Discover What Kiwanis is All About

The Name

The name “Kiwanis” stems from an expression of the American Indian tribe that lived in the Detroit area, the area where Kiwanis was founded. The original phrase in the Otchipew language was “Nun Kee-wanis.” It means “self expression,” or “to express one’s self.” It was shortened and modified to become “Kiwanis.”

The Goals

“We build” is the motto under which Kiwanis has advanced and become widely known throughout the years, and the purpose of Kiwanis is to provide service to Youth and the Elderly, to the Community, and to the Nation.

The objectives of Kiwanis are to:

  • give primacy to the human and spiritual, rather than to the material values of life.
  • encourage the daily living of the Golden Rule in all human relationships.
  • promote the adoption and application of higher social, business, and professional standards.
  • develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive, and serviceable citizenship.
  • provide, through this club, a practical means to form enduring friendships, to render altruistic service, and to build a better community.
  • cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high idealism which make possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism, and goodwill.

More recently the motto was changed to “Serving the Children of the World” which better describes a major effort of most Kiwanis clubs.

The History

Kiwanis was founded in Detroit, Michigan, January 21, 1915. The first Kiwanian was a merchant tailor named Joseph Prance. The original name was “The Benevolent Order of Brothers,” and its purpose was the mutual exchange of preferred treatment in professional and business dealings. Within a year, the name was changed to “Kiwanis,” and, since the original purpose lacked the power to attract and hold members, the purpose of the organization became “community service,” a concept from which Kiwanis has never deviated.

In 1916, a Kiwanis club was formed in Canada (Hamilton, Ontario), and Kiwanis became an “international” service organization. In 1962 a Kiwanis Club was formed in Mexico, breaking the long-standing tradition of serving only in the U.S. and Canada. In 1989, women were welcomed to join Kiwanis Clubs.


Today, there are more than 500,000 men and women in over 8,400 Kiwanis Clubs serving the needs of people in 79 countries around the world. Kiwanis is part of a twentieth-century phenomenon. The “service club movement,” as it has been termed, is one of North America’s most important contributions to the life of our times. Today, the service club movement is bigger, better-accepted, and more desired than ever before in its history. For more information, see Kiwanis International.