All About Rotary
  • Register
MEMBERSHIP

According to its constitutions ("Charters"), Rotary defines itself as a non-partisan, non-sectarian and secular organization. It is open to business and professional leaders of all ages (18 and upwards) and economic status. One can contact a Rotary club to inquire about membership but can join a rotary club only if invited; there is no provision to join without an invitation as each prospective Rotarian requires a sponsor who is an existing Rotarian. Some clubs, though not all, have exclusive membership criteria: reputation and business or professional leadership may be a specific evaluation criterion for issuing invitations to join, and representation from a specific profession or business may be limited to a percentage of a specific club's membership.

Active membership

Active membership is by invitation from a current Rotarian, to professionals or businesspersons working in diverse areas of endeavor. Each club may limit up to ten per cent of its membership representing each business or profession in the area it serves. The goal of the clubs is to promote service to the community they work in, as well as to the wider world. Many projects are organized for the local community by a single club, but some are organized globally.

Honorary membership

Honorary membership is given by election of a Rotary Club to people who have distinguished themselves by meritorious service in the furtherance of Rotary ideals. Honorary membership is conferred only in exceptional cases. Honorary members are exempt from the payment of admission fees and dues. They have no voting privileges and are not eligible to hold any office in their club. Honorary membership is time limited and terminates automatically at the end of the term, usually one year. It may be extended for an additional period or may also be revoked at any time. Examples of honorary members are heads of state or former heads of state, famous scientists or other famous people.

Female membership

From 1905 until the 1980s, women were not allowed membership in Rotary clubs, although Rotarian spouses, including Paul Harris' wife, were often members of the similar "Inner Wheel" club. Women did play some roles, and Paul Harris' wife made numerous speeches. In 1963, it was noted that the Rotary practice of involving wives in club activities had helped to break down female seclusion in some countries. Clubs such as Rotary had long been predated by women's voluntary organizations, which started in the United States as early as 1790.

The first Irish clubs discussed admitting women as members in 1912, but the proposal floundered over issues of social class. Gender equity in Rotary moved beyond the theoretical question when in 1976, the Rotary Club of Duarte in Duarte, California admitted three women as members. After this club refused to remove the women from membership, in 1978 Rotary International revoked the club's charter. The Duarte club filed suit in the California courts, claiming that Rotary Clubs are business establishments subject to regulation under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on race, gender, religion or ethnic origin. Rotary International then appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The RI attorney argued that "... [the decision] threatens to force us to take in everyone, like a motel". The DuarteClub was not alone in opposing RI leadership; the Seattle-International District club unanimously voted to admit women in 1986. The United States Supreme Court, on May 4, 1987, confirmed the Californian decision. Rotary International then removed the gender requirements from its requirements for club charters, and most clubs in most countries have opted to include women as members of Rotary Clubs.The first female club president to be elected was Silvia Whitlock of the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, USA in 1987. By 2007, there was a female trustee of Rotary's charitable wing The Rotary Foundation while female district governors and club presidents were common. Women currently account for 15% of international Rotary membership (22% in North America).

The change of the second Rotarian motto in 2004, from "He profits most who serves best" to "They profit most who serve best", 99 years after its foundation, illustrates the move to general acceptance of women members in Rotary.

Minority membership

Rotary and other service clubs in the last decade of the 20th century became open to homosexual membership.[34] Other minorities, in the face of general changes in demographics and declining membership, are also encouraged to join. There have been efforts to reach out to minority communities, such as Oakland, California's $10,000 scholarships for students in inner-city schools.

Another example is the Reynolda Rotary club of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which has partnered with an elementary school with primarily minority students. There have been some individual exceptions. As early as 1963, a Hindu Bengali, Nitish Chandra Laharry, served as Rotary International's first Asian president.