Service clubs struggle with recruitment

Service clubs around southeast Iowa face similar struggles with recruitment. Many find it particularly difficult to get younger members to join. (Union file photo)
Service clubs around southeast Iowa face similar struggles with recruitment. Many find it particularly difficult to get younger members to join. (Union file photo)

While service groups across southeast Iowa each have unique focuses and issues they hope to tackle, many face one similar struggle: recruitment of new and younger members.

Pat Smith, Washington Kiwanis AM’ers’ secretary, said he does not know for certain the average age of the 35-person club, but noted a “number of members have been members for a long time.”

“I think we are aging in our membership. We are always looking for younger active community members who can join us in our club and our projects,” Smith said. The club secretary added the group does usually add two or three members each year.

For Michael York, the commander of the American Legion Post 29 in Washington, the climbing average age of membership is more stark. A large share of the Legion’s 30 active volunteers include individuals who are in their 60s, 70s and older.

“We still have several World War II veterans who are part of the post,” York added.

Cal Litwiller, president of Mt. Pleasant Evening Rotary, explained membership is an issue for all service organizations. Having served as a Rotary district governor, Litwiller has seen declines in membership across the southern half of Iowa. The local club president said the district has seen a loss of about 400 members out of 4,000 in the last 10 years.

“So about 10 percent. That’s pretty typical of most service organizations,” Litwiller said.

Club leaders pointed to several factors that may affect local organizations’ abilities to attract younger members. York pointed to the sheer amount of activities people are already involved in. Especially for young adults with families, much of their time may be taken up with attending extracurricular activities for their children.

“Things are so busy with families. Mom and Dad go to ballgames, and then there’s dance. It’s just a myriad things to do,” York said.

Litwiller added that he’s not sure “if people have the interest in being involved with service organizations like they used to.”

Finding a suitable time for people to be able to meet is another hurdle. Litwiller said evening Rotary groups typically have lower membership numbers than clubs that meet at noon.

“Many young people have families and don’t want to give up that evening time,” Litwiller said.

Washington Kiwanis AM’ers, who meet at 6:30 a.m. every Friday, bump up against the same issue. Smith said not everybody is an early riser, which means the club has faced “difficulty talking people to coming” to their meetings.

With increasing difficulty recruiting, service clubs are looking at new and more creative ways to reach a younger demographic. With Kiwanis, Smith said there has been more of a push to have a presence online, including developing a website and utilizing a Facebook page. The group also is involved with the local Chamber of Commerce.

“When new folks come into the community, there’s a little insert from the Chamber package that talks about Kiwanis AM’ers. We try to get them in a number of different ways,” Smith said.

Rotary, as an international organization, has made a push to connect with more members over the internet. Litwiller said new e-clubs have begun to form, where members meet exclusively online. Some groups have started satellite clubs, which gives members options on when to attend meetings. With Mt. Pleasant Evening Rotary specifically, Litwiller hopes to look at specific barriers that may prevent younger people from joining, including club dues.

“Sometimes membership fees are an issue. Our club is evaluating what options could be put out there,” Litwiller said.

Although recruitment may be a struggle, service clubs are committed to finding ways to continue to engage the community. With the American Legion, York is hoping a more prominent presence in the area will help promote the group and boost membership.

“We have talked about several things to do to make ourselves a little more visible … We haven’t had any events because of current circumstances, but we do want to host several programs in the future for the community,” York said.