Mergers and Acquisitions in Service Clubs

All Across America, Moose, Elk and Lions are becoming endangered species. The ranks of traditional service organizations are thinning  — making it harder for groups that once united main streets to accomplish their missions of community service.

The reasons are many; Two-career couples, now commuting from suburbs, have less time to commit to organizations, particularly those with lots of meetings.

What does this mean for an E-club? OPPORTUNITY. We are the answer to many of the objections currently given to service organizations today. Log in when time allows, and still have a positive impact in the world.

We live crazy lives, but that shouldn’t prevent us from sharing our good fortune with others. People are moving more often than in previous decades and the distances we move tend to be father. 20 years ago most people lived in the same house for 30 years. Now we are a society of upgrades, even when we downsize…

Many local businessmen who once used Rotary as a way to network have, through mergers and buyouts, gone to work for large corporations with their own service projects or even departments of Philanthropy.

Researchers point to a general decline in organized civic activism among younger generations. While people may still be involved in volunteering, they’re more likely to do it one project at a time or through a more narrowly focused group.

“Back in the glory days of service clubs, our membership was the Main Street professional: the doctor, the dentist, the guy who ran the clothing store,” said David Williams, public relations manager for Kiwanis International, which has lost 1 percent of its members each year since membership peaked in 1992.

“Those are all basically people who can decide what they do with their time. Nowadays, everybody works for somebody else. You try to name a store that doesn’t belong to a chain. “I imagine a lot of times people are saying, do I want the regional manager to call and have someone say, `He’s not here, he’s at his Rotary meeting’?”

The organizations have begun to make themselves over — relaxing rigid rules and rituals, renewing their emphasis on local projects, turning to the Internet as a more efficient way to reach time-pressed would-be members. They’re trying to convince young people, women and minorities that they are changing with the times.

Tom Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government — a group of academics and community leaders who are studying ways to address civic disengagement — said the decline in service organization membership is part of a broader trend.

“One thing fraternal organizations often did, which few organizations are doing today, would be bringing people together across their differences,” Sander said. “Most of the things that are in some ways replacing fraternal organizations, like professional societies, tend to be more stratified by class.”

A matter of image

The problem with traditional service groups, nearly all of them acknowledge, is that while such clubs continue to take on ambitious service projects — the Lions providing 300,000 cataract surgeries in India, Rotary raising more than $240 million for polio vaccinations — they’re still seen as antiquated, back-slapping cliques primarily for men with gray hair.

And while women and minorities have been joining the groups in recent years, the stereotype has its grains of truth.  At a recent gathering of six Lions clubs at a Brooklyn restaurant, where members flocked to sample deer meat, pheasant and snow geese bagged by club hunters, Kelly Sasser’s head of blonde hair stood out markedly in a sea of silver.

The 29-year-old Catonsville woman joined the Brooklyn chapter about six months ago, after Lion Clem Kusiak, whom she knew through her work at Curtis Bay Supply & Services Inc., persuaded her over lunch to come aboard.

Today, many Rotary clubs are learning how to adapt, and the stereotypes are fading. We are becoming more sophisticated and leveraging our resources together to produce results no one else can match.

Currently our district (5490) is considering a merger with District 5510. This would strengthen both districts by removing arbitrary geography lines form the center of Phoenix and allow for coordinating of key activities.  We currently collaborate on many levels and this proposal would formalize the already existing partnerships.

Past District Governor Chuck Fitzgerald put together the Top 10 for the proposed merger:


Author: Aaron Fritz

Joined Rotary in 1999. Past President of the Highlands Ranch Rotary Club, Charter Member of the Rotary Club of Castle Pines, Past President of the Rotary eClub of Arizona, Past Assistant Governor for District 5490 and current Assistant Governor for District 5495. Multiple Paul Harris Fellow (3 currently). 2nd Generation Rotarian.

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