MEMBERSHIP  September 6

A Chance to Lead

When I look back at my Rotary journey, I’m astounded by the amazing opportunities I’ve had 

By Ryan Clements, Rotary Club of Columbus, GA

When I look back at my Rotary journey, I’m astounded by the amazing opportunities I’ve had to meet new people, travel around the world, develop as a leader, and, of course, to serve my community. At the age of 31 and with little knowledge of Rotary, I really didn’t understand all that Rotary was and all that it had to offer. But on the encouragement of a highly respected client, who also happened to be past-president of the Rotary Club of Columbus, I took the step and joined because I recognized the chance to be part of club full of my community’s key leaders.

My story is like that of many others, I’m sure. Initially I wasn’t exactly the best member. Sometimes I would leave a little early, or maybe even sign in to our weekly meeting and leave. I participated in some club activities but wasn’t as engaged as I could have been. That was, until, I was approached by another highly respected client, also a past club president, who asked me to serve on my club’s board of directors. I realized immediately the honor it was to have been nominated by someone who I so greatly respected for a club leadership position out of a club with 300+ members. Given this chance to lead, I knew that I needed to give every ounce of effort and make a statement during my term as a director.

As the story continues, I was subsequently asked to serve as my club’s 99th president – and 5th youngest ever. I look back on my year proudly and feel that is was full of accomplishment. But no matter how hard I think I worked or how well I might have planned, the truth is that any success I had during my year as president was a direct result of the support, often quiet support, I had from previous club leaders who were willing to give me a chance, with unwavering support, to lead the club the way I saw fit.

The question is often asked “how do we get young professionals to join Rotary” and then “how do we get young professionals to stay in Rotary?” Based on my experience, here are three key steps:

1.   Make it a club priority to create an environment that is supportive of young professional members. It sounds too simple, but clubs that do not focus on accommodating and supporting young professionals may find that they’re not able to attract new young professionals or their existing young professionals don’t feel welcome and ultimately leave.

2.   Put young professional members in important positions of leadership that matter. Young professionals are already leaders in their own right. Have confidence in their abilities, even if they’re unconventional, and allow them to have influence over your club’s biggest decisions. And don’t make them wait too long to assume a leadership position because otherwise they will likely find leadership opportunities elsewhere.

3.   Help them implement their initiatives and protect their ability to lead. Trust your young professional leaders and give them full, unwavering, support to carry out their ideas. Give them a chance to lead and you’ll find that members of all ages will appreciate it.

Focusing on young leaders and young professionals is only a part of Rotary’s membership equation but it’s an important factor in Rotary’s long term viability. While each club’s strategy for attracting and engaging younger members will undoubtedly be unique, following these three key steps should set any club in the right direction for long term success.

Need help with specific strategies for your club? Then submit your question or request to the Rotary Young Professionals Engagement Team at