Strength in numbers: How Rotary International cultivated a powerful social media presence

Posted by on July 29, 2013 | 13 comments

When we tackled our first infographic of the summer, we wanted to take a look at which nonprofits in Chicago’s market made the most impact on social media. Rotary International, a worldwide network of volunteers, came out as one of the top foundations on Twitter and Facebook from the Chicagoland area.

It turned out that power within the people was the biggest strength carried in Rotary’s core mission. This following, from 1.2 million people in 34,000 clubs around the world, helped soar the organization to one of the most followed social media in Chicago nonprofit history. With 229,000 Facebook ‘likes’ and 203,000 Twitter followers, Rotary earned its place as the second-highest ranked non-profit on social media from the Chicagoland area- 20th in the nation. We reached out to Rotary’s social media manager, Antoinette Tuscano, to learn how Rotary’s team manages such a strong following and what it took to get there. Her answers enlightened our team on what’s most important–especially when sometimes limited to 140 characters–and what we can all take away from a good, spirited grassroots effort.


1. How important is social media to your online communities?

Social media has become increasingly important for Rotarians and the organization because it allows us to interact and learn from one another, which people do on our 40,000 member LinkedIn group. I’ve learned a lot from Rotarians about what’s important to them in their communities, and several Rotarians have told me that LinkedIn has helped them feel the global reach of an organization that is so much more than their local Rotary club.

Social media also has been a great way for Rotarians to be made aware of the work of other Rotarians around the world. For example, I recently did a Facebook post to let people know about flooding in India and how they could help, and I recognized the work of one of the Rotarians in that effort, Dr. Nischal Pandey. He then went onto Facebook and responded to comments people had. It’s good for people to see that they can interact with the people we’re writing about.

2. What are three important things to maintaining engagement with followers?

The most important thing for engagement is to listen and respond. I understand that sometimes people don’t like every policy about Rotary, and they say so. That’s OK. We listen to what they say and respect how they feel and think. And it’s important to always, always be honest with people. On social media, it’s better to be authentic and not quite perfect than smoothly polished around the edges but not really saying anything of value. Your integrity and the care and concern you have for your members/customers is critical.

social media infographic chicago

Infographic of social media numbers among Chicago nonprofits

3. What do you use to help market your social media?

We let people know about our social media sites on our website,, our newsletters, and on other publications. We also make an effort to like and engage on other people’s social networks. We don’t have an advertising budget for our social media, so whatever we do needs to be free. Although, a couple of times for big Facebook campaigns, we’ve paid for sponsored posts.

We also encourage Rotarians and the organizations we partner with to share our social media content when it fits their messaging, and we try to do the same for them.

4. How have your efforts impacted donations?

We see an increase in online donations when we post on social media about contributing to our Foundation, but we also send out e-newsletters and other material at the same time. We also get a significant amount of traffic to from Facebook, though.

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5. What have you learned from working in social media, what is your end goal for using social media, is there an end goal?

From social media, I’ve learned how wonderful the Rotary story is. It may have different looks and flavors in different parts of the world, but the heart of it is the same everywhere. Rotarians worldwide want to leave the world a better place than how they found it. We’re all connected and in this together. Rotarians have taught me how much we can do when we work together. What I want from social media is to tell the Rotary story and to help others tell that story as well.


Ms. Tuscano’s responses really enlightened us to not only what we can learn from Rotary’s immense following, but what we have been doing right. We are honest with customers. We help answer questions and provide the most straightforward answers. We link like crazy. We remember to connect everything back to our main cause, which, like Rotary’s, is about helping people. Perhaps your social media practices can take note from what a notable community leader such as Rotary International can teach us by example.

Joe Yeoman

I’m BigMarker’s Director of Partnerships. I want to help you accomplish your goals. Please, feel free to contact me to setup a chat.

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  1. Jason

    Your strength is not in numbers…

    I’m a Rotarian. There are 1.2 million like me in 34,000 Rotary Clubs around the world. Not ‘nationwide’!

    • Hi Jim, the wording has been revised. Thanks for catching that!

  2. I am PR Chair for my Rotary District and I am so happy to see this article. Social media is vital to spreading the word about what we do, how we do it and who we are. Membership, fundraising and awareness are three reasons I promote social media within our District with webinars and presentations at Training. Thanks so much for this article. I will share it on our District 5300 Facebook page and my Club’s page
    Yours in Rotary

    • Thanks for sharing! We appreciate it!

  3. Nice article! I will shere it in our District 1911 (Hungary)!

    Laszlo Kovacs
    District 1911
    PR Chair

  4. There is any doubt that social media among Rotarians has improved our work and relationa not just between Rotarians but also with non rotarians, allowing us to share the Magic of Rotary with friends too.

    But we have to keep working on this and invite more RCs to joing this great experience.

    • Very true, Leticia. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Communication is the key to understanding, and Rotary’s role is to build peace though understaninding and goodwill. Social media is an essential tool for a global NGO to be able to communicate globally.


    • Great input, Jennifer. It’s awesome to hear back from Australian readers. Thanks!

  6. Very nice article

  7. Thanks for linking for us and checking out our blog post. Cheers!

  8. Great to hear feedback from international contacts. Thank you!