Updated: June 13, 2021
As we go through life, we enter and pass through stages in that life’s journey. There is a time when we and our friends are in elementary school, then middle school, then high school, and then the time of graduation. Perhaps college and more graduations. There is a time when many of us find our life’s partner, settle in to a home, children are born and grow up. We start out in the working world and continue in that endeavor for many years. Then we retire. Our children have children. And we travel and develop hobbies and avocations. But it’s not all wine and roses, as we go through a stage when parents pass away, and then friends get ill, and some downsize or go into retirement facilities. Eventually, inevitably and sadly our friends pass away. And of course, none of us can escape that final stage of our life’s journey.
Fraternal Orders, such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, also travel a journey through time. They also go through stages. The big difference is that the human life cycle is limited. Very very few of us live beyond 100 years. Fraternal Orders can “live on” for centuries. However, Fraternal Orders and the Lodges within those Orders can also expire well before they should. The biggest single thing that can bring an Odd Fellows Lodge to a premature demise is the decline in membership. Regrettably, we have seen a lot of that over the past 50+ years in Odd Fellowship. Every year in the United States we see Lodges closing their doors or turning in the charters. The culprit in almost every case can be traced back to membership decline.
And you can see declining Lodges going through stages. They are not healthy one day and suddenly sick the next day. It is a gradual decline. Unfortunately, once started in decline, it is hard (but not impossible) to reverse. In this article I am going to suggest a path forward for Lodges that want to stay healthy.
Here is a 5-step plan to good fraternal health
- The ultimate secret of success to Lodge long-term stability and health is to increase membership. Let’s be frank. Sovereign Grand Masters can’t do this. Grand Masters can’t do this. Noble Grands can’t do this. Only members can do this. The responsibility for Lodge and fraternal health is on each and every one of us. If YOU, as a member, have not brought in at least ONE new member into your Lodge, then shame on you. You have abdicated the single most important responsibility of fraternal membership – that is, keeping the fraternity healthy into the next generation. A century ago, members of your Odd Fellows Lodge built the Lodge Hall and brought in new members to continue the work of the Lodge. They brought in the next generation of members, and then that generation brought in the next one. And so on. Are YOU going to be the one that fails to continue that important fraternal duty? Are YOU going to be the one who breaks the fraternal chain?
- A few years ago, Sovereign Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows started to give pins to members who brought in two new members – they were nice pins with a large number “2” on them. Then a few years later, Sovereign Grand Lodge ratcheted down the effort and offered “I Got One” pins to members who brought in one new member. Nowadays, we don’t see much of either pin. But Sovereign was on the right track. Think about it. Let’s take a small Lodge of 15 members. If every member of that Lodge brought in just one new member, that Lodge would be at 30. And then if every one of those 30 brought in one new member, the Lodge would be at 60. Now, not everyone is going to accomplish that task, but you get the idea. The responsibility is on each of us.
- But it can’t just be about quantity, it has to also be about quality. Increasing the numbers of members, alone, doesn’t fully accomplish the mission. The mission must be to seed the next generation of the Lodge. Here’s what I mean. If the membership of the Lodge is all in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – then bringing in new members in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s does nothing to assist the Lodge in sustainability. In 10 years, the members of that Lodge will all be in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. And so on. You can see where this is going. Bottom line: It’s important to bring in the next generation of members – perhaps the next two generations. So the hypothetical Lodge in this example needs to bring in members in their 50’s, 40’s and 30’s. There was a time 50 or 100 years ago when members in Lodges were in their 20’s and 30’s. Now, our Lodges have a much older average age. This does not speak well for long-term viability of our Order or our Lodges.
- And speaking about quality, it’s also important to bring in high quality members who add to the talent pool of the Lodge. There are too many Lodges where that talent pool has diminished. There was a time when membership in Lodges included the best and the brightest in the community – bankers, lawyers, CPA’s, owners of businesses and farms, teachers, judges, mayors and governors. There were plenty of talented people in the Lodge to become Noble Grand, Treasurer, Secretary, Financial Secretary, etc. Checks and balances in the Lodge were effective and real. Today, the talent pool in some Lodges, including some with very low membership, is also very low. This can create innumerable problems for the viability of the Lodge.
- But without doubt, the single most important requirement to increasing membership is to look at what the Odd Fellows Lodge, itself, can offer incoming members. An inactive or boring Lodge will simply not attract new members – and if by chance it does bring in a new member, that new member will not stay around very long. If you think that men and women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s want to join a Lodge that does little more than meet once a month and read passages from a little red book – think again. The secret of success on the issue of membership is right in front of our eyes and has been for some time, if we only choose to see it. And here it is: We know that the vast majority of Odd Fellow Lodges in California and in North America have either been slowly losing members, year after year, or have stagnated (neither gaining nor losing members for some time). However, there is a small number of Lodges that year-after-year have shown slow and steady net increases in membership. I’m not talking about “one-hit-wonder” Lodges that experience a surge of growth in one year, and then revert to declines. I’m talking about net growth for a number of years. So, the secret of success is to observe these few growing Lodges, determine what it is that works for them, and seeing if we can replicate this in other Lodges. Honestly, it’s that simple. I understand that one size does not fit all – we are as different and diverse as our communities. But shame on us if we don’t study the growing Lodges and see if their formulas – or parts of their formulas – could work for our Lodge.
Next week’s Dedicated Members for Change Newsletter will be very specific: We will focus on what the growing Lodges do that results in increasing membership in those Lodges.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows – California
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