Updated: July 22, 2021
Today’s DMC Newsletter could be entitled “Anatomy of a Healthy Odd Fellows Lodge.”
I’m going to talk about the Lodge that I know far better than any other Lodge – my own Lodge: Davis Lodge #169 in Davis, California. I believe that I can rightfully say we are a “healthy” Lodge. We have over 320 members, making us the largest Odd Fellows Lodge in California in terms of number of members – and to my knowledge, we may very well be the largest Lodge in North America, and perhaps the world. But, of course, the quantity of our membership alone doesn’t make for a healthy Lodge – but the quality of our membership experience is strong and vibrant.
It wasn’t always that way. When I first joined the Davis Lodge in 2004, we had less than 30 members on the books of the Lodge – similar to the vast majority of Lodges in this jurisdiction and elsewhere. And the Lodge in 2004 didn’t really do much for the members or for the community. How in the world did we increase our membership over ten-fold in that time period? The answer is that we followed a methodology that I first laid out for the Lodge when I became Noble Grand of the Davis Lodge in 2005. It has resulted in a net gain in our membership every single year since 2005 and a healthy, enthusiastic and thriving Lodge for our community. Perhaps we’ll call it “the Davis Method” – but whatever you call it, it works. Other Lodges in California have tried it to great success. Here, simplified, are the three components that have enabled us to be healthy:
1. Focus on Membership. Human beings can live for 100 years. Fraternal Orders can live for centuries. But the only way that a Lodge can be sustained beyond the current generation is to focus on membership and to bring in members of all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic categories. Bringing in new members is vital if a Lodge (or a fraternal order) is to survive beyond the current generation.
Too many Lodges have simply failed to keep pace. And the membership just gets older and older. A Lodge is in trouble where the average age of members is 70 or more.
Recently, I asked our Lodge’s Financial Secretary Raleigh Klein to give me a breakdown of the ages of our 322 members. Most of the current leaders of the Lodge are in their 60’s and 70’s. The results showed that the average age of our Lodge membership is 59. Drilling down, we found that 79 of our members were in their 50’s – that’s significant because that’s the next generation of leadership for our Lodge. Drilling down even further, we found that 67 of our members were in their 40’s, 30’s, 20’s or teens – that’s perhaps even more significant because that’s the upcoming generation of leadership.
Our Lodge is healthy because we represent the spectrum of ages.
It’s important to have a strong Membership Committee, but frankly, membership is the responsibility of each and every member of the Lodge. And we don’t make it easy for our applicants for membership. We call the applicants “Pledges” and we require that they go through a process of reading about the Order and our Lodge, taking a test, attending events at the Lodge, and interviewing members of the Lodge. Through the process they are initiated with much more knowledge of who we are, and they are enthusiastic about membership.
2. Focus on Committees. No one wants to join a boring Lodge. Lodges need to be active to attract and to maintain membership. The Davis Lodge displays good health in this area because we have 57 Lodge Committees. Our committees run the gamut of administrative committees (such as the Visiting Committee, Bylaws Committee, Finance Committee, and the like), Lodge social committees (such as our weekly Club Night Committee, the OddtoberFest Committee, the Hiking Committee, the Cigar Lounge Committee, the Knitting Committee, and the like), and community-serving committees (such as Breakfast with Santa, Thursday Live! music at the Lodge, Classic Film Festival Committee, the Davis Chocolate Festival Committee, and the like).
Our Lodge has very high visibility in the community and because of that. potential members come to us to explore joining the Lodge.
In our Lodge, when members come to leadership with ideas for new endeavors, we don’t automatically say “no” – we explore the idea and in virtually every cases, we wind up saying “yes” – we form a committee, get volunteers and make it happen. Most of our committees started with an idea. Recently, for example, it was suggested that we form a “Zombie Bike Ride” committee. We did it, and it was a resounding success. At Halloween, we had over 1,000 Lodge and community members (including families) on their bicycles, in costumes, dressed like zombies. We also raised funds and paid for six specially built tricycles for disabled children that we donated to families. A few days ago, one of our members (who is a teacher and sketch artist) suggested that we host a “self-portrait art show”. There was a lot of enthusiasm for this simple project and it’s off and running. And what a great idea to get “reacquainted” after the pandemic lock-down and social distancing.
3. Focus on the Social Aspects. Lodges must follow the ritual – we are. after all, a fraternal order. But Lodges that only have formal meetings where members sit around in a darkened room reading from a little red book, are one dimensional Lodges. Of course, we have to have a formal meeting once a month with full ritual and regalia. But it’s OK to have social meetings, and it’s OK to open the doors and windows of the Lodge to the community, and it’s OK to have social events for the members, members’ families, and the community at large. Don’t forget – when Odd Fellowship first started centuries ago, the members gathered in pubs to enjoy each other’s company, drink and eat, tell stories and just have a good time. Let’s not forget the social aspect of our fraternal life.
In the Davis Lodge (when we’re not locked down in a pandemic), there is something happening at the Lodge most days of every month. For example, we have a weekly “Club Night at the Lodge” which is an informal social gathering of members and applicants. The bar is open, dinner is available, and we play trivia with a trivia master. One of our members plays a baby grand piano in the background and the big-screen television is on with sporting events. It’s a regular feature every Thursday evening and typically 50 folks stop by to enjoy the social time. Other activities include monthly Bingo for the members and community, monthly music venues for members and the community, and a monthly Saturday morning breakfast meeting, among other gatherings.
All in all, the Davis Lodge is alive, well and healthy. I mention all this because there may be some kernels of truth which may be of benefit to your Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
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