Rotary eClub Viewpoints

Viewpoints: Virtually Rotary - Members sound off on eClubs
from The Rotarian May 2006

One of Rotary's hottest debates has centered on e-clubs. These electronic Rotary clubs meet online, sometimes 24-7, rather than each week at the usual hotel or restaurant. E-clubs also give members of traditional clubs a chance to make up missed meetings; visitors spend 30 minutes at an e-club Web site to earn attendance credit. For more on Rotary's 15 pilot e-clubs, slated for discussion at the 2010 Council on Legislation, go to the Download Center or read a related article.

We asked five Rotarians — two e-club members and three traditional club members — to weigh in on e-clubs.

Why did you join an e-club?
Stella Russell: My local club is still loath to recruit women, although I am an honorary member [of that club] and am always greeted warmly when I attend. I enjoy communicating via the Internet and find that I get to know more Rotarians who visit our Web site than I would in a regular club.
Ruth Ursone Napoleone: I became a member after returning from a Group Study Exchange trip to India in January 2004. I had a deep desire to continue my involvement with Rotary, but as a graduate student working several jobs, it was impossible for me to make a commitment to a traditional club. Without the e-club, I would not be a Rotarian.
Why did you join a traditional club?
Robert MacDonald: In 1982, that's all that was available.
Jay Soloff: I wish to have personal contact with my fellow Rotarians, both at our weekly meetings and also in fellowship with hands-on community service projects. I now have 19 years of perfect attendance.
Anthony Yavasile: I wanted to be a part of a family of leaders and community members in Clovis. Rotary gives me the opportunity to give back to my community, which has done so much for me. I enjoy sitting around the table with Kirstine McAllaster, a customer service manager at the Union Bank; Kevin Peters, who runs the Fresno County Jail; Mike De Benedetto, an underground-boring contractor. These are people I would never have had the opportunity to meet and talk with regularly.
Should Rotary International limit the number of e-clubs?
Russell: To a degree. Each area wishing to start one must be able to justify the club. E-clubs could attract younger people whose financial and family commitments might make regular club attendance impossible.
MacDonald: [RI] should not restrict the number of e-clubs. They are definitely the wave of the future. The advantages to Rotary are more members and better retention. The District 7890 e-club has two members who transferred from traditional Rotary clubs. Without e-clubs, these individuals would have terminated their membership.
Soloff: Yes, I think the number should be limited, as there need not be that many. A Rotarian can access any e-club from anywhere on the Web.
Yavasile: Yes! They should limit it to zero.
How strict should e-clubs be?
Russell:They [e-club policies] should be on a par with RI rules, and a prospective member must be able to justify why he or she could not be a member in a regular club. In our e-club, the recruit must be sponsored by a Rotarian, and we also ask for two character references.
Napoleone: I don't believe prospective members should have to prove a need to join an e-club versus a traditional club. If a prospective member understands Rotary's mission and would like to work with us to achieve the club's goals, he or she is encouraged to join.
MacDonald: E-clubs should accept anyone for membership, even if the individual could meet the requirements of a traditional Rotary club. The choice should be left to the potential member. Some people just don't find it appealing to meet every Tuesday at noon.
Yavasile: I don't see how [RI] can enforce membership with e-clubs. There are no physical bodies to count. How would the district governor visit the club and share his or her goals? How would you handle attendance reporting?
Should online make-ups count?
Russell:Provided the visitor participates in the club meeting in some way. Reading about projects or Rotary is OK, but taking part in a forum discussion is, in my opinion, more interesting. The make-up must not be a soft option and must be seen as valuable.
Soloff: I think online make-ups are a good thing for Rotary. I made up once online because I was traveling and just could not fit in a standard make-up. I enjoyed reading about the e-club and also some of the chat between the many Rotarians who had made up.
Should e-club members have to attend "face" meetings?
MacDonald: E-club members, if possible, should attend a traditional Rotary club meeting several times a year. They could possibly do it as a make-up. They would learn a great deal about the fundamentals of Rotary, which they could incorporate into the e-club.
Napoleone: Our members are encouraged to attend traditional meetings and make themselves available as guest speakers to share their experiences as e-clubbers with other Rotarians. Traditional Rotarians are welcome at our monthly social gatherings and as partners in our service projects.
Can there really be electronic fellowship?
MacDonald: Fellowship is all in how you define it. Fellowship definitely exists between individuals who chat online.
Soloff: Sure, there can be electronic fellowship. This is no different from my kids' using instant messaging with all their friends. I do, however, think that nothing replaces real, personal contact with individuals.
Napoleone: Yes, yes, yes! We communicate with one another daily, and from this I have developed some very cherished friendships. We do hold optional monthly socials, and we were able to meet one of our newest members, who spends most of her time in Russia, when she was in New England. This in-person contact reinforces our relationships, but the heart of our fellowship is fostered through electronic communication.
Yavasile: No. This is like asking if chatting online is considered meeting people. A big part of Rotary is the fellowship. I look forward to Fridays because [the meetings] give me the opportunity to spend time with my Rotary friends. I think online groups are a great tool to distribute information but not for fellowship. An example is the Yahoo! Group formed by Rotarians involved with Rotary Youth Exchange. It is simply a supplement to the international meetings. In addition, parents of students would rather hear me say, "I have personally met and had coffee with your son's or daughter's officer in country X," than, "I've chatted with him online, and he seems OK."
What do e-clubs disagree about?
Russell: Whether we should remain a club for our district only. It was originally formed to serve our district only, but my personal feeling is that we should open up to the rest of the [United Kingdom] and even further afield.
Napoleone: A core group of people who are all from the same geographic area started my club and have gotten to know each other well over the past two years. We have differing opinions about how to make sure those members who don't live within the district are involved and included in service and fundraising projects, as well as social gatherings.
Building electronic global communities sounds good. But what happens to local communities?
Russell: Most of the members of my club support traditional clubs close to their homes when they can, and they also do some form of voluntary service in their own communities. One is a paramedic, one trains air cadets, and one is a volunteer ambulance driver, just to mention three.
Napoleone: The Rotary E-Club of District 7890 is two years old and has 11 active members. As a testament to our dedication and ability to serve our local communities, we were awarded the 2004-05 Presidential Citation and are working to meet the requirements this year. We are deeply committed to the community service component of Rotary, and our vision is that as our membership grows, so will our service projects in communities around the globe.

The panelists
Ruth Ursone Napoleone, 31 Club: Rotary E-Club of District 7890 (Connecticut and Massachusetts, USA) Joined Rotary: 2004 (charter year)
Robert MacDonald, 55 Club: Rotary Club of West Springfield, Massachusetts, USA Office: District governor, 1998-99 Joined Rotary: 1982
Stella Russell, 65 Club: Rotary E-Club of London Centenary, England Joined Rotary: 2005 (charter year) Office: Club president, 2005-06
Jay Soloff, 54 Club: Rotary Club of Woodinville, Washington, USA Joined Rotary: 1987 Office: Club president, 2004-05
Anthony Yavasile, 29 Club: Rotary Club of Clovis, California, USA Joined Rotary: 2000 Office: Club president, 2004-05


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