A service club or service organization is a voluntary non-profit organization where members meet regularly to perform charitable works either by direct hands-on efforts or by raising money for other organizations. A service club is defined firstly by its service mission and secondly its membership benefits, such as social occasions, networking, and personal growth opportunities that encourage involvement.
A service organization is not necessarily exclusive of ideological motives, although organizations with such defined motives are more likely to identify themselves through their association. Much like the historical religious organizations that formed the basis for many societal institutions, such as hospitals, service organizations perform many essential services for their community and other worthy causes. In the United States, some of these clubs usually also have a component club organization that is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Many of today's service clubs got their start as social clubs for business networking, but quickly evolved into organizations devoted more to service than to networking, although networking may still be the primary reason many members decided to join.
Historically, most service clubs consist of community-based groups that share the same name, goals, membership requirements, and meeting structure. Many of these clubs meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly on a recurring established day and time, commonly at a mealtime. Most of these clubs started with a single club in a single city, but then replicated themselves by organizing similar clubs in other communities. Many of the service club organizations have become worldwide movements, and have obtained official recognition by the United Nations and various governments as non-governmental organizations (NGO).
Service clubs in this article do not refer to the term "service club" used in the United Kingdom, Australia, and some other Commonwealth countries, in which those groups consist of clubs for members of "the services", a common expression for the military or uniformed forces. In the Americas, these types of clubs are commonly known as veterans' organizations or veterans' fraternal groups.
The world's first service club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, was formed in 1905 by Paul P. Harris, an attorney who wanted to create in a professional club with the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth. The Rotary name derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among members' offices.
Many of these service clubs were started early in the 20th century, such as Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary International, Civitan International, Order of DeMolay, Apex Clubs of Australia, Altrusa International, JCI, Sertoma, Exchange, Optimists, Soroptimists, KIN Canada, Zonta, Quota International, Round Table.
- Charles, Jeffrey A. (1993). Service Clubs in American Society: Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-02015-5.