Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Do you ever wonder how folks who are not members of our Order view us?
Certainly, the public view of Odd Fellows in the 19th Century and first half of the 20th Century was different than it is today. In those earlier times, Odd Fellowship was big and pervasive in communities throughout the United States. Members of the Order included Presidents of the United States, U.S. Senators, Judges of the Supreme Court, Governors, Mayors, County Supervisors, farmers, bankers, physicians, prominent lawyers and businessmen, and leading citizens of the community. Odd Fellows Lodges were highly visible and active in their communities. Today, many buildings displaying Odd Fellows Lodge symbols are merely historic structures in various downtown locales, but no longer host Lodges. I have been to towns where Lodge Halls that still host “active” Lodges are dark and shuttered 28 days out of every month.
I surmise that most members of the public are not even aware of the fact that there is an Odd Fellows Order. And for those who are aware of the existence of Odd Fellows, the view is very limited. They may have a vision of an Odd Fellows Lodge Hall building in their towns, but they have never met an Odd Fellow. They may have seen a photograph of some smiling older men in tuxedos, or smiling elderly women in long color-coordinated dresses, all with regalia, but that’s about the extent of their knowledge of the Order. We have become a secret society that is so secret it’s almost invisible to the general public.
There are exceptions, of course. There are some Odd Fellows Lodges that are active and involved in their communities. And so – at least in those communities – there is a higher level of visibility and knowledge about the Order. And that higher level of visibility and knowledge often translates into applications for membership and growing Lodges.
A few weeks ago I received an interesting e-mail from a member of the public – a person who is not an Odd Fellow. This person wrote to me under the nom de plume of “Mr. Anonymous” and I will respect his request for anonymity by continuing to use that “name”. His e-mail is included, below. You certainly don’t have to agree with what this gentleman says – I don’t agree with much of it. But you might find it instructive to read about a view of us from the outside.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
I became interested in your organization after I saw something to do with IOOF on the Internet. I was intrigued by the oddball name of the IOOF, and as I read more about your club it seems you have a group that is trying to “do good” but also seems to be dying or lost in space. I was taken by your call to action in the letter you posted on April 9, and thought I’d provide an outsider’s perspective with the hope that you take it as it’s meant to be – something that might help you grow and continue in your quest to do good things. I’m no young spring chicken (late 40s), but work in the tech space with a lot of younger adults and I believe I see some of your challenges, but also some great hope and opportunity.
- If you want to recruit younger men and women, you’ll need to rebrand the entire organization. Perhaps embrace the “Odd” name, it has an ironically “contemporary” feel, but maybe shorten it to The Oddfellows, or The Odds, or something that’s a helluva lot more inviting than the current name. Almost any new name will do, as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows will scare away virtually anyone not familiar with the Knights of Columbus or other religious groups.
- Consider changing the titles to reflect something real, tangible, helpful, or perhaps even fun. Your titles? Grand Master – remind you of anything? Patriarch Militant Officers – sounds like the IRA. How about startup company titles like Do Good With Money Dude, or Funding Meister, or Brewmaster of Events??
- If the ultimate goal is to provide a service, why not change with the times? Get on Facebook in a big way. Work with groups that need your help. Get your name out there. No one, and I mean no one I’ve talked to even knows you exist, let alone what you stand for.
- Consider talking to/recruiting from the parents of the Guides and Princesses (YMCA) – these parents often stop their “public service” efforts after their kids have grown out of the groups’ age ranges. They might be looking for something to do as their kids grow into adolescence and beyond.
- Talk to other philanthropic groups of young people to see if your group has a place in society. Perhaps the ship has launched, perhaps not.
- Uniforms? I guarantee not one young friend of mine will join a group where they need to wear a uniform or have others in the group in uniform. Jeans, t-shirts, polos, boat shoes, flip flops, sweatshirts – those are the clothes of the young and those are also the clothes of those who also are willing to provide food to the needy, clothes to the unfortunate, shelter to the unhoused, etc. Don’t mix dress code with effort or ability. It’s clear that Apple, Google, Microsoft, and many other companies don’t require a specific dress code to be successful.
- I was completely confused with what your group stands for, and frankly I still am. Is it social, is it only men (clearly not, but it seems very divided by sex), is it religious – what is it? Make sure that’s clear on ALL of your sites. Also, consider and update to the logos; one looks like it was created in 1863 and the other in 1967.
- The opportunity: Continue to do good things, get the word out, and after you’ve rebranded, get the word out and start recruiting. Young people are looking for ways to contribute, they just need the right channel or venue.
I could go on, but don’t want to offend or intrude any further.