​[Last year, I was appointed Chair of the Long-Range Planning Committee for the Grand Lodge of California. In June of 2022, my committee issued its report, identifying 12 recommendations for growth of our Order. The recommendations were submitted to the Grand Master at the time. I present them at this time to you, Dedicated Members for Change, as a long-range roadmap to transform Odd Fellowship. Here is the report that was issued in June, 2022.]

Odd Fellowship came to the shores of the United States, from England, in the early 19th Century. We are now in the 21st Century and the question posed to this Long-Range Planning Committee is to engage in some future thinking about our fraternity over the next 10 years. The real question, however, is whether Odd Fellowship can survive over the next 10 years.

All fraternal orders in America are challenged. As noted by John Hinck in his treatise entitled “Understanding the Decline in Participation in Fraternal Organizations”: “Fraternal organizations once provided a critical social role in building civil societies and forming national character, including needed training and skills, and leading policy efforts to improve civic life. Members learned how to speak, write, organize, and engage in civil debate – valuable social and civic skills were improved. Many fraternal organizations were once the heart of a community, of civil society and schools of democracy, and most important of all, were the fraternal and sororal organizations – the Freemasons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Columbus, Rebekahs, and dozens of others that individuals freely joined”.

There were once over 200,000 such organizations all across America, serving various populations. Today, that number has shrunk to half. Professor Hinck goes on: “Currently, there are approximately 100,800 fraternal organizations in the U.S., and despite millions of dollars in assets and annual income, many fraternal organizations have seen their membership shrink. Considered the schools of democracy and cornerstones for advancing society, many fraternal organizations have experienced a decline in participation, and their perceived relevance in contemporary society questioned. Since the 1960’s there has been a membership decline in many fraternal organizations. On average, across all fraternal organizations, membership rates began to plateau around 1957, peaked in the early 1960’s, and began the period of sustained decline by 1969.”

Why?

The existing literature has identified several explanations for this decline including the increasing role of government in providing social support services that was once the province of fraternal orders, the explosion of technology, and how individuals choose to spend their available social time.

Certainly, Odd Fellowship in California has followed the national trend of declines. The number of our Lodges in this jurisdiction has dropped. Once there were over 500 Lodges in California. Today, the number hovers around 100. Once there were over 60,000 members in California. At present, the number of dues-paying members is around 4,000.

The steady drop in membership in California Odd Fellowship is not sustainable. This Committee suggests that without a dramatic change in the status quo, Odd Fellowship will cease to exist in its present form in California in the decade of the 2030’s. Other studies have suggested that a large sister fraternity – the Masons – will cease to exist in the decade of the 2040’s. Of the 100-some Odd Fellows Lodges in California, the vast majority have experienced a steady diet of membership decline for the past half-century. Precious few Lodges have shown a net gain in membership, and one can count on one hand the few Lodges that have shown net gains year after year.

It is precisely this handful of net-gaining Lodges amidst the tidal wave of declines, that point to an alternative future for Odd Fellowship – a future of sustainability and growth. We ignore these Lodges at our fraternal peril. How have they done it? In large measure, we have based our Committee recommendations on the successes of these net-gaining Lodges. They prove the adage that the best efforts are local efforts. Some of these recommendations can be implemented by Lodges at the Lodge level. Some of the recommendations will require action by the Grand Lodge. And some recommendations will require action at the Sovereign Grand Lodge level.

12 recommendations presented by the California Long-Range Planning Committee

Recommendation One

Odd Fellowship at all levels must invest in technology and infrastructure to centralize digital record keeping and reporting. All forms should be available online so that they can be submitted electronically. An accessible, nimble, centralized reporting system is efficient and can reduce costs and improve reliability of reports.

Recommendation Two

The Grand Lodge should explore new benefits which may attract a new generation of members into our Order.

Recommendation Three

Membership development is critical to attracting a new generation of Odd Fellows. Just like we require every Lodge to have a Bylaw Committee, a Finance Committee, and a Visiting Committee, we should require that every Lodge have a Membership Committee.

Recommendation Four

To increase incentives for membership growth, the Grand Lodge should provide a $200 grant to every Lodge for every newly initiated member listed on the Lodge’s annual per capita report.

Recommendation Five

The diverse units of our fraternity need to be merged. This will have to be done at the Sovereign Level. Just like the LAPM was phased out, we need to plan for the phasing out of the LEA as well as the Rebekahs. We also don’t need separate units, with separate dues structures for the Encampment or the Patriarchs Militant. The goal within 10 years is to have one Lodge with 9 degrees: Initiatory, Friendship, Love, Truth, Rebekah Degree (which we could call the Degree of Equality), Faith, Hope, Charity, and Universal Justice.

Recommendation Six

Image is vitally important. Too often the image of our Order, in articles, photos and online, is a bunch of gray-haired men and women in tuxedos, long dresses, or funny costumes. It makes us look like we are out of touch. To attract a new generation of members, we need to dress like 21st century people.

Recommendation Seven

The Sovereign Grand Lodge needs to get serious about revising our ritual to dramatically modernize he language and eliminate language that is offensive to members of our society. Emphasis on things such as “educating the orphan” and “burying the dead” seem completely out of touch to current societal realities. The oaths and obligations need to be modernized and shortened.

Recommendation Eight

Young 21st Century men and women want to join a Lodge that provides a fun social atmosphere and that does good community works in society. We must encourage Lodges in those twin efforts. A more club-like atmosphere and less secret-society atmosphere will encourage involvement of future members in their 20’s, 30;s and 40’s.

Recommendation Nine

The Grand Lodge needs to work with Lodges to develop Lodge assets to full capacity. We have many valuable land and property assets. Elevators should replace chair lifts. We should analyze our assets to ensure that they are developed to their highest and best uses. We should assist Lodges in entering into leases.

Recommendation Ten

Given the extent and success of our involvement in the retirement home industry, and as people live longer lives, we should consider expanding our presence there, particularly in the Central Valley and in Southern California.

Recommendation Eleven

The most successful charitable organizations are identified with one major cause. Our fraternal order is identified with a dozen causes at the Sovereign level, and even more at the Grand Lodge level. If our efforts were more focused and more directed, then the public (and potential members) would be more drawn to Odd Fellows.

Recommendation Twelve

The Grand Lodge should commission a comprehensive ten-year analysis (2012-2022) of our membership, including demographics and retention, our operations, our assets and our liabilities. This analysis will be invaluable in our next 10-year long-range planning efforts.

F- L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.)

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