What is Kiwanis?

On January 21, 1915 in Detroit, Allen Simpson Browne created a business organization named Benevolent Orders Brothers (BOB).  It didn't take long for the BOBs to change their name to Kiwanis, coined from an expression in an American Indian language of the Detroit area, Nunc Kee-wanis, which means, "we trade" or "we have a good time."  Before the Detroit club received its state charter, the members were distributing Christmas baskets to the poor. A lively debate ensued between those who supported community service as the Kiwanis mission and those who supported the exchange of business. By 1919, the service advocates won the debate. The group then changed their "We Trade" motto to "We Build" and chose a new purpose: service.

Kiwanis became international with the organization of the Kiwanis Club of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1916.  Kiwanis limited its membership to the United States and Canada until 1962, when worldwide expansion was approved. Since then, Kiwanis has spread to all inhabited continents of the globe.

Today, Kiwanis International has more than 300,000 members worldwide in 8,700 clubs. Key Club, the high-school clubs sponsored by Kiwanis, has more than 500,000 members in 5,000 high schools, mostly in the United States and Canada.  Circle K clubs for collegians, KIWIN'S clubs also for high schoolers, Builders clubs for junior high, K-Kids clubs for elementary students, and Aktion clubs for adults with disabilities make up the rest of the Kiwanis family of service clubs.

Kiwanis and the clubs it sponsors promote the ideals of voluntary service as a means to improve lives, create fellowship and give back to the community.  The primary objectives of the club are best described within the six Objects of Kiwanis approved in 1924 and unchanged since:

  • 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, to render altruistic service, and to build better communities.
  • To cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high idealism which make possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism, and goodwill.