100 Years of Leadership, Service, and Fellowship

Kin Canada

Across the Great White North, Kin Canada members operate hundreds of small clubs in their local communities. These members, who proudly refer to themselves as “Kin”, are like-minded people united in a common goal: to Serve the Community’s Greatest Need.

In 2020, this national, all-Canadian service organization will celebrate its 100th anniversary and head into its second century as a staple of communities from coast to coast. After learning about this Association, it is evident why Kin Canada has experienced the longevity many organizations aspire to.

Kin Canada had a humble beginning but the spirit of Kin quickly spread across the country. It started when Founder Harold A. Rogers (known as “Founder Hal”) returned from war and found he deeply missed the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers. He tried to join his local Rotary club where his father was a member but he was denied membership. At the time, Rotary only permitted one member from each employment classification per club. Since Hal worked as a salesman in the plumbing industry with his father, Hal’s application was declined.

Not a person to be outdone, Hal, then 21 years old, decided to create a new club where members could enjoy leadership, service, and fellowship. As a result of his initiative, a small group of like-minded men gathered for a dinner meeting on February 20, 1920 and formed what became known as the Kinsmen Club of Hamilton – Canada’s first Kinsmen Club.

With Founder Hal and the founding members at the helm, Kin Canada expanded quickly from Ontario throughout Canada. “It caught on like wildfire early on,” says Executive Director Grant Ferron, describing how the organization expanded from Hamilton into Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and then Calgary. “It just seemed to resonate with a lot of people across Canada, particularly its local focus.”

From the start, Kin Canada has had fellowship as a central pillar of club operations. “We are all tied by that common bond of all being Kin,” Ferron says. Despite being spread out across different provinces and operating mostly independent of each other, Kin from all different clubs quickly make friends who feel family all over Canada.

From just nine clubs in 1926 to over four hundred today, another pillar of Kin Canada is its long history of community service. One of Kin Canada’s early service successes was its ‘Milk for Britain’ campaign in the 1940s. Hearing a radio call for help from Britain during World War II, Founder Hal rallied Kin and Canadians together to raise $3 million (approximately $45 million today) and shipped 50 million quarts of powdered milk for children who were starving.

In gratitude for his efforts, Founder Hal was made an Officer of the Order of British Empire in 1948.

Over the past 100 years, this spirit of giving and engaging communities has been carried on by tens of thousands of Kinsmen, Kinettes, and Kin.

National and local presence
In more recent decades, Kin has maintained a strong partnership with Cystic Fibrosis Canada since 1964, and has raised over $47.6 million in support of research and patient care. When the partnership was first adopted, children with the disease were not expected to live past the age of four. Today, people with cystic fibrosis often live into their mid-50s and beyond. An extra year of life for a CF child has been earned for almost every year of Kin support. Annually, Kin clubs donate approximately $1 million to the cause. By June 2020, they have the goal of reaching the $50 million milestone.

The association is also a National Partner for Life with Canadian Blood Services and its members donated over 1,300 units of blood in 2018 alone – 188 percent of Kin Canada’s goal that year. This success is due to members adopting blood clinics, encouraging community members to link their donations to the Kin partner ID, and making it a club event to give blood together. Kin also actively promotes organ and tissue donation awareness.

Kin Canada is also proud to have a volunteer board of trustees which operates the Hal Rogers Endowment Fund Kin Canada Bursaries program. This fund was implemented in 1994 following the passing of Founder Hal who was an advocate for “providing and promoting the finest and most effective education possible for our young people.” Since inception, the program has awarded $1.1 million in $1000 bursaries to Canadian post-secondary students. Within the program, there are currently five named bursaries to recognize individuals and organizations that have supported the fund. The number of bursaries awarded each year depends on the amount raised and Kin Canada welcomes individual and corporate donations. In 2020, the association will award 100 bursaries to deserving students.

Yet while these programs showcase Kin Canada’s service nationally and internationally, the association’s primary efforts are at a local level. Following Kin Canada’s motto, to ‘Serve the Community’s Greatest Need,’ individual clubs determine exactly what that community’s greatest need is. Clubs then decide on their own how they want to fundraise and where to invest in their own community. This allows much greater flexibility at the local level while still requiring clubs to align with national governing documents. As Ferron explains, regional differences necessitate clubs’ freedom of choice. “What might be a community need in London, Ontario may not be the same in Lac La Biche, in Alberta,” he says.

Kin Canada’s local efforts to address these community needs comprise a wide variety of programs, from charity events such as Christmas tree sales and comedy nights to golf tournaments. The needs served by these events are equally varied; projects could help build playgrounds and community housing, supply resources to schools, or raise funds for essential services like hospital wards, fire trucks, and air ambulances. The results are self-evident, as over the 2018-2019 Kin year, members raised over $20.1 million and collectively gave over 530,000 volunteer hours. Since 1920, members have contributed over $1 billion.

From the top
The association’s national strategic direction and objectives are determined by an elected board of directors. As Executive Director, Ferron acts as the liaison between the board (that has directors living in different parts of the country) and the small group of dedicated staff who work out of the national headquarters office in Cambridge, Ontario.

Staff develop resources and provide administrative support in the areas of risk management, membership services, education and training, service, partnerships, marketing, and communications. This is no small task as there are hundreds of clubs and thousands of members who are divided into eight distinct districts, mostly along provincial lines.

These districts are managed by volunteer governors, all annually elected by fellow members in their district. Governors work with their district councils to connect clubs in their districts and make them aware of important information coming from the national level. Governors are also able to be more in touch with members in their region and have a better understanding of the needs of those communities.

As Ferron remarks, “If, at a national level, we were to determine what those needs would be, we would be really out of touch with the local community.” This is why governors are an essential part of smooth operations. Districts are further divided up by zones with deputy governors. Zones then have individual clubs who have executives of their own.

As club members, deputy governors, and governors are the boots on the ground, the role of national is to empower and equip members with the skills and resources to succeed. “The broad support we are able to provide helps members run successful clubs and be empowered to make a difference in their own community,” says Ferron.

Beyond its community service and support programs, Kin takes pride in its leadership development programs, viewing them as cornerstones of the organization. “What we provide members is an opportunity to grow through leading projects, through participating in a democratic process that determines what a community’s greatest needs are,” Ferron says. “At the national level, we help facilitate that.” Members have many opportunities to get involved at various levels of leadership at the club, zone, district and national levels. Many members start out as a chair of a club event and some even work their way up to the highly esteemed elected role of national president.

Leaders building leaders
Kin Canada has an online learning platform called Kin U which offers an array of free online courses to all active Kin as part of their membership. Its arsenal of training resources ensures Kin anywhere in Canada can learn leadership skills in line with Kin’s overall mission, vision, and values. These courses cover a variety of topics, allowing Kin to learn the skills they need to run a successful club and take on other leadership roles within Kin in the future.

These leadership resources come from its small Ontario headquarters. Kin’s staff fully recognize the responsibility of a small group managing a nationwide organization, and look to a variety of subject-matter experts and experienced facilitators to ensure multiple perspectives. This helps guarantee a unity of purpose in creating leadership training, and ensures Kin’s message remains relevant through changing times. On occasion, staff negotiate the rights to use off the shelf resources developed by industry professionals to offer education on topics such as mental health and work-life balance.

Kin’s leadership team is also utilizing Sean Covey’s influential book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to teach district governors how to lead and manage their time effectively. Kin Canada’s leadership team consistently nurtures its governors to ensure the training is applicable and relevant, rather than trotted-out truisms. In the year before taking on the role, governors also come together at the national headquarters twice for an intensive weekend of in-person seminars and situation-based training.

Kin Canada also empowers members to share their own expertise and club successes with their fellow Kin. Members can be guest writers to the Kin Blog, submit projects on the Successful Projects Database, and can even assist in the development of online Kin U courses either as a course developer or content creator.

Generational shift
As Kin Canada moves forward into its next hundred years, the organization’s leadership has noticed growing trends as generations shift. As with many service organizations, Kin’s membership has declined in recent years, reflecting what Ferron calls a more ‘transactional’ relationship with volunteering among younger generations – compared to continuous active involvement which is more common among previous generations.

But still, he affirms, these younger volunteers “want to have an impact on the community; they like the way we determine what that impact may be, and the methodology that goes behind that. The relevance, the ability and the impact on the community are all very much there, and that’s what attracts them to us.”

In response to this changing demographic, and recognizing that these chances may not be present in younger members’ professional or educational lives, Kin is putting increased effort into developing leadership courses and programs while keeping its core pillars of service and fellowship strong.

As newer members continue to gain experience through Kin’s programs, they can learn the valuable leadership skills applicable not only in Kin’s service initiatives but throughout their professional careers. A newly established mentorship program also matches newer members with more experienced Kin, helping ensure the next generation is ready to lead.

While the increased focus on education is largely driven by a generational shift, new and existing members are encouraged to participate in this benefit of membership. Communications Coordinator Krista Nicol explains how these educational resources serve not only the members’ Kin careers, but all aspects of their lives. “It’s not just something relevant to Kin,” she remarks. “We want them to be successful in all areas.”

Going social
Kin Canada is using social media in its purest form – as a vehicle to bring people together and share information across a wide geographic area. Connected by this common thread, Kin clubs all across Canada can publish success stories and gain valuable insight from other clubs on the member-only Facebook group. “Social media, from that perspective, has greatly helped us in terms of helping spread those ‘good news’ stories,” Ferron confirms. This unprecedented communication access, he continues, ensures clubs will not work in isolation, and can learn from each other’s successes. “We’re not in a vacuum. Our members want to share their success stories, and want to see other clubs be successful as well.”

The association is also using social media to reintroduce discontinued print resources. For many years, Kin Canada published its ‘Travelling Kin’ book that had club contact information and meeting dates. This resource helped members connect with fellow Kin all across Canada and further expand their extensive networks. Back by popular demand, the resource has been reintroduced in a modern way – through a private Facebook group. The group allows members to post when they are travelling to a certain region, connect with others, find a place to stay, or look for recommendations on what to see and do while there.

“Kin are famous for their hospitality and simply knowing someone is Kin, or even just a friend of Kin, is enough for members to open their doors and their arms for as long as needed,” remarks Nicol. “It’s truly an incredible group of people to be part of,” she says.

As Kin looks to its next century, the organization is hoping to continue its long legacy of community service, fellowship, and leadership development. Ferron fondly shares how entire families have joined Kin, with many now third- or fourth-generation members. He relates how many members share their personal success stories with him, and how many members have found success in their personal and professional lives thanks to their Kin involvement. “It’s heartwarming to hear that,” he remarks. “It helps us know we’re on the right path.”

May 25, 2020, 4:21 PM EDT