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February 22, 2019

Understanding Rotary

by Anne Paddock

Most people think of the Rotary as the local business group that invites business leaders and citizens to join the club (members have to be invited by a current Rotarian and cannot join without an invitation) and meets once a week for breakfast, lunch, or dinner to develop friendships, listen to speakers, and organize community assistance programs conducted throughout the year, but Rotary is more complicated than that.

There are an estimated 35,000 Rotary clubs worldwide that are grouped into 529 districts (an average of 65 clubs per district) in 34 zones (an average of 16 districts in each zone).

Each district (529) has a governor.  There are 17 zone directors who each head 2 zones. The governors and directors are  nominated and elected positions.

So, there are clubs, districts, and zones and overseeing all these is Rotary International.

Rotary International is a separate 501 (c) (4) – a social welfare organization -that supports Rotary clubs worldwide by coordinating global programs and initiatives. Governed by a 20-member Board of Directors (the 17 zone directors along with the president, president-elect, and the general secretary who is also the chief operating officer, Rotary International manages about 330 employees at its international office in Evanston, Illinois along with the employees in 7 international offices. This organization raises about $100 million annually and has a net fund balance (which some people refer to as an endowment) of $137 million.

The Rotary Foundation funds “humanitarian activities, from local service projects to global initiatives,” although most of the funding is to foreign organizations. This 501 (c) (3) is also based in Evanston, Illinois (at the same address as Rotary International)  and is the recipient of the largest amount of donations ($333 million in 2017) and is the organization that makes the grants ($207 million to foreign organizations and $23 million to domestic organizations and individuals in 2017). But, what is most impressive about the Rotary Foundation is it’s endowment: the Rotary Foundation has nearly $1.1 billion in net fund assets, which means a major function of this organization is managing assets.

Between Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation, approximately $430 million was raised in 2017, which means that each district raised approximately $800,000 (and each club raised about $13,500) for the two organizations. Rotary reports that the average club size is 36 members (with a minimum of 25 members) so the average contribution is $375 (not including club dues to the local club, meeting costs, the cost to attend district conferences, special events,  etc.) to Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation.

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