What is the Rotary Club like?
November 29, 2022 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Rotary Club- what's it like?

I moved to a new city (Providence, RI, USA) earlier this year and am looking to do some volunteer work and build ties in the community. I'm thinking of joining the local Rotary Club. I'm vaguely familiar with the organization from their international work in polio eradication but don't know much else. Looks like my local club is quite active (weekly meetings) and involved in several charitable projects mostly focused on local schools. Membership fee is reasonable. I'm mid 40s, married, work from home, not religious, leftist. Interested in hearing from others about their experience with Rotary Club.
posted by emd3737 to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've vaguely gotten interested in my local Rotary Club(s) -- there are multiple chapters where I am -- and have talked to some local Rotary members about it. Their recommendations have universally been to come and hang out for a few meetings at the chapters of interest, which they welcome and endorse fee-free, because each Club is very distinct in terms of its member composition (I am nearly 50 and would be the youngest person in a couple), general culture, and even political leanings (within the broad concept of service, there are apparently some distinct flavours of left-leaning and right-leaning service).

Based on that, I think "go check it out" might be a better and more useful probe than other experiences from people in other Clubs. The people I know in Rotary are mostly in their 40s or slightly older, left-leaning, and aren't religious in a way that I've noticed, so I feel pretty sympatico, but their insistence that I come to a few meetings first makes me feel like there's something to the suggestion.
posted by Shepherd at 1:38 PM on November 29, 2022 [4 favorites]

It's really going to depend on your local club, which can vary a great deal, as Shepherd mentions. In my experience, clubs are very accommodating trying to get new members in the door. Greater Providence has a couple of clubs, so it may be worthwhile visiting a couple of different ones if possible. If you know any Rotarians, chat to them about an invite, so you're not going in cold.

Looking at their service projects is a good idea - another way to get a sense of a club is to check out their invited speakers and club bulletins, which reflect their interests and general vibe. They almost all use the same website framework, so it's easy to find the info - I've used Club of Providence as an example.
posted by zamboni at 1:47 PM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

I was a Rotary Youth Exchange student in high school (20 years ago!), which is a super cool program run by Rotary Clubs worldwide. I was sponsored by the club in my hometown and hosted by a club in Austria. I had to go to some Rotary Club meetings in the US to introduce myself, thank them when I got home, etc. In my hometown I was sponsored by a club that had lunch meetings (at a hotel conference room), but there are “sunrise” clubs that do breakfast meetings and also clubs that have evening meetings. The demographics skewed old and male in my hometown, a lot were business executives and entrepreneurs who liked to schmooze with each other. The meetings were pretty formulaic: socialize, do some brief club business, learn something from a speaker while eating, and socialize a bit more before leaving.

In Austria my host club was exclusively men (only one club in Vienna had female members), and it had evening meetings at a fancy hotel with much better food. Their big fundraising activity was to make their wives volunteer at the mulled wine booth at the town’s Christmas Market, and the money raised there went to international health projects. My club skewed heavily toward self-employed engineers/accountants, though one of my favorite Rotarians was a veterinarian who once helped put eye drops in my Canadian friend’s eyes and said, “This is just like with a horse.”

Rotary Youth Exchange is phenomenal, and I had such a great experience that I volunteered back home as an alumni (“Rotex”) in college. Pre-pandemic I was looking into joining a local Rotary Club as a real grown up and did research on my local options - within 5 miles there was a fancy club that met downtown, a fancy suburban club that did lunch meetings at a country club, another suburban club that did breakfast meetings at a school, and an urban social justice/education-focused club that met for morning coffee in a community center. So the vibe really depends on the actual club you join.
posted by Maarika at 4:31 PM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

One other cool thing about Rotary is that if you are a member of a club and ever go traveling, you can attend any club meeting worldwide (you usually have to pay for the meal, though). So it’s a cool way to get a deeper look at the place you’re visiting and meet people locally.
posted by Maarika at 4:33 PM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

In Austria my host club was exclusively men (only one club in Vienna had female members)

This is a legacy of one of the more embarrassing things about Rotary- clubs were men only until the late 1980s. Demographics are much better than they were, but the org has a fair ways to go.
posted by zamboni at 4:53 PM on November 29, 2022

My wife is 33 and is Membership Co-Chair of one of the Twin Cities clubs, and was also a Youth Exchange student. I have been to a dozen or so Rotary events. I agree with pretty much everything that everyone has already said!
posted by Kwine at 9:49 PM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

I joined a satellite Rotary club in 2019. We're an offshoot of the larger club in town. I don't fully understand the organizational structure yet, although I probably should since I just became part of the leadership team! (I just coordinate the guest speakers). We do not have enough members to be a stand-alone club yet, so we are folded into the larger club in town but have our own leadership and unique members. We have greatly reduced annual fees and don't charge for each meeting.

Our club was established to provide service and networking opportunities to non-traditional Rotary members (not older white men) who can't go to lunch once a week during the work day, or have childcare responsibilities that prevent them from weekly evening commitments. Our current membership is primarily female across a wide age range, we have LGBTQ members of several genders, and some older male retirees who seem to be members of every Rotary club in the area. Prior to COVID we had much more racial diversity, but at the moment membership is pretty white.

Our club meets once a month at a restaurant on a Wednesday for one hour at 5:30 PM. We intentionally dropped the traditions of the main club (a prayer!, the pledge of allegiance!, and sometimes singing a song!) People may order food and drinks, but aren't obligated. We have a quick ice breaker or game, then introduce the speaker of the month who is usually a representative of a local non-profit organization, q&a time, and adjourn. People who want to stay for socializing can hang around when the hour is up, but most folks move on to their other evening commitments.

After the meeting we send out an email with the service project for the month that is aligned with the guest speaker of the month. Recent examples include: scanning documents at a local history museum, raking leaves at the same museum, creating safer-sex kits for the LGBTQ center, donating toiletries to the local home that women transitioning out of incarceration live at.

Its been a really positive experience for me, and I have made a lot of professional connections and friends.
posted by JennyJupiter at 4:27 PM on November 30, 2022 [4 favorites]

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