What constitutes an Odd Fellows Lodge? What differentiates the Independent Order of Odd Fellows from a club or other social grouping? For one, our basic mandates which were the basis of our beginnings. Did you know, for example, that there are strict legal requirements to which we must adhere to be classified as a tax-exempt organization? The IRS statements, quoted verbatim, are below.

A mutual benefit corporation stands apart from the other types of nonprofits because its mission is to serve its members and not the public. Common examples of mutual benefit corporations are homeowners’ associations, chambers of commerce, fraternities, and professional associations. – Wikipedia

To be exempt under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 501(c)(8), a fraternal beneficiary society, order, or association must meet the following requirements:

  1. It must have a fraternal purpose. An organization has a fraternal purpose if membership is based on a common tie or the pursuit of a common object. The organization must also have a substantial program of fraternal activities.
  2. It must operate under the lodge system or for the exclusive benefit of the members of a fraternal organization itself operating under the lodge system. Operating under the lodge system requires, at a minimum, two active entities: (i) a parent organization; and (ii) a subordinate (called a lodge, branch, or the like) chartered by the parent and largely self-governing.
  3. It must provide for the payment of life, sick, accident, or other benefits to the members of such society, order, or association or their dependents.
  4. An organization that provides benefits to some, but not all, of its members may qualify for exemption so long as most of the members are eligible for benefits, and criteria for excluding certain members are reasonable. – Internal Revenue Service

There is often discussion when a member receives either reimbursement for an event, mileage, or other payment from the order. Yet this is specifically how our order was originally based. To assume that all members exist to travel hundreds of miles free of charge at their own expense shows a) the order does not care for this specific member, b) they have forgotten or muddled the original purpose of the order, or c) no longer have the proper funds to care for their own members.

Of course, there are other circumstances. In today’s world, everything seems expensive. Yet, if our financial decision is to neglect members or only to help selected members, then we seem to be ignoring our more significant responsibilities. Historically, we can be reminded of the mandates of educating the orphan, feeding the hungry, burying the dead, and other age-old charitable functions. We can no longer do things such as this in their entirety. Our order also used to do other things to aid members. For example, if a member were out of work, the lodge would attempt to find them work. If a member was traveling, arrangements were often made where a member could visit, or even spend the night, at another member’s residence.

I believe this is one of the many reasons our order is quickly failing. We have members who believe that no one, often besides themselves, receives compensation for any work done in the order, travel, or other effort made. We have ceased to become an outlet for members altogether. For some reason, we have decided to question every payment a member receives. If a lodge employs a member, not only do we question their competence, but we also question payment altogether. But this is wrong and short-sighted. We are losing members steadily. We in California are large enough that it is not readily apparent, but as shown by Sovereign Grand Lodge’s annual reports, our numbers are quickly falling. Many states are now below 200 members statewide. Yet, supposedly, we are all religious and want to help one another. Either we react by treating our members like human beings, or we will end pretty quickly.

In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles

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