Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

Today’s Newsletter features a very compelling article by Past Grand Master Rick Boyles, one of the founders of “Dedicated Members for Change”. Rick highlights a truth that has become increasingly apparent to me in my year as Grand Master. The “problem” is obvious: For the past three generations, our Order has been steadily losing more members than we have gained. The “solution” is less obvious. But one thing is pretty clear: The problem cannot be solved by Sovereign Grand Lodge, or by Grand Lodge. The problem can only be solved by the members in our own Lodges.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California


How We Grow

A little more than five years ago, when Past Sovereign Grand Master Don Smith (now deceased), Grand Master Dave Rosenberg, and I set up the Dedicated Members for Change, we saw the problem and were determined to find a solution to that problem. Specifically, for the last 75-100 years we have consistently lost members with little intervention from our order’s leaders. Brother Don Smith, surely one of the greatest leaders our order has ever seen, actually spearheaded other endeavors to halt the decline but it is a difficult chore, indeed. But really Brother Don, Brother Dave and I have become more and more convinced that the problem is internal and that no external intervention can extend a lodge’s lifespan if the lodge itself does not embrace it.

One of the statements I have heard from some in the order is that the DMC is good at illuminating the problem but not so good in tackling the problem itself. But this is not altogether true, because the DMC has over the years suggested many specific programs that lodges can consider to rejuvenate and attract new members. Unfortunately, for those who hope for salvation from outside their lodge, it will not happen. Our salvation comes from within. Too many times in my year as Grand Master when I went to lodges that were really on their last legs (some of which are still limping along, albeit weaker and weaker), I found that lodges were waiting for someone outside their walls to provide them with an answer. Many of us in the order do our best to revive a lodge here and a lodge there but this is difficult if not impossible from outside its own environs. There are some heroic individuals who do a lot of altruistic deeds just to help another lodge stay afloat, and while sometimes announcing a lodge’s decline it also illuminates that one traveling member’s heart. Many among us have traveled many a mile to just pump up a lodge’s morale or point of view. But here’s the rub – nothing works unless the lodge itself wants it to work.

If we look around at the lodges that are growing, we will see that somehow they have caused their members to retain interest. We grow by maintaining interest. Here are some basic things, the DMC has found –

1) Offer your members something of interest. Ask yourselves why do members attend?
2) Committees should be formed that pique members’ interest. If your members like walking, reading, sports, cars, or any of a myriad of interests, form a committee around these interests.
3) If your members have a committee, often they know of non-members who may share these same interests. New members will only join if they see some value to joining.
4) Remember that your own members are your single most valuable asset. Money in a dusty bank account is nice, but bank balances do not alone bring in new members. Think of an inexpensive gesture the lodge may make to show the members they are valued. Example: lodges with active committees can often pass along deals from merchants to their committee members, at little or no expense to the lodge. Years ago many merchants existed to help Odd Fellows; growth can come by interdependence with each other in a lodge. Our museums have old catalogues on display, where Odd Fellows were given discounts for shared interests; many lodges were lending libraries. It is this type of interdependence we need to return to.
5) Your lodge should be inviting. Whether or not it is an old building does not matter, but it should have signage on the outside, and pride showing at every vantage point.
6) Think of what your lodge has to offer. Promote your own lodge to the fullest. Friendship, Love and Truth is wonderful, but platitudes alone don’t tell a prospective member anything about the order itself. What do you like best about your own lodge?
7) Leave your anger at home. Many fraternal groups have failed due to internal friction. This can easily translate to a bad exterior view. Laughter is contagious. Have fun! Show the outside world what is the best point to being an Odd Fellow.

There are some other things we should note as we try to grow our order. I always hear simplistic ideas from some in our order. There are members who state that we should all get behind one charity. While this is admirable, it frankly will not work. For one thing, our order is becoming too small to make a perceptible impact on a charity, and for another, other fraternal groups who do this are also losing members so if this were the answer, they would not be losing members just as we are.

Other members talk about maintaining some type of old-fashioned stance, that somehow there is going to be a revival of old mannerisms, codes, rituals, and modes of dress. This is ludicrous, as many of our centralized events have declined in attendance at an even greater pace than our attendance at large. No, it is time to modernize.

Lastly, we must be realistic. Lodge halls that have modernized and intertwine themselves with their own communities are the ones most likely to grow. Look at the California lodges that have experienced greater growth – Davis, Yerba Buena, and others have succeeded in making their lodges most like the communities around them. Past Sovereign Grand Master Don Smith would be proud.

In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles

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