Service clubs optimistic about membership growth

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, December 13, 2013

JANESVILLE—Although service club memberships declined worldwide between the 1990s and 2009, local club leaders say the numbers are stabilizing here, and they are optimistic about future growth.

After adding six new members this year, the Janesville Wednesday Optimist Club  now has 27 members, said Cindy Miser, secretary/treasurer.

"We're going to continue to pick up members because current members are asking others to come," she said.

A stable membership of about 45 has grown to 47 for the Janesville Noon Kiwanis.

"We just added some people and have been gradually on the increase," said Jim McMullen, president.

Although the Janesville Noon Lions is down from 50 to 42 members and Janesville Noon Rotary has dropped from 140 to 97 members, leaders aren't discouraged.

Lion Bob Clapper said some of the members who left had retired, others had new employers who wouldn't give them time to attend noon meetings and others moved away.

Marcy Weber said the local Rotary club, which is the second-oldest in Wisconsin, has many senior members and lost nine to death last year. Others left for financial reasons, and some moved.


Some of the clubs have made changes and are working on new initiatives to increase membership.

The Optimists conduct periodic membership drives by inviting prospective members to special meetings and asks local members to bring people to regular weekly meetings, Miser said.

Wednesday Optimist doesn't mandate meeting attendance and doesn't levy fines against members who don't attend.

"If they don't work on every single service project and work on only the ones that mean something to them, that's OK," Miser said.

Janesville Kiwanis moved its meetings to a more centralized location, halved the frequency of meetings to twice a month, dropped the cost of lunch and eliminated singing to shorten meetings to one hour.

A Kiwanis strategic planning session resulted in the formation of membership and public relations committees that are working on Facebook marketing among other things, McMullen said.

Clapper said Lions club members discuss new membership recruitment all the time.

"We try to build awareness within the club, too, to seek out potential members. Almost all of our members joined the club because someone asked them to--me included," he said.

"The more members we get, the more community projects we can be involved in," he said.

Janesville Noon Rotary has taken steps to make it easier to join the club, made meeting attendance more flexible, offers various types of memberships, organized a membership committee and assigns mentors to new members.

"It's been more about what can we do to recruit members this year," Weber said.


Miser said people join service clubs because they want to belong and be involved in the community.

"If they come to a meeting, see what we're doing and buy into it, they want to be part of it. That's why service club memberships could build back up again," she said.

Clapper said the future is positive for the Lions.

"It's the largest service club in the world with 1.4 million members in 43,300 clubs in 182 countries worldwide," Clapper said.

Weber believes Rotary membership that now totals 1.2 million worldwide in 230 nations will grow but admits it's something service clubs will always have to work at.

"I do see things rebounding and think people have a sense of excitement and commitment to Janesville. It's rewarding to give back (through a service club)," she said.

McMullen is optimistic, too, about service club membership growth.

"When you see all the people involved in all these service clubs, we all have amazing projects, and together we're changing the world and the community,” he said. “Janesville, Rock County and the world would be very different without us."

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