6. Further Consolidation, 1997 - 2004
The growth in Clubs was to continue for another year, as in 1996/97 the District again won the President's Club Extension award with a net growth of 8 Clubs to reach 224. However, while the total number of Clubs and members had been increasing each year, the average membership per Club was falling slightly but steadily through the 1990s. In particular there were significant drops in 1994 to 1997. This downwards trend caught up with the District in 1998, when new Club formation was not able to make up the membership fall in existing Clubs. The end result was that the District finished 19 per capita payments short of its Distinguished District goal of 9738.
One result of the growth in clubs from 1993 to 1997 was the need to create a new Division and to reorganise the other Divisions. After two years of study, Eastern Division was created in 1998 and the number of Areas increased to 43. A rationalisation of Areas was made between most of the other Divisions. Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River were used as a major demarcation line between the Divisions, with 4 Divisions being located to the north and 4 to the south of this line. This was the first time in the District's history that at least one Division did not spread across this natural boundary.
Since 1997 the District again moved into a consolidation phase. Club numbers reached a peak of 227 in 2000 but then fell slightly each year to a low of 211 in 2003. New Clubs continued to be formed, but at not enough rate to replace weaker ones that folded. Membership in the Clubs continued to fall, with the average membership per club falling steadily to 2001. The loss of weak clubs saw this trend reverse in 2002, with the average club membership increasing over the previous year for the first time in over a decade.
Despite this negative membership trend, the educational performance in these years continued to be outstanding. From 1997-99, the District was the No. 1 District in the world each year for ATMs and in the top 3 for CTMs while the DTM performance was equally outstanding as it had been for over 15 years, averaging 21 per year for those 3 years. The District then slid back from being the 3rd largest District by Club numbers and membership as its membership dropped and other Districts grew. By 2004 the District was 9th by Clubs (215) and 11th by membership in size, being placed 12th with CTMs and 7th with ATMs.
In July 1999 TI modified the Distinguished District Plan and stopped monitoring achievements in DTMs, Speechcraft, Youth Leadership and Success/Leadership on a District wide basis. However, the District's performance continued to be strong in these other educational programs. TI also removed Speechcraft, Youth Leadership and Success/Leadership from the Distinguished Club Program. This was part of a change to make Toastmasters a narrower, mission focussed organisation with particular emphasis on the critical success factors at both Club and District level.
At the same time new leadership awards were introduced in the Competent Leader and Advanced Leader awards and the requirements for the DTM award were changed. It took a while for members to take to these awards, but by 2002 they had become well established.