How Rotary is organized
How Rotary is organized
In a meeting of Rotarians where the topic of discussion was “What Rotary Means to Me,” one member reflected upon more than 30 years of membership: “One of the most satisfying elements of my Rotary membership, through the years, has been the pride I have felt as Rotary grew around the world, in so many places where I had to go to my world atlas and my encyclopedia to locate them and to learn about the people … I have not only felt a closer tie with these men in strange lands, but I have also been proud to belong to an .organization which could, in its own simple way, bring us together as one . . .”
This Rotarian was pointing not only toward the inner meaning of Rotary but also to the administrative machinery which could encompass clubs in Calcutta, Callao, Canberra, Cannes, Capetown, and Chicago—and they would all, with 10,000-plus other cities, become “Rotary International.” As in other phases of Rotary activity in these diverse places, Rotary has been a pioneer in creating an administrative system which would provide minimum machinery for maximum service.
There must be some machinery, however, for there are administrative problems in a far-flung organization which reaches into every continent. Through the years, several procedures have been tried in order to discover the best operational methods; plans have been created, rejected, modified—but evolved is probably the most exact word for the process. This process still goes on, and if there is a watchword which characterizes this continuing search for better ways to do things, it is the admonition formulated by a past president of Rotary International—”Keep Rotary Simple.”
Defining the spirit of Rotary may be difficult, but “Rotary International” is proportionately easy to explain: Rotary International is an association of Rotary clubs. There is no attempt to create the “corporate image”; there are images, however, of thousands of Rotary clubs—each basically similar in structure, activity, and purpose, and yet each distinctively and individually different.
The membership of the average club is slightly less than 50. In each club the board of directors, the committees, and the individual members contribute to the effectiveness of the club and, in a larger sense, to the cumulative success of world-wide Rotary. The success of Rotary International is achieved through the understanding and vision of these members, and through their willingness and ability to translate their understanding and vision into effective action.
The sovereignty of the local club is the fundamental administrative principle of Rotary International. Rotary International is the clubs. The clubs are Rotary International. This basic autonomy is the source of Rotary’s strength and unity, and it is the foundation on which the organization is built. Any Rotarian, understanding the magnitude of Rotary International, may well appreciate how efficient Rotary administration—co-ordination, cohesion, inspiration, guidance, communication, and leadership—has kept pace with the organization’s phenomenal growth, and yet has remained relatively simple and with emphasis on the local club.
Organizational procedures which give unity to Rotary International are based on three operational levels: the club, the district, and the international—all functioning within the framework of policies and procedures developed by international conventions and by successive boards of directors. These levels are important to the individual Rotarian, for each level offers new opportunities for adventures in service.
Internal coherence and direction are provided at the club level by the standard club constitution and the recommended club by-laws—both the product of experience and change. Under these documents, each club annually elects a president, secretary, and directors for the coming year, the “Rotary year” being from 1 July to 30 June.
The board of directors is the governing body of the club. It passes on membership proposals, approves the audit of club funds and the budget, decides the time and place of all regular and special meetings, approves committee plans, and assumes responsibility for similar administrative functions. Its decisions are final, subject only to an appeal to the club membership. A two-thirds vote of the membership is required to reverse board decisions.
Most clubs operate under the recommended committee plan—again the product of practical Rotary experience and based on the recommended by-laws. Four directors supervise and guide club activities in the avenues of service, one director for each avenue. Responsible to these men are subcommittees or individual members operating the various activities and projects and arranging programs for the weekly meeting.
For administrative purposes, contiguous clubs are grouped into districts, each district under the leadership of an officer of Rotary International called the district governor. He is nominated by the clubs of the district and is elected by the delegates to the international convention. A few clubs, because of location, are not districted but are under direct supervision of the R.I. board of directors, assisted by a specially designated administrative adviser. The district governor is a key official in the administration of Rotary. He is an international officer directly charged with the supervision of his clubs. All administrative matters are channeled through him both to and from the clubs. In preparation for his year, he is required to attend an international assembly—a “school” where, through instruction and discussion, he is introduced to his responsibilities for the ensuing year. He is required to make an official visit to each club in his district, usually within the first half of his year in office, and report his findings to the R.I. board through the secretariat. In addition, he arranges for, and presides at, two important district meetings: the district assembly and the district conference. He receives no remuneration, but is allowed a nominal amount for clerical and transportation expenses. The district assembly, held in April, May, or June, is a business meeting of incoming presidents and secretaries of the constituent clubs. Its purpose is to assist these officers in preparing for their year, and it has much to do with the success of that year when they take office on 1 July.
The district conference, also held annually, is open to all Rotarians of the district and their families. Its purpose is to further the program of Rotary through fellowship, inspirational addresses, and presentations and discussions of district and Rotary International affairs. It may submit resolutions for action by the international convention.
Both the district assembly and conference are highly important meetings, the one for preparing incoming officers, the other for the membership. For the new member particularly, a conference is an especially valuable experience. Usually it is organized to cover two or three days, often over a weekend to conserve the time of busy men. Here, the new member can broaden his concepts of words like “service” and “international” by exchanging experiences and ideas with other Rotarians and by observing exhibits of specific projects.
He may see, for example, a demonstration of the varied service projects of neighboring clubs and come to realize that all are motivated by the same purposes. He may hear a Rotary Foundation Fellow discuss his experiences while studying in another country, and thus be able to link “international service” with living people. A vocational craft discussion may place him among others of his profession or business in a discussion of the application of Rotary principles to economic life.
One new Rotarian, living in a district which in itself symbolized the meaning of “internationality” by straddling national boundaries, attended his first district conference. He participated in—and enjoyed—all of it; he attended the governor’s ball and the opera staged especially for the delegates; he sat through all the deliberations and, at the end, he said to an old friend, his sponsor in Rotary: “You know, I never realized there was so much to this Rotary business.”
After his first district conference, another Rotarian wrote: “To me, the conference was an eye opener. For the first time I came to realize that lunch on Wednesday is … only the start. There are so many things about Rotary that are so far better and beyond just lunch, that books have been filled with the story, and I won’t do that here. All I want to do is to give you my ‘confession’, so to speak . . . my experience, awakening . . . the one thing that put me on the road to getting ten times more out of Rotary in this past one year than in all the time I belonged before that. I simply won’t miss any Rotary special events any more.”
Both these men had found the road to becoming better, more active Rotarians—a progression which would lead them into further satisfactions. Rotary meetings do this repeatedly.
There are two important annual meetings at the international level, the first of which is the international assembly, held immediately prior to the international convention. To this meeting come the general officers of R.I., the newly-nominated district governors, R. I. committee chairmen, and others designated by the board. The purpose is to plan co-operatively the work and activities of R. I. for the forthcoming year, to help prepare district governors-nominee for their duties, and to inspire all participants with a sense of high purpose. It offers, in its week or more of sessions, a concentrated opportunity for incoming leaders to learn from those who have had the experiences they are facing. The second meeting, of course, is the annual convention, held each year in a different city. It is the legislative, policy-making body; to it come delegates (and other Rotarians) from clubs all over the world. They receive reports from the officers of Rotary International. They deliberate on policy and they elect officers for the ensuing year.
It has many additional features: vocational craft assemblies, group meetings, varied entertainment on an international scale, sessions for the ladies and for young people. One of the outstanding facts about these conventions is that they are family conventions. Rotarians bring their wives and children because they know it is something they can do together to find enrichment. Attendance figures ranging between 10,000 and 15,000 testify to this quality. Obviously, such large conventions must have instruments with which to accomplish their work. One of these is the council on legislation, which held its first session as an integral part of the 1934 convention. It meets immediately preceding each legislative convention (even-numbered years). It considers and acts upon proposed legislation.
Its actions are reviewed and balloted upon by all Rotary clubs before becoming final.
An international convention is an event cherished by literally thousands of Rotarians who attend time and time again. As one put it, “I wouldn’t miss a convention if it’s at all possible for me to go. I meet friends I haven’t seen for a long time, I make new ones, and I learn what they’re doing. I see what Rotary is doing as a whole, and I leave the convention feeling just a little more proud of being a Rotarian.” This also is true for the new Rotarian; in fact, even more so since for him it is a fresh, broadening experience that adds depth to his understanding of Rotary. It is an experience to be remembered and repeated as often as possible.
The governing administrative body of Rotary is the board of directors, elected at the international convention to serve two years. It consists of 14 members, including the president (also elected by the convention) as chairman, and the president-elect, who takes office in the succeeding Rotary year.
The board is empowered to create an executive committee to act for the board between its three regular meetings in matters of executive or administrative character where policy has been established. Committees provided for in the by-laws and other special committees are appointed by the president to study matters related to particular activities and to make recommendations to the board.
The general secretary of Rotary International is the active managing officer of the organization and is under the supervision of the president and under the control of the board of directors. He serves as secretary of the board but has no vote in its proceedings. The general secretary makes an annual report to the board which, when approved by the board, is transmitted to the convention. The general secretary and his staff of assistants constitute the secretariat of Rotary International. The secretariat serves the officers and members of Rotary clubs, the board of directors of Rotary International, the committees, and the district governors.
In its contacts with clubs, the secretariat serves as a clearinghouse to gather information regarding the administration and activities of Rotary clubs throughout the world, analyzing and digesting this information and putting it into usable form for the member clubs. The official magazine and other literature of Rotary International are prepared in the secretariat.