Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Once upon a time, Odd Fellowship boasted over 58,000 members in California. That was in the late 1920’s. But then the Great Depression hit, causing remarkable economic and social upheaval. Since the late 1920’s Odd Fellowship – with the exception of a handful of years around the Second World War – has been in membership free-fall. The trend has been inexorable and ominous. Today, our regular membership numbers around 4,000. This represents a decline of well over 90% of our membership over that 90-year span. Over the last 10 years alone, our numbers have declined from close to 6,000 to 4,000 today. Such a continued decline endangers the very existence of our fraternal order.
To make matters worse (if that is even possible) the average age of our Lodge membership, in many cases, has increased. There are Lodges in this state where the average age of members is in the 70’s. How can new members in their 20’s and 30’s be attracted to join a Lodge of grandfathers and grandmothers? In contrast, if one analyzes the records and minutes of Lodges in the early 1900’s, one sees members in their 20’s and Lodge elected officers in their and 30’s – that was quite common. Today, members and leaders of many Lodges are in their senior years. Inevitably, such Lodges will be unable to maintain even the low quorum requirement of 5 members and will lose their charters or consolidate. In fact, there are Lodges in California today that maintain their quorums only through the use of associate members who are regular members of other Lodges, and come to meetings simply to maintain the quorum. These Lodges survive only through these associate members. That is a shell game that is played to stave off the inevitable demise of that Lodge.
Yet within this gloom, there is some light. And that is because it is not the principles of Odd Fellowship that are failing. Far from it. Those principles of friendship, love and truth are as important today as they were a century ago. The failure is directly tied to the inability of the Order to evolve into a more modern world. Our world has changed rapidly over the last 100 years, even more rapidly over the last 50, and at breath-taking rapidity over the last 20 years. Yet the Order has been evolving at a snail’s pace.
How do I know this is true? The only example that I can give you is the example that I know best – my own Lodge in Davis. My Lodge has bucked the trend of declining membership. While the vast majority of our Lodges have shown membership declines, my Lodge over the past 10 years has shown a net increase in membership year after year. We are not the only such example in California – there are a small number of other Lodges which have bucked the trend of declining numbers. So, it clearly can be done. There is nothing inherent to Odd Fellowship that compels a loss of membership. On the contrary, there are Lodges – like my own – which have shown a steady increase in membership. If these Lodges can do it, your Lodge can do it.
In this article, I am going to share with you the seven steps which can take a Lodge to move from the path of decline and failure to the path of growth and success. Essentially, I’m going to share with you the fraternal fountain of youth – the secret to success of a fraternal organization, and ultimately for your Lodge. These factors can make a change in any Lodge – no matter how small. These factors certainly worked in my Lodge. When I was first elected Noble Grand of my Lodge a decade ago, we had less than 30 members on the books. I served as Noble Grand for four years and made sure to implement and sustain the seven steps. Today we have 260 members, and 18 applicants for membership. Here are the seven steps:
1. Lodge Buy-in. To successfully change the trajectory of your Lodge, you must change the culture of the Lodge. And to do that, you must obtain buy-in by the membership. Must you obtain 100% acceptance? No. You should not let one person, or two people or even a handful stymie the will of the majority. But you should have a meeting or two where you, collectively, discuss the new path and also discuss the reasons why it is necessary. Be prepared for some resistance. There will be members who have grown comfortable with the status quo, and who have achieved positions of importance (e.g. Secretary of the Lodge, Trustee, etc.) who may resist any change. But for the good of the Lodge, and the future of the Order, you must alter the direction of your Lodge. If you have not shown a net gain in membership over the past 10 years, or if you have not brought in new members in the last five years, this is an absolute necessity.
2. Don’t Exclude Good People. It amazes me that we are here in the second decade of the 21st Century and there are still Lodges in this state which don’t have any female members, and other Lodges who have no members of any ethnic minority group. That’s just not right, and it’s just not smart. By not including women, we have turned a blind eye to half the population of our communities. In fact, the fastest growing segment of new members is the segment of female members. We should not exclude any segment of our community. We are looking for good people to join our Order and it doesn’t matter their gender or the color of their skin. We can’t afford to exclude any good person.
3. Strong Leadership. Ultimately, a culture change requires a strong Noble Grand. And the first and foremost role of the Noble Grand is to make sure there is a strong Vice Grand to succeed him/her. And if membership is the key – then it is imperative for the Lodge to have a Membership Committee and a strong Chair for that Committee. Frankly, membership development is a job for every member of the Lodge. You can’t just sit back and expect “the other guy” to bring in new members. YOU are the other guy. That said, a strong Membership Committee, led by a strong Chair, can keep the focus on membership development year after year and can help members in their efforts to sponsor applicants.
4. Be Part of Your Community. In the 21st Century, Lodges can’t hide behind their doors and windows. On the contrary, it’s imperative that Lodges be visible in the community. Sitting behind closed doors and shut windows will net you zero in new members. Being involved in the community will expose your Lodge to potential new members and will, inevitably, lead to the submission of applications. And that’s because men and women in this Century want to be involved in good community works. They want to help others. And if they see your Lodge engaged in such activity they will want to be part of it. You can’t convince people to join just because you have meetings, wear cool regalia, and recite from a ritual book. But you can pique the interest of prospective members if you are engaged in good community works.
5. Don’t Forget to Have Fun. When Odd Fellowship first formed in the pubs of England, members knew how to have fun. They gathered together for social time, drank ale, sang songs, told stories and just enjoyed each others’ company. Lodges that forget how to have fun are boring Lodges. No one wants to join a boring Lodge. Successful Lodges have social meetings. Successful Lodges have events. The list of possibilities is almost endless: game night, hikes, wine country trips, potlucks, Oktoberfests, trivia nights, etc. Let your members make suggestions, let someone who is interested be in charge, support them and just do it. Too many failing Lodges find reasons to say “no”, or “that won’t work.” Successful Lodges say “yes.”
6. Clean Your Living Room. When you invite people to your home, do you make sure it’s clean and tidy? The same should be said of your Lodge. Memberships in far too many Lodges have ignored maintenance for years. It’s time to make sure your Lodge is presentable, clean, freshly painted, with good IOOF signage. When you walk into a Lodge that is dirty, smelly, poorly lit, with frayed carpets, and cracks on the walls, what message does that convey? It’s important to clean up your house and convey a message of pride.
7. Stop Your Quibbling. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Lodge members must stop the arguments, quibbling, and petty slights and ancient affronts that have occupied the minds of too many members for too many years. Get over it. You are in a fraternity. You are supposed to be friends with one another and exercise love for one another. If you find members who are always criticizing others, or telling members what to say or where to stand during formal meetings, or spreading rumors, or even bullying members – exercise your right to give them a dose of the truth: Stop it. We don’t condone that in these Lodge Halls. And if you can’t do it, find a trusted and respected member who can tell them to cease and desist. We all need to exercise some FLT in our Lodge Halls, and we all need to do it all the time.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master