In a few months, I will have completed 20 years as a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. (How time does fly.) When I first joined our fraternity, like most new Odd Fellows, I was pretty ignorant of the codes, the ritual, the protocols, the written and unwritten rules and procedures of the Order. Over the decades, year after year, I learned. There is lots to know, and I continue to learn to this day. When I first joined I was swept into a leadership position – ignorance and all. Within two years, I had become Noble Grand of my Lodge – Davis #169 in California. I soon realized that my Lodge, and indeed the Order as a whole, was diminishing. That’s because our Lodge had already been in a downward spiral of membership a decade or two before I joined; the old-time leaders had passed away, moved away or become disconnected and discouraged with our Lodge. I recall that at the same time I came aboard several leaders of the Lodge drifted away. In a way, I was the last man standing when I moved into leadership of my Lodge.
My Lodge, 20 years ago, was not that different than most other Lodges. The vast majority of Lodges were showing a steady diet of net declines in membership – meaning that Lodges were losing more members (through death or lapsing of memberships) than they were gaining through initiations. It seemed to me to be a clear recipe for the end of our Order, if allowed to continue. So, early on, I resolved to show that Odd Fellowship remains vital and relevant in the 21st Century, and I committed myself to proving it in my own Lodge. Davis #169 became, in a manner of speaking, my laboratory for a revitalized Odd Fellows Lodge and a revitalized Order.
I first served as Noble Grand for four years – not generally recommended for such a long period of time, but necessary so that I could change the culture of my Lodge. Thereafter, in 2008 I assumed the position as Chair of the Lodge’s new Membership Committee, and I have been serving in that capacity for the past 15 years.
So, what has happened in these last 15 years? When I first joined my Lodge, we had less than 30 members on the books. Today, we have over 380 members, and we have another 20 applicants for membership. Since I have served as Membership Chair, our annual reports have shown a net gain in membership in our Lodge – not once or twice, but year after year, each and every year.
How did we achieve this steady growth in our Lodge? There are lots of reasons, of course, but for purposes of this DMC Newsletter, I will highlight the top 5 reasons, with the hope that this might help other Lodges stop the decline in membership and start the increase.
The top 5 reasons for Our Growth
- A Focus on Membership. Membership growth is not spontaneous. It must be a priority for the leadership and members of the Lodge. It must be focused and it must be planned. First and foremost, the Lodge has to designate a Membership Chair, and hopefully, an entire Membership Committee. A membership development program has to be coordinated, with each part fitting comfortably with the other parts of the program. And Membership Committee reports must be given at every meeting of the Lodge.
- Odd Fellowship can and should be a big tent. There is room in our fraternity for a diverse population. A Lodge composed 100% of men ages 50-75 ignores the robust and diverse populations of our communities. We ignore to our peril the fact that 50% of our population is female and a high percentage of our community is composed of ethnic minorities.
- Community Involvement. The best way to increase Lodge membership is for the Lodge to become more involved in the community. The Odd Fellows Lodge and Lodge activities cannot sit in the shadows. They must be visible to the community. By way of example, every time my Lodge does a community function, we make sure to let the community know about it in the newspapers, with posters, and in social media.
- Communication. Good communication within the Lodge and with the community at large is critical to growth. If no one is informed about a Lodge project or a Lodge success, no matter how good the project, it becomes a tree falling in the forest that no one sees. My Lodge puts out a weekly electronic newsletter to every member of the Lodge and every applicant for membership. The newsletter reminds members and applicants of upcoming meetings, events, trips, and the like.
- Social. In particular, folks in the community in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s desire to participate in an organization that offers them social outlets. This is also very true for folks who have retired. After all, we are a fraternal order that was first founded in the pubs of Olde England. Perhaps the biggest selling point for an Odd Fellows Lodge is the ability to socialize and have fun together. People in the 21st Century want to have a connection to a larger community. Folks really do want to be part of something that makes a difference in the community and in the world.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
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