Kiwanis International

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Non profit
Volunteer Service
Originally started as a networking club for businessmen, Kiwanis International is an organization primarily focusing its efforts on services to children on an international level. Kiwanis is a membership-based organization with 600,000 members and clubs in 80 different nations. The organization is primarily known for its fundraising efforts and its health related causes for children including iodine deficiency disorder elimination and infant and maternal tetanus elimination programs.

Written by Faith Branch



Kiwanis International is a global, volunteer-led membership-based organization consisting of individual Kiwanis Clubs. Kiwanis members select various projects that empower communities to improve the world by making lasting differences in the lives of children. The vision of the organization is to be a positive influence in communities worldwide – so that one day, all children will wake up in communities that believe in them, nurture them, and provide the support they need to thrive (Kiwanis International).

Kiwanis International also provides leadership and service opportunities for youth through its Service Leadership Programs. Aktion Club, Key Club, Circle K, Builders Club and K-Kids are part of Kiwanis Service Leadership Programs. They are sponsored by a local Kiwanis club and receive funding and leadership guidance from Kiwanis.

Kiwanis’ motto is “Serving the Children of the World”. Kiwanis has six permanent objects: to give primacy to the human and spiritual rather than to the material values of life; to encourage the daily living of the Golden Rule in all human relationships; to promote the adoption and the application of higher social, business, and professional standards; to develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive, and serviceable citizenship; to provide, through Kiwanis clubs, a practical means to form enduring friendships, render altruistic service and to build better communities; and to cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high idealism which make possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism, and goodwill (Kiwanis Internationl).


Historic Roots

Kiwanis International was originally the creation of a group of businessmen for networking opportunities. The organization was established in 1915 in Detroit, MI as the Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order of Brothers, but a year later received the name “Kiwanis” which was derived from a Native American phrase which translates to “we trade.” Kiwanis International eventually adopted its present day motto “serving children of the world” as the organization became more focused on service for children inspired by the desire to contribute to the community (Charles 1993, p. 3-5).

The organization became global in 1916 with the founding of its first Canadian club in Ontario. After World War I, the influence of Kiwanis spread more rapidly and in the 1960’s eventually boasted clubs in 80 different nations and geographic locations (Ibidem).

Kiwanis International was originally a male-only organization but invited women to become members in 1987. They have since prided themselves on being an all-inclusive organization approving a resolution in 2008 that called for Kiwanis clubs to foster inclusiveness. To ensure this inclusiveness, Kiwanis leaders are encouraged to take action to create a culture and club environment that develops and nurtures mutual respect for all people who wish to be part of the club and those who they serve (Kiwanis International).



There are currently 600,000 Kiwanians in more than 80 countries hosting nearly 150,000 service projects each year. Kiwanis is especially active in the community and local efforts in identifying and catering to important needs. Kiwanis members devote more than 6 million hours of service and raise almost $100 million every year for their communities. Kiwanis International has provided community services such as building all-access playgrounds, creating food pantries, hosting diversity fairs and more (Kiwanis International).

Kiwanis places emphasis on establishing future community leaders by creating programs for youth and young adults. Kiwanis also created The Eliminate Project: Kiwanis eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus. The organization partners with UNICEF to eliminate the deadly disease tetanus, and has raised $110 million since 2010. Eighteen different countries receive tetanus vaccinations from funding from this Kiwanis program (Kiwanis International).

Similar to the tetanus elimination program, Kiwanis raised $105 million toward eliminating iodine deficiency disorders, and works with the Iodine Global Network to ensure global iodine nutrition. UNICEF has deemed this program one of the most successful health initiatives ever.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Kiwanis International was one of the first service clubs established in the United States and is regarded as one of “the big three” service clubs. Kiwanis along with the International Association of Lions Clubs and Rotary International make up 90 percent of the total service club memberships. Kiwanis enables the community to actively and easily participate in civic service events and volunteering, while engaging with others on a global scale. Because the clubs are mostly comprised of business personnel, Kiwanis encourages networking while also strengthening the communities where the businesses are located (Charles, 1993, p. 1-3).

Individual Kiwanis clubs promote and engage in volunteer projects and community service activities, keeping individuals invested in their communities and philanthropic development.


Key Related Ideas

  • Service Clubs are membership based, voluntary organizations whose members identify and meet the needs of those within the community and generally have one community-based focus.
  • Fraternal Orders are organizations that have social or cultural aims and exclusive memberships. There are generally many units that are split into various geographic areas all holding united purpose and laws.
  • Circle K International is an international collegiate service organization that is a sub organization of Kiwanis International. The focus of the organization is to promote service and leadership among the community youth.
  • Key Club is an international high school organization that is a sub organization of Kiwanis International. The focus of the organization is to promote service and family leadership with high school students.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Joseph G. Prance is one of the founders of Kiwanis International. He, along with Allen S. Browne, started the organization as a way to network with fellow professional men to provide both social and commercial benefits to the club and the community.
  • Jay N. Emerson started the first Circle K International club for college students at the State College of Washington. He purchased the “Circle K House” which was also the first Circle K location.
  • George F. Hixson was Kiwanis International’s first president and the only one to serve two terms.
  • Craig Melvin, an Emmy nominee and American news anchor for NBC News and MSNBC, was the first African-American International President for Kiwanis International. He also served as a senior counselor for South Carolina’s Palmetto Boys State program.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Rotary International is a global community service organization with local clubs that creates a network of people who elect to work together to identify and address issues within the community and provide humanitarian aid. 
  • Lions Clubs International is the largest global community service club organization and focuses on a variety of community needs on both a local and global scale.  The Lions Clubs focus mainly on preventing blindness, drug abuse and, disaster preparedness. 
  • The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is a program implemented by the United Nations focusing on providing humanitarian aid to children in developing countries specializing in creating healthy environments especially in a states of emergency. These efforts are focused on vaccinations, information sessions for communities, and funding for programming.


Reflection Question - Kiwanis International was started initially for networking purposes and was reconstructed to focus more on youth needs within the community. Other than networking, what do you think professionals in the workforce gain from joining service clubs?



  • Arnold, Oren. The Widening Path: an Interpretive Record of Kiwanis. [1st ed. Chicago]: Kiwanis International, 1949.
  • Charles, Jeffrey A. Service Clubs in American Society: Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions. University of Illinois  Press, 1993.
  • Hapgood, L. A. The Men Who Wear the K : the Story of Kiwanis / L. A. "larry" Hapgood. [S.l.]: Kiwanis International, 1981.
  • Jonak, Chuck. The Kiwanis Legacy. [Chicago Ill.]: Kiwanis International, 2004.
  • “Make a World of Difference.” Home.
  • Moss, John H. We Build: The Story of Kiwanis. Chicago: John F Cuneo, 1944.                                                                                                                                             
  • The Hoosier Kiwanian. Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana District of Kiwanis International.
  • The Widening Path: An Interpretive Record of Kiwanis. Chicago: Kiwanis International, 1949.


This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.