Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The term “insanity” was once defined as “doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result”. By this measure, the leadership of Sovereign Grand Lodge qualifies.
Why? Because every year they meet in session, and every year they talk about the decline in membership, and every year they peck and cluck about the terrible losses of members. Yet every year, the leaders at Sovereign Grand Lodge continue to do the same thing – again and again and again. They elect each other to office, they ceremoniously march around the room, they have dinners and speeches, and they profess the importance of Odd Fellowship and FLT. And yet year after year the leadership does nothing substantive to stem the loss of members, and does precious little to empower members and Lodges with the tools to increase membership. They did, in their collective wisdom, raise the dues that members must pay to SGL. What a mistake! Raising of dues will simply create one more impediment to recruiting and retaining members.
Currently, there are 16 jurisdictions (states and provinces) with less than 200 members. My own Lodge in Davis, with 300 members, has a greater membership than 16 entire jurisdictions. My Lodge continues to grow, and these jurisdictions continue to shrink. Yet those shrinking jurisdictions (each with less than 200 members) continue to go through the facade of having Grand Lodge Sessions, electing each other to Grand Lodge office, holding annual dinners, and making believe all is well. And all is not well. Lodges are losing their charters or consolidating. Every year, the membership of our Order in North America declines. How long can that last? Perhaps 20 years before total collapse? The branches are disintegrating. The Order is in peril.
The irony is that there are some Odd Fellows jurisdictions, like California, and some Lodges, like the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge, that are growing and have been adding members. And yet not once has the leadership of SGL come to the jurisdictions and the Lodges that are growing and made the obvious inquiry: “How do you do it?” and “How can we replicate this growth?” Instead, the leadership at SGL just continues to do precisely what they have done for the past 100 years – year after year after year – and hope that if they only continue to do what Odd Fellows did in 1920, somehow the Order will resurrect itself and all will be well.
Our California Brother Rick Boyles ran for the office of Sovereign Grand Warden this year. Brother Rick has just returned from SGL sessions. He did not win the office of SGW, but he went to SGL and he did what very few Odd Fellows have the guts to do: He spoke truth to power. It may have cost him a lot of votes. But it needed to be said.
His speech to SGL, as a candidate for SGW, is reprinted below. I urge you to read it.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Speech to Sovereign Grand Lodge
Presented by Rick Boyles, PGM
How many times was membership brought up yesterday? Only once, and by Manchester Unity, never by anyone in America.
So, when do we get serious? Have you read PSGM Jon Petersen’s May 2018 membership report?
All reports point to the fact that our order is shrinking –
Membership nationwide ending 12/31/15 was 33,745
Membership nationwide ending 12/31/16 was 32,412
In one year, we lost 1,333 members or 4% of our total membership.
-at this rate, we will be defunct very quickly.
Reading the sessions book, we have 16 jurisdictions with less than 200 members, including 6 jurisdictions with less than 100 members. 32% of our jurisdictions are distressed.
Almost all jurisdictions are now losing members.
It is not enough to say we need new members, or that we need better members, we need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
California, on the other hand, now comprises 14% of our nationwide population – we showed an increase of 90 members. Sovereign Grand Lodge just awarded us the first prize in membership.
Less than ten years ago, Past Sovereign Grand Master Don Smith, Past Grand Master Dave Rosenberg and I started the group called Dedicated Members for Change.
In the past five years, California has shown an increase in membership every year. Thousands of members are now members of the Dedicated Members for Change.
Brothers and Sisters, unless we make substantive changes soon our order is doomed. Just talking about membership really is ineffectual. Sooner or later we must walk the walk.
It clearly is discouraging to read negative reports about membership, but they are accurate representations of the state we are in. It is time now to change or see our beloved order pass away.
I ask for your vote. Why not vote for a successful jurisdiction for a change? The jurisdictions you tend to vote for are not showing net gains. This bears repeating – the jurisdictions you normally vote for are not showing net gains.
The real question is, do you care? Evidently not, or you would show it with your votes. Either we change now or we “should start making arrangements for an orderly demise within the next very few years” (Jon Petersen).
Last week in my local newspaper, I saw an advertisement that surprised me .
This was an ad that ran across the bottom third of the front page of our local newspaper. Front page ads are rare, and very expensive. The surprise, however, is that this was an ad for Rotary. The ad did not advertise an event. Rather, the ad was essentially a recruitment for members. As such, it was surprising at many levels. First, I had assumed that Rotary was a booming club that did not have to recruit new members. Clearly, that is no longer the case. It’s not just fraternal organizations that see diminishing memberships – apparently, clubs are experiencing this downward trend, as well. Second, the ad gave the impression of a needy organization. Third, and perhaps most importantly, that ad was not going to be effective. It provided no reason or incentive for anyone to join. It was just a raw, impersonal solicitation.
And this got me thinking about the entire subject of “publicity” on behalf of organizations, be they clubs or fraternities. It’s an important subject. Yet publicity is often underutilized, or poorly utilized. I know a thing or two about publicity. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, and have spent the early part of my working career in that field. I have been the Publicity Chair as well as the Membership Chair of my Lodge for over a decade. In that decade, my Lodge membership has increased by 1,000%.
There are three types of publicity: (1) No publicity; (2) Bad publicity; and (3) Good publicity.
No publicity is the state of life for the majority of our Odd Fellow Lodges, unfortunately. These Lodges do virtually no activity in the community, and there is precious little, if any, outreach in the way of advertisements, posters, ads, brochures, emails or use of social media. “No publicity” Lodges are invisible in their communities, and because of the invisibility membership numbers show steady declines. An Odd Fellows Lodge will not long exist if the only folks who join are members of the family of existing Lodge members. No publicity is the worst possible scenario for a Lodge’s growth and development.
Regrettably, bad publicity is the norm for many Odd Fellow Lodges. Bad publicity is only a small step up from the realm of no publicity. We begin with the proposition that a fraternal order can live for centuries (far past the normal lifespan of an individual) if it continues to attract new members. It is the nature of a fraternity that it must attract younger members. If a Lodge is composed only of members in their 70’s and new members are also in their 70’s – that Lodge is in serious trouble; in 10 years the membership will all be in their 80’s, and so on. So, all that being the case, let me give you an example (one that I have seen all too frequently) of “bad publicity.” If a Lodge wants to attract young men and women to its ranks, it will fail to do so if it sends a photo to the paper showing several Lodge members at a potluck who are in their 70’s and overweight. What message is the Lodge sending with such a photo? Dining with septuagenarians will only attract more septuagenarians. If a Lodge wants to attract a younger crowd, the Lodge needs to plan events featuring music, or hikes or other dynamic endeavors, and send along photos of young men and women enjoying the activity.
Good publicity is critical to success for a Lodge. Let’s assume a Lodge provides lots of activities for members, and also reaches out into the community to help others. Those are excellent functions for a Lodge, and can translate into applications for membership. However, if there is a failure to provide publicity both before and after the events, then the tree has fallen in the forest and no one has seen it. A Lodge must not only come up with good events, but it must strive for good publicity about them. Let me give you another example. Years ago my Lodge resolved to set a Guinness World Record by having the longest line of people riding bikes in a row. We did it, and attracted thousands of people to the event (and hundreds of participants) – plus full coverage by local media (both print and electronic). The result was a remarkable amount of positive publicity, high visibility for Odd Fellowship, and several applications for membership.
And make no mistake about it – social media is the preferred tool for folks under 50. We have to accept the fact that fewer and fewer people are reading newspapers in print. The newer generations are all about Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and other forms of social media. If a Lodge is not on social media, it is invisible to the younger generations. Odd Fellows Lodges fail to use social media at their peril.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Every Odd Fellows Lodge has a Register of Members which contains hand-written information on each member of that Lodge from the day of its institution to the present day. The name of each member, and his/her signature, is included as part of this historic book.
Recently, I had occasion to serve as Secretary pro tem at one of my Lodge meetings (the Secretary missed that meeting due to another community commitment helping foster children) and as I was setting up to do my duties, as pro tem, I flipped through the pages of our dd Fellows Lodge’s Register of Members. It’s an interesting historical journey – and I recognized some names of early members who were prominent figures in the early days of our community. Our particular Lodge – Davis #169 in California – was instituted in 1870. Since the Lodge formation, I saw that 780 men and women had signed the Register of Members as of the present date. Of course, I looked through the register to find my own name and signature and found it in March of 2004 as Number 411.
And then it struck me like a bolt of electricity. There were 410 members who had signed the Register before me, and there have been 370 members who have signed the Register after me. As I drilled down on these numbers, it was apparent that in the 134 years before I joined the Lodge 410 members had joined – an average of 3 members joining per year. And in the 14 years after I joined the Lodge 370 members had joined – an average of over 26 joining per year. In fact, almost as many members had joined the Lodge in the last 14 years as compared to the prior 134 years.
What had happened in the last 14 years to so dramatically change the trajectory of this Lodge?
The Davis Odd Fellows Lodge had moved from a small, static and generally moribund Lodge to a fast-growing and dynamic Lodge – currently the largest in the Jurisdiction of California . For over a century, membership had eked along, and then over the past decade membership in the Lodge had literally exploded. I attribute this sea change to SIX STEPS TO SUCCESS that were put into place during the years 2005-2009 – a period of time coinciding with my 4-year tenure as Noble Grand of the Lodge. (Caveat: It’s not normally a good idea for one person to serve as NG for so long a period – but it was necessary in this case in order to change the culture and the direction of the Lodge.) These six steps made all the difference in the world. And they are not exclusive to the Davis Lodge. Any Lodge can use these six steps (or facsimiles of them) to change its direction. Here are the six steps that made all the difference.
1. A conscious decision to open the Lodge to all. The Odd Fellows Lodge, for over a Century, had been composed almost exclusively of middle-aged or older white men. This was not reflective of our community or our State. We made a conscious decision to reach out to the community at large and welcome people of all ages, races and religious/philosophical beliefs. We have initiated folks in their teens and folks in their 80’s. We admit so many new members, that we have to schedule 3 Initiatory Degrees per year. In particular, we increased our outreach to women – encouraging many husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends to join. If we admitted only men, we would be excluding 50% of our population – what’s the logic and sense in that? But we also made a point of reaching out to the great diversity of our community. We wanted the Lodge to be a big tent reflective of the eclectic folks who live here. This diversity has greatly expanded the universe of potential members, and has made us stronger.
2. A clean Lodge Hall. Just as it is important to have a welcoming home, we endeavored to have a welcoming Odd Fellows Lodge. In 2004, the Lodge Hall was old, run down, and barely used. From 2005 till 2010, a major effort was undertaken to clean up, repair, upgrade and refurbish the Lodge – including new carpeting, wood-paneling on the walls, new ceilings and chandeliers, increased storage capacity, and a stage in the Upper Hall. We used money that had been saved and we took a loan from the Grand Lodge. You can’t invite the public if your Hall is not accessible, so we made sure it was. We removed the chairlift from the railing (what message does a chairlift send to the public) and we installed a modern elevator and four accessible restrooms. We converted our kitchen into a commercial kitchen so that we could host and cater events. We undertook a protocol of preventive maintenance of our roofs, heating and air-conditioning, carpeting and other fixtures to avoid large expenditures in the future. Members of the Lodge today take great pride in their Lodge Hall.
3. Increased visibility in the community. Prior to 2005, the Lodge Hall, and the Odd Fellows in general, were virtually invisible in the community. This changed. For example, there was no signage to identify the Lodge as an Odd Fellows Hall. We installed lots and lots of new signage, including a vertical neon IOOF sign (that is, by the way, lit 24 hours) we had purchased from a defunct Lodge in Pennsylvania and had shipped across the USA to Davis. We worked with community artists to put murals up on seven of our walls – in full color, depicting local community scenes. And most importantly, when the Lodge had an activity for the public, we made sure to publicize it beforehand and put out press releases and posters. We even installed two large poster boards in front of the our Lodge which highlight events coming up at the Lodge of interest to the public. Today, the Lodge Hall is brightly lit, visible and active. There is something happening at the Lodge Hall 15-20 days every month. Ask most members of the community where the Odd Fellows Hall is located, and they can tell you.
4. The Committee structure to serve the community and to have fun. A keystone to our success is the creation of a strong Committee structure. Now, every Lodge has some committees required by Code (e.g. Finance Committee, Visiting Committee, Bylaws Committee) and most Lodges conjure up one or more other Committees to accommodate administrative tasks or Lodge Hall maintenance. But in Davis, we embraced the Committee concept with both arms. We currently have over 50 Committees. Some of them have administrative functions, but most of the Committees are either for community service (e.g. Bingo Committee, Adopt-a-Highway Committee, Music Committee, Community Support Committee, Classic Film Festival Committee, Davis Chocolate Festival Committee, Taste of Davis Committee, Breakfast with Santa Committee, etc.) or internal so that Lodge members can have an active social life (e.g. OddtoberFest Committee, New Year’s Eve Party Committee, Needlework Committee, Halloween Party Committee, Gaming Committee, Cigar Lounge Committee, Ping Pong Committee, Take a Hike Committee, etc.) When Lodge members express an interest in launching a new Committee, we encourage them. Committees are given annual budgets, if needed, and then are allowed to “do their thing”. Lodge meetings at the Davis Lodge rarely have “old business” or “new business” – 75% of the meeting is taken up with Committee reports.
5. The creation of the Pledge Process. We decided that we didn’t want to make it too easy for folks to join our Lodge. Instead, we wanted them to learn about Odd Fellowship, and our Davis Lodge and earn admittance as a member of the Order. So, we created a Pledge system and a Pledge process. When a man or woman submits an application to join the Lodge, they are considered a “Pledge”, placed in a group with other Pledges – we have three such groups each year. (Did you know that the Initiatory Degree was once historically known as the “Degree of Trust”?) The process of joining our Davis Lodge takes 4 to 6 months. During that time period the applicants must read a “Pledge Book” (full of information about the Lodge and the Order), must interview a minimum of 13 Lodge members (a great way to break the ice and meet members) and must attend a minimum of 8 social meetings and Lodge events. Through this process, they learn a lot about the Lodge and when they are finally initiated, they appreciate membership even more. Attending their first meeting as a member does not scare them away. They are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about continuing their journey in IOOF.
6. A positive attitude, and a rejection of negativity. None of the above works if the Lodge is an uncomfortable place of bickering and negativity. No one wants to come to meetings to be distressed. No one will join a Lodge (or stay long as a member of a Lodge) where negativity reigns. We resolved early on to be an island of peace and enjoyment – a place to escape the turmoil of everyday life – just as early Odd Fellows envisioned. Rumors are immediately quashed. Negative comments are not welcomed. Every idea – particularly ideas from new members – are encouraged. Let me give you just one example. Years ago, a member proposed that the Lodge try to set a Guinness World Record. In other Lodges, this idea would not have gotten to the starting gate and would have been shot down as “that won’t work” or “it’s too much trouble”, or simply, “that’s stupid.” In our Lodge, we said, “Fine, let’s form a committee and see if we can do it.” Well, it took almost a year of work and planning by the “Bicycle Parade Committee”, but we did it. The idea ultimately involved thousands of people in our community, and generated lots of interest from television, radio and print media. Great publicity for our Lodge. And in the end, the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge set a Guinness World Record for most bicycles constantly moving in a single line.
These Six Steps to Success really do work and – in time – will allow your Odd Fellows Lodge to grow and prosper.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Brothers and Sisters, you volunteered to join the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. You freely accepted an obligation to abide by certain conditions upon becoming a member, even after given the opportunity to leave at one point in the Initiatory Degree. There were no promises made to you, other than an offer to show you some principles and values, which could improve your character as a person.
Those principles of Friendship, Love, and Truth, have proven to be too much for some members. We do not always see sincere friendship exchanged between members of the Order. In fact, we probably wonder if we are friends at all. The same goes for love. Do you sincerely love your brothers and sisters? Truth also escapes many members, as they seem to be vying for some strategic position of leadership in the Order; they do not share information, which can be helpful to others for growth.
I will go back to the first paragraph in this writing: “You freely accepted an obligation to abide by certain conditions upon becoming a member.” You promised all of us, who were already members of the Order to live by certain principles when we asked for nothing in return.
Why do we see a reluctance to embrace each other and to lift each other up to greater heights? We see longtime members – not all of them – treat newer members with disdain and limit any creative ideas, which could otherwise improve the situation of the lodge. The older members recite code word-for-word to limit growth, as if it was the ends to all ends, when in fact our code has so many contradictions and allowances (probably done intentionally to offer lodges an opportunity for success). Newer, mostly younger members, look for answers and encouragement from members of other lodges. They look toward the successful lodges and see what these lodges are doing and ask questions. This scenario repeats itself over and over in this Order. Thus, deeper resentment grows between the longtime members and newer members. Does this sound familiar?
Brothers and Sisters, this is one of the biggest issues in our Order, today. As a longtime member who has served in different capacities and levels of this Order, this scenario is our number one killer. Not opening our minds and hearts to the members who bring the new ideas – and the ENERGY behind those ideas – is the number one killer! Our members must not only step back and allow every member to try new ideas, but embrace those ideas.
Look outside the doors of your hall. You see other organizations looking for new members. They are trying to survive, too. They want our members. This is as much a lesson on Membership retention as it is on reminding Odd Fellows to live by those grand principles of Friendship, Love, and Truth. Those basic principles if practiced, should melt away any blockage or barricade set by any member of the Order.
Strive to live by the principles of Friendship, Love, and Truth and you will find life gets a lot easier. The lodge becomes a better place for your efforts, too. You are in “it” when you live it. Now, go out and win it.
Peter V. Sellars
A longtime member.
Wines of the World
RSVPs are now being accepted for the next 4-course Gourmet Dinner with Wine Pairings, coming up on Friday, August 31, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Lower Hall. This time we will feature an international dinner with international wines in four courses featuring dishes and wines from France, Italy, the United States and Spain. The menu with wine pairings is attached. Please note that there is a vegetarian alternative presented, as well.
You can RSVP now to save your spot – contact Allison at email@example.com. Let Allison know how many are in your party, if you wish the vegetarian alternative, or if there are any dietary restrictions.
At the last Gourmet Dinner, we had a wonderful gourmet dinner with beer pairings, attended by 22 guests. Everyone enjoyed the dinner and the beverages. We expect another successful dinner with wines of the world on August 31. Arguably, between our three Lodge Chefs, we have the best restaurant in town. This is a fixed price menu so all four courses, and the wine, are included in the price.
Presented by Gallo-August 31st @ 6pm
Four courses paired with wines- $65/person (gratuities appreciated)
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org and save your spot today! RSVP Deadline is August 27th.
Amelia Crémant de Bordeaux Brut Rosé (Bordeaux, France) paired with Moules Farcies (French Baked Mussels), Vegetarian Substitution-Garlicky Baked Mushrooms
Talbot ‘Kali Hart’ Pinot Noir (Monterey, Ca) paired with Chopped Antipasto Salad
Brancaia “Tre” Blend -Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet (Tuscany, Italy) paired with Chicken Arrabbiata served with Crusty Bread, Vegetarian Substitution-Spinach & Cherry Tomato Arrabbiata
Las Rocas Garnacha from Calatayud, Spain paired with Chocolate Drizzled Rosquillas (Spanish Donuts)