PORTLAND — The Portland Kiwanis Club recently celebrated its 100th birthday, and though membership has declined in recent years, its president is confident the group will continue to reach other milestones.
“Kiwanis clubs, as small as we are in southern Maine, we have a huge impact in our communities,” said Portland Kiwanis President Jason Briggs, who has been a Kiwanian for more than 25 years.
According to Briggs, the Portland club is down to 32 members. The club once had about 100 members, and was 65-70 strong about 20 years ago, Briggs said.
“People need to ask people to join,” Briggs said, acknowledging that he hasn’t done a good enough job of it recently.
“We get complacent in what we’re doing,” he said, noting the club hasn’t added a new member in nine months.
Briggs said that the club has spent “several thousand dollars” on a recent advertising effort to try and attract new members.
“We’re the biggest city in the state,” he said. “We should be at 100 people.”
Kiwanis International is a worldwide organization that focuses on supporting children, according to its website. Local clubs work on various service projects in their communities.
Portland is not the only area Kiwanis club or service organization to see a dip in membership. The Windham Kiwanis Club has dwindled to less than 10 members, according to Phil Moody, the secretary and treasurer.
“All the service organizations do a lot of good in the towns,” Moody said, although he noted Windham Kiwanis doesn’t “do as much as we used to” because of low membership.
He said while the group still sponsors a Key Club at Windham High School, it has had to scale back other efforts, such as distributing home safety kits.
“If we could just double our membership, that would make a big difference,” said Moody, who noted that the group meets at Rustler’s Steak House twice a month at 6 p.m.
The Windham group has enlisted the help of Dan Bennett, Kiwanis governor for the New England Region.
Bennett came to a recent club meeting to gauge members’ interest in continuing the club and charting a path forward.
“Like all service organizations, membership has dwindled,” Bennett said, noting the recent milestone that the Portland club reached, and that the Windham club is 87 years old.
“I’d like to see them get to 100,” Bennett said. “We’re all working on membership. You have to bring people in. In any organization, complacency can rule the day. In Windham’s case, they stopped asking people. They got into their own routine.”
He also noted that the Windham Club’s social media presence has plenty of room for improvement, reflecting the age of its members.
“It’s not their expertise,” he said.
Bennett said he plans to return to Windham to help the group with community outreach.
“I’m sure we can build them back up again,” Bennett said.
George Bartlett of the Sebago Lake Rotary Club said Kiwanis doesn’t have a monopoly on the dilemma of declining membership.
“We definitely have the same issue in Rotary,” Bartlett said, although he clarified that it’s “not as bad” as what the Windham Kiwanis Club has been experiencing.
He said the group has about 15 active members and 25-30 would be preferred.
“Nobody has the time to do this stuff anymore,” Bartlett said. “It’s not just us. It’s a national phenomenon.”
Moody, a former teacher in the Windham school district, said community members have too many competing responsibilities in today’s world that make it difficult to dedicate time to service organizations like Kiwanis.
“There’s too much going on,” said Moody, a past Windham club president. He cited youth sports and after-school activities – and the time constraints they put on parents – as an example.
“Kiwanis really always was a luncheon meeting,” Briggs said. “People today don’t take that lunch break.”
Todd Delaney, president of the Kiwanis Club of Standish, said clubs have to adapt to the times.
“Groups and organizations have to change. Kiwanis can’t be the way it was 20 years ago,” Delaney said.
For the Standish Club, Delaney says it’s meant an emphasis on social media and giving the club’s 22 members advance notice about upcoming events. He credited the club’s president-elect, Sarah Gregg, for the efforts on social media.
Delaney is also a member of the Portland Club, having joined there before moving to Standish.
Delaney said the Standish club is set to gain three new members this week.
“The issue is not only recruitment, but retention,” Delaney added. “Young members have to be made part of the club.”
Bennett said clubs across New England are working to bolster their younger membership.
“We’re trying new things,” he said, highlighting a brewery-themed event from a club on Cape Cod that succeeded in getting several new members.
“All of our communities – Windham, Westbrook, Portland, Standish – we’ve all been able to do things for our communities. And it’s very important to keep Kiwanis alive,” Briggs said.
Kiwanis Club of Standish President Todd Delaney, left, presented Jason Haycock with the club’s Outstanding New Member Award for 2016-17.