There’s a lot you may not know about your local rotary club. Where it is, who is in it. Or even something more basic than that: What exactly is it?
Donna Hurd is patient as some of these questions are asked by Madison365. Hurd is the President of the Madison rotary and is nearing the end of her landmark term.
Hurd is the first Black woman to be rotary club president, a fact she doesn’t take lightly but also one that doesn’t define what her term has been like.
Like all presidents with term limits, from local clubs to president of the United States, it always feels like just when you get the hang of it, your term is coming to a close.
What the Madison Rotary is, Hurd explains, is an organization primarily of business people who come together as a club to organize community outreach, host speakers from near and abroad, organize small groups who do things like tasting fine Scotch, and helping kids gain access to education.
“In 2017 we awarded $312,000 in scholarships,” Hurd told Madison365. “Most of the time it is based on academics. School counselors will recommend certain students. We look at community service a student does. We reward students for improvement as well. Students who may not have gotten straight A’s, but improved. We also participate in the youth exchange program where we sponsor high school students for a year abroad and we also have inbound foreign students.”
Working with youth is Hurd’s favorite part of Rotary. Every year Madison Rotary hosts the Rotary Ethics Symposium for high school juniors. The symposium is designed to present ethical dilemmas to the students with pre-scripted responses. The students then have to discuss why they would choose one solution to the problem over another.
For example, they’re presented with the dilemma that a friend of theirs is going on an unsafe online date. As their friend, the student is concerned. During the session, the students have to pick from anything ranging from telling school staff or even the friend’s parents, and then defend why they would make that choice.
“We talk about ethical dilemmas and ways to think about them. Each year we get rave reviews from the students. That’s one of the things that our particular club does and is proud of. This year we hosted 23 students and had 219 students attend,” Hurd said.
In addition to working with youth, the Madison Rotary hosts various panels. Candidates running for Judge in Dane County came in and spoke to the Club this past Fall. They hosted the Mexican Consulate from Milwaukee as well as coaches from several sports teams. Hurd says they also have Rotary Fellowships, which are like meetup groups for like-minded people. (This is where the Scotch-tasting fits!)
The Madison Rotary is one of the largest clubs in the world, and is annually ranked in the top 10 internationally out of more than 34,000 clubs in 200 countries. Madison’s Rotary also has one of the largest endowment funds in the world with over $11 million in assets.
“We’re the fifth largest club in the world and we’ve been in the top 10 forever,” Hurd says. “I think given the size and list of members in our club, we’re able to bring in some notable speakers which make our club attractive for new members. We also award grants to different non-profit organizations. We awarded $150,000 to area nonprofits. We do that on an annual basis. We also provide volunteer opportunities for our Rotarians to help out in the community.”
As president of such a large and busy organization, Hurd says she’s had to tighten up her communication skills and style. As one of only a few people of color participating in Rotary, she’s constantly aware of her audience. But, Hurd says, there have been very few outside challenges in running the 113-year-old club.
“Public speaking is not an easy thing to do,” Hurd said of her internal challenges. “When you’re standing in front of hundreds of people every week it can be daunting. I think I am an outspoken person as well, and when you’re outspoken you have to be really careful and cognizant of your audience.”
Hurd has made changes to how some of the weekly meetings are timed and run, which can ruffle the feathers of some who have always done it a certain way. But, by and large, Hurd says people have gone along with it.
“I can’t say that there have been any challenges,” she said. “We have an excellent staff that does a lot of the legwork and so they make my life easier.”
Hurd has been Rotary president since July and her term ends in June but she is confident she has made a difference.
“I have had a lot of encouragement by previous presidents and longtime members that has made it easy. They’ve been open to other ideas. I’ve made some changes to our meetings, things that seem small like start times, but that make a big difference. But people are going along with it and people have expressed appreciation.”