The Need For Extension

 Why One Only, and “More Than One Club in a Community?”

One thorny issue, which if not constitutional, nevertheless existed for many years, concerned a club’s territory. In order to safeguard clubs from poaching, it was agreed that there should be ‘territorial limits’ for each club. Thus, for example, all Manchester Rotarians had to have offices or live within the boundaries of the city, and no other club could take members from within those geographical limits. This did not matter in the early days of Rotary when clubs were few and far between. However, as Rotary grew, it became a problem. In the USA particularly, there were and still are some city center clubs who were unwilling to cede territory in the past and had therefore become very large. For many years the Chicago Number One and New York clubs were in this position.

From early in its history, Rotary had formed an ‘Extension Committee’ dedicated to enlarging the movement but its prime purpose was to develop new countries and new cities. In 1919, the board was authorized to establish special rules and regulations to cover extension. It was already one of the Articles of the Association-number 2 section 1- “to encourage, promote and supervise the organization of Rotary Clubs in all commercial centers throughout the world.” A list submitted to the 1921 Convention (page 201) clearly indicates the lines on which the committee was thinking, with extension planned for cities such as Bordeaux, Antwerp, Marseilles and Amsterdam, all-important ‘commercial centers’. In a long and diverse discussion at Edinburgh, there was no mention of the creation of extra city clubs.

The single member classification rule had already led to the creation of ‘rival’ organizations such as Sertoma, (QV) founded by a Kansas City physician who was unable to join Rotary because his classification was already filled. Nevertheless, most big city clubs were unwilling to cede territory to allow extra clubs to absorb potential members in categories already filled, and there appears to have been little guidance from the top at this time to suggest that they should. In fact, Rotarians frequently recommended work colleagues to other organizations such as Kiwanis, Lions and Sertoma when their own classification in Rotary was already taken. The introduction of the ‘Second Active Member’ was but a small step towards alleviating the position.

It was probably in Britain that the matter of extension by allowing the ceding of urban territory to new clubs was first raised. In the early part of the 1920s, the British magazine ‘Rotary’ had been carrying regular letters attacking the single classification system which was considered restrictive. In one issue, W. H. Alexander, Past President of the BARC in 1915, wrote “the remedy is to be found…in additional clubs in our large centers of population as is being done in London at the present time.” He was referring to the decision of the London Club, inspired by Arthur Chadwick, PRIBI 1928, and Ted Unwin, that “the time had arrived when by delimitation of its own area, it should be made possible for other clubs to be formed in the Metropolis.” The London Club Council made this decision in 1921 and the relevant geographical area defined in 1923. This re-alignment of its area was ratified at the St Louis Convention the same year.

The following year, 1924, the first extra London club to be formed was started in Streatham, and several others were opened within a few months, among them St Pancras, Upper Norwood and Chiswick, so that by January 1, 1925, there were nearly a dozen clubs in the former London territorial area. A few years later, in 1934, Paul Harris was pleased to visit the Streatham Club accompanied by Ted Unwin, the occasion on which there was a discussion of the Rawlings questionnaire (QV).

Another British Rotarian, Stanley Leverton of the London Club, PRIBI 1952, visited the HQ of Rotary in Chicago in 1927 as a member of the International Extension Committee and was less than happy with what he saw as a developing centralization. He asked whether there might not be a “a danger that you will over-organize and over-develop?” Returning home, he put forward to RI the idea that one club, especially a large club formed to serve a great city, could share recruiting rights within its limits with new clubs, formed with smaller geographical areas inside those limits. In practice, this was already being done in Britain. These views of Leverton became known as ‘The Leverton Plan’ but were not adopted as part of the Rotary Constitution until 1943. Despite this, the problem still existed in a handful of areas until recently with some very large clubs in city centers and only a few suburban clubs in the same Metropolitan area.

However, in 2001 there was a major change. Prior to the Council on Legislation held in Chicago in April 2001, the RI Constitution did not allow more than one club to be admitted to membership from any one city, borough or municipal area “except as otherwise provided in the bylaws.” The bylaws allowed for more than one club within the “territorial limits” only if the majority of clubs already within the territory so approved and the rules for allowing such sharing of territory were set out in 6 complicated paragraphs contained in the RI bylaws. This led to many instances of clubs “protecting” their own areas and potential membership, and refusing to allow new clubs to be formed. Thus, in District 1270, these territorial rules held up the formation of the Rotary Club of Stainborough for nearly 2 years.

At the 2001 COL the Constitution and Bylaws were amended to sweep aside these complicated rules and replace them with 2 simple sentences.

RI Bylaws Article II – Membership in Rotary International, now reads: “A club may be organized in a locality which contains the minimum number of classifications for organizing a new club. A club may be organized in the same locality as one or more clubs”. Existing clubs can no longer object to the formation of a new club in its locality. This effectively stops ‘protection of territory.’

This proposal to amend the Constitution required a two-thirds majority to succeed. There was wide support for this proposal and the debate was curtailed by the Chairman (Cliff Dochterman) because of the numbers queuing to speak in favor and the lack of numbers queuing to speak against. In the vote, out of 523 cast, only 43 were in opposition, substantially more than the required two-thirds majority in favor.

Basil Lewis with the assistance of PDG Malcolm Webb, RC of Wortley.