Probus Clubs worldwide work to provide regular gatherings to those retired or semi-retired business or professional men who, in retirement, appreciate and value opportunities to meet others in similar circumstances and of a similar level of interest,
In some places Rotary Clubs sponsor Probus Clubs, but many clubs are stand-alone entities.
Each Probus Club is autonomous. A system is organized through Probus Centre so that the clubs themselves, through regional representatives on a national board, agree to minimal measure of conformity through e.g. a standard constitution and recommended by-laws, to preserve the integrity and reputation of these clubs.
The club endeavours to be simple in structure, be free of the constraints and obligations of service clubs, involve members in a minimal cost. The club is directed primarily to providing fellowship between members who are compatible with each other, and the opportunity for development of acquaintance. Most Probus Clubs are restricted to men, but some clubs have since the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 in the UK started to become mixed. It is normal for the spouses of club members and widows of former members to be encouraged to participate in the social activities.
The Probus Club movement was formed in the United Kingdom in 1965. The Probus movement had its beginnings in two clubs, both created by members of Rotary Club. In 1965, Fred Carnill a member of the Welwyn Garden City Rotary Club, met with other retired friends for morning coffee---mostly ex-commuters to London, with professional and business backgrounds. From this, he started a luncheon club. The Rotary Club President arranged the first meeting and 45 men attended. This club known as ‘The Campus Club’, the name deriving from the fact that the meeting place was facing the centre of town called 'The Campus'.
The Rotary District took up the scheme with the result that Rotary International, Britain and Ireland published a leaflet about the idea to encourage other Rotary Clubs to sponsor a similar club. The Probus club was conceived by three businessmen travelling to London by train. The three, James Raper, Harold Blanchard and another, as yet unknown, were reaching the point of retirement realized they had a need for fellowship. Thus in the same time period, September 1965 Harold Blanchard the chairman of Caterham Rotary Club Vocational Service Committee by now retired from business presented the idea to the Rotary Club.
The members of the Rotary Club Vocational Service Committee decided to organise a monthly lunch. In February 1966, a meeting was advertised for all retired professional and businessmen aged 60 and over. 42 men turned up. A monthly lunch was arranged, at which the Rotary Club President took the chair until the Club had formed its own rules and committee. The inaugural luncheon of the first Probus Club in the United Kingdom (by that name) was on the 2 March 1966.
In May 1966 a Committee was formed with Harold Blanchard as Chairman, who is seen as one of the 'Father Figures' of Probus along with James Raper. The name “Probus” was suggested by a member who took the first three letters from 'PROfessional and BUSiness'. It had the advantage that it was a Latin word from which 'Probity' was derived. The Probus Club of Caterham was met with success, and became known among other Rotary Clubs with new clubs being founded.
In 1974, Probus expanded into New Zealand and by 1976 the idea had spread to Australia. The first Probus club for seniors in North America was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Galt in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada in 1987. Although Probus membership has its greatest concentrations in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, clubs today exist in all parts of the world, including the U.S., Belgium, India, South Africa and several other countries in Africa and Asia.
Probus clubs have no central governing body but Probus Centres have been established internationally by country to disseminate information and assist clubs. Offices are staffed largely by volunteers and operating costs are met by member contributions. In the UK and Ireland, the a magazine entitled Probus Magazine is published quarterly, free of charge to members and distributed to clubs for distribution to their members.
Typically, meetings are held at regular intervals, normally monthly, with a break (sometimes) during the summer. Probus Club meetings normally consist of tea and coffee followed by a guest speaker, although some clubs are run on a more informal basis Probus clubs are local to towns and districts. By 2002, there were over 300,000 members in approximately 4,000 Probus clubs worldwide.