2016 study

Why Being Kind Is As Important As Ever

by Arnold R. Grahl

Your parents told you to be nice to people. Guess what?
They were right. Here’s why.

Doing good doesn’t only benefit other people. It helps us, too.

Studies show that helping others boosts serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel satisfied. Another benefit to feeling rewarded when we do good: It lowers our stress levels. Who couldn’t use that right now?

Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, people everywhere are feeling anxious about their health, their families, their jobs, and their futures.

“When we are all feeling lower than we are used to feeling, with some levels of situational depression, we all need a boost,” says psychologist Mary Berge, a member of the Rotary Club of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA, who has led discussions with many Rotary clubs about coping during the pandemic.

“There has been a lot of research that when we are helping others, or when we are doing something for someone else, our reward centers light up in the brain and our stress levels go down as cortisol is released.”

It feels good to do good

In a 2016 study, researchers asked participants about scenarios in which they either gave or received support. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, found that MRI tests showed only the instances of giving correlated to reduced stress and enhanced activity in the brain’s reward centers — which suggests that giving support ultimately had greater mental benefits than receiving it.

Many studies have established a connection between volunteering and improved health. In the brain, acts of kindness release powerful chemicals like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, elevating our mood, increasing reward stimuli, and reducing stress. Compassion evokes lower heart rates and reduces coronary distress. Oxytocin is also connected to social bonding, so as it is released, the ties that bind us are strengthened.

Researchers at Oslo Metropolitan University in Norway and the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany explored the relationship between volunteering and well-being in 12 European countries, noting the relative lack of such studies outside the U.S. Their 2018 analysis found that people who are or have been volunteers report greater well-being than people who have not.  found that people who are or have been volunteers report greater well-being than people who have not.

And in a 2013 Canadian study posted by the National Library of Medicine, researchers looked at the effect on the cardiovascular health of adolescents who do volunteer work. The study confirmed that helping people reduced the volunteers’ body mass index and other cardiovascular risk factors.

Coping during the pandemic

Berge, a training leader for Rotary, saw anxiety rising among her patients because of the pandemic and developed the Staying Sane During COVID-19 presentation. She has delivered the talk by videoconference more than 70 times, mostly at Rotary-related events.

“Rotarians in particular have a high need for being compassionate,” says Berge. “In my Zoom meetings, I hear people say, ‘What can we do to help?’ They are desperate to get that feel-good feeling again. I think they see that in doing these things, it relieves our own stress, sadness, anxiety, and irritability.”

Rotary member Jenny Stotts, a social worker, child advocate, and trauma specialist, has written about how we can increase our resiliency, adapt to adversity during the pandemic, and emerge stronger.

Rotarians in particular have a high need for being compassionate. They are desperate to get that feel-good feeling again.
— psychologist Mary Berge

“When we express meaningful and intentional gratitude or engage in planned acts of kindness, we experience the benefits of serotonin and dopamine, which are two neurotransmitters responsible for us feeling pleasure or joy,” says Stotts, a member of the Rotary Club of Athens Sunrise, Ohio, USA. “Not only do we benefit others from this activity, but it has a way of recharging our batteries.”

Stotts notes that when we do acts of good repeatedly, something interesting happens in our brains. “If we engage in a regular daily practice of kindness and gratitude, we are essentially carving out pathways within our brain that make us healthier and a little more emotionally stable.”

Because of all this, Stotts tells her staff and clients, “You deserve to be your kindest self.”

Rotary members may not realize the significant role they can play in changing how people think, Stotts says.

“When we, as leaders in our community, adapt a way of thinking — that level of intentional gratitude and intentional kindness — we have a way of setting a really good example,” she says. “I think it is a calming and stabilizing force. We can set that tone for our entire club and for our communities.”

Many Rotary, Rotaract, and Interact clubs are setting that tone and finding creative ways to be kind to their neighbors. Here are just a few of them:

The Rotary Club of Saint-Denis, Réunion, and the Inner Wheel Club Saint-Denis Vanille, Réunion, France, bought computers and tablets with wireless routers to give to a local nursing home to enable family members to connect with residents while the home was closed to visitors due to the pandemic.



The Rotary Club of Bensheim-Heppenheim, Germany, provided a two-hour virtual musical concert for residents and caregivers in senior living homes. Bruno Weis, a member of the club, and two colleagues performed from areas outside the facilities while residents watched from the safety of their balconies or nearby park benches.



The Interact Club of Kayhi, Alaska, USA, held a virtual high school prom for more than 500 students with help from a radio station that’s managed by a Rotary member. The club paid for a band and conducted dance and trivia contests, with prizes from local businesses.




The Rotary Club of Downtown Los Angeles, California, USA, built and stocked a dozen public bookcases around the city so children and adults would have better access to books. People use them to both take and give books. The libraries reach areas without many sources of books, especially when public libraries are closed.


The Rotary Club of Molina de Segura, Spain, which holds an annual art contest for children, extended the age range to allow entries from children 3-18 years old and invited students throughout the country to submit art work that expressed why it is important to stay at home during the pandemic. The club’s objective was to give students something to do while social distancing and allow them to express how they were feeling about the pandemic.


Kenya, Africa, has a thriving flower industry, but during the lockdown, many large-scale flower exporters and small-scale growers have been unable to sell their blooms. Rotary members in District 9212 partnered with other organizations to purchase and distribute flowers at five different hospitals. The goal was to show appreciation for the health care workers but also support the growers and let them know they are a valued part of the community.


5 Ways to Celebrate a Quarantine Birthday

Between canceled vacation plans to postpone events to practicing safe social distancing, it’s hard to see the light under this pandemic tunnel. As a result, people are less motivated, and morale is low. One way to get everyone rallied up and celebrate someone special is to make their quarantine birthday one they’ll never forget.

Here are 5 ways to celebrate a quarantine birthday.

Surprise Virtual Birthday Party

Throw a surprise virtual birthday party in their honor and invite all their loved ones. Make sure you have an online platform to host the party on like Zoom or Google Meet. Make it fun and engaging with a themed surprise party, check out 42 Engaging Themes for Meetings, Socials and Parties, and Other Virtual Events. Create a simple schedule for how the surprise party will run and make sure everyone introduces themselves and how they know the birthday person. You can organize a slideshow and ask everyone to send pictures in or have people share out a few stories to keep the partying going.

Bake and Deliver

You can purchase a cake from any bakery or take the time and bake a cake at home. Make sure to designate one person to drop it off and attach a special message from the team or group. Anything homemade is thoughtful and made with love! ❤


Send a personalized birthday message from their favorite celebrity with Cameo. You can choose from several actors, reality TV stars, athletes, musicians, comedians, influencers, gamers, and more! Gather a few friends together to pay for the message and surprise your friend or love one with a celebrity birthday shoutout. Cameo also just introduced Cameo Live, where you book a live call on Zoom with a celebrity!

Birthday Gift From the Group

Organize a birthday gift from the group by selecting one or more items to gift and collect contributions from everyone. Make sure you have the address of that person or designate one person to drop it off. The best gifts can be thoughtful and straightforward. As an example, if you know the birthday person loves cocktails, purchase a cocktail set where they have all the tools to make fancy cocktails from home.

Create a Birthday Video

Organize a birthday video with their friends, family, team members, etc. Ask for video clips ahead of time with personalized birthday shoutouts and have one person who is skilled with video creation edit the video. When it comes time to share, make sure someone records their reaction to the video, it’s priceless!

Continue reading more Rotary Membership Best Practices.

Zoom Best Practices: 42 Engaging Themes for Meetings, Socials and Parties, and Other Virtual Events

Looking to spice up your next meeting? Or hosting a virtual event that needs more engagement? Consider adding a theme to your next Zoom event and encourage participants to dress up. Throw in a gift card or cash prize to make it even more worthwhile.

Here’s a list of engaging themes for your next Zoom event.

  • Luau/Beach/Pool Party
  • Toga Party
  • Decades (50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s 90’s)
  • Mardi Gras
  • Favorite sports team
  • Favorite Movie/TV Show
  • Saloon Party
  • Ugly Sweater
  • Jungle Party
  • Under the Sea
  • Wild Safari
  • Farm Animals
  • Woodland animals
  • Dress Up Your Pets
  • Famous Women
  • Favorite Authors
  • Kings and Queens
  • Favorite Musician/Band
  • Red Carpet Night
  • Day at the Races
  • Great Gatsby
  • Masquerade Party
  • Casino Royal
  • The Oscars
  • Prom Night
  • Pyjama Party
  • Heroes vs Villains
  • Pirate Party
  • Disney Characters
  • Harry Potter
  • College Days
  • Rainbow Party
  • White Party
  • Neon Party
  • Choose any color and make that the theme
  • Galaxy/Universe Party
  • Favorite Book
  • Broadway Play
  • Lumberjack
  • Favorite Season
  • Night in Paris
  • Favorite Holiday

Continue reading more Rotary Membership Best Practices.

Ideation Series: How to Successfully Implement New Ideas When Everyone is a Volunteer

Implementing new ideas at work can be stressful with mixed results. For volunteers in a non-profit setting, the hurdles can be even steeper.

“We’ve always done it this way, and the last time we tried something new, it just didn’t work out.”

The longer people are accustomed to doing something, the stronger their resistance to change tends to be. For organizations that do not have a culture of constant change, new ideas often require negotiating with the “old guard” or finding a way around them. Despite the challenges, change is an important and healthy component of any thriving organization. Organizations that fail to change often are left behind by the rest of the world — Kodak and Blockbuster are great case studies of this.

Before you dive into recommending drastic changes to your Rotary club, consider these four tactics that will help you succeed.

Clearly define your vision and share your passion.

Before you talk to stakeholders about your idea, have a clear vision of why you are introducing this idea, and how a successful implementation would impact your organization. Be prepared to explain what the “problem to solve” is that your idea tackles, and what metrics for your organization does that effect. Most importantly, be ready to explain why you are passionate about this change. Having these prepared in advance will help you succeed in convincing stakeholders to adopt a new idea.

Bonus Tip: Remember to share the human side of your story. People often support ideas because of the stories they hear and how it impacts people. If you don’t have a story, create one using one of your target customer profiles.

Get buy-in from key stakeholders in advance.

When you are working with passionate volunteers, often people love to know they are being heard and that you value them. People want you to wine and to dine them, and for Rotary clubs run by volunteers, building strong rapports is key to a healthy culture. Bringing up your new ideas and asking key stakeholders for their feedback and support often will go a long way in the successful adoption of a new idea.

Bonus Tip: It can sometimes help to bring in a mentor into some of these conversations, especially if you foresee trouble with getting buy-in from specific stakeholders.

Call it an experiment.

New ideas can be scary to the old guard of your organization because it disrupts what they know already works, bringing potential risk. In design thinking methodology, you are encouraged to prototype your ideas as quickly as possible and as often as possible, in order to get real-world data on if your idea is a good one or not. Taking this concept into the Rotary context, sometimes the easiest way to implement new ideas is to ask for permission to run an experiment. When you use the word “experiment,” people often perceive it as just a controlled test that does not impact their day-to-day activities. Your experiment should have a set end date and have set parameters. This is a great opportunity for you to get real-world data on if your idea would work for the long-term, and if not, what you need to change to make it successful.

Bonus Tip: Remember to document your experiment with photos and videos, where appropriate. If the experiment is successful, the photos and the videos can be used in your presentation to the leadership on why your experiment should become a permanent change in the organization.

When you fail at first, try again.

Even when you use every trick and tip you find, it is important to understand that not all of your ideas will be well-received. It can be discouraging when your ideas are turned down by the team, but turn this into an opportunity by asking for constructive feedback from the team. Find out how you can improve. See what it will take to have the team approve a limited experiment so you can get some data. Talk to people after the meeting to understand their feedback, while conveying your appreciation for their thoughts. If you are consistently sharing your appreciation and valuing them, you will continue to grow your rapport and it will make the next time you introduce your idea easier.

“You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.” — J.K. Rowling

Final thoughts and other resources.

There is no one right technique, but there are hundreds of other techniques you can explore if you are craving to learn. You may decide that one of the best ways for you to dive further into implementing new ideas is to host an ideation session. As a design thinking consultant, I often refer to the original design thinking experts over at IDEO when it comes to ideation techniques. Here are some helpful links to explore ideation.

Continue reading more Rotary Membership Best Practices.

Zoom Best Practices: Knowing When Not to Host a Zoom Meeting

Have you sat in a Zoom Meeting that you thought was not necessary? Zoom Meeting fatigue can be both physically and mentally draining for your fellow Rotarians. Before hosting a Zoom Meeting, consider these factors to help determine whether or not it is necessary.

Can it be conveyed in an email?
If the answer was yes, then consider sending an email update instead of hosting a meeting. Short updates and reports are often best sent in a format the team can quickly digest and move on to their next task. Unlike in-person meetings, where seeing each other physically can help maintain rapport, meeting virtually often does not build the same level of interpersonal support as there is often no opportunity to catch up with your colleagues one-on-one.

Is it going to take longer than an hour?
If the answer is yes, then consider breaking your session into multiple sessions with a break in-between. Virtual meetings over an hour are often difficult to stay engaged with, and draining for your audience. Splitting your longer meetings into shorter sessions on different days can be refreshing, and keep your audience members craving for more.

Are you engaging with everyone at the meeting or are you lecturing?
If you are not planning on engaging all of your meeting participants, you may want to consider using the Zoom Webinar product, or you may consider breaking up your lecture into short 4 to 8-minute videos that are segmented by topic. If you believe Zoom Meetings are the right medium, then consider ways to actively encourage engagement with all of your audience members. Polls and Breakout Rooms are powerful engagement features you can turn on for your Zoom account.

Did you just hold a meeting?
Unless your team’s job is to sit in meetings all day, meetings should be spaced out in a way that gives everyone time to mentally and physically recharge. For many teams, meetings are also often the least productive time on the schedule. If your team members need time between meetings to conduct work, make sure to leave plenty of space between your scheduled meetings.

Good Zoom Meetings when needed.

Successful Zoom Meeting hosts know that there are times when Zoom Meetings are necessary, and times when they are just not needed. When used properly, meetings can be a great way to motivate teams with encouragement and inspiration, and also powerful tools to help communicate complicated conversations. When misused, meetings can leave your Rotarians dreading the next meeting and feeling drained.

Continue reading more Rotary Membership Best Practices.

Zoom Best Practices: 7 Tips for Hosting Efficient Zoom Meetings

Between social distancing and more organizations going fully remote, Rotarians are turning to online conference calls. Zoom has been one of the fastest-growing video conference tools. Whether your Rotary club needs to socially distance or is just looking for a way to save time from needing to commute, Zoom Meetings are a great way to collaborate.

Here are 7 tips for hosting efficient Zoom Meetings.

1. Send out a calendar invitation at least 7 days in advance

Even if your Rotary club has a shared calendar system, with remote working it can be difficult to see the full picture of everyone’s schedules. As a courtesy, the more advanced notice you can give all your meeting attendees and stakeholders, the more likely everyone can attend. If possible, be sure to send them a calendar invitation as well so that the event automatically imports into their calendar. If this isn’t possible, then send out at least an email notice with the date, the time, and the Zoom connection information. (See how to schedule a Zoom meeting.)

2. Connect in advance with anyone who may have onboarding issues

Technology adoption varies depending on the participant. Be sure to identify any meeting participants who may not have experience using Zoom video conferencing, and may appreciate a brief practice meeting in advance on Zoom to make sure they know how to connect and use Zoom. There’s nothing that stops meeting productivity in its tracks like a participant or two who you need to spend 10 to 15 minutes with at the beginning of a committee meeting telling them how to connect to Zoom, how to share their screen, or how to mute themselves.

3. Send out an agenda at least 3 days in advance

An agenda allows everyone to prepare for the contents of the meeting and also helps keep you accountable. All of the meeting participants and stakeholders will be able to see what topics are covered and remind you if anything important was left off the agenda. If you need anyone to present any deliverables, let them know as far in advance as possible. Your agenda will serve as your guide for your meeting.

4. “Hey ____, we can’t see you. Do you have a webcam?”

About 67% of human communication is non-verbal. That means having effective meetings requires you to be able to see each other’s faces in order to receive more of their message. A gentle ask at the beginning of the meeting to prompt people that you can’t see them, and to see if they have a webcam, is a great way to encourage your participants to turn on their webcams. Once your committee meetings regularly have participants using video, your meeting participants will begin to expect it and will turn it on for future meetings.

5. Speedy meetings + Start on time, end on time

Some tech companies encourage their employees to have speedy meetings that are a few minutes short of what a normal meeting is. For traditional 1-hour meetings, they encourage 50-minute meetings. For 30-minute meetings, they encourage 20-minute meetings. Remember that moving meetings to Zoom is to help save time; that doesn’t mean you should extend the length of your meetings. Best practice shows that meeting hosts start losing the focus of attendees for meetings that are longer than 1 hour. The ideal length of a Zoom meeting is no more than 1 hour, with shorter speedy meetings being preferred.

6. Assign a Time Keeper and Assistant Co-Host

If your meeting has more than 4 people, it makes sense to make sure to have another person assigned as timekeeper and your assistant co-host in Zoom. By clicking on their participant name and giving them co-host privileges, that participant will be able to mute and unmute other participants. This is particularly helpful for helping manage any participants who forget (or simply don’t understand how to) mute their devices. Having someone else keep track of time can also help you stay on track, and decide when you need to move a lengthy topic to the parking lot to revisit later. It is ideal to make sure your timekeeper is assigned prior to your meeting start so that they can have sufficient time to review the meeting agenda and ask about how much time you expect to spend on each agenda topic.

7. Zoom Meetings do not replace fellowship and friendship

While it is possible to have friendly dialogue and to catch up with fellow Rotarians over Zoom video conferencing, this article is in no way suggesting that Zoom replaces fellowship and in-person friendship socials. Zoom is a great way to take care of normal club business in an efficient and productive manner, but there is still something unique and powerful about being able to break bread with people in-person and to share a drink. Zoom should help augment and improve productivity in your club, but should not replace the in-person connections. It should also be noted that not every topic is best handled over Zoom. For example, conflict resolution is still best done in-person. Additionally, sometimes you want to have lengthier brainstorming sessions or workshops that can find added benefits from happening in-person as well. Technology like Zoom is a great way to add benefit to our clubs and our lives but is not meant to replace all in-person meetings and events.

Continue reading more Rotary Membership Best Practices.

Zoom Best Practices: Engage Your Audience with a Virtual Greeter for your Zoom Meetings

Hosting a virtual meeting or virtual social using Zoom Meetings? Consider starting your Zoom Meeting with breakout rooms and a virtual greeter to immediately engage your audience!

As more organizations, groups, and companies are turning to virtual meetings, meeting organizers need to create new engagement practices for their virtual events that work with virtual meeting best practices. For virtual meetings with more than 8 people, socializing at the beginning of the virtual meeting can sometimes become a challenge, between people talking over each other and people having personal conversations while the rest of the group listens.

You can combat that potential hurdle, while upgrading your skills as a Zoom Meeting host, by starting your Zoom Meeting with the opportunity for your attendees to socialize within smaller groups by enabling breakout rooms and having a virtual greeter stay in your main lobby.

How to Use Breakout Rooms:

First, make sure that the Breakout Rooms feature is enabled for your Zoom Meetings account in advance before your meeting starts. You can do this on the Zoom website under your Account Management > Account Settings page, or by following Zoom’s step-by-step help guide.

With the Breakout Rooms feature enabled, you can start any of your Zoom Meetings with breakout rooms. Once you have started the breakout rooms, this will automatically create a main lobby for anyone just signing into your Zoom Meeting. In this main lobby, the meeting host can become the greeter and assign newcomers to any of the breakout rooms. This is a great opportunity to welcome your attendees, and handle any logistics such as recording attendance.

For large Zoom Meetings, you can also assign additional individuals to assist you by granting them co-host permissions, and asking them to help facilitate conversations within breakout rooms.

A Lasting Impression.

Adding social time at the beginning of your Zoom Meeting using the Breakout Rooms feature with an assigned virtual greeter will immediately engage your attendees, and encourage them to get excited about your virtual meeting. This can help overcome barriers individuals may have about the meeting, as well as help your attendees who are dealing with Zoom Meeting fatigue to realize your meeting is going to be different from the other dozen Zoom Meetings they just attended this week.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

Imagine how you can use a virtual greeter to make people feel welcomed as soon as they join in, and what other best practices you can utilize to level up your Zoom Meetings.

Continue reading more Rotary Membership Best Practices.