Service Organization Membership is a Struggle… Solutions Will Surprise YOU!

Almost all service organization’s in the U.S. are struggling to attract and retain members. Lions, Kiwanis, Elks and Rotary clubs are experiencing levels of attrition, not seen in years. Yet the biggest single obstacle to increasing the ranks of members in these organizations, are the members themselves!

This past year Rotary International discovered that in the U.S., more than 90% of members have not asked or sponsored a new member to join their Rotary club during the past ten years.  This alarming statistic is consistent with most service organization’s clubs. Many club leaders and members  I’ve interviewed have told me they presume new members won’t be interested in joining their clubs because of economic issues. This is a terrible strategy that should be considered totally unacceptable. While this seems to be the excuse of the day, most organizational experts agree that fellowship, networking and doing good things for others are among the best ways to overcome tensions caused by a problematic economy. Retention is another key issue for service organizations.

One club that I know of, with a membership of 300+ has been losing 10% of their members, per year. One of the biggest mistakes senior club leaders can make is to avoid the problem. If efforts to attract and retain members are not driven top down, there is no hope.

A second mistake many clubs make is to have a “membership chair,” who believes it is their personal (unilateral) responsibility to attract and recruit new members. As quickly as the membership chair runs out of prospects, whom they personally know, new membership comes to a grinding halt. So, while this can work short-term, it is not a very good long-term strategy. It should be the job of the membership chair to create, implement and oversee strategies that will make individual, key member’s ambassadors of their club.

Surprisingly, when attention is paid to these problems, and a few simple strategies are implemented, new members can be recruited and retained.  I know this because a service organization that I belong to (with 2,800 members) used many of my strategies. This effort resulted in the attraction of more than 300 new members in 120 days. Below you can read and copy “Great Ideas to Recruit and Retain Service Club Members.” In addition, one of the best ideas to use is YOUR IDEA. Your ideas and comments are welcome.

                                       Great Ideas to Recruit & Retain Service Club Members                                                              

FACT: Most Members of Service Orgs. NEVER Sponsor a New Member                    

1. Every club should encourage members to strive to induct a minimum number of new members who have been previously associated with this or other service organizations.

2. SIMULTANEOUS INDUCTEES… Induct several new members into the club simultaneously.

3. FORMER MEMBERS…Encourage the membership development committee to keep track of former club members. If possible, invite the former members to rejoin your club or encourage them to join another club.

4. COMMUNITY PROJECTS… A successful project/event attracts new members. Involve club members in worthwhile community projects. Then, make sure every event includes a recruitment plan for optimizing membership building opportunities.

5. SIX-MONTH PLAN… Encourage every new member to bring in another new member within six months of joining.

6. FIVE FOR ONE TEAM… Divide your club into groups of 5. Assign each group to bring in at least one new member.

7. MEMBERSHIP AMBASSADORS… Search your club membership directory and create a list of everyone who has a large sphere of influence. From that list build a group 3-10 to become membership ambassadors. They should be equipped with a meal budget/allowance so member/prospects can get an appreciation of the club meeting experience. Set a goal for each ambassador to bring in 2-4 members over the next 12 months. THIS CAN BE VERY POWERFUL***

8. CLUB GUEST DAY… Develop a list of potential members and distribute invitations to those on the list. Host a meal and information event for those who accept the invitation.

9. SURVEY… Conduct a survey to help members consider contacts they know who might be potential members.

10. CLASSIFICATIONS… If your organization is limited to business classification, then read a list of unfilled classifications at each meeting. This regular reminder helps club members consider potential members during their daily interaction.

11. CLUB FORUM… Hold a club forum on membership development to share strategies to seek out potential members.

12. INCREASE EFFORTS… Increase the scope of current efforts and focus on attracting under-represented demographics– for example, members of a different age, gender or ethnicity. 13. DIARY… Encourage club members to keep a daily diary of everyone with whom they interact. Select potential member/prospects from that list.

14. CONTEST… Have a club contest to see who can bring in the most members. Reward the top 3 with special awards that will instill a desire to compete.

15. BRING A FRIEND DAY… Encourage all members to bring guests to club functions. Designate one meeting a month as “Bring a Guest” meeting.

16. LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE… This strategy emphasizes true leadership. The following leaders will be expected to bring in one new member in the first month of the year. Club President, Membership Chair, Committees heads and the Board of Directors.

17. BUSINESS/PROFESSIONAL COMMUNITY OUTREACH… Usually, club members have other associations with quality men and women in their business, professional, spiritual community, etc. This strategy asks every member to invite an outstanding leader in their business, profession or community to become a member.

18. NETWORK… Identify people on the move via community, local and business journal publications. Make it a point to reach out to these people to 1) congratulate them and 2) invite them to be your guest at a meeting of your club, who would also welcome them.

19. SEEDING… Encourage the creation of “junior” versions of your service organization. This can be done at schools, churches and other venues. Mentor their growth. Let these junior club members be ambassadors for your club and or to join your club when they reach an age of maturity.


Two of the most important words to help retain members in service club organizations are EXPECTATIONS and ENGAGEMENT. It is best for all parties, if, during the recruiting and orientation process prospective and or new members are made aware of what they should expect from the club and what the club should expect from the new member. When expectations are in alignment both the new member and the club are seldom disappointed.

There will always be some retention issues that are impossible to avoid such as, job change, relocation, family and health issues. Separate from those, the single biggest factor that causes members to lose interest and potentially drop out is lack of engagement. Therefore, it should be the responsibility of club leadership and chairs to keep members engaged in both the purpose of the club and club activities. If not, retention of members will almost certainly become an issue at some point in time.

Remember:  Managing expectations is one of the keys to keeping employees, customers, clients, patients, members, donors, patrons and fans! 

About Alan

Alan Adler is an executive coach, speaker & author.

21. August 2011 by Alan
Categories: Business leadership, Customer Experience, Marketing, Non-profit, Recruitment & Re | Comments Off on Service Organization Membership is a Struggle… Solutions Will Surprise YOU!