are social clubs dead?
November 16, 2011 5:56 PM   Subscribe

are social clubs like Rotary dead?
posted by parmanparman to Education (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
No. At least in Massachusetts they provide significant networking opportunity for people in business and the non-profit community. They also do a lot of fundraising. At least that's true of Rotary. I can't speak to others.
posted by alms at 5:58 PM on November 16, 2011

It depends entirely on where you are. I spent my first 20 years in Pennsylvania and barely heard the name mentioned, and then I moved to small-town Delaware and the Rotary Club was a force. Weekly meetings with high-profile members and higher-profile guests, and they actually did stuff - they were the prime movers behind the construction a fairly nifty playground for disabled children in town.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:58 PM on November 16, 2011

No. Why are you asking? They're incredibly active in rural communities like the one I live in where many of the business people belong to Rotary and they do a lot of philanthropic works and arrange a lot of social activities. Fraternal orders are having a tougher time of it, again depending on where you are.
posted by jessamyn at 6:00 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

From Ms. Vegetable:
My dad has been a member of Kiwanis Club for ... 35 years? They do stuff every year - last weekend was the annual lobster sale. Very big club. Very busy club. So I say no, they're not dead.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:01 PM on November 16, 2011

No. Their visibility in major urban areas may be lower than it used to be, but they're definitely still around and doing just fine.

Rotary International's membership is about 1.2 million worldwide, and Lions Clubs International are just over 1.3 million. Kiwanis is about an order of magnitude smaller with only 275,000 members, but Freemasonry sports about two million members in the US and six million worldwide.

So no, these things aren't exactly dominant socio-cultural institutions, but they never really were. They are, however, continuing to serve their function as widespread and significant service organizations which occupy an important social role in many communities.
posted by valkyryn at 6:06 PM on November 16, 2011

They are alive and kicking ass in my neck of the woods.
posted by Kerasia at 6:10 PM on November 16, 2011

My mother was the administrative head of Pittsburgh Rotary. She provided the continuity for the presidents, that were each elected for just one year. According to her, the relevance and effectiveness of Pittsburgh Rotary had a lot to do with who was president that year.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:18 PM on November 16, 2011

I think you want Putnam's ever-so-famous "Bowling Alone."

I distinguish between the part-networking part-service organizations like the Rotary, Kiwanis, Jaycees, etc, which are still alive if not vibrant in my rural area, and the strictly social clubs/fraternal orders like the Elks, Moose and similar. In my region (rural Adirondacks/New England), those places are very very popular alternatives to bars, and also do stuff like community barbecues and sponsoring Little League teams, but very little of the economic development type stuff Rotary et. al. get up to.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:24 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think coverage of their activities has changed and might give a more moribund impression than is really warranted. But demographic and social changes are a factor in what you are seeing, though: TV, tons of kids activities, non-agrarian lifestyle, suburbanization.

Reading vintage small-city daily (early 1950s to early 1970s) and exurban/rural weekly bugles (1880s to 1960s) published where I grew up has revealed a strong social and service culture. Mom and Gram in the 50s and before were constantly busy not only with meetings but with socializing ("... and a good time was had by all")! And they both worked full-time jobs, "put up" food, and had a big house and garden.

Now such organizational information is disseminated more to members, I think, via email or snail-mail newsletters or organizations' Web pages. While today you might not think to go to a group's site, in the past you would see the coverage in your newspapers. (Both the daily and weekly I referred to still publish, but the daily has changed its coverage.)

Also many groups have consolidated. My Gram's "lodge" cooked for the monthly(?) Rotary meeting in town. The Rotary now has been combined with another town's.

I agree with Jessamyn about fraternal orders, which once thrived in places such as where she is located and where I am from. It is sad, and I regret making fun of them as my brothers and I did when we were kids. Many of them were mutual insurance and/or loan societies, and the need has changed.

Today, as my 'hood has changed, I am wistfully envious when I read those meeting notices and social columns.
posted by jgirl at 6:38 PM on November 16, 2011

My father was active in the Rotary clubs of Petaling Jaya, Malaysia and of Panchsheela Park, New Delhi, India over his working career as was my mother in the Inner Wheel clubs. They are thriving afaik on this of the world.

(And probably responsible for the massive national polio vaccination drive across India coming off smoothly. Rotary has excellent reputation for actively making change in their communities)
posted by infini at 8:25 PM on November 16, 2011

[on this side of the world]
posted by infini at 8:27 PM on November 16, 2011

As far as I can tell, the Rotary is still alive and kicking. All my rural (Canadian) cousins went on Rotary exchanges in high school.

The thing about these clubs was that in the post-war boom, people who grew up dirt poor in the Depression and came of age during World War II were suddenly Middle Class! at about the same time that they were getting married and buying brand new houses in the brand new suburbs. And in addition to mowing the lawn and walking the dog, they joined the Masons or the Shriners or the Optimists or whatever.

Presently that generation is dying off, so there's probably a fairly substantial decline in numbers. Very soon, however, their children, the baby boomers, will be retiring in droves and will have nothing to do with themselves. I have a feeling those little cars are staying in the parade.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:03 PM on November 16, 2011

Pfft. Not in my town. Rotary runs the largest charity events of the year (and does them quite well, I might add).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:26 PM on November 16, 2011

The Knights of Columbus is growing in New York City for the first time in a couple decades.
posted by Jahaza at 9:40 PM on November 16, 2011

My small southern hometown will never allow the local Lions Club to die and take with it the annual charity all-you-can eat pancake supper. Those towering cake stacks are as ambrosia unto the gods.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:39 PM on November 16, 2011

I think it really depends on the club type and local conditions. Clearly, for example, as infini notes, Rotary and some other service clubs are doing gangbusters in South Asia especially. There are cultural differences which may account for this, and when Rotarians did exchanges (I was a member of the younger-demographic auxiliary called Rotaract), you could see these sometimes pretty starkly. Local clubs are very dependent on a certain type of talent to sustain them, as well. It can only take a few years of lackluster leadership to sink an individual club.

Do they serve the same purpose in the modern social mediated world? That probably remains to be seen, but they probably provide significant value nevertheless (e.g. I can see big differences in the social milieu of my FB, G+, and LinkedIn networks where none would replace the other).

Locally, we have a Lions Club that seems to be feeling a bit of a strain keeping things going, but still has some game members. We even have an Odd Fellows Lodge that has survived from the 19th century (partly at least by owning a commercial building). There are other groups, too, like Zonta and Kiwanis and so forth.

Ah, but my dad's first group was the Y's Men (pronounce it), and that hasn't existed for years (but the whole focus of the Y overall has changed).

The truly social groups like the Elks and the Moose, both of whom have dinner lodges, seem to be sailing along just fine. And the Noon Rotary Club (yes, there's a morning club too) sponsors a huge harvest corn roast event that raises a lot of money and seems to be attended by everyone in town who matters. But our Jaycees group was permanently, I gather, imploded by the difficulty of putting on our Fourth of July celebration, which nearly foundered under the club's lack of depth of talent and effort outside of a small, dedicated, but overwhelmed circle.

I think these examples show ways in which clubs can be tied to an institution, like a building or event, and live or die on its success or failure. Others are just out there and can disappear without being really missed.
posted by dhartung at 12:26 AM on November 17, 2011

In my hometown (total population of 17000 or so) there are:

Moose Lodge
Knights of Columbus
Canadian Club (Local)
Mutuo (Again Local)

They are all fairly actuve possibly less so than in the past, but more people will belong to multiple clubs to keep the activity level of all of them up a bit. I know that the Mutuo does some awesome feeds with excellent homestyle Italian cooking with (possibly illegal but damn tasty and traditional) homecured meats.

SO to answer your question: Nope.
posted by koolkat at 2:22 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

no, but at least in my small town, they are struggling in attendance. I have been in Kiwanis for about 15 years and we are still doing all the same things, but with about half the members.

The local evening Lions just disbanded after decades, but we have Rotary, Noon Lions, Kiwanis, AMBUCS, Junior Service League.

All of them do great work for our community but membership is down across the board.
posted by domino at 6:30 AM on November 17, 2011

Well, I actually work in the building that houses Rotary's world headquarters. There are a lot of rotarians coming in and out of here all the time.
posted by kpmcguire at 6:37 AM on November 17, 2011

The connection-between-business-and-nonprofits thing is a very valuable aspect of Rotary at this point, yes. But yeah, it's still fairly active.
posted by penduluum at 8:26 AM on November 17, 2011

Presently that generation is dying off, so there's probably a fairly substantial decline in numbers

In Freemasonry (I am a demitted member of the fraternity) the die off stopped a few years ago, and the numbers are more or less holding. A lot of members are still dying off, but they are being replaced by new members. Twenty or even ten years ago, there was a big decline.. not a factor anymore.
posted by Intrepid at 8:29 AM on November 17, 2011

I was a member of Rotary in my community for about five years but for the past three years I've resigned while I have a young family but I plan to get back into it someday. Clubs vary widely, as others note, but a common theme trumpeted by the national chapter was a goal to retain membership and attract younger members. Rotary is growing worldwide but in the United States it is shrinking.

It depends where you look. You can find moribund clubs in the United States but you can find clubs that have waiting lists for membership and are the hub of many good things happening in communities. I believe they are on the decline but I think they serve a niche for business minded people to be charitable together. Long term I think they are healthy but people may be over stressed in the United States right now to pay the dues and spend the time on charitable action.
posted by dgran at 8:34 AM on November 17, 2011

In my north-west UK town, the Lions Club put on the enormous annual bonfire each year. There was also a Soroptimists organisation, which seemed a similar deal for female professionals.
posted by mippy at 8:52 AM on November 17, 2011

Also, the Women's Institute/WI is a social club of sorts, and many young women are actually starting chapters in cities in the UK.
posted by mippy at 8:53 AM on November 17, 2011

I have a friend who got together a few of his friends and revived a local Odd Fellows lodge a bit with new blood. A lot of the older generation are less active or passing away, so a small group of young people can revive or take over a local lodge that would otherwise go out of business. Some of them have great meeting halls! Odd Fellows apparently (or maybe just this lodge in particular) have no huge grand purpose other than some charity, socializing and parties, and just a little bit of mystical ritual, so it always seemed pretty easy and fun to be a part of to me.
posted by thefool at 1:00 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

thefool, that is great! My grampa was an Odd Fellow and mom and gram were Rebekahs. Gram and Grampa were way up there. Not only did the Rotary the Rebekahs cooked for consolidate, their Rebekah lodge (the name and number) seems to be three towns over in the next county.

I do think there may have been a stronger drop in the women's groups like Eastern Star and Rebekahs.

Grange numbers have dropped and were a concern even in the early sixties. In Washington state, the Grange is growing. It warmed my heart to see the flag flying over Fidelity Grange Hall on the way from Seattle to Anacortes.
posted by jgirl at 5:27 PM on December 4, 2011

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