How New Media Can Help Old Organizations
This week, I was invited to speak to the Potomac Rotary Club. I’ve loved the Rotary since I was a Student Rotarian 30-something years ago. It’s a great service organization that does terrific work all around the world, and Potomac is one of several terrific Rotary clubs right here in Montgomery County.
But like many service orgs that have been around a long time, it has its challenges. Attend a Rotary meeting sometime and you’ll see a lot of gray hair in the room… older men & women who have been Rotarians for years or even decades. And when I meet with these groups, invariably they point out that they want to attract younger members like me (I’m 47, so I guess that’s relatively young!) to replace the older generation in leadership and service projects.
So following my presentation when I was asked “How can we attract younger members to Rotary?”, I didn’t have a particularly good answer… because it’s a challenge not easily solved.
Even for the ME Generation, research has shown that today’s younger folks are very much engaged with their communities and willing to volunteer their service to worthy causes. Yet legacy groups like Rotary aren’t really on their radar screens. Maybe Rotary isn’t considered ‘cool’, or provides enough stimulation for the multitasking mind of the 20 and 30 year-old crowd. Yet the programs they offer, like clean water initiatives in Africa and bicycles for poor villagers in Central America, are doing enormous good.
I remember when I worked at PBS, and watched with envy as our radio counterpart National Public Radio began to shift the mindset of NPR and take on a level of coolness that was amazing… and the financial support followed. NPR proved to me that a legacy organization has the ability to change its culture and entire approach, attracting younger constituents and expanding its impact. Rotary, libraries, churches and other well-established entities have the ability to change the game. Social Media is one tool that reaches a younger audience… if the content is smart and well-planned. Be surprising, engaging, and generous with info sharing, and don’t look for the hard-sell. Social media is about building relationships FIRST… the sales will follow in due time.
I would love to see Rotary Clubs engaging with the communities they serve with lots of Facebook posts of photos and videos celebrating the great service they are providing… tweets in real time as members work on projects in the community… Instagram and Pinterest pages from Togo, Nicaragua, and locations around the world where local efforts in Montgomery County are having impact in the remotest parts of the world. Video is so easy to do these days, yet resonates with an audience like nothing else.
Yet perhaps the most important thing organizations can do is to have a real conversation with 20-somethings about their feelings toward legacy service orgs, and what would get volunteers excited about participating. Maybe we think we know the answer to that question… but more often than not we’re wrong. Such exchanges will not only facilitate new ideas, but generate buy-in as well.
My deepest appreciation to Rotarians and the many other service organizations that volunteer their time and treasure to help others. I hope they take advantage of available media tools to reinvigorate their programs and attract that next generation of volunteers.