Saturday, September 27, 2008
As a writer, I’ve had the opportunity to give presentations to a number of service organizations including Rotary, Kiwanis and Optimist Clubs. These are great organizations with missions to help others, primarily youth. The irony is that most of the members at the organizations I’ve spoken to are in their mid-sixties and older. Many of these organizations are struggling to build membership, particularly younger members. I’m reminded of a book that came out in 2000 titled Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. Putnam’s thesis is that people in the United States are no longer collecting in community as they once did. This is the same trend that can be seen in the decline of the membership in service organizations. There are several logical reasons for the recruitment challenge faced by service organizations. First, younger people are focused on their careers and families. I remember back to when we had three kids at home. Between the homework, concerts, plays and sporting events, my wife and I were extremely busy with kid activities. Now that the kids are grown and have moved away and we are retired, we have more time available for other activities. Some of the service organizations do pick up older members who join when they have more time to give. Second, I do agree with Putman that there has been a decline in the willingness to join in community projects. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who volunteer and make significant contributions to their communities. I just think that a larger percentage of people now are forgoing this opportunity to contribute.