To inculcate the principles of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to recognize a belief in God; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its Members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; to cultivate good fellowship; to perpetuate itself as a fraternal organization, and to provide for its government, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America will serve the people and communities through benevolent programs, demonstrating that Elks Care and Elks Share.
The Elks had modest beginnings in 1868 as a social club (then called the "Jolly Corks") established as a private club to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. After the death of a member left his wife and children without income, the club took up additional service roles, rituals and a new name. Desiring to adopt "a readily identifiable creature of stature, indigenous to America", fifteen members voted 8-7 to favor the elk above the buffalo. Early members were mostly from theatrical performing troupes in New York City. It has since evolved into a major American fraternal, charitable, and service order with more than a million members, both men and women, throughout the United States.