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Rotary Basics

The information below is taken from a RI publication entitled "Rotary Basics."

Rotary International, the world's oldest service club organization, comprises some 30,000 clubs in more than 165 countries.

Its members form a global network of business and professional leaders who volunteer their time and talents to serve their communities and the world. Rotary's motto, Service Above Self, exemplifies the humanitarian spirit of the organization's more than 1.2 million members. Strong fellowship among Rotarians and meaningful community and international service projects characterize Rotary worldwide.

Rotary enjoys a rich and sometimes complex tradition and organizational structure, with many programs and customs that can be confusing to new and even no-so-new members. The following information offers a basic Rotary education that will make every member better informed about Rotary and proud to be a Rotarian.

The Organization of Rotary

Rotarians are members of Rotary clubs, which belong to the global association fo Rotary International (RI). Each club elects its own officers and enjoys considerable autonomy within the framework of Rotary's constitution and bylaws.

Clubs are grouped into 529 Rotary districts, each led by a district governor, who is an officer of RI. The district administration, including assistant governors and various committees, guides and supports the clubs. The 19 member RI Board of Director, which includes the RI president and president-elect, meets quarterly to establish policies. Traditionally, the RI president, who is elected annually, develops a theme and emphasis for the year.

While the RI president is the organization's chief executive, the active managing officer is the RI general secretary, who heads a staff of about 600 people at the World Headquarters in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, USA, and in the seven international offices in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, India, Japan, Korea and Switzerland. The RI in Great Britian and Ireland (RIBI) office, in England, serves and districts in that region.

Responsibilities of Membership

What Rotarians get out of Rotary depends largely on what they put into it. Many membership requirements are designed to help members more fully enjoy their Rotary experience.

The club is the cornerstone of Rotary, where the most meaningful work is carried out. Effective Rotary clubs all exhibit four key characteristics: they strive to sustain or increase their membership base, participate in service projects that benefit their own community and those in other countries, support The Rotary Foundation financially and through program participation, and develop leaders capable of serving Rotary beyond the club level.

Attending weekly club meetings allows members to enjoy their club's fellowship and enrich their professional and personal knowledge. If members miss their own club's meeting, they are encouraged to expand their Rotary horizons by attending make-up meetings at any Rotary club in the world - a practice that guarantees Rotarians a warm welcome in communities around the globe. For meeting places and times, consult the Official Directory or the Club Locator section on RI's web site (

Regular attendance helps members fulfill another important responsibility - participating in club service projects. Members learn about their club's involvement in local and international projects and can volunteer their time and talents where they are most needed.

To keep clubs strong, every Rotarian must share the responsibility of bringing new people into Rotary. Even new members can bring guests to meetings or invite them to participate in a service project. The value of Rotary speaks for itself, and the best way to spark the interest of potential members is by letting them experience fellowship and service firsthand.

Keeping members interested in Rotary is another responsibility. Good club fellowship and early involvement in service projects are two of the best ways to sustain the club's membership.

Rotary's Guiding Principles

Throughout Rotary's history, several basic principles have been developed to guide Rotarians in achieving the ideal of service and high ethical standards.

The Object of Rotary was first formulated in 1910 and adapted throughout the years as Rotary's mission expanded. It provides a succinct definition of the organization's purpose as well as the individual club member's responsibilities.

The Object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:

First. The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;

Second. High ethical standards in business and professions; the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and the dignifying of each Rotarian's occupation as an opportunity to serve society;

Third. The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian's personal, business, and community life;

Fourth. The advancement of international understanding and goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

The classification principle ensures that each club's membership profiles the business and professional composition of its community. Under this system each member's classification is based on his or her business or profession; the number of members holding that classification is limited according to the size of the club. The result is professional diversity, which enlivens the social atmosphere of the club and provides a rich resource of occupational expertise to carry out service projects.

The four Avenues of Service, based on the Object of Rotary, are Rotary's philosophical cornerstone and the foundation on which club activity is based:

  • Club Service focuses on strengthening fellowship and ensuring the effective functioning of the club.
  • Vocational Service encourages Rotarians to serve others through their vocations and to practice high ethical standards.
  • Community Service covers the projects and activities the club undertakes to improve life in its community.
  • International Service encompasses actions taken to expand Rotary's humanitarian reach around the globe and to promote world understanding and peace.

The Four-Way Test, followed by Rotarians worldwide in their business and professional life, was created by Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor in 1932. It has since been translated into more than 100 languages.

The four-way trust of the tings we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

RI Programs

The following programs and service opportunities are designed to help Rotarians meet needs in their own communities and reach out to assist people in need worldwide:

Interact - Rotary clubs organize and sponsor this service organization for youth ages 14 to 18; almost 9,000 clubs in 113 countries.

Rotaract - Rotary clubs organize and sponsor this leadership, professional development, and service organization for young adults ages 18 to 30; more than 7,500 clubs in 155 countries.

Rotary Community Corps (RCC) - Rotary clubs organize and sponsor these groups of non-Rotarians who work to improve their communities; more than 5,100 RCCs in 72 countries.

Rotary Fellowship - International recreational, vocational and health-related groups open to all Rotarians and spouses sharing common interests; approximately 75 fellowships.

Rotary Friendship Exchange - Rotarians and their families make reciprocal visits to other counties, staying in each other's homes and learning about the culture firsthand.

Rotary Volunteers - While every Rotarian is a volunteer, many also offer their special skills and experience to a project abroad for short periods every year.

Rotary Youth Exchange - Clubs and districts sponsor and host students ages 15 to 19 who travel abroad for an academic year or an extended holiday; about 7,000 a year.

Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) - Clubs and districts sponsor seminars to encourage and recognize leadership abilities of youth and young adults ages 14 to 30.

World Community Service (WCS) - Rotary clubs and districts from two different countries form partnerships to implement community service projects; many such projects receive funding from The Rotary Foundation Humanitarian Grants Program.

Menu of Service Opportunities

RI recommends that clubs planning service activities consider nine major needs or concerns: Children at Risk, Disabled Persons, Health Care, International Understanding and Goodwill, Literacy and Numeracy, Population Issues, Poverty and Hunger, Preserve Planet Earth, and Urban Concerns.

The Rotary Foundation

The Rotary Foundation of RI is a not-for-profit corporation that receives contributions totaling more than US$75 million annually and spends more than $95 million each year in support of humanitarian and educational programs implemented by clubs and districts. Contributions from Rotarians go to the Foundation's Annual Program Fund, an endowment from which only the earnings are spent in support of Foundation programs, ensuring the long-term viability of the Foundation.

Every dollar contributed contributed by Rotarians fund the humanitarian and educational programs and program operations. Clubs and districts apply for and receive Foundation  grants to carry out many worthy projects worldwide.

The Rotary Foundation's mission is to support the efforts of Rotary International in the fulfillment of the Object of Rotary, Rotary's mission, and the achievement of world understanding and peace through local, national, and international humanitarian, educational, and cultural programs.

Humanitarian Grants Program

Humanitarian grants enable Rotarians to increase their support of international service projects that provide water wells, basic shelters, medical care, literacy classes, and other essentials to people in need. Rotarian participation is key to the success of these people.

District Simplified Grants enable districts to use a portion of their District Designated Fund (DDF) to support service activities or humanitarian endeavors that benefit local or international communities.

Individual Grants support the travel of Rotarians, Rotarian spouses, Rotaractors, and qualified Foundation alumni who are planning or implementing humanitarian service projects abroad.

Matching Grants assist Rotary Clubs and districts in carrying out World Community Service projects with clubs in other countries.

Blane Community Immunization Grants provide only U.S. Rotary clubs and districts up to $1,000 in matching funds to provide immunizations in their communities.

Educational Programs

Educational programs are designed to promote international understanding by bringing together people from different countries and cultures.

Ambassadorial Scholarships are awarded to students to serve as ambassadors of goodwill while studying in countries other than their own.

Rotary World Peace Scholarships are awarded to individuals for study in master's degree programs at the Rotary Centers for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution.

Group Study Exchange is a cultural and vocational exchange program between districts in different countries for business and professional men and women ages 25 to 40.

Rotary Grants for University Teachers are awarded to higher education faculty to teach abroad in an academic field of practical use to people in a low-income country.


The final drive to a polio-free world

The PolioPlus program provides funding for vaccine and transportation for mass immunization campaigns as well as support for social mobilization, surveillance, and laboratories to help carry out the final stages of global polio eradication.

Goal: To eradicate polio worldwide by 2005, Rotary's centennial.

Major partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative: Rotary International, UNICEF, World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


  • Rotarians raised US$247 million between 1985 and 1988 for polio eradication. By 2005, Rotary's contributions to global polio eradication will exceed $500 million.
  • Polio cases have declined more than 99 percent from 350,000 cases in 1985 to fewer than 2,000 in 2002.
  • Polio has been eradicated in the Western Hemisphere (1994), the Western Pacific Region (2000), and Europe (2002).
  • Almost two billion children have been immunized against polio since 1985.
  • Hundreds of thousands of Rotarians have mobilized to help immunize children, deliver vaccine, promote National Immunization Days, and conduct surveillance for the disease - despite poor infrastructure, extreme poverty, and conflict in many countries.

Benefits of eradication: After polio immunization has ceased, the savings are potentially as high as $1.5 billion per year - funds that could be used to address other public health priorities.

Recent efforts: A one-year campaign - Fulfilling Our Promise: Eradicate Polio - was launched on 1 July 2002 with the goal of raising $80 million to complete the job of eradicating polio.

Taking Pride in Your Rotary Membership

Rotarians dedicate their time and talents not just to polio eradication but to hundreds of worthy causes both locally and internationally. Here are just a few of the humanitarian and peacemaking activities for which Rotarians are known worldwide.

Rotary Life Changing Medical Missions

Rotarian Physicians in several European countries have formed doctor banks, which send their members to remote locations in Africa for two or more months at a time. Every year, more than 400 doctors reach some 10,000 patients who have no access to hospitals and would otherwise receive no medical care.

Rotoplast is a volunteer medical project involving 230 U.S. Rotary clubs and nearly 1,000 medical team volunteers. One of several such Rotary-sponsored programs, Rotoplast mission have provided thousands of children in needy communities around the world with reconstructive surgery to correct cleft palates and other facial deformities.

 Through the Gift of Life program initiated by Rotary clubs and districts, desperately ill children are brought to the United States to receive lifesaving heart surgery.

The World's Largest, Most International Private Scholarship Program

The Rotary Foundation's Ambassadorial Scholarship program sends 1,100 scholars to study abroad every year, preparing many of them for careers in diplomacy, government, and international relations.

Since 1947, more than 30,000 men and women from 100 nations have been Rotary scholars. Among the many who have achieved distinction in their fields are U.S. journalist Bill Moyers, German Architect Helmut Jahn, and Sadako Ogata, Japan's special adviser on Afghanistan and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Gift of Literacy

More than half of all 30,000 Rotary clubs have joined the fight against illiteracy, which plagues one billion people worldwide, by running book drives, tutoring children, or repairing dilapidated schools.

The Lighthouses for Literacy project has been highly effective in elementary schools, adult literacy classes, and programs designed for street children. This innovative teaching method has produced remarkable results in Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Thailand and other countries.

The Goal of Sustainable Development

Rotarians ensure lasting development by providing small loans in cash or in kind to poor entrepreneurs and by supporting integrated community development schemes.

In Uganda, a Rotary-assisted micro-credit project supplies dairy cows to members of a women's cooperative; the co-op then donates the first calves born to their animals to other women. In Ecuador, a Rotary-supported revolving loan fund enabled women to start a thriving catering service. In the Philippines, small loans help villagers start tailoring, pedicab, and other businesses.

Working With Youth

Since Rotary's earliest days, Rotarians have taken a special interest in developing the potential of young people, acting as tutors and mentors, taking pro-active measures to help at-risk children, and sponsoring such youth-related programs as Interact, Rotaract, RYLA, and Youth Exchange.

District, Regional and International Meetings

Several Key meetings bring Rotarians together to share ideas, celebrate success, enjoy fellowship, and plan for the future. The largest of these meetings, the RI Convention, is held in May or June in a different part of the Rotary world each year. This lively four-day meeting features speeches by world and Rotary leaders, spectacular entertainment reflecting the local culture, and unparalleled opportunities to experience the tru breadth of Rotary's international fellowship.

Presidential conferences are held in different parts of the world each year to address issues determined by the RI president, generally focusing on the region in which the conference is held. These conferences provide the backdrop for spirited discussion and opportunities to form international service partnerships.

Rotarians are encouraged to attend their district conference, an annual motivational meeting that showcases club and district activities. A family event, the district conference mixes fellowship with learning and allows Rotarians Rotarians to become more directly involved with charting their district's future.

The Changing Face of Rotary

The genius of Rotary has been its ability to respond to the needs of the day, from child welfare to refugee relief to rural development.

At both the local and international levels, a cornucopia of creative Rotary programs has emerged, from initiatives that help at-risk youths to humanitarian grants designed to diminish poverty.

Changes have also occurred within Rotary. In the 1980s, female business and professional leaders began to join the organization's ranks. Rotary has become increasingly international, with two-thirds of today's Rotarians living outside the United States and members representing a multitude of cultures. Rotary clubs are changing their meeting times and places to make membership more convenient and relevant to today's demanding and professional schedules.

Technology is also transforming the way and speed with which Rotarians communicate with one another, promote their activities, and engage in Rotary business online as well as order publications, register for meetings, and learn about Rotary history, programs, and events. For the latest Rotary information, visit regularly.

Some far-reaching changes are in the experimental stage. A three-year pilot project currently underway allowed RI to charter up to 200 Rotary clubs that deviate from the Standard Rotary Club Constitution. The pilot clubs have altered their meeting frequency, relaxed attendance rules, and offered new types of membership, including corporate and family memberships in an effort to attract and retain members.

One new model is even a cyberclub. If such pilot clubs prove successful, the Council on Legislation could adopt policies making these innovations permanent.


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