By Payal Gangishetti
Nonprofit Sector News
June 26, 2020
Like many local and other national nonprofit organizations, aging membership is a problem for the United States Junior Chamber, or as it is more commonly known, the Jaycees.
The Jaycees is a leadership training and civic organization for people between the ages 18 and 40. Since its national founding in 1920, the Jaycees has helped more than 12 million young adults in the United States and about 20 million worldwide became leaders in their communities. But the group, which seeks to develop leadership skills through community service, individual training, management skills and business development, is still experiencing an annual membership decline of about 11 to 15 percent.
Justin Wutzke, national president of JCI(USA) said, “Our numbers clearly show that we have been on a steady decline. During the early 1990s, the members of the organization concentrated more on word-of-mouth and network marketing instead of recruiting and encouraging more young people to get involved with the organization’s mission.”
Today, the Jaycees—headquartered in Tulsa, Okla.—has 12,000 members and 400 clubs in the United States, down from the peak of 350,000 in 1976. Moreover, about 300 chapters now have only about 10 to 15 members and only five to 10 chapters have more than 100 members.
Speaking about the plight of how some chapters, such as those in Connecticut, went dormant for some years now, Wutzke said that some state Jaycee organizations want to have control over these local chapters and it is becoming difficult for them to operate. “The Jaycees Connecticut
chapter has lost 50 members in the last two years. It doesn’t have a state representation for over three years now,” he said.
Wutzke said various civic organizations also have experienced a sudden decline in membership over the last three decades due to various reasons like generational and cultural differences. (In fact, many people refer to it as “bowling alone,” after Robert D. Putnam’s bestselling book by that name in 2000. But not all older civic organizations have had the same experience: for example, Lions Club International, founded 1917, has 1.4 million members in 48,000 clubs in almost every country in the world, and about 300 staff members.)
“Unlike any other organization, we are struggling for engagement,” Wutzke says. “Nowadays, college-goers tend to spend their extra time on after school programs and other fun activities. Everything is available on the internet, it has become difficult to attract young people towards community and leadership development activities as they find them to be boring or show no interest.”
Sharlene Duzick, president of the Santa Clarita, Calif., Jaycees chapter and a 20-year member, said, “Teamwork plays an important role in making any organization successful. It’s very important for the members to have face-to-face conversations to solve issues, but these days with the advancement in technology we are losing human connections. Working as a team and trying to reach out to the local communities is what our chapter is working on.”
However, to increase its overall membership rate, the Jaycees is coming up with innovative ideas to reach the public on social media platforms such as TikTok, Facebook and Instagram.
The organization is also concentrating on training its alumni network so that former members can act as mentors and provide career guidance, advice on leadership skills, and encourage younger people to achieve their goals.
On the question about changing the age limit of 40 would make any difference in attracting more members, Wutzke said, “Unless the older members of the organization are more open-minded about providing young people an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, nothing much will
Lamenting the fact how media and the government have shaped public opinion on leadership roles, Wutzke said that these days people think leadership is something that is not attainable by everyone. “We as a society don’t do a good job in making people believe in themselves. We live in a world where we shame ourselves and others, and deal with several mental health issues. Having an opportunity to personally grow and develop is very important and this is what youngsters need to understand.”
Centenary year celebrations canceled
This year, the Jaycees is celebrating 100 years as a national organization. As part of the year-long celebrations, various community and leadership development events were scheduled to take place but, due to the global corona virus pandemic, most programs had to be canceled. However,
the organization has not decided yet whether it should cancel the 2020 JCI World Congress, scheduled for November 3-7 in Yokohama, Japan.
Wutzke said, “Considering the present pandemic situation, the Congress is most likely to be a virtual event, but the organization will take a decision on it only next month” (July).
Meanwhile, Jaycees is planning to soon raise awareness about mental health issues by collaborating with other organizations concerned about it. “Mental health is not getting due attention these days,” Wutzke said. “We want to work with research centers, educational institutions and similar other organizations, where we can come up with project plans that can be
implemented at the community level and help people deal with mental health problems.”
Fundraising amidst global pandemic
While the coronavirus pandemic has put on hold many key project activities in the organization’s fundraising calendar, it hasn’t stopped the Jaycees from raising some amount through organizing virtual events. In the last two months, as many as 815 members have undergone leadership and
communication development training virtually. “Some of our local chapter members have managed to bring guest speakers and organize virtual training to the youngsters,” said Wutzke.
However, Wutzke added, lack of funds have always been an issue. The organization receives $25,000 per year from the Bill Gates Foundation to carry out advocacy work and meet various expenses. However, these funds are barely sufficient, adds Wutzke.
He said the organization mostly depends on local donors and fundraising activities such as pancake breakfasts and other leadership building programs to raise money for their projects, but the sudden lockdown has hampered all fundraising.
One message that Wutzke tries to give to the current generation of younger people is to find an environment that will give them a safe space to fail and learn from mistakes, an environment where they can be vulnerable and learn the skills that are needed to move closer to the goals they wants to achieve.