Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Just last week I heard about a Lodge that is about to fold it’s tents. A long-time member of that Lodge had just passed away, and “suddenly” the Lodge membership fell below the minimum of 5. They no longer had a quorum. Because they had no quorum, they couldn’t meet, they couldn’t operate as a Lodge, and they couldn’t even vote to consolidate with another Lodge. The remaining 4 members were all in their upper 70’s and 80’s in age. How did this “suddenly” occur?
Well, in truth, the demise of this Lodge was not “sudden”. It occurred over decades. The members of the Lodge should have seen it coming 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and 5 years ago. Those Lodge members, past and present, are culpable and they are responsible for the death of that Lodge. The Lodge members over the past two, or perhaps even three, decades ignored the previous hundred years when prior generations of members started that Lodge and worked hard to build it. The Lodge members over the past two or three decades were more concerned with maintaining the status quo. They were absolutely comfortable to continue doing things just the way they had always done them. They eschewed bringing in new members because that might result in changes. And so, over the years, the Lodge lost members who moved away, withdrew or passed away. And the Lodge did not bring in sufficient new members to replace them. Oh, they might have brought in a cousin or an uncle, but the handful of new members they brought in did not replace the volume losses, and the new members were all of the same age as the existing members – no members of a new generation were brought in. And so, in 2017, the few remaining Lodge members were all in their 80’s and 90’s, with one member in his late 70’s, and the inevitable happened – an elderly member died and the quorum was lost. No one was left in the Lodge to carry on. They had skipped two full generations of potential new members. All the work of starting a Lodge and building a Lodge in that community was and is lost. All because the members got lazy, and complacent, and cared only about their own comfort, and not the well-being of Odd Fellowship.
We must never forget that Odd Fellowship is a fraternal order, and the first responsibility of a fraternal order is to bring in new members. A fraternal order can exist and last indefinitely, BUT ONLY if the members bring in new members in the next generation. As humans we have a life span of 100 years, if we are extremely fortunate. A fraternity can last for centuries, if it replenishes the membership with the next generation. It does little value for a fraternity of 60 and 70 year-old members to bring in a group of applicants who are also 60 and 70 years of age. In 10 years, that fraternity will have members who are in their 70’s and 80’s and will have skipped two generations of potential members. There will be very few potential members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who wish to join a fraternity of septuagenarians and octogenarians.
Every single Lodge is at risk of this generation-skipping syndrome – and if not treated, it is fatal. My own Lodge – Davis #169 – is large and vigorous, but out of curiosity, I examined the register of members of my Lodge the other day and found some startling statistics. That register has the signature and date of initiation of every member since the Davis Lodge was instituted in 1870. From 1870 to 2017, the register shows that 744 men and women have joined. But here is what I found when I looked back at prior decades. In the decade of 1940-49, a total of 39 new members joined the Lodge. In the decade of 1950-59, 38 new members joined the Lodge. In the decade of 1960-69, 19 new members joined the Lodge. In the decade of 1970-79, 9 new members joined the Lodge. In the decade of 1980-89, 8 new members joined the Lodge. And in the decade of 1990-99, 22 new members joined the Lodge. In total, in that span of 60 years, only 135 members joined the Lodge – that’s an average of 2.25 new members per year. In particular, in the 20 years encompassing 1970-89, only 17 members joined – that’s an average of less than one new member per year. When I joined my Lodge in 2004, my Lodge was just like most Lodges in California – in trouble with declining membership. My Lodge had less than 30 members on the books, and could barely muster a dozen members for a meeting.
Soon after I joined, however, I was elected Noble Grand and served in that position for four years, and an interesting thing happened. In the 13-year time period 2004- 2017, we have had 336 new members join the Davis Lodge – that translates into an average of 25.8 new members initiated every YEAR. We have added almost as many new members in the past 13 years as joined in the prior 134 years.
How is this possible?
This dramatic turn-around happened because we changed the attitude, culture and direction of the Lodge. We stopped being complacent and comfortable with the status quo, because, candidly, that status quo was not working. We re-emphasized the fraternal aspect of our fraternity – we started having fun in the Lodge with committees planning all sorts of social events for the Lodge members and families. We re-emphasized our outreach into and involvement with the community, opening our Lodge doors and windows to our town and organizing numerous events to do good works to engage and help the community. We put out notices and press releases and became visible. We re-emphasized membership development. And that membership development became easier and easier because we were having fun and we were helping the community.
This is not rocket science, Brothers and Sisters. Lodges require new members to continue their existence. But no one wants to join a boring Lodge that does little more than hold meetings and schedule an occasional potluck. Certainly, such a boring Lodge will not attract the young men and women of the 21st Century who are VITAL to the continued life of our fraternal order.
F – L – T
Pasts Grand Master
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
I believe that virtually every Lodge in North America can refresh itself and can grow. We simply need to think outside the box of our own Lodge Halls.
There is good news on the horizon for our Lodges, and the 2016 California statistics prove it. For one thing, 2016 was the first year in a looooooong time that California experienced a net GAIN in membership, rather than a net LOSS. In 2016, our membership increased (gains over losses) by 90 brothers and sisters. Interestingly, our net gain of male members was 2, and our net gain of female members was 88. Those few Lodges that continue to have no women members need to re-think that “status” and make sure that their doors are truly open to 50% of our population.
In other good news, the following Lodges are in the Top 10 showing the largest number of initiations in 2016. Here are the Lodges and the number of new members each initiated:
California #1 (San Francisco) – 32
Davis #169 (Davis) – 28
Oustomah #16 (Nevada City) – 23
St. Helena #167 (St. Helena) -23
Yerba Buena # 15 (San Francisco) – 18
La Fayette Historical #65 (La Grange) – 18
Morse #257 (San Francisco) – 16
San Pablo #43 (Vallejo) – 13
Bay City #71 (San Francisco) – 13
Golden West #322 (San Francisco) – 13
And in 2016, the following Lodges were in the Top 10 of dues-paying members. Here are the Lodges and the number of dues-paying members as of December 31, 2016:
California #1 (San Francisco) – 262
Davis #169 (Davis) – 260
Yerba Buena #15 (San Francisco) – 235
Apollo #123 (San Francisco) – 226
Lodi #269 (Lodi) – 124
Golden West #322 (San Francisco) – 115
Mt. Brow #82 (Los Banos) – 95
Franco-America #207 (San Francisco) – 93
Vacaville #83 (Vacaville) – 83
Bay City #71 (San Francisco) – 70
How can YOUR Lodge join these Lodge in a path to stability and growth? I recently received an e-mail from Santa Rosa that shows what can be achieved if your Lodge is open to trying new things. And that’s what we have to do to survive in the 21st Century. A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein probably says it best: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result.” What most Lodges have been doing year after year after year does not work and most are losing members faster than they can replace them. The “same thing” isn’t working. Let’s be open to evolution and change in our Lodges and in our Order. In this regard, I’m very pleased to forward to you that e-mail from Santa Rosa. Thinking outside the box has brought our brothers and sisters in Santa Rosa some healthy fraternal fun and will inevitably increase the membership of the Lodges in that community.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Dear Brother Dave,
I’ve been receiving your emails for over a year now and wanted to say thank you and let you know how much your messages have helped me.
I am the Vice Grand for the Santa Rosa Oak Leaf Rebekah Lodge #74. I am also the Hall Manager for the Santa Rosa Odd Fellows Hall so I see, and interact with, many members of both the Rebekah and the Odd Fellows Lodge #53. I have a high level of respect for these lodge members and have grown very close to many of them over the years. They have become my second family. I began to realize that although I was building friendships with members of both lodges, they didn’t all have that opportunity to get to know one another very well. I have always felt more could be done to encourage more member involvement. I thought there had to be something exciting we could do. I remembered the ideas you talked about and so I turned to some of your past emails for inspiration.
I met with the Noble Grand of the Odd Fellows Lodge #53 at the time, Sonny Arroyo, at the end of last year and asked him for his support. We both went back to our respective lodges with our idea. I wanted to combine our socials into a joint monthly social for both lodges and open them to all family members, friends, grandkids, neighbors, etc. My vision was that anyone would be welcome. A committee was formed and soon fliers would be emailed and posted on our website and the Neighborhood app., and a robo call would go out to all members to remind them of the upcoming social.
Previously, both lodges had separate socials averaging 25 members. Our first joint social dinner attracted around 45-50 people. The following month we planned a home made meal, created “trivia” games, set up crafts tables for the kids, and booked an Irish dance school to perform. Roughly 70 people attended. Word got out that something fun was happening at the Santa Rosa Odd Fellows Hall, so the next month we planned another home made meal and booked a singing barbershop quartet. We counted roughly 95 people. Last month, at the end of May, it was Polynesian Night with Polynesian dancers, a band, and authentic Polynesian food. Members, their families, friends, neighbor lodges, along with our neighborhood totaled almost 150 people. Each social we have had numerous applications for membership for both the Rebekahs and the Odd Fellow Lodges. I noticed the “nay-sayers” were even enjoying themselves. It made me smile!
We started with the desire to come together. My main goal was to simply get the Rebekahs and Odd Fellows together to give everyone a chance to make new friendships and rekindle old ones. It was an unexpected surprise to see more of our neighbors join in on the fun and want to learn about Odd Fellowship. This has been an amazing opportunity for us to grow our lodges and have fun doing it.
So, I wanted to thank you for your emails and on-going dialogue of how important it is to take action. Not one thing may work for all lodges, but trying something is the first step. Success will come with perseverance and creativity. I think it’s important to encourage and foster the friendships between members first, and then reach out to our families, friends, and our community in which we live to share the stories of FLT.
Again, thank you for your guidance and wonderful ideas. I always look forward to them.
Vice Grand, Oak Leaf Rebekah Lodge #74
Santa Rosa Hall Manager
The Davis Odd Felllows Lodge is pleased to announce and offer our second Gourmet Dinner – this time pairing BBQ with assorted Beers from Anderson Valley Brewing Company – a great summertime pairing. The date is Friday, July 21. This is a multi-course meal with an assortment of premium beers. The cost for the Gourmet Dinner is $45 per person.
Space is limited so we recommend that you RSVP as soon as possible. The RSVP deadline is July 10. RSVP to Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 758-4940.
(Also, mark your calendars for the third Gourmet Meal which will be held on Friday, August 18, featuring a multi-course vegetarian dinner paired with wines from the Steele Vineyard – details to be announced in July.)
Please join us Friday July 21st for beer tasting and BBQ! The meal will be prepared by Odd Fellows in-house Chefs Sarun Kao and Michael Sutton. Happy hour will start at 6:00pm in The Lounge. $45 per person. Space is limited.
RSVP to reserve your seat to Allison@rentdavislodge.com or 530-758-4940
Happy Hour: Deep Fried Pork Stuffed Chicken Wing “Angel Wings” paired with Summer Solstice Ale
First Course: Fresh Melon, Prosciutto, and Shaved Parmesan Salad paired with Briney Melon Gose
Entrée: Smokey Dry Rubbed Pork Ribs served with Garlic Steak Fries and Elote (Mexican Street Corn) paired with back-to-back IPA’s-Eetah IPA and Hop Ottin’ IPA
Dessert: Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Bourbon Barrel Stout Float served with Almond Toffee Bark
Odd Fellows has an image issue that can be easily addressed. We seem to be confused about the difference between secrecy in an Odd Fellows lodge meeting versus secrecy at large. We treat our order as if it is not supposed to exist; and, in fact, I have seen the public refer to us as a cult. Then, when there is an issue within our order that goes public, the public becomes confused as well, and tends to view our order in a negative light.
100 years ago, this confusion did not exist. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was one of the largest fraternal entities in America. Now, it is a shadow of its former self, and because of that, the public at large is left wondering about not only our right to exist but even confusion about who or what we are. In this age of instantaneous news, smartphones and ever increasing technological advances, we are quickly making ourselves not only obsolete but in fact open to speculation about our very right to carry on in such a secluded setting. One positive way to defend our order is to address negative publicity with positive publicity, but our normal inclination as an order is to say nothing, which is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Obviously, in the years and decades before us, technology will evolve rapidly, and what we prefer to hold secret should evolve accordingly. As it says in our guidebooks, when the lodge door closes all lodge functions will be held sacrosanct, but the premise that what we say or do has no outside ramifications, is not only a quaint idea but is also becoming increasingly dangerous. The public perception of a lodge is simply that of a cold exterior; having no idea whether the lodge contains members considered for sainthood, or staffed with convicted felons perpetuating an agenda of fear.
As mentioned, our installation ritual talks about the secrecy within a lodge and this is important for lodge sovereignty; however, it is not an undesirable thing to advertise our lodge to the public. For this simple reason, anything that announces our presence in a positive light serves a purpose. As many have noted, the order tends to maintain buildings in the center of downtowns, and yet, we are hidden in plain sight. Even more, we are mainly a group of elderly Anglo-Saxons whom are slow or unwilling to accept diversification, which adds to the public’s negative view of our order. Conversely, where we are at our strongest, we practice diversification, and are more open publicly. At successful lodges, the growth of the lodge is contingent upon its ability to portray a positive public image, the portrait of the lodge as painted by its many happy members, multiplying exponentially, so much so that growth becomes almost a non-issue, new members added to the mix without concentrated effort or distress. On the other hand, unsuccessful lodges, led by often disruptive, or disgruntled long-term members bent upon the persecution of their own members bullying to protect their own self-interests, or built-in prejudices, can easily fail just by merely continuing their fractured path. By simple examination of the differences between a successful and an unsuccessful lodge, we can see how we might consider the right way to progress into the future.
That begs the question what can we do if our own Odd Fellows lodge is failing, and can’t connect publicly in any substantial way? Simply put, we must alter our image. While it’s an admirable trait to talk about friendship, love, and truth, if we want new members, we need to project this publicly. This may seem difficult, but each lodge can do something to increase its own lodge visibility. Local newspapers often provide free or low-cost ways to advertise local events which we might try participating in. We must try to entice the world by emulating the world, an art exhibit, hosting a speech by a local figure, having committees that are open to new and exciting things, or other public displays that can add interest; some lodges have experienced growth by hosting charitable events or historical discussions. There is a myriad of things an Odd Fellows lodge can do, so that raises the question, why do so many lodges fail? In principal, most lodges fail, because they have either lost all public persona or they have become punitive with their own few remaining members. This can accentuate into a public perception of a practiced and closed atmosphere of fear, prejudice, or even public hatred if we are not careful. We must not be afraid of the public, we need to embrace them and show them our love and then perhaps we will lucky enough to be the recipient of theirs.
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Odd Fellowship in California had a very good year in 2016. The California Odd Fellows had a net GAIN in membership last year, not a net loss, which finally bucked the trend of steady net losses year after year for decades. The net gain was small, but welcomed. We may finally have seen the nadir of the net loss trajectory. And that’s a very good thing for our Order. I am particularly pleased that the year of growth – 2016 – occurred in the year that Peter Sellars and I served as Grand Masters. We are both original members of Dedicated Members for Change, and we both focused on membership.
We once had over 500 Odd Fellow Lodges in California. We now have 116. Regrettably, some of those 116 Lodges will not be in existence in 10 years. The membership of those expiring Lodges is sleepwalking, and have been somnolent for years. They have failed to add new members, and the existing members are growing older. It’s just a matter of time before they lose a quorum and will either give up their charters or consolidate with another Lodge.
On a more positive vein, there are Odd Fellow Lodges in this jurisdiction that are awake – they “get it” and they are growing. These are Lodges with members who understand that an Odd Fellows Lodge must do more than just meet once or twice a month. To survive in the 21st Century, Odd Fellows must reach out into the community to do good works, and must organize enjoyable events for the members, their families and potential members. You can’t just sit around within the four walls of the Lodge reciting ritual and expect to flourish. In this regard, I am often asked – particularly by newer members of the Order – how to start the process of growing their Lodges. And it occurred to me that it would be useful to share that information more broadly. So, based on my own experiences in my own Lodge, and my observations of a few other successful Lodges, here is a “primer” on how to start growing your Lodge:
1. First and foremost, you have to work to change the culture of the Lodge. You have to move from an Odd Fellows Lodge that does little more than hold meetings, to become a Lodge that is involved in the community and that plans enjoyable social events for the members. The way to start this process is to have a meeting or two dedicated to setting goals. Talk it through and resolve to set three to five goals for the coming year. These goals should be in the nature of projects for the Lodge. There is hardly any limit to the projects you can consider: Lodge repainting, downtown clean-up, adopt a highway, form a hiking committee, organize a spaghetti feed with a community beneficiary, plan a trivia night at the Lodge, etc.
2. It is important that the Lodge members be ready to say “yes”, rather than “no”. Don’t let one or two members, or even a small group of naysayers, hold you back. The majority must rule. It is very important that your Lodge of brothers and sisters be welcoming, positive and supportive of suggestions and new ideas. The fastest way to discourage a new member is to shut down that member’s suggestions.
3. Try to establish some committees, and give them some authority, some direction (and a budget if necessary), and then give them the reins to carry on – reporting progress back to the Lodge.
4. Be inviting to husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends. Odd Fellows Lodges opened to women members in 1999 – it is incredibly short-sighted for any Lodge in the 21st Century to still be an all-male Lodge. Why should we turn our backs on 50% of the population?
5. Think outside the box. Just because it hasn’t been done in the past, doesn’t mean that it’s not a good idea today. Be willing to try new things. Years ago, at my suggestion, my Lodge started having a second Saturday breakfast social meeting. No other Lodge in California did this at the time. It became incredibly popular and continues to this day, with great success and remarkable attendance. This is just one example of thinking outside the box.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Davis Odd Fellows Lodge #169