Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
I am confident that we can all agree on the Number One Challenge facing our Order. Without a doubt, it is the problem of declining membership. In fact, many of the problems and issues that Lodges face (e.g. financial challenges, property repair and maintenance challenges, lack of competent members to handle Lodge duties, etc.) are symptoms of a declining membership. Recognizing a problem is half the battle. The other half is solving it. That, is the more complicated part of the equation. In this column, I am going to offer the solution. And, it won’t be complicated. It just entails two steps: Be aware and be prepared. Simply put, if you follow the steps outlined below, I guarantee that you can bring new members into your Lodge. So, strap on your seat belts and let’s go!
1. Be aware. To this day, it’s amazing for me to learn that the vast majority of Odd Fellows don’t bring in new members. I talk to many members who have been Odd Fellows for 10, 20, 30 years or more and they tell me that they have not brought even one new member to the Order. Apparently, they think it is the job of someone else in the Lodge. Wrong! Bringing applicants to the Lodge is a job of every single one of us. We are seriously remiss if we ignore this responsibility and simply believe that it’s somehow the job of the Noble Grand, or some other members of the Lodge. So, what’s the first step in the process of bringing new members to Odd Fellowship?
First and foremost, you have to be aware of the possibility of a potential new member. Many people you talk to every day might be that new member: The plumber who fixes your sink, the clerk you see every week at the grocery store, your dentist, your hairdresser or barber, your real estate agent, your lawyer, etc. etc. It might be someone in your family like your spouse, son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, brother or sister, cousin, nephew. And certainly, do not ignore half the population of your community by failing to invite women to join your Lodge. Odd Fellows Lodges opened to women in 1999. And even though women comprise 50% of our population, they still only make up just 25% of our California Lodge membership. Lodges are remiss in failing to actively bring women into the Order. My own Lodge in Davis is virtually 50-50 men and women and we are the stronger for it.
Sometimes, the opportunities smack you right in the face, if you take a moment to think about it. You just have to be aware. I’ll give you an example. My Lodge, through our Good Fellowship Committee, sponsors what we call “Club Night at the Lodge” every Thursday evening which is just a relaxed social time for the members, applicants for membership, and family and friends to gather at the Lodge. Dinner is typically available, and we often have a fun program (like trivia). On one particular Club Night evening, we ordered pizza for dinner. When the pizza delivery guy – a young man in his early 20’s – came into the Lodge with his six large boxes of pizza, he looked around and asked me, “Gee, what is this place?” For many Odd Fellows, the response would have simply been, “It’s the Odd Fellows Lodge. Put the pizzas right there. How much do I owe you?” But that would have been an opportunity lost. I chatted with the young man, told him about us and what we do, took him for a quick tour, handed him a tri-fold brochure of the Order and our Lodge (that we had previously prepared with the help of a Grand Lodge Membership Development Grant), and invited him to come back to a future Club Night so we could discuss it further. We exchanged e-mail addresses. In fact, he is coming back to Club Night to discuss further, and I believe there is a high likelihood that he will submit an application.
2. Be prepared. So, now that you are chatting with a person who you believe could be an applicant for membership, what can you tell him or her? Simply put, you have to be ready to talk about Odd Fellowship and your Lodge. Tell the potential applicant about the great history of our Order, about F-L-T, about our retirement communities, about programs that are offered and run through Grand Lodge and Sovereign. Most importantly, tell this potential applicant about what YOUR Lodge does. Having a handy brochure – as was available to me for the pizza guy – can really help. And any Lodge can develop its own tri-fold. It’s easy and inexpensive.
Now, as Shakespeare might say, “Here’s the rub.” If your Lodge is active in the community and is active in hosting fun events for the members, this conversation is easy. On the other hand, if your Lodge does little more than concentrating on how to fix the Lodge roof, writing a yearly check to the local boy scouts, and having an occasional pot luck, there is – to be brutally frank – very little to attract that potential member to the Lodge. So, in that case, you have to convince the potential member that, if they join, he or she can certainly make suggestions which will enhance the Lodge. Perhaps the new member wants to develop of Lodge website, or convince the Lodge to sponsor a program, or support a local charity. This potential new member can bring new energy to a moribund Lodge. And (hint, hint) you have to be ready to support this new member in his or her efforts.
I will tell you a fact of life. The Lodges that are active, and put on events at the Lodge, and actively participate helping a charitable or community group, have great exposure to potential applicants. I can tell you that every time my Lodge organizes a community event, people ask me about the Lodge and about joining. If you have a Lodge that does little more than meet behind closed doors, you have shut yourself off from society and you have little chance of growing, let alone surviving.
Finally, follow-through is important. You can’t just talk to this potential applicant one time and hope for the best. Be prepared to exchange e-mails, or texts, or phone calls with this potential new member. Better yet, meet with this new member face-to-face. Invite him or her to a Lodge event or a Lodge social meeting. We must, as an Order, open ourselves to the community. For too many years, too many of our Lodges have been virtually invisible. As I have said many times, as we move into the 21st Century: It’s not OK to be seen as a secret society any longer. Instead, we must become a society with secrets.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California