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Big Ideas: “A digital Rotary Club, a digital community focused on Service above Self,” with Lynne McNamee

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynne McNamee. Lynne is the founder of Rotary eClub | WOKE (rotaryeclubwoke.org). This is an attempt to turn the old model of how community service organizations exist on its head. […]

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynne McNamee. Lynne is the founder of Rotary eClub | WOKE (rotaryeclubwoke.org). This is an attempt to turn the old model of how community service organizations exist on its head. Rather than simply adopting new technologies to do what Rotary Clubs have always done, this group is starting from a “digitally native” perspective to achieve the core aspects of what it means to be a Rotarian, especially “Service above Self,” fellowship and integrity. Lynne is also the founder and President of Lone Armadillo Marketing Agency, and has been in the marketing industry for twenty years. Lynn has deep experience in both strategy and execution for Fortune 50 clients, and has directed accounts for Avis Rent A Car®, Hewlett-Packard Company and Bank of America®. She is recognized as a unique and creative thinker, most notably for introducing synergies among brands, products and new technologies. In 2007, she was noted by the New York Times for her innovative thinking.She holds a B.A. from The University of Virginia and an M.A. from Boston College.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My background is in ministry, so service, building community and effecting change is foundational to who I am. From there, I transitioned into marketing, working first for a brand consultancy and then a promotional marketing agency where I managed our Avis, HP and Bank of America accounts.

Years later, while building my marketing agency, I woke up one day and realized that service had fallen off of my calendar. I wasn’t completely myself without being actively involved in giving back, so I started looking for something to fill that gap.

I was fortunate to be invited to a Rotary meeting and found a home. These were other business leaders who used their professional skills and networks to help make sustainable change, locally and globally. I liked that Rotary leverages individual strengths and joins you with others with different expertise, to address real concerns.

For me, my expertise is marketing. It was amazing to learn how using my skills to help raise awareness or promote fundraisers, combined with those who could cook, manage finances, supply chairs, all results in giving scholarships to local high school students, in combating dengue fever abroad, installing water filtration systems in remote villages, sheltering abused women, and so much more.

So many problems in the world seem huge and insurmountable. Rotary asked me what I can do, and I responded.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

People talk about their “Rotary moment,” when Rotary was no longer what they did, but who they are. For me, it was when teachers came to our Milford Rotary Club.

These teachers had identified students who didn’t qualify for subsidized meals but were suffering from food insecurity. To whom does one turn? Rotary.

Globally, people turn to Rotary, too. I was very humbled by a story told by Rotary International President (2018–19), Barry Rassin, about a Rotarian who asked to meet with the Taliban, so that End Polio Now workers could get in and vaccinate children to prevent them from contracting this horrible disease. The miracle of Rotary is that my marketing here in the U.S. can play a part in ending Polio in the remaining endemic countries. My raising awareness and funds helps to change the world, to change the life of a potential victim, and to change the world of that potential victim’s family. My using my skills supports someone else using their skills. There’s an amazing sense of comfort and power in that realization, a realization that I believe many Rotarians share.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Rotary clubs generally meet 2–4 times each month, do local service projects and fundraisers. Over the last few years, a number of clubs have started streaming their meetings, so if people travel or are elderly, they can still feel connected to their Club.

However, what I’ve seen of these clubs and other “e-clubs” is that they are using new technologies to continue the existing model of Rotary.

This eClub starts with a digital world and with younger, digital natives. To be successful, we boil down the essentials of what being a Rotarian means, which rituals are essential, and which are not. For example, promoting The Four Way Test (which Rotarians recite at every meeting) is essential, while in-person meetings, I suggest, are not.

If we think about it, the meetings are intended to build fellowship, to keep members engaged and informed, and to educate people about new topics, challenges or opportunities. In a digital world, a tool like Slack can accomplish those goals quite easily and is more flexible for people’s schedules, different time zones, and for breaking down cliques.

The biggest challenge to solve for an eClub was service, the heart of being a Rotarian. How do we conduct service virtually? Fundraising is enough to consider…but how do we conduct service online, when the usual model is serving at a soup kitchen and the like.

What we’re proposing is that the professional network that makes up Rotary, this collection of Subject Matter Experts, with connections across industries and across the globe is exactly what is needed by many organizations. This could be a way for people to execute service. For example, Rotary eClub | WOKE, under the leadership of Liza Larson, a founding eClub member who also works as a marketing professional, will be helping develop and execute marketing plans for the Girls Education Collaborative, a non-profit based out of Buffalo, NY. The GEC currently supports a girl’s school in Tanzania and is preparing to grow its support of other facilities. In addition, we are leveraging our networks and reaching out to potential members to help develop learning content for the teachers and students at these schools.

Service could also be providing free English language practice for poorer populations in other countries, amplifying messages on social media for select non-profits and helping counter cyber-bullying. It’s about reimagining what service looks like in a digital world.

Recruitment of members is also being shifted. Rather than find people and invite them to start doing service, let’s support those whom are already actively engaged in service. We’re not asking for them to commit to more work. Instead, we are looking to encourage them, learn from them, and support their efforts with the broader network and resources of Rotary.

A huge part of this is to be flexible and open to younger members. Like many organizations, people rise through the ranks and are used to how things are traditionally done. Society, though, has undergone many transformations. We need to shift our mindset.

The name of our Club, “WOKE,” is a reminder and a challenge that there are a lot of needs in this world about which most of us are unaware. This is not intentional ignorance nor resistance. The personal experience of others has not been our personal experience, so issues frequently just aren’t on our radar. We are building a community in which we look to learn more, but in a context of respect and assuming the best of one another.

The Four Way Test is our mutual guide for managing this.

How do you think this will change the world?

Digital transformation seems to be primarily discussed in terms of business, but it has transformed how we interact with one another on a broader scale.

Many people in the workforce interact daily with their teams around the globe, using tools like Slack and Zoom. We are taking that same user experience and applying it to an organization like Rotary. Not as an add-on to the current models, but as the infrastructure that underlies daily 21stCentury life.

How will this change the world? I hope this motivates other service organizations to revisit their models, what is at the core of being an engaged member of their group, and how might it be lived differently.

I also hope this motivates individuals, especially those whose schedules, budgets, disabilities, fears, histories or age have discouraged them from being part of a group like Rotary, to reconsider and join us. We need your experience and skills. We want you.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Digital cliques could happen, cyber bullying, people feeling silenced, different communication styles which makes someone appear less involved, due to gender or cultural norms, could all affect the success of this club and the experience of its members.

How to manage learning about an issue and avoiding an implied endorsement is scary in a digital age, where much is regularly taken out of context, as well as the practice of guilt by association.

For a volunteer service organization, digital or in person, how much vetting and background scrutiny is required?

These are real potential dangers, but which happen IRL (in real life) already. It’s the permanence and speed at which stories can be spread that marks the real difference. However, even that happens for in-person clubs.

I think the opportunity for increased diversity in a virtual club could inadvertently lead to friction…but is also the great benefit. Society is being torn apart because people don’t listen to those who are different from them and ask, “explain it to me, I want to understand.” Rotary has a huge Peace initiative, which this eClub, by its nature, is trying to embody. We believe the positives will significantly outweigh the negatives.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

When I moved to Texas, my job had me travelling extensively, which prevented me from making weekly Rotary meetings. I tried the existing eClub in our District, but as it is a “hybrid” club, with an emphasis on meeting in-person while streaming the meetings if one couldn’t attend. Service projects and fundraisers were also in-person events, and often far away (Texas is big!). So, the traditional model just didn’t work for me, but I didn’t want to give up being an active Rotarian.

With the support of district leadership and the incredible support of the Plano East Rotary Club, Rotary eClub | WOKE was born. We are still in early stages. As Liza Larson mentioned, “it is exciting to be part of building something new and having influence on how this will develop.”

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Awareness of this different approach is the key. Some people instantly get it…others are confused and resistant.

Openness to letting Millennials and Gen Z take leadership roles right away is also needed. They aren’t the future — they are the now…and they’re smart, resourceful, and hard working. They are inheriting a world with a lot of problems, many created by the people they see as restricting their access to making improvements. They might not have the money or the network (yet) of the stereotypical Rotarian, but they have new ideas, energy, a sense of community and an ability to digitally communicate that makes a difference.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

1. This will take longer than you thought
Being in marketing, or maybe just having started different groups over my lifetime, I underestimated how foreign this approach would be to many. Whether existing Rotarians or potential members, this isn’t something they have experienced before, so they have a hard time envisioning how it works. To be fair, these usually are not the members in our target audience. Even for some who are our target, the truth is they are craving less digital, more in-person experiences, after spending their work days isolated or only with digital interactions.

Double the amount of time and effort you anticipate for half the results.

2. Have strong allies
Most Rotarians are A-type personalities, so leadership and competitiveness, usually well-channeled into tackling huge issues, like ending Polio around the globe, can feel threatened by going so far outside the box.

Get respected leaders who have strong networks throughout the group on board before you start. Keep them engaged. Ask them for advice. Leverage their expertise on how to navigate the politics that exist in every organization.

3. Flexibility is good, Fluidity is bad
I had the vision, but it is not “my” club. In the effort to reinforce that, I broke key marketing principles that have left it too broad for some to understand what they might be joining.

By selecting a concrete service project, that has helped make an abstract idea more tangible for recruiting new members. Practice continual feedback to empower members to make it their club but continue to spearhead the vision.

4. Recruit Intentionally
Know and prioritize what skills you need for a sustainable and successful organization. Finance, administration, website maintenance, etc. — recruit specifically for roles you know you need. Don’t try to recruit everyone…recruit with purpose. This also helps with retention, as you will get them purposefully engaged from the start, and be able to show success because it’s something they are good at already.

It also reinforces the Rotarian belief in the “dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society,” which is how they can do more virtual service in the coming years.

5. Have processes in place before you start

As a HubSpot partner, I knew enough to build a CRM, have form captures and processes from day one. Having advised multiple Clubs on administration, setting up a Gmail account for the Club, with multiple members having access, to ensure continuity, was something I put in place right away.

A successful club means having people emotionally invested. Delegating isn’t just practical or good leadership. It is honoring why people joined in the first place.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

Whether for a job or a service organization, no one can “future proof” themselves. Being flexible and open to new ways of doing things and being clear about what really matters and what doesn’t — that is what will allow for continued success in the future.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
The Rotary Foundation! Charity Navigator gives it top marks.

I’d love to see internships for young people to work with Rotary Clubs and projects. They have great ideas and energy. Rotarians could then mentor them, not only for school and jobs, but also for caring for the world we are leaving them. This would also help break down some barriers by giving access to younger people from disadvantaged backgrounds to influencers in their communities and industries.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

My motto is, “you never do wrong by doing what’s right.” No matter how hard a choice may be, you’ll be at peace with yourself and have self-confidence in all areas by doing what’s right versus what’s easy.

Self-discipline is a muscle. By practicing it in daily life we have the strength for the important decisions.

Not everyone thinks like me. Try to understand a situation or exchange from the other person’s perspective.

Most conflicts stem from people having different starting points. Debates and lack of trust is because people assume the other is using the same criteria as they are, thereby making a decision by the other appear unethical or inhumane. However, usually their considerations and starting point are different, which makes their conclusions ethical and humane, when considered from that viewpoint. Pause. Listen. Ask. Assume the best, then learn how the other reached the conclusion they did. That is what will build peace.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Success is about having a clear vision. There’s the concept of a “canon,” a measuring stick against which all else is compared. Clearly define the problem then solve for that. Remove all that can be removed. Keep evaluating everything against those core principles.

The tactical way the problem is addressed will change over the years. Go into it knowing and expecting that. But if the problem is well defined, the rest will fall into place.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Insta: rotaryeclubwoke

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC56bowna-cixe7X5dMDtwUw

Facebook: @RotaryeClubWOKE

Website: RotaryeClubWOKE.org

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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