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Can "Clubs" Be Revitalized?
Old 06-21-2013, 08:54 AM   #1
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Can "Clubs" Be Revitalized?

I've been asked to help a local club (founded 1933) with declining membership (and revenue) to revitalize itself. Most clubs have seen large declines/ever higher member median ages for decades whether social/community (Kiwanis, Rotary, Jaycees, Lions, Shriners, churches, etc.) or social/activity (golf, tennis, boating, swimming, bridge, bowling, etc. - even fitness clubs in some cases). The generations that follow (most of) us are simply staying away in droves.

I've done a lot of research and articles attempting to explain why clubs are declining are plentiful. I won't bore you with that, though I provide a summary below * for those interested. But answers, silver bullets (not likely) or otherwise are scarce.

I am desperately looking for measures we can take to reverse the trend, but coming up mostly empty. I wondered if anyone here has found ways, or might have helpful suggestions? I'll take anything at this point. I am about to do a preliminary survey, but I am not optimistic about what I will find. I am not sure most "clubs" can be saved, and many have already folded.


* Clubs peaked in the 50's and 60's. Subsequent generations just haven't been interested for a variety of reasons (some real, some imagined), for example:
  • less disposable income
  • less free time
  • prestige/exclusivity no longer desirable to many
  • sense of community no longer expected?
  • clubs not as valuable for networking, lots of other effective channels now
  • far more activity choices these days from sports to isolated "free" activities (TV, internet, social media)
  • family time not a given any more, Leave it to Beaver left long ago...
  • people want to pay as they go instead of paying a flat rate for club membership
  • way more (better) bars & restaurants to choose from today where club bars & restaurants were a draw, no more
  • even current members don't volunteer to help the club stay current, they simply take products & services
  • etc.
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Old 06-21-2013, 09:03 AM   #2
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I think the club ship has sailed and your efforts will lead only to frustration. I wouldn't want to spend my hard-earned retirement attempting to push a rope uphill...
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Old 06-21-2013, 09:08 AM   #3
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The clubs I belong to are thriving, getting bigger all the time. Sam's Club, Costco, I'm sure there are others.

As far as the community service clubs go, I've never seen much effort from them to bring in new and younger members. This is personal observation, thus not worth much. But around here the clubs do a fair amount of activities, mostly fund raising stuff, and I never see them talking to young people and trying to interest them in helping. And whenever I volunteer with one of the local environmental organizations (not a club), most of the other "volunteers" are teens either from school or juvie working off their community service obligations. I've never thought forced labor was a good way to instill a sense of community and volunteerism. So I think the environment has changed, possibly permanently. And I agree, I think clubs are not revitalizable(?).
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Old 06-21-2013, 09:10 AM   #4
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MidPack

Your point is well taken and well documented. All I can offer is this, I have been very active in an international organization since I graduated from college. Many if not most of the local bodies died, are dying or are moribund. However, those local bodies which continued to offer the program that had attracted members in the first place have remained strong and vibrant.

On the other hand, most of the more specific organizations I have either been a member of or which I have observed are either dying or already dead. By specific organizations I mean things that are organized for a specific purpose, woodturning club, camping club, church choir for example.

Right now I am attempting to resurrect a specialist literary group that is 80 years old and more or less dead. I don't want to be specific as it would absolutely give away my id. Using the experience of the international group's success with some of the local bodies I am applying the methods learned there. We will see if I have success.

Not sure if this helps or piles on.

Good luck.
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Old 06-21-2013, 09:22 AM   #5
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In my past career I had to be available as a speaker to many community groups. I was always struck by how old the members were and wondered where their replacements would come from. I think your litany of reasons why membership is declining sounds pretty spot on and it would be pretty difficult to reverse a general community organization.
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Old 06-21-2013, 09:37 AM   #6
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Your focus needs to be YOUNG people. It has been my experience that even the young professionals will help out if ask. Many groups suffer because the "old folks" who have done it for many years have ostracized any new ideas from the younger members. Eventually, they get too old to do it anymore and they have no one to take it over because they never groomed anyone.........
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Old 06-21-2013, 09:49 AM   #7
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As a young adult I was involved in Jaycees. While it was challenging to attract people, the bigger problem for many of us was that if you dipped your toe in the volunteer water before you knew it you were up to your thighs and most of us were too busy with work and family to make that amount of a time commitment so we retrenched. We just struggled to attract enough members that each could shoulder a manageable load. And I think our kids generation is even less interested than we were.
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Old 06-21-2013, 09:56 AM   #8
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From the little I've seen, there are often club leaders who are oft-putting. I personally do not like the idea of voluntarily joining a hierarchy that is already very chummy. That means I'm at the bottom of the pecking order. Why put yourself through that especially if your a happy person already?

I'd vote for smashing the hierarchy so everyone is more equal. How do you do that? No ideas, sorry.

The only thing I'm part of is a painting group that meets on Monday mornings at various locals. It is completely non-hierarchical. Some people know each other but everyone is welcome. There are no requirements or fees. There are volunteers for setting up the next plein air schedule (where we meet) and one lady does the web pages. I think it is hard to find a volunteer to set up a schedule though and it is even harder for that volunteer to hand off to another.
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Old 06-21-2013, 10:02 AM   #9
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The only clubs I've seen that are remotely viable are those around a specific shared interest, and that don't require constant participation or upkeep of a specific location. Like home-brew clubs and the like. I am a member of a dog rescue organization, but of course we don't have dues or anything, and we still have pretty high turnover.

I agree with your assessment, though. I was a Rotarian for a few years and have zero interest in returning. I can't imagine how traditional ladies groups like the Colonial Dames or Daughters are really going to manage in years to come. I think the Junior League is still pretty active, but I never joined and now I'm too old, I think!
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Old 06-21-2013, 10:04 AM   #10
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I've done a lot of research and articles attempting to explain why clubs are declining are plentiful. I won't bore you with that, though I provide a summary below * for those interested. But answers, silver bullets (not likely) or otherwise are scarce.

I am desperately looking for measures we can take to reverse the trend, but coming up mostly empty. I wondered if anyone here has found ways, or might have helpful suggestions? I'll take anything at this point. I am about to do a preliminary survey, but I am not optimistic about what I will find. I am not sure most "clubs" can be saved, and many have already folded.
Social networks are a modern version of clubs and are thriving.
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Old 06-21-2013, 10:11 AM   #11
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Social networks are a modern version of clubs and are thriving.
+1

Just because it doesn't have a board, administrative officers, a budget and a newsletter doesn't mean it isn't a club. I see this forum as a club of sorts. Models change.

I can play golf for less than $30 for 9 holes, and I can still go to the clubhouse with my circle of friends. I don't see any advantage in paying megabucks to be a club member.
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Old 06-21-2013, 10:34 AM   #12
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I think the OP and most comments are right on. This one sticks out for me personally:

clubs not as valuable for networking, lots of other effective channels now

I looked for some clubs to join after I retired. A local computer club was a real mix of old non-techy people who needed help with basic things like copy-paste and email, to some pretty bright involved techies. But for the most part, I learned everything on the internet before it would come up at a meeting, it really wasn't worth the 10 mile drive time investment, and it cut into my 'free time' (some of us come to abhor 'scheduling' in retirement!). I dropped out - they still had a pretty big group each meeting, but it was declining from what I understand.

I joined a beer-brewing club (I had already been brewing). Small, but a good group, but mostly older, established members. Lately, we've attracted a younger group, and that seems to be snowballing through their networks. I think the key to not overwhelming newbies with the idea that they will be stuck with all the work that the older guys want to offload is, break tasks up into small well-definds jobs. If someone knows exactly what they are getting into, and it is limited, I think most people will be willing to help out. But a generic - can you organize xyz is kinda scary, and people (me!) hesitate.

At any rate, the younger guys/gals in the club are bringing some new energy to the meetings and events, and I like mingling with a cross-section, so it's been good and growing. And we share tastes of home-brew or high-end commercial brews and/or have formal taste judging of some selected brews - you can't do that on-line!


Midpack, can you give us some general idea what kind of group you are talking about? I think that would help. Hobby, social, community, other?

-ERD50
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Old 06-21-2013, 10:47 AM   #13
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I lead hikes for our local chapter of the Sierra club. It was getting so the members were dying off and fewer and fewer people showed up for the hikes. We started posting on MeetUp and have pulled in a lot of new blood with much better attendance on hikes, especially of younger people, though many just pass through.

That said, my other main club, a state park Friends group, is struggling with the getting older and few new members syndrome, so I'll watch this thread for suggestions.
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Old 06-21-2013, 10:57 AM   #14
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It has been my experience that even the young professionals will help out if ask. Many groups suffer because the "old folks" who have done it for many years have ostracized any new ideas from the younger members. Eventually, they get too old to do it anymore and they have no one to take it over because they never groomed anyone.........
That is very accurate. I got some local honors as a student from a few different clubs, and then was invited to attend a couple of times. I love doing community service, I initiate community service projects on my own time, but the thought of joining in on one of those clubs after seeing how they operate really disgusts me.

In one of the Kiwanis meetings I attended, a man was talking about how we offer breakfast and lunch all school year and all summer to children in families where they can't eat. He was pointing out how more people don't know about this and kids are showing up to school too hungry and frazzled to concentrate, and wanted ideas about improving the programs' stance in the community.

Only me and the other invited students had ideas, the club members were all wondering why we would ever feed the kids at all, claiming that that's not what their money should go to, they shouldn't be responsible for those kids, etc. There were more than a few racially insensitive people at the meetings, and very closed minded populations. They proceeded to ignore and laugh off any ideas we had because we thought differently than they did. I join national groups like DoSomething because they accept and promote new, different ideas, and embrace young people getting involved, not the other way around.

I know I'm from the south, so that may not apply everywhere, but these clubs seemed a lot less about community service and a lot more about pushing their religions on everyone. They were only for initiatives to help if it was for their religion, but for those school kids who might have needed breakfast or lunch, there was just no hearing about it. I love helping, but I couldn't help in an environment like that.
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Old 06-21-2013, 11:01 AM   #15
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+1 on Meetup.

I am on the board of a social club whose main event is a weekly walk on Saturday. Although we have 15 or so other events on other dates throughout the month.

We were consistently getting a free listing in the local paper weekend events page. That has since slowed as advertising drives what the paper can print.

We have a website that gets no traffic, and we have a Meetup page, which has gotten us the most consistent inquiries about the group. We continue to focus on Meetup as a way of attracting members.

That said, this group is for single people over age 45. For years, the walks generated younger members who were pre-retirees looking to make additional contacts with a community. Without the newspaper, we are seeing fewer new walkers and more who prefer our weekly happy hours or home pot-lucks. This set is often older retirees.

While our membership has held steady, we aren't attracting younger members, mostly because walking groups are massively popular on Meetup. We continue to puzzle through this.

So, Midcap to answer your question you will need a presence on social media - Meetup, Facebook, etc. But to accomplish that you will need at least 1-2 people who are willing to maintain and be active on the site(s) to keep a conversation going with potential members.

The reality is that electronic social media is the place where younger people are most comfortable -- and for some -- the only way they communicate.

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Old 06-21-2013, 11:39 AM   #16
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Personally, I don't like any club that is too structured (I suspect that many of my younger peers would agree with me). If it has a "president" and a "board', if it requires to be sponsored or a large upfront fee for joining, if it has an extensive list of rules, regulations, codes, etc... then forget it. I see those things as ways for old fogies to keep out certain people they deem to be undesirable to the membership.

My kind of club? Informal and casual, loosely organized (often via social media), low annual fees, ability to participate when I want to and not when I am told to, etc...
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Old 06-21-2013, 11:46 AM   #17
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That is very accurate. I got some local honors as a student from a few different clubs, and then was invited to attend a couple of times. I love doing community service, I initiate community service projects on my own time, but the thought of joining in on one of those clubs after seeing how they operate really disgusts me.

In one of the Kiwanis meetings I attended, a man was talking about how we offer breakfast and lunch all school year and all summer to children in families where they can't eat. He was pointing out how more people don't know about this and kids are showing up to school too hungry and frazzled to concentrate, and wanted ideas about improving the programs' stance in the community.

Only me and the other invited students had ideas, the club members were all wondering why we would ever feed the kids at all, claiming that that's not what their money should go to, they shouldn't be responsible for those kids, etc. There were more than a few racially insensitive people at the meetings, and very closed minded populations. They proceeded to ignore and laugh off any ideas we had because we thought differently than they did. I join national groups like DoSomething because they accept and promote new, different ideas, and embrace young people getting involved, not the other way around.

I know I'm from the south, so that may not apply everywhere, but these clubs seemed a lot less about community service and a lot more about pushing their religions on everyone. They were only for initiatives to help if it was for their religion, but for those school kids who might have needed breakfast or lunch, there was just no hearing about it. I love helping, but I couldn't help in an environment like that.

Maybe it is just me, but why should any club be responsible for feeding kids at school Except for the PTO (and I don't think they should be either), most clubs that do anything with schools (and most do not) are promoting educational opportunities...

People might not agree with it, but there are a lot of federal and state dollars being spent on feeding kids... any club would be a drop of water in an ocean compared to that spending....
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Old 06-21-2013, 11:55 AM   #18
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Maybe it is just me, but why should any club be responsible for feeding kids at school Except for the PTO (and I don't think they should be either), most clubs that do anything with schools (and most do not) are promoting educational opportunities...

People might not agree with it, but there are a lot of federal and state dollars being spent on feeding kids... any club would be a drop of water in an ocean compared to that spending....
It is a federal program. The man speaking at the club was talking about helping spread the word about the program. The people in the club were talking about how their taxes shouldn't go to the program in the first place, saying that the government is ridiculous for having the gall to help these children, that the parents should do it, not the schools, etc.

They didn't just say they don't want to help spread the word to communities who don't know it's offered. They thought the opposite, no one should know it exists because it shouldn't exist.

And here it's not just at school, we feed kids breakfast and lunch year round.

Edit: Actually, it may not be federal, but on the state level. The program isn't through the whole state of Florida, but is provided by the Florida Department of Agriculture.
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Old 06-21-2013, 12:23 PM   #19
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Personally, I don't like any club that is too structured (I suspect that many of my younger peers would agree with me). If it has a "president" and a "board', if it requires to be sponsored or a large upfront fee for joining, if it has an extensive list of rules, regulations, codes, etc... then forget it. I see those things as ways for old fogies to keep out certain people they deem to be undesirable to the membership.

My kind of club? Informal and casual, loosely organized (often via social media), low annual fees, ability to participate when I want to and not when I am told to, etc...
I heard a statistic once that at best 10 percent of a club's membership are actively involved (usually in making up rules and then complaining about why no one in the other 90 percent wants to help them).

As for us, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."
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Old 06-21-2013, 12:33 PM   #20
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It is a federal program. The man speaking at the club was talking about helping spread the word about the program. The people in the club were talking about how their taxes shouldn't go to the program in the first place, saying that the government is ridiculous for having the gall to help these children, that the parents should do it, not the schools, etc.

They didn't just say they don't want to help spread the word to communities who don't know it's offered. They thought the opposite, no one should know it exists because it shouldn't exist.

And here it's not just at school, we feed kids breakfast and lunch year round.

Edit: Actually, it may not be federal, but on the state level. The program isn't through the whole state of Florida, but is provided by the Florida Department of Agriculture.
OK, I now get it....

Yes, there are a lot of people who think the gvmt is doing too much (I am one of them); however, I am one who thinks that feeding kids at school is a good thing... you have to be pretty poor to get it...


It is difficult to deal with a group if most of them have a complete opposite view than you.... but, if you are in the group you sometimes have to accept that the decisions made are not the same ones you would make as an individual....

I will give an example... I was on the board of a charity... they were making a huge financial decision that one member proposed... I was strongly against it as it might have been financial ruin of the charity... we had a few arguments at meetings for a few months... one day when it was brought up I told the guy 'OK, give me your best argument to change my mind'.... his response.... "I don't have to change your mind, just convince 3 others on the board to vote with me"... (that would make it 4 of 7).... kind of put things in perspective....
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