Interested in starting a Passport Rotary club?  This page will provide you with some background on the Passport Club concept and advice on how to start one.
Sean Hogan,
Charter President
PNW Passport Rotary Club
Passport Clubs: History & Concept
The first Rotary Passport Club chartered in Sacramento, California (D5180) on May 1, 2015 by District Governor Glenn Fong and Charter President Mike Reneiro.  It had 60 members, but grew to 90 within one year. 

The concept?  Remove barriers to people to want to become Rotarians by offering greater meeting flexibility and lower costs.

The Passport Rotary Club encourages members to be engaged in service in ways that fit their time, talent and finances.  To fit Rotary within their family, work and life commitments.

Passport Clubs differ from e-clubs in that members live within a defined geographical region, so that members can get together for regular meetings.  

Rotary Passport Club members are full Rotary members, with the same privileges and rights as Rotarians in traditional clubs.  

Why “Passport”?  Membership in a Passport Rotary Club is a passport:
  • into Rotary for people who have busy lives and other commitments.
  • to other Rotary clubs - encouraging members to visit other local Rotary clubs and to take part in their service projects, fundraisers and other activities.
  • to the local community - members who already volunteer in other community groups are our Rotary ambassadors to those groups, and bring ideas for service projects back to the club.
The target membership group for the Passport Club are:
•    Former Rotary members who are ready to rejoin.
•    Current or past members of the Rotary family, including Rotaractors and alumni of Rotary programs.
•    Young people who are early in their career and/or have young families.
•    Retirees who now have time and talent to give back.
•    Anyone who wants to do good in this world.

The 9th and newest Passport club - the Pacific Northwest Passport Rotary Club held its Charter Night on March 3, 2018.  The PNW Passport Rotary Club was installed by RIVP Dean Rohrs and welcomed by special guest, Glenn Fong.

How To Start A Passport Club

When we decided to start a Passport Club in Rotary District 5050, we decided that our initial target group would be former Rotary members.

ClubRunner at the District level has a contact database for existing members, but not for former members. However, the club level does contain a database for each club’s former members.  So I sent an email to each club (President/PE/Secretary).  The text of that email (edited to make it generic) was:
 We are starting a new kind of Rotary club, and we need your help.
The Rotary Passport Club is looking to attract former Rotary and Rotaract members, as well as alumni of Rotary programs, by offering a new kind of club that provides greater meeting flexibility and lower costs, which are often barriers to people joining or re-joining Rotary.
For more details on the Rotary Passport Club, click here: [ADD LINK TO SITE PAGE OR STORY ON DISTRICT WEBSITE]
Passport Clubs encourage members to engage in service in ways that meet their time, talent and finances. That includes taking part in your club's service projects and meetings.
We all know people who should be Rotary members but don't want to commit to a regular weekly club format, or who have young families or limited budgets.  This is a way to make Rotary fit their lives.

Every Rotary club has more former members than current members.  We want to try and re-engage those former members.
I am asking that you forward an invitation to former members of your club and any others who may be interested, and ask them to email me at [CONTACT EMAIL]
There is an easy and convenient way for you to contact former members of your club.
When you log into ClubRunner, on the Admin page and the Membership Manager section, you will see a link to Inactive Members.  You can review those and decide who you would like to invite.
To send an email (either individually or to several), you will see the same list of Inactive Members in the left column.  Click the plus sign and choose the people you want to include.

I plan to set up an information meeting within the next month, with a view to chartering a club this year.
Thank you for your support! If you have any questions, please contact me.

Similar but separate emails were sent to the District leadership and to the Assistant Governors to ask for their support.  There were some follow up reminder emails.
From those emails we had some clubs report that they had forwarded the information to former members but I suspect most did not.  Part of the issue is that we were setting up a District club since our geographical area is about 4 hours from end to end.  Those who want to start a club in a city or local area will be dealing with fewer clubs and would be better able to get them on board.

In addition to emails, I added a story to the District website page, posted information on Facebook (both the District and mine) and a story in the District newsletter.

The first few meetings were set up online, however the most effective meeting was one that was set up at my home with about 30 people on a Saturday in September.

We invited both people interested in the Passport club as well as any Rotary officer or member who wanted more information about it.

From that meeting we got about 20 people who submitted membership applications.  While that gave us the minimum required to Charter, I wanted a minimum of 30 people given that most clubs experience a membership drop in their first two years.

We also held multi-club information meetings.  The most successful were casual pub evenings hosted by the local clubs.  

By December we had 30 membership applications and filed for our Charter, which we received on January 2.

We set the Charter night for March 3 and by the time we held it, we had 40 members.   

Developing the Engagement Model

One of the more significant discussions was the engagement model.  If you don’t have the weekly club meeting, how are the members going to engage with each other, with other clubs and with the community?

We started by looking at what existing Passport clubs were doing and let our members decide - stressing that this is a membership-driven, grass roots concept.

The original Greater Sacramento Passport club meets every 3 months and doesn’t have its own projects.  It’s focus is on connecting their members to other local Rotary clubs.  The second club in Pierce County (Tahoma, WA District 5020) holds monthly meetings and does have in-club service projects.

We decided to adopt the Pierce County model, but added a third element recognizing any volunteer service with other organizations as counting towards membership obligations.

We send regular emails to members (once or twice per month) with information on upcoming club meetings as well as District and other club events.

Organizational Information

We decided to minimize our organizational structure with the basic officer positions (President, President-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer - and Past President in our second year) and only two additional director positions.  We framed those two positions as Committee Chairs so as to encourage members to join one or both as a Committee member.

The Engagement Committee is our internal membership committee.  The Service Committee is our external committee (community, international and TRF).  

Since many of our members came to us on their own, we modified the membership application form to clarify that they do not require a current member to sponsor them.

The initial applications have been reviewed by the Board only given the number that we received.  As of July, the procedure will be to notify club members of an applicant for any comments they may have.  One or more Board members interview the applicants and report back to the Board, which makes the decision.

Attached to this email is a copy of our membership application and the Constitution/Bylaws for the PNW Passport Rotary club.  Those have been adapted from the standard RI forms.

We set our dues at $150 USD per year but offer discounted membership for anyone who is a current Rotaract member of $60 per year.

Concerns and Issues
1.  Commitment Concerns.

We encouraged members to join who have time or financial limitations. So when we sent emails about District and club events, we received some resignation notices from members who said they did not have the time to participate.

We addressed that issue but changing our language to speak of “opportunities”.  We make it clear that members are encouraged to take part as they are able.   The resignation notices were withdrawn once this was explained.
2.  Club Finances
The annual dues are priced low to cover RI and District dues with a small amount for club dues.  This gives us a limited budget for club obligations such as sending the President-Elect to PETS, officers to the Training Assembly, Foundation Grant Seminar, etc.  It also doesn’t give us funds to subsidize members to attend non-obligatory events such as the Rotary Leadership Institute.  

3.  “Poaching”
Roughly 40% of our members are former Rotarians, 30% are new to Rotary but 30% come from current Rotarians.  

We are very aware that we don’t want to be seen as poaching existing members from clubs, but balanced against that is that if someone is ready to resign from their club, we would rather have them join the Passport club than leave Rotary.

When we receive an application from a current Rotarian, we interview them to find out why they want to leave their existing club.  In most of those, there are legitimate reasons where the person can’t attend the meeting regularly (job change) or is about to quit their club due to internal conflict.  Where possible we encourage them to remain with their club to resolve those issues. We also speak with the leadership of that club.

I also encourage clubs to consider adopting some of the Passport principles within their existing club. In my North Delta club, we adopted a set of rules for “Members At Large” for those who couldn’t attend the regular meeting. It did two interesting things: (1) those who were considering quitting because they couldn’t make the meeting stayed; and (2) those who complained about members not attending meetings stopped complaining.  However and of equal importance, clubs who adopt this concept must also create more opportunities for engagement outside the club meetings.  Hold at least one social or one small local hands on service project each month.  Preferably one of each - either in addition to or in substitution for a regular club meeting.

4.  Dual Membership

Rotary now allows people to be members of more than one club.  However, for RI’s database, the member has to choose one club as the primary.  This was intended for snowbirds who stay in other countries for lengthy periods.  We decided to apply this within our club for selfish reasons since I did not want to leave my existing club where I’ve been a member for 30 years.  Our District Governor, who wanted to join the Passport Club also wanted to remain with her current club.
So there are a few of us that show the Passport Club as our primary and others who have kept their traditional club as their primary.

To allow dual membership, the articles of the clubs have to be amended from the RI standard ones which do not permit dual membership (you will see that our attached bylaws permit dual membership).  
The secondary club, on registering the member through ClubRunner, has to click the option to not report that member to RI. 

Frankly this has caused complications and confusion and I would not encourage it for other Passport Clubs.   But it can be done if you have the same selfish reasons that I do.

5.  Attraction & Retention

Most clubs will have a decline in membership during their first two years.  A Passport Club is at greater risk for this given the membership focus on those with time or financial restrictions.

We will need to continue to hold joint meetings with clubs to encourage them to contact former members.

We also need to build connections with Rotaract clubs and people who have been involved in other Rotary programs.

We will have to find the balance where members are feeling connected to the club and are engaged in the level service that fits for them.  We don’t want to discourage members but we also don’t want people who are “Rotarians in name only”. 

The Greater Sacramento Passport Club measures engagement by what they call “Lives Saved” by giving of time or money.

One of our members is developing an App to enable members to record their hours of service.  

Several of our members have accumulated “Paul Harris Recognition Points” and we are developing a plan that members can earn donated points which, along with their financial contribution to the Rotary Foundation, would qualify them for a Paul Harris.

We don’t have all the answers - and those answers may differ from club to club.

Passport clubs are a great member-driven Rotary experiment.   

I hope that your District will join us in re-envisioning and re-invigorating Rotary in our second century of service!

Let us know how we can help.

Sean Hogan
Charter President
PNW Passport Rotary Club