For a Kiwanis club, alumni of Key Club and Circle K International aren’t just a pool of potential members. They can also be a big influence on where the club is headed. Consider Karina Sousa, for example.
The former Key Clubber at Mira Costa High School joined the Kiwanis Club of Downtown San Diego, California, in 2009. She was excited by the chance to continue with the Kiwanis family—and to continue the service and fellowship that club membership entailed.
But she also saw a need for new ideas and youthful energy. Her efforts to bring other young professionals into the club helped make it happen.
“In the beginning, nobody wanted to change,” she says. “Now we’re doing so many new things, people are really excited to be a part of it.”
More members, more activity
The club had never had a problem with membership numbers. But the average age was getting higher—and when Karina joined, she found fewer service opportunities than she had enjoyed in her earlier Kiwanis-family experience. In fact, she says, there were just three other members who were in her approximate age group at the time.
So Karina did something about it: she and the other young professionals began to cater events directly to young professionals. The result has been an increase in service projects and club activities beyond the weekly club meeting.
“We have more able bodies to do things we want as a club,” Karina says. “Now we have evening socials and 5K walks and things like that. The mingling, the intermixing—that’s what we’ve wanted to do.”
Since the effort to diversify recruiting began, more than 30 new members below age 40 have joined the club, which now consists of more than 110 members overall.
Most of those new members were also new to the Kiwanis family. However, the addition of a couple of CKI alumni has reminded people why former members of Kiwanis’ Service Leadership Programs make excellent Kiwanians.
“They’re some of our best members,” Karina says. “They know Kiwanis, they know service—when you get them plugged into the right committees, they really flourish.”
The club’s success hasn’t been a “young-versus-old” thing, Karina adds. In addition to various committees that help meet the new members’ interest, the club has a mentoring program—so that a new member is partnered with a more experienced member, who helps guide the newer member through club activities and opportunities. That structure has been a key part of keeping new members coming back. So has the enthusiastic involvement of longstanding members.
“We have club-wide acknowledgement and participation,” Karina says. “It’s a problem for a club when someone new comes in and everyone forgets about them. The key is really listening to what a new club member wants to get out of Kiwanis.”
It was a lesson that Karina learned in the early days of her own membership. For instance, building a relationship with the other young professionals helped them create a Mardi Gras event for the club—and put their own stamp on a club activity.
That stamp continues to show. For instance, the club has a regularly updated website and a stronger social-media presence.
“We’ve attracted a lot of new members through Facebook,” Karina says. “And on our website we put out news about how fun our club is and ways to get involved—even YouTube videos for something people can look at, instead of feeling bombarded right away by a thousand calls.”
That consistency of communication—to people inside and outside the club—has helped set a tone that makes members of all ages feel welcome. And in turn, to welcome other people they know.
“Once you make a couple friends, you want to keep coming,” Karina says. “That’s why we’ve been successful. Overall, the club welcomes people with open arms.”