Service Clubs and Millennials, a Smart Combination

I made an unusual choice earlier this year in how I spend my free time as a millennial – I joined a service club (the De Pere Kiwanis Club, to be specific!). Millennials are known for their commitment to volunteering, but that isn’t what makes my choice unusual. What makes it unusual is that millennials simply aren’t joining service clubs, well-established institutions marrying professional networking, social engagement and community service, at the rates of previous generations.

Some of you reading may at this point be asking, what the heck is a service club? They all differ, by branch and community, but the common threads they all share are:

  • They are non-profit organizations, either at the national or local level
  • They are volunteer organizations, generally with no paid staff at the local level
  • They support local charitable efforts, either through direct action or by raising money for other organizations
  • They are defined primarily by their mission (or charitable purpose) and secondly by the benefits of membership – the professional networking, social engagement, and intangible feeling of being engaged in your community
  • They meet regularly – some clubs more so than others. The club I joined meets weekly.
  • They are regional – often defined by a community

While service clubs are international organizations, some of the most well-known service clubs in the United States are:

  • Rotary (111 years old, 1.22 million members internationally)
  • Kiwanis (101 years old, 500k members internationally)
  • Lions (99 years old, 1.4 million members internationally)
  • Optimists (97 years old, 87k members internationally)

What do service clubs do? I’ll speak to the club I chose to join specifically. Our club (internationally) is committed to children-focused projects. Locally, we support projects and community efforts such as youth sports teams, youth scholarships, a youth literacy program, the local police and fire department efforts, the Syble Hopp School, the International Eliminate project (elimination of maternal/neonatal tetanus), Easter Seals Camp Wawbeek (a camp and respite for children and adults with disabilities), among other causes. We host valued community events such as our Memorial Day Parade, Pancake and Porkie Breakfast with Santa, Raffle Night, golf outing and more.

Since joining the De Pere Kiwanis Club this summer, I was able to champion and implement a brand new event in our community. The Inside Innovation Series is a five part speaker series that highlights Wisconsin corporations and their innovative workplace cultures and missions. This event is FREE and open to anyone to attend. Yes, you read that right – as a millennial I was able to join this group, find the financial and volunteer support for a new event, pitch and create this event in a matter of months with the support of a service club. We host this event jointly with our local Rotary Club and it has been met with wide community support.

I see membership in a service club as a new way for me, as a millennial, to engage with my community, be a part of existing events, and help to create new ones. I see it as a way to build inter-generational relationships with club members that are of different generations than my own. I see it as a plus on my resume, and as a talking point when discussing my personal life.

I’m sure if anyone in a service club is reading this, they’re thinking – THAT’S GREAT that you’re encouraging millennials to join service clubs, but HOW do we get them interested in joining us?

I have a few suggestions on that front:

  • Don’t mandate attendance on a weekly basis. People may incorrectly assume that because the club meets weekly that you must be there weekly. If you have some mandatory meetings, of course – share that. But let it be known that attendance is optional! That makes it feel like more of a treat to attend, rather than an obligation glaring at your from your calendar.
  • Emphasize diversity and inclusion. Millennials are the most diverse American generation to date and a sense of diversity and inclusion is important to many of them. If your group is homogeneous, make it a priority for membership recruitment to focus on recruitment of more diverse members. This could be by gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. A group sends the message of openness and inclusion when it is diverse.
  • Keep it inexpensive, if possible. Most service clubs have some sort of membership dues that are paid annually to the national organization, that help supplement the cost of coordinating charitable efforts. When I joined the De Pere Kiwanis Club, they generously offered to cover my first year of due. I still pay for meals at meetings I attend, but they covered the cost of annual dues for me for year one. If someone (like me) is unsure if a service club will be a good fit, it’s much more enticing to try it out with no money down.  If they like it, they’ll stay! Why do you think car dealers offer a similar promotion of no-money-down? They know it works!
  • Let millennials take the wheel. I’m not saying that you have to turn over the keys to your 65 year old classic car to an untested driver, but let your younger new members have some influence! Millennials (and I can say this because I am one, Millennial Police) are perpetually whining that they’re not invited to be a part of things or that their involvement doesn’t seem to make a difference. To explain it in simpler terms – they want a seat at the table, but instead of just asking if they can join the table, they’d rather build a new table and not let anyone else sit at it. There don’t necessarily need to be two, exclusive tables. Collaboration is a good and healthy thing and we’d all be better off if we engaged in more of it. Invite the millennials to your table and ask them to create the menu. By letting new members craft some of your efforts and initiatives, you empower them and make them feel valued.
  • Emphasize the leadership potential that your club offers. Joining a volunteer organization opens up opportunities to be a board member, committee leader, or an executive leader. These valuable skills can be honed in a safe environment with the tutelage of wise mentors. These are not only a resume builder, they’re life skills you can use in countless future situations. Many clubs send leaders to the annual conference – which might be in an international city. Can you imagine being your club president and getting an expenses-paid trip to go to let’s say, Seoul, South Korea? Toronto, Canada? Now, I’m not saying that you should only join to get a free trip – but it’s a pretty cool side benefit to aspire to!

I encourage you to check out a local service club in your area, or if you know a friend or colleague who is a member of one, to invite you to one of their meetings as a guest. You can most likely find one by searching for your community name + service clubs.

If you live local to my area and have questions about our service clubs in the area – please send me a message. I’d love to tell you more about them!

I hope you’ll join us for our next Inside Innovation event on November 21st. Register at no cost here.