Matchmaker, matchmaker


Rotary’s Membership Leads program handles the introductions; the rest is up to your club




Making people feel welcome and valued from the first phone call is the best way to persuade them to join you.


Club officer installations, as important as they are, tend to have a sameness — announce names and titles, swear them in, applaud. But when I heard Susie Whipple’s name announced in June, I could barely contain myself. “Hey, she’s mine!” I wanted to shout. I had referred her to the Rotary Club of Barrington Breakfast, Illinois, through Rotary’s Membership Leads program. That club took full advantage of the introduction and made her a member almost immediately; she was a board member less than a year later.

Membership Leads is the way that Rotary International takes online inquiries from people who are interested in Rotary and turns them into members. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can fill out a form at that asks them for their contact information and the meeting location, day of the week, and time of day that would best fit their needs. This form provides prospective members with a lot of flexibility, but can also result in some challenging requests: towns with no clubs, or days when no nearby clubs meet.

Enter the Membership Leads coordinator. In the case of District 6440 in the Chicago suburbs, that’s me. I call everyone who comes to us through our district’s Membership Leads page (these prospects have already been screened by Rotary staff to make sure they meet Rotary’s membership requirements). The calls are my way of letting every prospective member know that Rotary is welcoming and interested in them.

When she filled out the online form, Susie Whipple had named the town she lives in, which has no club. I could have simply referred her to the closest club, of course. But I called her first, and learned that she had already visited that club and had not had a great experience. Years ago, however, she did have a great experience studying in France with Rotary Youth Exchange, so she wanted to give Rotary another chance.

I recently asked her how she went from being a prospective member to a board member — and a volunteer on the district youth committee to help others find out about Rotary Youth Exchange — in such a short time. “I filled out a form on the Rotary website and then you called me,” Susie remembers. “You and I had a fairly lengthy conversation about club options. You asked me about my preferences and my life.” During that chat, Susie and I searched for nearby clubs on Rotary’s online Club Finder. Because she is an independent wine consultant, her schedule is fairly flexible, but for various reasons the clubs on the list weren’t working for her. As we spoke, I discovered that one of Susie’s top priorities was being around friendly people. Coincidentally, we had arrived at the 19th club on the list: Barrington Breakfast. “You know, that’s the friendliest club in the area,” I told her. “Sold,” she said.

Her first visit to the club confirmed it was a great match. “I remember going just to check it out, and they were so open-armed,” she says. “They were very interested in my life, and so welcoming.” In fact, the 44-member club recognized her expertise and immediately asked her to be in charge of wine and beer at an upcoming fundraiser.

Her experience taught me something: The factors we think should dictate what club a person might prefer to join don’t always apply. The club Susie chose is 10 miles from her home; at least three others are closer. Even more challenging, the club meets at 7 a.m., which puts her in the middle of rush-hour traffic. “I have to get up at 5 a.m. to get there, but I’m glad to do it,” she says.

You would think that every club would be eager to follow up on the prospective members their district Membership Leads coordinators send them. That isn’t always the case — but the good news is that it isn’t hard to replicate the successful match between Susie and Barrington Breakfast.

Once a prospective member decides which club he or she would like to visit, I assign that person to that club, and an email about the referral goes out to the club president, secretary, and membership chair, as well as the district’s assistant governor. This referral email can be a little complex, so I also send a friendly reminder to the club president about each hot prospect, asking them to report their progress toward membership on the Manage Membership Leads page. (Unless clubs enter a report, the Membership Leads coordinator never knows what has happened to a given prospect. To find all your current and many previous leads, sign in to My Rotary, go to Club Administration under the Manage tab, and then click on Membership Leads.)

Making people feel welcome and valued from the first phone call is the best way to persuade them to join you.

Clubs that convert the most leads to membership tend to be the clubs that assign someone, as soon as they receive a referral, to call the prospective member to invite them to an upcoming meeting or event.

In District 5060 (parts of British Columbia and Washington state), Rob Tidd is membership committee chair. His own club, the Rotary Club of Wenatchee Confluence, Washington — a combined noon club and evening satellite club — has added almost 30 members in the past year. He tries to guide his district’s clubs into actively following up on their leads.

“Most of my clubs will jump on the leads right away, but there is sometimes poor follow-up,” he says. “I’ve told them not to send an email to prospective members. Pick up the phone and call them to invite them to a meeting or event. They will be elated to get that contact from the club.” Tidd will follow up if he hasn’t heard from his clubs about leads they have received. “Some of the prospective members are still receptive,” he notes, “and just didn’t click with the first referral.”

Rotary International is working to make the Membership Leads program easier for clubs to use, with staff members visiting district coordinators to solicit our advice. Soon, clubs will also be able to enter their own leads into the RI system, which will allow clubs to keep track of the prospective members they have identified themselves.

You may believe that Membership Leads doesn’t really work for your club because you haven’t gained any new members through the program. In fact, whether it works is up to your club. In my experience, making people feel welcome and valued from the first phone call is the best way to persuade them to join you.

Perhaps your club has never received any leads through the program at all — at least none that you know about. Club presidents, secretaries, and membership chairs, as well as assistant district governors, have access to their Manage Membership Leads page, but you don’t have to be a club officer to get involved. If you are an outgoing person who likes to match people with opportunities, you could volunteer to help your club or district membership committee follow up with prospective members. Right now Stan Roelker, a member of the Rotary Club of Lincolnshire (Morning Star), Illinois, is making it possible for me to communicate with many more clubs than I would be able to on my own about their open leads.

To help grow Rotary, we need membership candidates of all kinds. And Membership Leads candidates are some of the hottest prospects of all: These are people who have taken the time to reach out to Rotary on their own. They might be looking for community service opportunities. They may want to hone their leadership abilities. Or perhaps they are interested in working to solve a specific problem and realize that Rotary might be able to help them do that. Bottom line: They are looking for something. It might just be your club.

Nancy Shepherdson, a freelance writer, is a member of the Rotary Club of Lake Zurich, Illinois, and has been in charge of Membership Leads for District 6440 since 2017.

• Find more information about Membership Leads, as well as tools for doing a club assessment, engaging current members, and making new members feel welcome, at

• This story originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.