Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
That Odd Fellowship has evolved and changed over the years is an established fact. Let me give you just one example of this evolution. The admonition of Odd Fellows is “to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead, and educate the orphan.” This admonition arose at a time when government provided virtually no service to people, and fraternal orders, like Odd Fellows, stepped into the breach. Odd Fellows in the 1800’s and early 1900’s operated hospitals, orphanages, cemeteries, and retirement homes. Odd Fellows used to be known as a “beneficial society” providing aid to its members, as well as the widows and orphans of members. Today, Odd Fellows in the United States own no hospitals, run no orphanages; the cemeteries are few, and the retirement communities are open to all, not just Odd Fellows. We have, indeed, evolved and changed.
But should we ignore the concept of a “beneficial society”? Are there ways in which the Odd Fellows Lodge can actually provide benefits to members even in today’s society?
Such is the topic addressed by Past Grand Master Rick Boyles in the following article.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California
Did you know that in the years gone by many of our lodges were lending libraries for their members? Some of the lodges actually printed catalogs of titles available to the members to borrow and read. The Fremont, CA lodge has such a catalog on display that was for the Alvarado, CA Lodge (now defunct), from the year 1890, with amazing titles for lending to its members. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, many classics in early editions were lent free of charge to their members. Repeatedly in my studies of the history of the order, I find that the order provided various benefits to its members. In order for us to return to that type of growth and interest, we need to return to that type of charitable gesture. It should be noted that while a lending library, even in today’s world, would represent a miniscule investment in funds, the image it would present to a lodge’s members might seem more substantial.
Many lodges send the message that there is little or nothing to be gained by being a member. Many members operate under the mistaken impression that a benefit to a member is somehow criminal. It is not. In fact, it should be noted that our earlier messages pointed out that IRS guidelines demand some benefit be shown to a member. Perhaps the core reason that our order is shrinking is that prospective members see little or no benefit to joining. Successful lodges are able to show a benefit to being a member. It does not have to be expensive to be seen as a benefit but it should benefit each and every member, and not require the member to jump through hoops to reap a tiny reward.
Think of the golden age of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, there were many benefits to being a member. In our state, Odd Fellows gathered in early gold-mining towns, in the 1850’s. Many of our members could not read or write, yet they were rewarded with the simple ideas of educating the orphan, burial of the dead, still in our ritual, and a myriad of other benefits could be gleaned from historical readings, such as:
- Sustenance at meetings and social gatherings.
- Companionship in a cold and hard environment.
- Entertainment from other members and within the lodge.
- Melding with one’s community since many of the movers and shakers in town were members. Salesmen and merchants often joined lodges for contacts and increased visibility.
- Lending libraries, and evidently, other low-cost goods and services, gleaned from catalogs circulated expressly for members.
- Communal environment for families, often employment found for the unemployed.
Countless other benefits were to be had that are now long gone. This is why we are losing members. Forget the boring nature of meetings, the aging of our members, the blind way in which we see the world, the core reason for membership decline is the cessation of virtually all benefits. Unless we can find ways in which to reward members for being members, we have little or no chance for survival. When we speak to prospective members, we should be able to list benefits to them in becoming members otherwise one might ask why we are inviting them to join. We can’t simply say friendship, love and truth because that is what all people share as an internal trait, not a benefit or something endemic only to our own order. Our collective mandate should be to find benefits for our long-suffering members and stop acting like our members are doing themselves a favor by attending. We owe our members a favor. Let’s find it for them.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles.