From navy toenails with rhinestone Ks on them to a voicemail that asks, “Have you asked someone to join Kiwanis today?”, Susan Hennum lives and breathes Kiwanis. She offers advice about creating change, being flexible and improving an organization she loves.
Hennum’s adventure with Kiwanis began in 1987—when women were first allowed in.
“I was invited by a friend who was in a Garland (Texas) leadership program,” the now-Garland, Texas, Kiwanis Club member says. “I came into the club and really enjoyed it.”
Since then, she has worn many hats, serving as club president, risk management chairwoman and governor of the Texas-Oklahoma district. In 2012, her governor’s project—collecting thousands of shoes for children in orphanages and raising thousands to purchase even more with Buckner International’s Shoes for Orphan Souls—was even recognized by the White House when she was honored as one of 14 Champions of Change.
During her stint as governor, Susan decided to turn her focus to helping other Kiwanis clubs and members create the type of Kiwanis experience that she enjoys.
“I realized the district was losing members…I wanted the clubs to know that they had choices and that I was there to help them,” she says.
When counseling clubs, she says, the first thing to do is assess the situation. Where does the club meet? What does it do? And what does it want to do?
The goal is simple: “Train them how to take care of themselves.” That means clubs need to be willing to see change and be part of making it happen.
“The main thing that counseling taught me is that no matter how much I want to help someone, they have to want to help themselves … When someone says, ‘I want to get help. I want to do this’, do they follow through?” she asks.
So, what’s her formula for club health? Meetings should contain four things, summarized by the acronym “FLIP”: They should be Fun, contain Leadership, be Interesting and have a Program.
“We started out making sure that the club is enjoyable. Then, do you have leaders in place? If you don’t have the leaders in place, you’re not having programs, you’re not interesting, how can you expect to do a major membership program?”
She has one simple message to other Kiwanians interested in strengthening the organization: “Everything you present has to be about making Kiwanis better.”
Above all, she knows that evolution means being open-minded. So she started Project Membership, which allows young professionals who cannot attend lunch meetings to pay less for dues by excluding the cost of meeting meals.
“Clubs need to be flexible if they want to attract young professionals,” she argues. “We maybe have to let the idea of a traditional club go.”
She is currently working to put her vision for Kiwanis’ future into action. Having recently opened a young professionals e-club in her district for CKI and Key Club alumni, she is currently setting up mentoring in different professionals between the members and local Kiwanians—alongside a scholarship fund to help them pay for their dues.
“We don’t do a good job of attracting former SLP members and young professionals into our clubs. Kiwanis can not only offer a networking arena for these young professionals, we have the ability to mentor. Our long time members have much to offer in this area … I feel strongly that we have to replace ourselves and this is how we can do it!,” she says. — Courtney Meyer