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Rotary Basics

How does Rotary work?

The Organisation of Rotary

  • Clubs
  • Districts
  • RI Board
  • RI Secretariat

Responsibilities of club membership

  • Attendance
  • Service
  • Membership Recruitment and Retention

Rotary's Guiding principles

  • Object of Rotary
  • Classification Principle
  • Avenues of Service
  • The Four-Way Test

Rotary International programs

The Rotary Foundation

  • Financial Support
  • Humanitarian Grants Program
  • PolioPlus
  • Educational Programs

Key meetings

  • RI Convention
  • Presidential Conferences
  • District Conferences

How does Rotary work?

The Rotary way is to recognise a need, marshal resources, and implement a solution in the most effective way, calling on the skills and networking abilities of club members.

In fact, Rotary invented business networking as a means of getting things done in the community. It came out of a meeting between Paul Harris and three business friends - a merchant, an engineer and a coal dealer - to take a stand against the corruption and poor business ethics of the day. They soon realised that they could use their networks to help the community, and the service club ethic was born. Today, Rotary remains the world's largest business networking organisation but puts "Service Above Self".

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The Organisation of Rotary

Rotary is essentially a grassroots organization, with most of its service efforts being carried out at a club level. The district and international structure is designed to support the clubs and help them provide more service in their communities and abroad.

    Rotarians are members of Rotary clubs, which belong to the global association 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 RI 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 Directors, which includes the RI president and president-elect, meets quarterly to establish policies. Traditionally, the RI president, who id elected annually, develops a theme and emphasis for the year.

    Rotary International is headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, USA, with seven international offices in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, India, Japan, Korea, and Switzerland. The RI in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) office, in England, serves clubs and districts in that region. The Secretariat's active managing officer is the RI general secretary, who heads a staff of about 600 people, working to serve Rotarians worldwide.

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Responsibilities of Club Membership

The club is the cornerstone of Rotary, where the most meaningful work is carried out. All effective Rotary clubs exhibit four key characteristics:

  1. They sustain or increase their membership base
  2. Participate in service projects that benefit their own community and those in other countries
  3. Support The Rotary Foundation of RI financially and through program participation and
  4. Develop leaders capable of serving in Rotary beyond the club level.
    Attending weekly club meetings allows members to enjoy heir 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 use the Club Locator at, the RI web site.

    By 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.

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Rotary's Guiding principles

    First formulated in 1910 and adapted throughout the years as Rotary's mission expanded, the Object of Rotary 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 service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:

    1. The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
    2. 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;
    3. The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian's personal, business, and community life;
    4. The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

    This system ensures that each club's membership reflects 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.

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

    • Club Service
      Focuses on strength-ending 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.

    • New Generations (Youth) Service
      Covers the projects and activities the club undertakes to support New Generation (Youth 0 – 30 yrs) programmes.

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

    Of the things we think, say or do
    1. Is it the TRUTH?
    2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
    3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
    4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

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Rotary International programs

Interact Club Interact
Rotary clubs organize and sponsor this service organization for youth ages 14-18; almost 9,300 clubs in 114 countries.
Volunteers Rotary Volunteers
While every Rotarian is a volunteer, many also offer their special skills and experience to a project abroad for short periods.
Rotaract Club Rotaract
Rotary clubs organize and sponsor this leadership, professional development, and service organization for young adults, ages 18-30; more than 7,500 clubs in 156 countries.
Rotary Youth Exchange Rotary Youth Exchange
Clubs and districts sponsor and host students ages 15-19 who travel abroad for an academic year or an extended holiday; about 7,000 a year.
Rotary Community Corps Rotary Community Corps (RCC)
Rotary clubs organize and sponsor these groups of non-Rotarians who work to improve their communities; more than 5,300 RCCs in 74 countries.
Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA)
Clubs and districts sponsor seminars to encourage and recognize leadership abilities of youth and young adults ages 14-30.
Fellowship of Rotary Magicians Rotary Fellowships
Recreational, vocational, and health-related groups open to all Rotarians and spouses sharing common interests; approximately 75 fellowships.
World Community Service 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.
Rotary Friendship Exchange Rotary Friendship Exchange
Rotarians and their families make reciprocal visits to other countries, staying in each other's homes and learning about the culture firsthand.
Menu of Service Opportunities Menu of Service Opportunities
RI recommends that clubs planning service activities consider nine major needs or concerns:
  1. Children at Risk
  2. Disabled Persons
  3. Health Care
  4. International Understanding and Goodwill
  5. Literacy and Numeracy
  6. Population Issues
  7. Poverty and Hunger
  8. Preserve Planet Earth
  9. Urban Concerns

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Rotary Foundation The Rotary Foundation

The Rotary Foundation of RI is a non-for-profit corporation whose mission is to support the efforts of Rotary International in the fulfilment 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.

    In 2002-03, The Rotary Foundation received contributions totalling US$133 million and spent more than $94 million in support of humanitarian and educational programs implemented by clubs and districts. Contributions from Rotarians go into one of two funds:

    • Annual Programs Fund, which provides grants and awards through Foundation programs.
    • Permanent 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 by Rotarians funds the humanitarian and education programs and program operations. Clubs and districts apply for and receive Foundation grants to carry out many worthy projects worldwide. In an effort to maintain sufficient funding for these vital programs, the Foundation launched the Every Rotarian, Every Year initiative, designed to increase annual giving to $100 per capita during the Rotary Centennial year of 2004-05 and beyond.

  • HUMANITARIAN GRANTS PROGRAMHumanitarian Grants Program
    Humanitarian grants enable Rotarians to increase their support of international service projects that provide water wells, medical care, literacy classes, and other essentials to people in need. Rotarian participation is key to the success of the projects.

    • District Simplified Grants enable districts to use a portion of their District Designated Fund (DDF) to support service activities or humanitarian endeavours 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 U.S. Rotary clubs and districts up to $1,000 in matching funds to improve immunization levels in their communities.

  • POLIOPLUSPolio Plus
    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. Having raised funds that will provide more than $600 million is support, Rotary International is a major partner with the World Health Organization, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the initiative to eradicate polio worldwide by 2005, Rotary's centennial.


    • Ambassadorial Scholarships, the world's largest, privately funded international scholarships program, sends 1,000 students each year to serve as ambassadors of goodwill while studying abroad.
    • 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 woman ages 25-40.
    • 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.

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Key meetings

    The RI Convention, the largest Rotary meeting, is held in May or June in a different part of the Rotary world each year. This lively, four-day event features speeches by world and Rotary leaders, spectacular entertainment reflecting the local culture, and unparalleled opportunities to experience the true breadth of Rotary's international fellowship.

    Held in different parts of the world each year to address issues determined by the RI president, these meetings generally focus on the region in which they are held and 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 to become more directly involved with charting their district's future.

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The ABC of Rotary

A guide to Rotary

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