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Rotary is essentially a grassroots organization, with most of its service efforts being carried out at the 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 530 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 is 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, located in England, serves clubs and districts in that region.  The Secretariat’s active managing officer is the RI general secretary, who heads a 650-member staff working to serve Rotarians worldwide.



The club is the cornerstone of Rotary, where the most meaningful work is carried out.  All effective Rotary clubs are responsible for four key elements: sustaining or increasing their membership base, participating in service projects that benefit their own community and those in other countries, supporting The Rotary Foundation of RI financially and through program participation, and developing leaders capable of serving in Rotary beyond the club level.  What Rotarians get out of Rotary depends largely on what they put into it.  Many membership requirements are designed to help members more fully participate in and enjoy their Rotary experience.


Attending weekly club meetings allows members to enjoy their club’s fellowship, enrich their professional and personal knowledge, and meet other business leaders in their community.  Many larger communities offer clubs with different meeting times, including early morning, the lunch hour, after work, and evening.  Rotary policy requires members to attend at least 50% of club meetings in each half of the year.  If members miss their own club’s meeting, they’re 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.  Find meeting places and times in the Official Directory or through the Club Locator at www.rotary.org.  In some cases, Rotarians can make up meetings by participating in a club service project or attending a club board meeting or a Rotaract or Interact club meeting.  Members can also make up online at one of several Rotary e-clubs.


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.  The ideal composition of a Rotary club reflects the community’s demographics, including professions, gender, age, and ethnicity.  Such diversity enriches every aspect of the club’s fellowship and service.




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


First formulated in 1910 and adapted through the years as Rotary’s mission expanded, the Object of Rotary provides a succinct definition of the organization’s purpose as well as the 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 service society;

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

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


By assigning each member a classification based on his or her business or profession, this system ensures that each club’s membership reflects the business and professional composition of its community.  The number of members holding a particular classification is limited according to the size of the club.  The goal is professional diversity, which enlivens the cub’s social atmosphere and provides a rich resource of occupational expertise to carry out service projects and provide club leadership.


Based on the Object of Rotary, the Four Avenues of Service 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.

New Generations Service recognizes the positive change implemented by youth and young adults through leadership development activities, service projects, and exchange programs.



Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor came up with the four simple precepts in 1932, when Club Aluminum Company, where he was president, was facing almost certain bankruptcy.  In the depths of the Depression, no one was buying much aluminum.  But Taylor thought that if he could convince his employees to do the right thing in every situation, they might at least win sales from their competitors. “So one morning, I leaned over my desk, rested my head in my hands.  In a few moments, I reached for a white paper card and wrote down what had come to me—in 24 words.”  Five years later, Club Aluminum was back in the black.  Taylor always credited The Four-Way Test with its resurgence. 


Of the things 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?


1. Is it the TRUTH?

“You could call it the sleep-at-night test,” says Allan Resnick, vice president of the Walgreens legal division.  “I always tell people that at Walgreens, you don’t need to ask permission to do the right thing.  You just do it.”  For Resnick, and many of the people who use it in their daily business dealings, The Four-Way Test is much more than a guide to personal behavior.  It’s a compelling business model that’s actually a powerful workforce management tool.

Resnick recalls how, after the sale of some property several years ago, the company’s real estate division received a “fairly large sum of money” that should have gone to the buyers instead. “The buyers wouldn’t have even known we had it,” he says.  “Many companies would have just cashed the check.  They were fairly astonished to receive the money from us.”   

2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?

In Texas, Realtor and Rotarian Tony Weissgarber adopted The Four-Way Test and says he greatly prefers it to the National Association of Realtors’ nine-page “fine-print ethics statement.”  “When I’m in front of a prospect, I just think, is this fair?  That helps in all kinds of situations.” 

Jim Landers, a photographer with 14 people working for him, who says the test “reinforced what I believed in all along, but it’s like a very fine paintbrush you use to   paint in the details.  It’s a philosophy I have in the background of my business all the time, helping me to provide a good role model.”


Kit Lindsay, owner of Lindsay Transmission in Warrensburg, Mo., was 24 years old when he received the Rotary Club of Warrenburg’s first Four-Way Test Award which is given to non-Rotarians.  He was nominated after a Rotary officer visiting town needed to have his motor home repaired when it broke down.  Another local shop had proposed a transmission replacement, but Lindsay fixed the problem for $200.  “We have a saying at my business: We do what’s right.”

4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Rotary International Director-elect Lars Olof Fredriksson encourages the use of The Four-Way Test.  Making profit is right, but doing it without ethical consciousness, moderation, and without responsibility for the consequences is indefensible,” he explains.  “The tenets of truth, honesty, decency, and morality are now more complicated than before and create the often-used explanation, It all depends.  But The Four-Way Test gives a bright, clear answer in any situation.”




RI’s programs and service opportunities are designed to help Rotarians meet needs in their own communities and reach out to assist people in need worldwide.


Rotary clubs organize and sponsor this service organization for youth ages 14-18; more than 10,500 clubs in 109 countries.


Rotary clubs organize and sponsor this leadership, professional development, and service organization for young adults ages 18-30; more than 8,000 clubs in 139 countries.


Rotary clubs organize and sponsor these groups of non-Rotarians who work to improve their communities; more than 6,000 RCCs in 60 countries.


Rotary Fellowships (vocationally and recreationally based interest groups) and Rotarian Action Groups (groups focused on service activities) compose Global Networking Groups, which are open to all Rotarians, spouses of Rotarians, and Rotaractors sharing common interests; more than 90 sharing Global Networking Groups.


Rotarians and their families make reciprocal visits to other countries, staying in each other’s homes and learning about different cultures firsthand.


Rotarians and other skilled professionals are provided opportunities to offer their services and experience to local and international humanitarian projects.


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.


Clubs and districts sponsor seminars to encourage and recognize leadership abilities of youth and young adults ages 14-30.


Rotary clubs and districts from two different countries form partnerships to implement community service projects.


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 of RI is a not-for-profit corporation whose 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.


In 2004-05, The Rotary Foundation received contributions totaling US$117.9 million and spent $110.2 million in support of humanitarian and educational programs implemented by clubs and districts.  Contributions from Rotarians go into one of three main funds:

Annual Program Fund provides grants and awards through Foundation programs;

Permanent Fund is an endowment from which only a portion of the earnings are spent in support of Foundation programs, ensuring the long-term viability of the Foundation;

Polioplus Fund supports Rotary’s dream of a polio-free world.

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


These programs promote international understanding by bringing together people from different countries and cultures.

Ambassadorial Scholarships is the world’s largest, privately funded international scholarships program for university-level studies, sending about 750 students each year to serve as ambassadors of goodwill while abroad.

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

Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Fellowships are awarded to individuals for study in a short-term certificate program at the Rotary Center for Peace and Conflict Studies in Thailand.

Group Study Exchange is a short-term cultural and vocational exchange program between districts in different countries for professionals 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.


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 these projects.

District Simplified Grants enable districts to support service activities or humanitarian endeavors that benefit the local or international communities.

Volunteer Service Grants help cover the travel of individual Rotarians and their spouses as they plan needed projects or provide essential services in a community.

Matching Grants assist Rotary clubs and districts in carrying out humanitarian projects with clubs in other countries.

Health, Hunger and Humanity (3-H) Grants fund long-term, self-help, and grassroots development projects that are too large for one club or district to carry out on its own.

Blane Community Immunization Grants provide US Rotary clubs and districts up to $1,000 in matching funds to improve immunization levels in their communities.




Several key meetings bring Rotarians together to share ideas, celebrate successes, enjoy fellowship, and plan for the future.


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.


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.















Copyright 2015  Rotary Club of Charlotte
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