Rotary eClub Beginnings

e-Clubs Forge New Path for Rotary
from The Rotarian September 2004

E-clubs forge new path for Rotary - Web-based Rotary clubs provide new experiences, convenient make-ups for Rotarians.

Web-based Rotary Clubs provide new experiences, convenient make-ups for Rotarians. The possibility of allowing Rotarians to form no more than 14 "cyber clubs" was first announced in Barcelona, Spain in 2002 at the Rotary International Convention.

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." When this was announced from the stage, Earl & I looked at each other in amazement! We had been having trouble keeping up with our business and attending in-person Rotary Club meeting requirements. Yet we loved Rotary and giving to the Rotary Foundation to help with Polio Eradicaation.

The passing of this item significantly expanded the definition of make-up meetings, and by extension, Rotary activity. Of the 14 submitted, only 4 were chosen as having followed the R. I. guidelines. Rotary eClub NY1 of D7150 was one of those chosen. 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 - The first e-club, Rotary eClub of District 5450 (Rotary eClub One), out of Colorado, was initiated in June 2001 as part of the New Models for Rotary Clubs pilot project with 13 members. Rotary eClub of District 7150 NY1 and the Rotary eClub of District 7890 followed in 2002 under the three-year Rotary eClub Pilot Project (formerly known as Cyber Rotary Clubs Pilot Project).

The Clubs now participating in the eClub project help extend Rotary to those who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to meet traditional attendance requirements.

Marlene Brown of Rotary eClub District 7150 NY1, which has said "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, as well as Rotarians who may be ill or traveling".

"A make-up visit to Rotary eClubs is not a 'quick fix' but a real opportunity to become a better informed Rotarian" Brown continues. Full-time members of Rotary eClubs like to emphasize that their clubs offer more than just a quick make-up.

As fully functional and legitimate Rotary clubs, e-clubs pay dues, participate in community projects, and function much like any other traditional clubs, except that a Web site serves as the only meeting place.

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."

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 online 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 online programs educate, inform and inspire.

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. Group Study Exchange alumni are also 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."

Brown says The club's membership is a diverse group of Rotarians, some new to Rotary, some switching over from their regular Clubs. "Our members come from a wide variety of professions — doctors, 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.

Going above and beyond - E-club members are so excited about the new way to experience Rotary that they are going beyond minimum requirements for membership. Rotary eClub NY1 had 3 of its members pay their own way to fly to Haiti to attend their District Conference and to work on finishing the paperwork for a grant to construct a water project.

"Several of our members exceed the minimum 12 hours personal service per calendar quarter by many hours each quarter, a tangible demonstration of commitment to our ideal of service," says Joscelyne of eClub One, currently involved in projects ranging from youth skills training in East Timor to foster parent support and Vocational Service teams. The club also participates in the Ranfurly Library Book Aid project for the Pacific Islands.

The future of eClubs seems bright, especially to members who are hooked on the concept. "I'm sure the numbers of e-clubs will grow throughout the world, but I don't see them replacing the regular in person meetings. I see e-clubs as more of an option to keep extremely busy or medically challenged professionals involved in Rotary," says Brown of RotaryeClub NY1.

"The most moving eclub makeup we had on our website", noted Brown, was an elderly man in the hospital to undergo surgery. He had always had 100% attendence and didn't want to lose that, so he had his daughter bring in her laptop so he could do a makeup!. As more and more folks become aware of the e-club option, the membership of, and involvement in, Rotary will increase dramatically."

Paul Harris could have never imagined e-clubs when he founded the first Rotary club nearly 100 years ago. Whatever the future holds, no one can doubt that e-clubs & Social Media are providing a whole new way to experience Rotary and bring new members into the Rotary world.

Rotary E-club NY1 at its 2004 Charter Ceremony




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