Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Recently, a long-time and distinguished member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows sent me this message in response to one of our DMC Newsletters:
“We need a program that all Lodges should try to implement that will attract the 20 to 40 year olds. When I joined, I was in my late 30s. I was so excited to be part of my lodge and have been responsible for over 100 members joining. The lodge is getting younger members to join but not many. The bigger problem is, to get them involved and come to meeting and take offices. I have been the FS for most of my time because no one will take it over. I believe the younger folks have different mentality than us older guys. They don’t write checks. They don’t carry cash. So what can attract them?”
This member has clearly identified an existential problem for the Odd Fellows: We are slowly aging, and we are failing to bring in younger members.
A century ago, the average age of Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodges hovered in the 30’s and 40’s. I have looked at records of Lodges which showed that desk officers were often in their 20’s and Nobles Grand were typically in their 30’s. About 50 years ago, Don Smith of California became Grand Master of the Odd Fellows of California and subsequently became Sovereign Grand Master of the Odd Fellows in the United States in his 30’s. Now, in the 21st Century, we see most of the leaders of our Order – both Odd Fellows and Rebekahs – in their 70’s and 80’s.
Well, we have had two intertwined membership problems which have been hectoring our fraternal order for the past 100 years. If we fail to recognize and address these twin problems, we fail our Order. Here are the problems: First, we have failed to bring in sufficient new members to compensate for the existing members who depart (resulting in net losses in our ranks). Second, when members do bring in a new member, they tend to bring in members in the same general age range as the sponsoring member. This second problem is the main focus of this DMC Newsletter.
Here is what has happened over the decades: A Lodge member in his/her 70’s will tend to bring in new members who are also in their 70’s. And a Lodge member in his/her 60’s will tend to bring in new members who are in their 60’s. And a Lodge member in his/her 50’s will tend to bring in new members who are in their 50’s. Not always, but that is the tendency – and that is only natural because we tend to know people who are our peers. But this tendency is a self-fulfilling prophecy which will inevitably lead to demise as our Order ages, and ages and ages. Let me hasten to add that this is not a criticism of members in their 70’s and 80’s. I, myself, am in that age-range. We need members in every age range. However, if a Lodge only brings in older members, the long-range future of that Lodge is in peril. A Lodge composed almost exclusively of members in their 70’s and 80’s ten years from now will be a Lodge composed of members in their 80’s and 90’s. And what happens ten years after that . . . .
The solution? It’s pretty simple and straight-forward. The solution to problem #1, of course, is for every member of the Order to do his/her primal duty and bring in at least ONE new member to replace that sponsoring member when he/she departs (bringing in TWO new members will result in growth of the Order). The solution to problem #2, is equally obvious: members must sponsor new members who are younger than they are – preferably a decade younger. In other words, that member in his/her 70’s should sponsor a new member who is in his/her 60’s. The member in his/her 60’s should sponsor a new member in his/her 50’s. And so on.
Slowly, over time, this Order’s membership will stabilize, will grow, and will become younger. The problems are obvious. But the solutions are also obvious, and are in our hands as Odd Fellows.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows