New Models Pilot Project by Joseph Derr, Web writer
at Rotary International.
Among the legislation proposed at the 2004 Council on Legislation in June was item No. 04-18, "to allow attendance credit for a 30-minute interactive club Web site activity."
The passing of this item significantly expanded the definition of make-up meetings, and by extension, Rotary activity. Now, if a member misses a meeting, in order to receive attendance credit, he or she can go online. This offers an alternative to making up a meeting at another club.
The Council's recognition both attests to the number of Rotary club Web sites — estimated at 4,000 and growing — and highlights a recent trend in the Rotary world: Web-based clubs that are not merely Web sites of physical clubs but legitimate clubs that exist exclusively on the Internet.
Pilot projects planted the seeds
e-club, Rotary eClub of District 5450 (Rotary eClub One), was initiated
in June 2001 as part of the New Models for Rotary Clubs pilot project
and currently has 13 members. The Rotary eClub of District 7150
NY1 and the Rotary eClub of District 7890 followed under the three-year
Rotary eClub Pilot Project (formerly known as Cyber Rotary Clubs
Twenty-six clubs are now participating in the eClub project, which was adopted by the 2001 Council on Legislation to help extend Rotary to those who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to meet traditional attendance requirements.
"The majority of our members are folks who believe very strongly in Rotary and all that it stands for but find that business demands prevent them from meeting traditional club-meeting percentages," says Marlene Brown of Rotary eClub of District 7150 NY1, which has seven members. Chris Joscelyne, president of eClub One, adds: "Our members have given a total of 150 years of service to Rotary, and eClub One provide the opportunity for them to continue to serve. Without eClub One, these folks would be lost to Rotary."
A new attendance experience:
Joscelyne views the passing of the attendance-credit item in June 2004 as a victory for an idea that the club has championed for some time. "It's an endorsement of the information-rich attendance experience we offer Rotarians who visit our club on-line for 30 minutes or more," he says. "We hope that the Council on Legislation enactment will encourage Rotary clubs everywhere to embrace the concept of an online make-up as a valid attendance credit."
To earn an attendance credit, Rotarians usually log on to the Web site, read online material on a range of subjects, post comments, and submit a form to the club secretary. "The overwhelming comment from visitors is that our on-line programs educate, inform and inspire. That's a great outcome for an investment of a 30-minute visit to our Web site," Joscelyne says. Joscelyne says in a typical week, eClub One welcomes some 2,375 visitors, 715 of whom participate in a meeting program and apply for a make-up credit.
More than just a make-up:
But full-time members of Rotary eClubs like to emphasize that their clubs offer more than just a quick make-up. "A make-up visit to Rotary eClub One is not a 'quick fix' but a real opportunity to become a better informed Rotarian," Joscelyne says.
As fully functional and legitimate Rotary clubs, e-clubs pay dues, participate in community projects, and function much like any other traditional club except a Website serves as the only meeting place.
This virtual gathering has some Rotarians criticizing online clubs as lacking fellowship, while others fear the replacement of weekly Rotary meetings altogether with online activity. John Minter, the founding president of Rotary eClub One, answered critics of the cyber clubs recently on his club's Web site: "We do not advocate the online make-up venue to replace anything but rather to expand and enhance the wonderful world of Rotary."
Attracting new blood:
The e-clubs are also attracting new kinds of full-time members, who enjoy opportunities for service they would have otherwise missed. The Rotary eClub of District 7890 currently has 10 members and is made up of Group Study Exchange alumni who were inspired to join Rotary following their experience. "I had an incredible experience and was excited to continue my involvement in Rotary when I got home," says Ruth Ursone, a member of the D-7890 club. "That I can communicate with my fellow Rotarians through the Internet, at times convenient with my work and school schedules is a perfect fit."
The club's membership is a diverse group of young Rotarians, all new to Rotary, says EmmaLee Smith, president of the D-7890 club. "Our members come from a wide variety of professions — teachers, journalists, graduate students, entrepreneurs." Full-time eClub Rotarians counter concerns of lost fellowship online, saying that the unique nature of e-clubs actually encourages greater interaction among members. "We have daily contact with each other online, and in many ways we interact to a greater degree than a traditional Rotarian who only meets with his or her club once a week," says Smith. The club meets socially at once a month and club members participate on a regular basis in community service activities, individually and with other Rotary clubs.
Going above and beyond