The vast majority of Odd Fellows Lodges are (and have been) declining in membership. My own Lodge – Davis #169 – for the past two decades has increased its membership every single year. Since I joined in 2004, the Davis Lodge has grown from less than 30 members to 350 today. Growth in membership. Every. Single. Year.
How did we achieve growth in the Odd Fellows?
I’m not here to toot the horn of the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge nor am I tooting my own horn. But I think it is important to explain how we did it – because it may provide some useful information to other Lodges which desire to stop the net losses and start the process of net gains of members. So, for the benefit of our fraternal health, here are the top 9 things we did in Davis resulting in dramatic and sustained growth of our membership:
- Culture Change. I joined the Odd Fellows in 2004 and suddenly found myself as Noble Grand in 2005. I was re-elected several times and served as Noble Grand for four years. Frankly, serving as Noble Grand that long is NOT generally recommended. But I had to do it in order to change the culture of the Lodge. I did that by focusing on what I have called “The Three-Legged Stool”. The three legs are: community outreach and involvement, social interaction within the Lodge, and the great historical traditions and ritual of the Order. Unless all three legs of the stool are present and sturdy, the stool will be wobbly and will inevitably collapse. My Lodge, like most, was woefully deficient in community involvement and social interaction. I resolved to change that culture. So, step one is to have the leadership and direction to change the trajectory of the Lodge. I dedicated two meetings to a discussion of this culture-change, and got buy-in by the members.
- The Committee Structure. We encouraged members’ ideas. We didn’t say “no” when an Odd Fellow suggested things we could do. We said “yes”. So member’s ideas were implemented by the creation of committees. When we started this process, the Lodge had 4 or 5 committees (like most every other Lodge). Today our Lodge has 69 committees. They can be divided into three general categories. (1) Administrative committees. These include the Visiting Committee, Finance Committee, Bylaws Committee, Historical Committee, Membership Committee, and the like. They are involved in the general operation of the Lodge. (2) Social committees. These committee organize fun social events for the Lodge members, potential members, and family. These include the OddtoberFest Committee, the St Patrick’s Day Party Committee, Halloween Party Committee, Hiking Committee, Wine Tasting Committee, Needlework Committee, Cigar Lounge Committee, and others. (3) Community Outreach Committees. These committees engage the community (and, frankly, are important aspects of our membership development). These committees include the Odd Fellows Bingo Committee, Breakfast with Santa Committee, the Taste of Davis Committee, the Davis Chocolate Festival, the Zombie Bike Ride Committee, Breakfast with the Bunny Committee, Classic Film Festival Committee, and many more. Several committees cross the lines and are both community outreach committees and social events for members – including the Music Committee, the New Year’s Eve Party Committee, and others. Committees create a vibrant, active Lodge enjoyable for member and with high visibility in the community.
- Outreach to Women. Half the population of the world is female. However, prior to 2000, membership in an Odd Fellows Lodge was not available to women. That changed in 2000 when women were permitted to join Odd Fellows Lodges. In Davis, we took that to heart, and we made a decided effort to encourage men and women to join. When a man submitted an application, we inquired whether his wife or girlfriend or significant other were interested in joining as well. This created a substantial increase in applications. Today, the Davis Lodge is almost 50-50 men and women. And women have held and continue to hold leadership positions in the Lodge. Some have suggested that bringing more women into the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge would be a detriment to the Davis Rebekah Lodge. In fact, the exact opposite occurred. In 2004 the Davis Rebekah Lodge was on its last legs with less than 10 members, all in their 70’s and 80’s. Today, the Davis Rebekah Lodge is alive, healthy and active with about 40 members, including many men. We found that as the Odd Fellows grew, so did the Rebekahs. (Parenthetically, our Davis Encampment and Canton Davis grew as well.)
- Social Meetings. Full formal meetings pursuant to the Odd Fellows ritual and the Codes are required and important, to preserve us as a fraternal order and a Lodge of Odd Fellows. At the same time, it is permissible to have social meetings – and we do. We started holding Second Saturday Morning Breakfast meetings at the Lodge and have been holding these social meetings every month. Breakfast is served to the attendees without charge, and after breakfast a social meeting is held where the officers and committees report – social events are discussed, we recognize birthdays and anniversaries, members who are sick or distressed, and the like. Members enjoy these social gatherings, and they provide an important adjunct to our membership efforts – Lodge members bring prospective members to these social meetings – a great way to introduce folks to the Lodge.
- The Membership Committee. We created a Membership Committee with a strong Membership Chair. We wanted to keep a constant focus on membership development. At every meeting of the Lodge, the Membership Committee provides a report. The effort to recruit applicants, keep them motivated and interested, and assimilate them into the fraternity is focused and constant. A component of most of our Lodge activities is an effort to reach out to potential applicants. For example, when we host our yearly Breakfast with Santa, the primary focus is to provide an enjoyable memory for children, but a component of BWS is to high community visibility. A number of our applicants have come from the ranks of parents and grandparents of the children who attended BWS.
- The Pledge Process. The Davis Lodge does not make it easy to join. Unlike other Lodge which rapidly move applicants to initiation, we take our time. We have created what we call a “Pledge Process” which can take anywhere from six months to one year from application to initiation. And in between, the applicants (we call them “Pledges”) have to read a Pledge Book we developed which gives them data about our Order and the Lodge, take and pass a 25-question test, interview a number of Lodge members (a great way to break the ice and enable members to meet and get to know potential new members), and other requirements. We find that the new members are much more committed to the Lodge, and certainly are more knowledgeable about Odd Fellowship by the time they receive their initiatory degree.
- Club Night at the Lodge. A few years ago we developed “Club Night at the Lodge” – an informal drop-in activity that we host every Thursday evening from 5:30 p.m. till 8:00 p.m. at the Lodge Hall. Odd Fellow members, pledges, and their guests are welcomed to attend. The bar is open, we serve a full dinner meal, we have a piano player, and we play trivia by table (with prizes for the winning tables in each round) with members interacting at each table to discuss and come up with an answer. It’s a fun activity that members and pledges look forward to attending. And it has become an integral component of the Pledge Process – a great place for pledges to conduct their member interviews.
- Communication. We emphasize both internal and external communication. Internally, we have the emails of all our 350 members and we regularly send out notices of meeting and events. We have developed a weekly electronic newsletter, complete with photos, which we send out to all our members and pledges to keep each other posted. We have a monthly “Odd Bulletin Board” where members can help each other with things they need. We have lots of shirts, sweatshirts and pins which display our Odd Fellow logos which we proudly wear in the community. We have lots of signage on our Lodge Hall, including a wonderful antique neon “IOOF” sign which we found on Etsy (from a defunct Lodge back East) which we had shipped to Davis and installed on our Hall so that the community readily can identify that this building is a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
- Thinking Outside the Box. We constantly try new things. We are not stagnant. We developed a 501 (c) (3) corporation so that folks could make charitable contributions to our community events. When a young female police officer was gunned down and murdered on the streets of Davis a few years ago, we set up a special scholarship fund in her name and have funded scholarship for local high school students to attend college to be future law enforcement or public safety employees (it is now a perpetual fund where we can provide scholarships from the interest earned, and do not need to tap into principle). We constantly emphasize our “Oddness” in our events such as the “OddtoberFest” and starting our meetings at 7:01 p.m. rather than 7:00 p.m., and even this list which is 9 things, rather than 10.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
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