Angie Wieck, Published February 21 2014
Area service clubs changing ways to attract new blood
“When membership peaked in the ’60s and ’70s, there weren’t a lot of other things to do. Now, you’ve got two spouses working in many cases. There are kids’ activities every night of the week,” said Likness.
Many clubs like the Shriners have also struggled with an aging membership.
In his book “Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community” published in 2000, Robert D. Putnam reported a 58 percent decline in social and service club membership over the previous 25 years.
But Likness and officers of several other service organizations, which are often populated by business leaders and provide networking opportunities, say the tide may be turning.
Most report stable enrollment or a modest increase in recent years.
• The Sons of Norway Kringen Lodge 4-25 is part of an organization originally formed as an insurance company in 1895 by Norwegian immigrants.
While it still offers insurance and annuity benefits, Carroll Juven, the lodge president, says the No. 1 goal today is fun. Second is to advance the culture and traditions of Norway. Membership is open to everyone, not only those of Norwegian ancestry.
The Sons of Norway has posted the most impressive membership gain. The local club added 231 members last year. It is currently the organization’s second-largest club, and they hope to overtake No. 1 Seattle by June.
Dan Haglund, lodge vice president and financial benefits counselor, is charged with attracting new members.
Haglund uses social media to announce the club’s activities and to reach out to potential members. He also tries to organize social events geared toward attracting young people.
• El Zagal Shriners is a member of the fraternal organization best known for the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children it operates across the U.S. It fundraises year-round in support, including the El Zagal Shrine Circus held each spring.
El Zagal has gained in membership the past two years. Likness also finds it promising that the average age of new members is 32. It signals what they are doing to attract the younger generation is working.
“We’ve had to change the way we do business. This younger generation wants to get involved today, not wait four or five years to do something. You have to have activities that keep them interested,” Likness said.
• Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks Lodge #260 is a service club known for its work with veterans and for sponsoring youth activities such as the annual Hoop Shoot competition.
Lodge trustee David Bailly said the Elk’s enrollment is considerably less than its prime when the Fargo lodge was the largest in the country, but membership did start growing again about five years ago. Most new members today are between the ages of 25 and 35.
Bailly said the club books live entertainment aimed at attracting young people.
“Most of our older members don’t have interest in coming in and hearing bands, but our younger members do,” said Bailly. “We try to book the current popular bands around the area so our younger members can enjoy the entertainment.”
• The Kiwanis is an international service organization with seven clubs operating in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
Shara Fischer, club membership chairwoman and president-elect of the Fargo Kiwanis Club, said one thing special about Kiwanis is that fundraising dollars are given to whatever organization currently has the greatest need.
The Fargo club has had between 110 and 120 members for years, and Fischer says that size works for them.
The Kiwanis grooms members from an early age by sponsoring school organizations such as the Key Club and Circle K.
Kiwanis International has also started virtual clubs for younger individuals busy getting their careers started. Regular meetings are held online and the group only meets face-to-face for service activities.
• “Service before self” is the motto of the Rotary, an international service organization with five clubs in the F-M area.
While numbers are down overall for the organization, membership has stayed steady or increased locally, said Lynn Speral, past president of the Fargo Rotary.
The most recently formed club, the PM Club, operates a bit differently than the others. They meet after work rather than over lunch, sparing members the additional meal cost. She said organizers also realized not everyone’s work schedule today permits the flexibility for noon meetings.
• The Knights of Columbus is a service organization devoted to helping people in the Catholic network and community.
Kent “Mac” Macleod, manager of the Moorhead club, said declining and aging membership have been concerns for several years.
Only Catholic men can become Knights, but the organization offers what they call social memberships to women and non-Catholic men.
Macleod said these are people who enjoy the club for the fellowship and are willing to pay yearly dues to keep it afloat. He said they added 60 social members during their annual sign-up day in January.
The building that houses the club is currently for sale, but Macleod says they are going about business as usual. He is continuing to book events through December.
• Sons of Norway: Visit www.sofhfargo.com or call (701) 478-5727.
• El Zagal Shriners: Visit beashrinernow.com.
• Elks Lodge: Call the lodge at (701) 293-5151.
• Fargo Kiwanis Club: Visit fargokiwanis.org.
• Fargo Rotary: Visit Fargorotary.org.
• Knights of Columbus: Call (218) 233-6888.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501