Ron Burton's Closing Remarks at Conference


Good evening. The Go Forth to Serve banquet is, indeed, a very special occasion. It's probably the last time we will all be together as a group in the same room. At the beginning of this week, we entered to learn. Now, it is time for us to go forth to serve.

You now know that the International Assembly is something very special. Not many people ever get this incredible experience. And it's something that changes your life forever. For a few incred- ible days, you experience a time unlike any other — of seeing the world as it could be, with men and women of every color and culture coming together under the banner of Service Above Self. You see just how big Rotary really is, how international, how uniquely capable it is of changing the world. You see how much Rotarians are capable of doing. And you come away in awe — in awe of how much more Rotary could do if every single one of our 1.2 million Rotarians felt the same love for Rotary, the same ambition in Rotary service, and the same belief in the power of Rotary service that every one of us feels tonight.

And that's why I'm challenging you with our theme: Engage Rotary, Change Lives. Our goal in 2013-14 is to turn that potential, the potential we all saw this week, into reality. We're going to do it by engaging Rotarians — getting them involved, getting them inspired — and making sure that every Rotarian knows just what a gift they have in Rotary. We're going to make sure that the work we do in Rotary is work that will last: work that is solid, effective, and sustainable. And we're going to make sure that Rotary itself will last — by commit- ting to our goal of 1.3 million Rotarians by 2015.

Our goal isn't just bringing in new members. Our goal is growing Rotary — making Rotary bigger, not just with more members, but with more involved, engaged, motivated members who will lead us into our postpolio future, and everything that is to come in Rotary.

And the big question, of course, is, How are we going to do this? Well, that is a question with a lot of answers. And the first answer is what I said the very first morning we were together — that each one of us needs to ask. We have to ask people to join Rotary. But that's not enough.

Everyone in Rotary comes to Rotary for their own reason. But I think that most who decide to join a Rotary club do it because they want to make a difference. They want to achieve something. Whether it's international service or community service or vocational service, whatever it is that interests them, they want to be doing something meaningful. And that is absolutely essential for us to remember when we talk about membership.

Because we're not asking just anyone to join Rotary — we're looking to attract busy, successful people. We're asking them to take their valuable time and give it to Rotary. So if they say yes and join our club, then we need to make sure that their time in Rotary is well spent.

So what's the answer? The answer is making sure that every Rotarian has a job: a meaningful job, a job that actually makes a difference to the life of the club and to the community, a job that you can't just let slide. Because someone's counting on you to do it, whether it's booking the venue for the meetings or ordering the books for the dictionary project or getting the financials together to apply for a Foundation grant.

When you have a job, you have a commitment. When you're doing something meaningful in Rotary, Rotary is meaningful to you.

So the first part is asking people to join. The second part is giving them a reason to stay. And there's one more thing that I think we need to be doing — and that's taking a clear look, with an open mind, about what we can do to make all of our members more welcome.

We talk so much about attracting members to Rotary, but we don't talk enough about keeping them there. And we need to be doing that — talking about understanding the real obstacles to Rotary membership and about what we can do to make being a Rotarian a viable choice for people of all ages.

I think it's fair to say that most of us here are past that stage — we're Rotarians, we've made the commitment. We're established in our careers, or we're retired. Our kids may be grown; many of us have grandkids. And we love Rotary just the way it is.

But Rotary isn't just about us. If we believe in Rotary, if we really believe that the world is better off with Rotary in it, then we have a responsibility to make sure that Rotary stays around long after we're gone. If we don't want Rotary to end with us, we can't act like it already does.

There are plenty of young people, some of them former Rotaractors, who join Rotary. But when they start having families, many of them leave, because if you're talking about young profession- als with families, you're talking about mothers and fathers who are already spending a lot of time away from their kids. And even if they really love Rotary, they are not going to prioritize Rotary over their families — nor should that be the expectation.

When we talk about the family of Rotary, it can't just be lip service. We need to find ways to really, genuinely welcome families into Rotary. And there are so many ways — real, practical ways — that we can do this.

There are clubs that actually encourage members with small children to bring them along, and they do it very well. The Rotary Club of Fremont in Seattle has a room set aside every week for the kids. The members who bring kids pay $5 each, there's a babysitter there, the kids start the meeting, they leave while the meeting's running, and they come back in at the end to ring the bell. Once a month, there's a service project that welcomes kids.

When you welcome families into Rotary, your family is not an obstacle to your Rotary service. The family of Rotary is real. The children in those families will grow up seeing their parents involved in community service, they'll grow up involved in service themselves, and I think that is a win-win situation. And you know what else? I think it's a pretty good bet that 20 or 30 years down the road, there's going to be a new generation of Rotarians in that club.

No, children can't come along to everything, and everyone knows that. And every Rotary club must make its own decisions. Not every Rotary club is going to want to have babysitting, not every Rotary club is OK with members bringing kids along. But maybe that means it might be time to start a new club, so that people can bring Rotary into their lives the way it works for them, at their stage in life.

Bringing kids along to Rotary isn't new. It's not some revolutionary idea that just started. When I was district governor, and you already know how long ago that was, I didn't just bring Jetta along on club visits; we brought our kids. Ronna and Josh were 14 and 10 years old at the time. We always asked if they were welcome, and we always offered to pay for their meals. It was never once a problem. The clubs loved it, and the kids loved it, and they loved it even more when we took them along to district conferences and the RI convention. We took them to Toronto, Munich, Portland, Orlando, and Indianapolis — we took them anywhere we could in Rotary. They met our district's Youth Exchange students and our Group Study Exchange teams. They got to know people who were so completely different from anyone they knew in Norman, Oklahoma. It opened their eyes, their minds, and their hearts.

And I think that's a big part of why, when they became adults, they both became Rotarians. They became Rotarians because they were already part of the family of Rotary. They knew Rotary, they loved Rotary, and they wanted Rotary in their lives.

Unfortunately, once Ronna started a family, Rotary started taking more time than she could spare. She had to make a choice between being the kind of Rotarian she wanted to be and being the kind of mom she wanted to be. And so she terminated her membership. That's how we lost one young member who was a great Rotarian.

And isn't that a shame? Hopefully, we can get her back one of these days.

It's time to start being proactive instead of reactive. It's time to say, "Let's try something new," instead of, "We don't do that in Rotary." Because keeping our minds open is going to get us stronger clubs today — and a stronger organization tomorrow.

When Paul Harris founded Rotary, his idea was for a club for like-minded people. Like-minded in that they cared about the same things, they valued the same things, they had similar goals and ideas. But there's nothing in Rotary that says we all have to be the same. In fact, just about everything about Rotary embraces how different we all are. Just look around you. How many coun- tries, how many languages, how many professions, how many religions, how many backgrounds, how many Rotary stories are in this room tonight?

Rotary is big enough for us all. We all have something to give. At every stage of our lives and our careers, Rotary has a way to let us do more, be more, and give more — a way for us to make our lives mean more. That's what Rotary does for us.

We have learned so much this week, about so many things. We've talked about public image, about social media, about Future Vision, about polio, about New Generations, about so much of the good work that means so much to Rotary. And all of it is important. All of it matters.

But none of it would matter — not one of us would be sitting here today — if it weren't for the Rotarians in our clubs.

Every single thing that's ever moved you about Rotary — every project, every program, every smile on some child's face — they all began in a Rotary club.

And the good work that gets done in Rotary next year, and the year after, and the year after that — in the end, it will depend on our clubs. On how ambitious they are. On how well they adapt to Future Vision. On how well they choose their projects. On how committed they are to making a difference. On how open they are to changing what they need to change — and holding tight to the things that matter.

It all comes down to the clubs. And those clubs, next year, are going to be depending on you.

Tomorrow morning, you're all going to leave San Diego. You're going to leave with your briefcase full of training materials, your mind full of ideas, and your hearts full of hope. You'll go back to your districts knowing and understanding just what Rotary really is — and how much more Rotary can be.

What you do with what you learned this week is now up to you. The time, the privilege, the responsibility — all of them are yours.

Your job is to inspire Rotarians!
Your job is to Engage Rotary, Change Lives.

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