going to do something, do it properly.” So turning down the Presidential nomination was not an option. As for accepting the PI Chair position for the District, I believe our charismatic District Governor hoodwinked me into believing I did not have to do much. Either that or he got me at a moment of weakness after a glass of wine or three. Whichever was true, the position was mine and I hadn’t a clue what I was supposed to do.

Let me explain something. Being a Rotarian is not as simple as it seems. Rotarians use a language as foreign as Mongolian is to an Afrikaaner. You literally spend the first few years scratching your head at all the terminologies and acronyms thrown around liberally at meetings. After a while you feel you should have at least a small grasp of what the experienced Rotarians are talking about, so you stop interrupting the meeting with questions such as: “Do I have to recite poetry at POETS?” “Does the RIPPR have any connection to Jack the Ripper?” “Shame, does the title PP have anything to do with an incontinence problem?”

I turned to my old friend Google and thanks to LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook crawled out of the quagmire of terms and traditions with a slightly better understanding of what I should be doing.

My induction as President of the Rotary Club of Durban North in June 2015 was a joyous occasion attended by my friends and family and I was as proud as punch. I had so many ideas spinning in my head as to how I would manage this inspiring group of people and the changes I was going to introduce to this 56-year-old club.

A proud moment receiving the President's Chain.
A proud moment receiving the President’s Chain.
My fellow Glug Glug Wine Club members supporting me at my Induction.
My fellow Glug Glug Wine Club members supporting me at my Induction.

Fast forward a year and I can safely say:
1. You cannot please all the people all the time. Some people embrace change, others – not so much.

2. Members of a club all have different expectations of being a Rotarian and what they want from a President. This is not a bad thing. I tried to use these varying expectations to bring diversity into the running of club meetings.

3. Being democratic and asking for feedback on every decision is not necessarily a good idea. I did surveys and sent many e-mails asking for input on all sorts of issues and at times felt like I was a referee at a match between 28 heavy-weight boxers.

4. You will anger or annoy some people. I avoid conflict at all costs but sometimes it will just jump up and bite you on the bum. Which leads to my next point…

5. No matter how busy you may be, react to and rectify any rumblings within the club as soon as possible. Yes, it is basic leadership advice but it is tricky when you are dealing with volunteers. The sooner any dissatisfaction is reacted to and resolved – the better for your club (and your sanity!)

6. Not all your club members will be best mates. Yup, sad but true so don’t try to be a mediator or a shrink. Accept it. No amount of singing “Kumbaya” by a campfire is going to change that. A club is made up of many different personalities.

7. There is a limit to how many e-mails your inbox can handle. Sometimes clicking delete is the only option. I apologise to anyone who has felt ignored. It’s nothing personal.

8. Unless your family are members of Rotary, they will graciously just tolerate your Rotary commitments. My hubby and daughter know that if I am not home in the evening or during the weekend, I am probably at some or other “Rotary thing”. I know that they are (secretly) actually proud of what I am doing, even when they moan about my frequent absences.

9. Join Rotary, see the world! Well, not quite the world but I have been to dorps in South Africa that I did not know existed (and some that are unpronounceable or whose spelling is unfathomable)

10. Finally, some members will amaze you with their commitment and willingness to be involved in everything going and others will frustrate you with their seeming lack of commitment and enthusiasm. As I have said before, different strokes for different folks. Both member types are in Rotary for a reason. My job was not to judge but to be understanding and offer support if need be.

Having said all this does not mean that being the President of a Rotary club is not the most rewarding and humbling year I have experienced. Being just one component of a team working together to “Be a Gift to the World” this past year has been a journey I am honoured and proud to have been given the opportunity to make.

Each and every member of a club makes up the ethos, the backbone and the character of a Rotary club – each and every one providing “Service above Self” for their own reasons based on their own perspective of what Rotary means to them.

So in closing, a few tips for President Elects:
Enjoy the wonderful opportunity you have been given.
Embrace the uniqueness of each of your club members.
• You have been elected because your members believe in you and respect you. Of course you can do it!
• You can say NO sometimes. Yes, really. You can.
• Always remember why you became a Rotarian.
• Make sure you get extra memory & bandwidth for your computer. Extra airtime for your cellphone is advisable as well.
• Keep smiling.

When all else fails, have a glass of wine or 2 and ask yourself:
o Is it the TRUTH?
o Is it FAIR to all concerned?
o Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

5 thoughts on “A Year As A Rotary Club President”

  1. The few times I joined your meetings I really enjoyed them. Pity my uncle Chris is no longer with us, he would have loved trading Rotary President stories with you.
    You did well my friend. I’m so proud of you.

  2. I so wish your Uncle Chris was around when I first started Rotary. He would have taught me all the ins and outs and I bet he had many a tale to tell of his many years as a Rotarian.

  3. A great read Alma, really helpful and reassuring and one that I can certainly relate to as I head into my year as President. Thank you and thank you for a great year

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