When I first joined my Odd Fellows Lodge in California in 2004 we had 27 members on the books. Today, in 2021, we have 325 members – an increase of 1200%. And in the seventeen years between 2004 and 2021, my Lodge has had a net gain of members each and every one of those seventeen years. (“Net gain” is defined as adding more members in a year than the number of members deducted in a year.)
How is a gain in Odd Fellows membership possible?
It is, in fact, not only possible, but it is a fact. So, I’m going to tell you the story of the growth of my Odd Fellows Lodge – not to toot my own horn or the horn of my Lodge – but because it is possible that what we did in my community can be replicated in other communities. It provides a possible roadmap to fraternal growth in your Lodge. Every Lodge and every community is, of course, unique. But what we accomplished in my Lodge might offer some insights and approaches that your Lodge might find helpful. At a minimum, we can be secure in the knowledge that the growth in my Lodge belies the canard that fraternal orders are washed-up relics of the past, proves that fraternal Lodges are relevant in today’s world, and shows that fraternal Lodges can, indeed, flourish and grow.
When I joined Odd Fellowship in 2004 I was dumb as a stump about IOOF. However, by a series of unfortunate events, I found myself quickly elected Vice Grand, and then almost immediately assuming the position of Noble Grand of my Lodge: Yolo Lodge #169. I found myself in a Lodge that occupied a large building in the heart of Davis, California. The building was dark and shuttered most of the time, with no IOOF sign. And the Lodge had minimal interaction with the community. A church rented the Lodge Hall on Sundays and had a sign out front. Most folks thought the building was a church. Virtually no one knew it was a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
One thing was crystal clear to me: To ensure the health and future of my Lodge, I had to ensure growth in our membership. That required a new direction and younger members. To change the direction of the Lodge, I knew that I had to change the culture of the Lodge.
Here are five things I did to change Lodge culture
- Branding and Signage. My immediate goal was to ensure that my Lodge would be recognized as one of the premier organizations in my community. One of the first things that I did was to give us a new name. We had been known as Yolo Lodge #169 since we were instituted in 1870. Working with the Grand Secretary, I received a new name and a new charter: henceforth we were to be known as Davis Lodge #169. Other than one small metal plaque on the building (thanking a generous Odd Fellow who, in his will, donated the funds to build the Lodge Hall), there was no identification of the building as an Odd Fellows Hall. I had a large neon sign constructed and affixed to the building which displays, in blue, the letters IOOF. And then we found a vertical sign (from a defunct Lodge back East) which shows the three links and the IOOF letters in full color. I had that sign shipped across the USA and found a company that could affix it to the building and another company that could restart the neon. Those neon signs are on full display, day and night. Everyone in the community now knows that this is a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
- The Building. Using some funds which the Lodge had accumulated over the years, and taking a significant loan, we also undertook a major remodel of the exterior and the interior of the Lodge Hall – new carpeting, wood paneling, new bathrooms, a commercial kitchen, new lighting, projection and audio equipment, new curtains, construction of a stage, a stage, installation of an elevator, new roof, creation of two levels of storage space, new HVAC, new paint on the exterior, and more. You can’t welcome new members into your Lodge if the Lodge Hall is not welcoming.
- The Committee Structure. When I assumed the position of Noble Grand, the Lodge had less than five committees – the obligatory ones – Finance Committee, Visiting Committee, Bylaws Committee – but we needed to include the membership in the advancement of the Lodge. Just holding meetings once or twice a month to read from a little red book wasn’t going to be enough. So, I surveyed the membership to find out what they wanted to accomplish. As a result, we created a vigorous committee structure. When members suggested a committee, we didn’t say “no”. We said “yes” and got volunteers. Half of our committees cater to the membership, and half produce community events. We created a Music Committee, a Good Fellowship Committee, a Membership Committee, and more. Today, in 2021, we have over 50 committees in the Davis Lodge. If members have an interest, we accommodate them. So, for example, we now have a Hiking Committee, a Classic Film Festival Committee, a Bingo Committee, a Taste of Davis Committee, a Breakfast with Santa Committee, a Zombie Bike Ride Committee, and more. Over 90% of the work of my Lodge is handled through the committee structure. The Lodge gives them a budget and they do their thing.
- Community Visibility. Through our committees, we have attained a remarkable degree of visibility in the community. When we initiate members we put an article in the local paper and we post on social media. When we have community events we do the same. At our recent Zombie Bike Ride, over 2,000 local residents attended. It was a fun family-friendly event for the Lodge and the entire community. The event included performances by a dance company, little vignettes along the bike trail by a local theater company, and even zombie skydivers. We had many community sponsors who donated money which not only paid for the costs of the event, but allowed us to work with a company to build a number of specialty tricycles for disabled children which we donated to the families – allowing the children to have some freedom and mobility.
- A Big Tent. Because of our high degree of community visibility, we do not “recruit” for new members any longer. Most of our new members come to the Lodge sponsored by existing members who are proud to show of the Lodge and bring new members into the fold. However, a significant number of new members come to us through our high profile in the community. I imagine that this is how Odd Fellows Lodges grew so strongly in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Our Lodge has a presence on the web, on Facebook and on other social media. We bring in new members who are reflective of our community in terms of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, disability, and more. We welcome husbands and wives, and boyfriends and girlfriends. We have opened the doors and windows of our Lodge Hall to our greater community.
We are proud to be Odd Fellows and proud to say that our fraternal order is alive and well and can continue its good works on behalf of our members and our community.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
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