Some Kiwanis clubs have interesting ways to welcome new members

Tony Knoderer | Aug 31, 2020


The best Kiwanis clubs consistently add new members. After all, fresh energy and novel ideas are the lifeblood of successful service. That’s why attracting people to Kiwanis is one of the primary responsibilities for clubs — and a hallmark of those that last.

The process doesn’t end with successful recruitment. What happens when new members arrive?

Parades and brass brands aren’t necessary. In fact, some clubs have figured out that a personalized touch can make a bigger first impression than the greatest fanfare. Objects as modest as aprons and cards are creative solutions to a key practical matter: inspiring new members to keep coming back.

A welcome that works
An apron isn’t meant to be fancy or showy. It’s useful, functional — it has a job and does it. That might make it seem an odd choice as the centerpiece of an important ceremony. But for the Kiwanis Club of Independence, Ohio, that’s part of the point.

Since the club itself was chartered in 1952, a Kiwanis apron has been presented to new members at induction ceremonies as a symbol of the work they were about to join in.

“In those days, it was a symbol that Kiwanis was a working organization,” says Edie Schilla, current club secretary. “I knew one of the founding members, and that was the thing: ‘We work.’ Members knew they were expected to do service and be on committees.”

The club doesn’t just offer the apron as a symbol of service and effort. Each of the other members signs it — a way of saying that they’re all in it together.

Of course, that’s also a good way for the inductees to start pairing names with faces. During meetings in which new members are inducted, an apron-signing session is one of the last activities. Veteran members give their autographs, introduce themselves and discuss club matters with the newcomers.

“They come up to the table — we have markers and pens to use — and they can introduce themselves, shake hands, whatever,” Schilla says. “The committee members get to introduce themselves too.”

She chuckles. “And maybe recruit a little.”

Meaning for members
The Kiwanis Club of Monticello, New York, also welcomes new members with signed aprons — and the signing helps serve the same familiarizing function. In Monticello, however, the new members go to the others.

The club likes to call in the lieutenant governor for its installation ceremonies, says Kathy Garlick, the club’s secretary. “Usually right after the lieutenant governor installs (the new members), they go around and get the apron signed,” she adds. “Everyone gets a chance to socialize — to talk about how long they’ve been in the club, the time when they were installed.”

The apron itself doesn’t have a symbolic intent in Monticello, but in practical terms it offers the same reminder: Kiwanis service is about volunteer work. After all, the aprons come in handy at club events.

“We’ve done barbecues, fish fries — we’re always doing something like that,” Garlick says. “Some of the folks who have been with us for years wear theirs.”

Of course, other members prefer to have a well-preserved memento of their first Kiwanis moments. How people use their aprons — or whether they do at all — is up to each of them. Those who wear them to events, Garlick says, find that a signature-filled Kiwanis apron provides another convenience.

“They’re a good conversation starter. Wear it to a fundraiser and people will ask, ‘What is that?’ You tell them, and they start to learn a little about the club.”

Building a new custom
The Kiwanis Club of Brantford, Ontario, knows all about tradition too. The club celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Along the way, longevity has taught them that success is a matter of membership strength — particularly the club’s appeal to younger adults.

For many years, the Brantford club welcomed members with apron signings. But these were builders’ aprons, says Joanne Murray, the club’s membership chair.

“It was back when the Kiwanis motto was ‘We Build,’” Murray says. “It was a sign that we intended to be builders: ‘We build strength in kids.’ But it seemed a little dated when Kiwanis stopped using it as a tagline.”

A change came a few years ago, when the club took a top-to-bottom look at its operations — including the way it welcomed new members.

“We did a full review of what works and what doesn’t, particularly when it comes to getting younger members,” Murray says. “And that’s why we did what we did.”

What they did: start presenting new members with a printed card that features the other members’ photos. As with the Monticello club, new members go to the others for their signatures — a space is provided under each thumbnail photo — and for the get-to-know-you conversations that result.

The card itself is coming in handy even in the midst of the pandemic. In July, the club was planning a welcoming ceremony via Zoom for a new corporate member. The card was still part of the plan — in this case, to be dropped off afterward at the corporate member’s office.

When the pandemic ends, other new members will be encouraged to bring theirs in to get signed. After all, it’s ultimately more than a new custom. The autograph-gathering has been written into club policy.

“It’s not just tradition,” Murray says. “The card serves a purpose."


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