Is the City Club in trouble?

I wrote last year about the City Club of Portland. My impression was that its best days were behind it, although it was doing a great service at the time sponsoring candidate debates.

I got a tip the other day from a reader who reported that a member of the organization's finance committee is sounding the alarm on the club's financial condition, and rabble-rousing for new leadership. The fellow's name is Ted Kaye, and here is some of what he reportedly sent around in an email message on Monday:

I’m contacting you and some others because of our mutual interest and experience in City Club.

Please consider:

    • Membership has declined from 1,007 in May 2020 to 375 today.
    • No new research has launched since 2019.
    • Regular in-person programming has yet to resume since stopping in 2020.
    • On-line programming has been excellent, but has become infrequent.
    • The board has spent over $200K on consultants in the past two years.
    • The Club’s cash reserves are gone and the Club is $30K in debt.
    • 2/3 of the board has resigned in the past year, including two presidents, the secretary, and two treasurers.

I sincerely hope for a revitalization of the Club, but that will take new leadership.

The current 6-member board has called for volunteers.  I hope that you will:

    1. Express interest in serving as a governor or officer through the board interest form. 
    2. If not nominated, then run independently—I can help you get the 10 signatures required.
    3. Vote for the best candidates in the election (delayed to September).

The Club needs the experience and wisdom you would bring.  Would you please let me know your thoughts on this, by the end of the month?

I am eager to chat confidentially by e-mail, phone, or in person about any aspect of the Club.

City Club is a valuable community and member resource—together we can help revitalize it.

Maybe this is just internal politics, but that membership number sure catches one's eye. It will be interesting to see what happens, and whether anyone cares.


  1. I'm sure no one wants to hear this but ... City Club was thriving under Sam Adams' leadership. Membership grew and young people were joining. Each year the club pumped out 2-3 pieces of original research and provided research on several ballot measures each cycle. The Friday Forum was still in-person and fairly well attended. People paid attention to what City Club said.

    After Adams left, City Club started to flounder and lose focus. Then Lisa Watson (of Cupcake Jones fame) took over, grabbed the wheel, and crashed the organization into the Willamette. In the interest of trying to "attract more diverse voices," she and the board drove out the West Hills crowd and the gray hairs who provided much of the member-volunteer time and financial support.

    Groucho Marx said he wouldn't want to join a club that wanted him. But many City Club members decided they didn't want to be a part of a club that didn't want them. Time is a more precious resource than money. Long-time supporters and volunteers decided they'd rather spend both somewhere else where they'd be appreciated rather than hectored.

    1. I must say, when I go to their page and see Lynn Peterson, Chevy Vega, and the "equity" person from "Prosper" smiling at me, I want to throw up, not send money.

    2. Shameful comments... your racism is showing.

  2. City club needs one of those signs like Calvin and Hobbes had for their tree house that declares no stinky dissenters allowed.

    1. City Club is as about as relevant as Metro. Wouldn't miss them for a minute if they went away.

  3. Like Warren Buffett’s line about “You find out who was swimming naked when the tide goes out,” the disruption of COVID similarly exposed nonprofits that had been coasting on inertia and purely habitual membership renewals for a long time. It’s quite likely that few of the 625 folks that dropped off the rolls were very invested or active anyway — but of course their dues go with them and that’s the real issue. Obviously, PCC leadership failed the test because those kinds of membership declines are impossible to miss for any board member paying attention. What they probably did was just a form of wishcasting about “When things get back to normal,” and they’re finding out that, once people disaffiliate from an activity that they no longer really care about much, it’s really hard to re engage them.

  4. The consultants fee told me all I needed to know about today’s organization. The ability of local nonprofits to milk the community is scary.

  5. As well as being an international expert on vexillology, Ted Kaye is one of the gems of the city. If he thinks the City Club is worth preserving, then it is worth preserving if it can return to its traditional function. If he is sounding the alarm about the City Club, then it is in serious trouble.

    1. The City Club was. It’ll never survive Woke.


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