DMC – The Worst Case Scenario for the Odd Fellows

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

Let’s imagine the worst-case scenario. You belong to an Odd Fellows Lodge that has 10 members. Typically, only 5 or 6 show up to your meetings. The average age of your members is 75, and the youngest member of your Lodge is 65. Your Lodge has no female members and no members who are non-white. The Lodge meetings take place once per month, following a modest dinner or potluck. The Lodge has not sent any representative to Grand Lodge sessions in at least a decade. There are no community events hosted or sponsored by your Odd Fellows Lodge. And the Lodge Hall is in a state of disrepair, requiring roof work, plumbing repairs and painting.

What’s the next step for your Lodge?

Well, to be brutally frank, the next step for your Odd Fellows Lodge may very well be a step off the cliff. Your Lodge, if it is as described above, is in dire straits. On many fronts. The fact that your membership is low and razor thin and that the average age of members is in the septuagenarian range indicates a failure – over, perhaps decades – to attend to the first requirement of a fraternal order. That first requirement is to bring in a constant flow of new members. It appears that previous members of the Lodge were literally asleep at the switch and your Lodge has skipped an entire generation of members. Where are the members in their 40’s and 50’s, let alone members in their 20’s and 30’s? The additional fact that your Lodge has no women or minorities is yet another red flag of trouble. Why would your Lodge ignore 50% of the population who are female? Why would your Lodge not tap into the substantial numbers of residents in your community who are Hispanic, black, Asian, or the plethora of ethnic groups represented in the melting pots of your town? The further fact that your Lodge does virtually nothing in the community and has not attended Grand Lodge sessions indicates that the Lodge has withdrawn into itself and is not part of the greater community or of the broader brotherhood of Odd Fellows. And the fact that the Lodge Hall is in disrepair, is further evidence of the ennui of the members who have preceded you.

Can your Lodge be reinvigorated?

Again, to be frank, probably not. This Odd Fellows Lodge may be too far gone to be resurrected. Too much time may have passed to resuscitate such a moribund Lodge back to vigor and life. Too many members for too many years have been the victims of complacency. As existing members continue to age, it becomes increasingly difficult to attract young and energetic members to join a Lodge of senior citizens, particularly a Lodge that does little or nothing. And make no mistake about it. New members are necessary to ensure the vitality and the future of your Lodge. But, let’s not give up. If there is a chance to revitalize, reinvigorate and recapture the spirit of a healthy Lodge, you owe it to your fraternity and to the generations of Odd Fellows who preceded you.

What does my Lodge have to do be healthy?

Step one is for the current Lodge members to decide that they wish to bring it back and desire new members. If the members are satisfied with the status quo and don’t want new members, then it’s “game over”. Just a matter of time until the Lodge loses its quorum or consolidates with another Lodge, and becomes an historical footnote. On the other hand, if the members do wish to kick-start the Lodge into the future, then “game on.” As noted in an old Chinese proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And the first step is to clean up your Lodge Hall. No one wants to come to visit your house if it is dirty, dusty and in disrepair. A clean Lodge displays pride. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. If your Lodge has some money, hire a professional cleaning team. A thorough cleaning, scrubbing and painting will present a totally different image. Step two is to invite the community into the Lodge Hall for an event. The event can be as simple as an open house, or a classical string concert, or a movie night, or a trivia night. Let your imagination be your guide. Isolation is stifling. Opening up to the community is liberating. Now you are ready for step three – and that is inviting two or three new members to join your Lodge. And when you do, you should make sure to inform these new folks that they are the future of the Lodge and that they, with your assistance, will be the future leaders of the Order in your community. And then, repeat step three, next year, and the year after that, and so on . . . .

And finally, be prepared for changes. If you resist the change that new members inevitably bring, you will only rip your Lodge apart. Unless you only invite new members who are senior citizens (which is, by the way, ultimately self-defeating) then you should be aware that your new members will necessarily represent a new generation, new energy and new ideas. They will want to be more involved in the community and they will want to do things that you have not done before. For example, they may want to host rock ‘n’ roll bands in the Lodge Hall for a community concert. This may drive you a little up the wall. But you have to give these new members the space to try new idea. Clearly, your old ideas haven’t worked so well. These new ideas will give the new members a sense of purpose and of commitment to the Odd Fellows Lodge. And they will go a long way to bringing in even more new members.

What do you have to lose? What do you have to gain?

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Noble Grand

Jurisdiction of California

DMC – The Four Horsemen of the Odd Fellows Collapse

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

The Biblical “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” represent conquest, war, famine, and death. Together, they present a frightening image. The biblical message, in modern terms, is: “Get your act together, humans, or the end to humanity is coming.”

Odd Fellowship, on a much, much smaller scale, also has what I call it’s own “Four Horsemen of the Collapse”. They represent isolation, incompetence, inertia, and illusion. Let’s explore how each of these “horsemen” work to slowly bring Odd Fellowship down.

Isolation. There are a significant number of Odd Fellows Lodges that do not attend Grand Lodge Sessions – and many of these Lodges have not attended for years. They have disconnected themselves from their Grand Lodge, and the Sovereign Grand Lodge. In the recent Grand Lodge Session in California, for example, 111 Lodges could have sent representatives, but 47 of those Lodges did not and were not represented at sessions. These 47 Lodges have isolated themselves from IOOF leadership and from their sister Lodges. Many of these Lodges do not even read communications coming from that leadership or from other Lodges. The members of these isolated Lodges have, essentially, withdrawn from IOOF and have hunkered down within the four walls of their Lodge Halls.

Incompetence. There was a time when your typical Odd Fellows Lodge had membership in the hundreds, and many Lodges had membership in the thousands. Now, the typical membership numbers run in the 20’s and 30’s. There is yet another, perhaps more insidious, component of shrinking membership numbers that should concern all of us. Once upon a time, Odd Fellows Lodges contained lawyers, doctors, bankers, ranch and retail managers, CPA’s, mayors, even governors. Those days are long gone. Now, Lodges often have no members with substantial business acumen, or legal abilities, or even the ability to manage property or prepare financial spread sheets. Because of this brain drain, Lodges make bad choices. I am aware of one Lodge that literally lost their Lodge Hall because of a right to purchase the building (at a very low price tag) given to a tenant. I am aware of another that gave an easement against part of its property in perpetuity for a one-time payment of a few thousand dollars. I recently saw a posting on Facebook from a Lodge that needs to fix its roof, and has no funds (or available resources) to do so – they were making a general Facebook solicitation, hoping other Lodges might send them some money. Every year these brain-drained Lodges struggle even to file their annual reports, and when one key member is ill, there is no one to take that member’s place.

Inertia. This may be better described as complacency. And complacency is toxic to our Order. For years, often decades, Lodges have ignored their infrastructure needs. Repairs and maintenance were deferred. Reserves were not set up to deal with the inevitable need to replace the roof, or furnace, or to paint the building, or replace the plumbing. Eventually, this inertia will catch up with a future generation of members. And what a rude shock to the generation to suddenly find that they must pay for repairs and maintenance without the funds to do so. Complacency has also affected our membership. Past generations of Odd Fellows were complacent (e.g. lazy) and generally ignored the first rule of fraternal existence: You must bring in younger members on a constant and consistent basis. Failure to do so will result, inevitably, in a Lodge of senior citizens.

Illusion. I have visited Lodges where the members live in a kind of fantasy land. They gather for meetings once a month, and recite the ritual. And the members fervently believe that if they just hold those meetings and recite the ritual with even more vigor, they are true Odd Fellows. But these Lodges are typically composed of members who are all over 65 years of age, and they haven’t brought in new members in years. Somehow, they believe that if they simply say “friendship, love and truth” often enough, that all will be well. But the reality is that young men and women (in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s) will have little desire to join a Lodge of septuagenarians. The coming generation has little desire to join a Lodge that does nothing in the community, and has no activities other than a monthly formal meeting.

“Get your act together, Odd Fellows, or the end of Odd Fellowship is coming.”

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – Millenials, Part 3

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

The last two DMC Newsletters focused on the interesting and unique qualities of the Millennial Generation – those men and women born generally between 1980 and 2000. Many of these Millennials are in their 20’s and 30’s and should be prime prospects to become Odd Fellows and members of your Lodge. What have we learned about the characteristics of this upcoming generation?

Well, at the risk of generalizing too much, we know the following:

  • They are highly educated. The number of women receiving degrees exceeds the number of men. And more women are in the workforce than in prior generations.
  • They are less likely to be married than their counterparts in prior generations.
  • They are much more ethnically diverse than in prior generations, with an increasing number of Latino-Americans and Asian-Americans.
  • There are far fewer veterans of the military among Millennials.
  • The number of Millennials in urban areas far exceeds prior generations.
  • They face pressure in society and the workplace creating anxiety. The dream of owning their own home seems far away.
  • They feel disconnected and powerless in society today.
  • They do not accept the status quo. They are not afraid to try new ways to reach their goals.
  • They care less about money, and more about the planet and people. They want to make the world a better place.
  • They have access to information, and rapidly, like no other generation. They know technology. They dislike slowness.

This information provides a valuable roadmap to encouraging the members of this upcoming generation to consider joining your Lodge.

First, Lodges that continue to ignore women and ethnic minorities are turning their backs on both reality and history. Just focusing on white men as potential members is not only morally wrong, but it is illogical to disregard the majority of our population. It further violates the non-discrimination policy of our Order. The future of Odd Fellowship is diversity. Lodges ignore this at their own peril.

Second, Lodges should seek out the enthusiasm and energy of this new generation. They are educated and motivated. At the same time, Lodges that continue to simply hold meetings (and do little else) will turn off this generation. We cannot continue to painstakingly read every piece of correspondence word-by-word and read the minutes verbatim at every meeting. We cannot produce only hard copy newsletters. Lodges much become adept not just at email, but also Facebook and all forms of social media. If we fail to modernize and change, we become further disconnected with those who will soon be the majority in our population.

Third, Millennials should welcome the camaraderie, fellowship and fraternity of an Odd Fellows Lodge. In this huge and crazy society, the Lodge can be a home away from home for these younger members. That said, however, the Lodge must encourage these new members with activities that interest them. Potlucks won’t do it. It’s time for Lodges to try some new things. If, for example, some of the new members want to adopt a highway, or participate in a community collection of plastic bags, or help homeless or mentally ill folks, or sign the Lodge up for a community fun run, or organize a New Year’s dance or Halloween party, the Lodge must encourage them, not throw roadblocks in their way.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – What do the numbers tell us?

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

First, the good news.

Our collective work in California is paying off as we see yet another year with a small net gain in membership. This is particularly welcome news because the Order had been in membership free fall for decades. In fact, for two generations, membership had fallen year after year after year. And then, coinciding soon after the formation of DMC, and a renewed focus on membership, we have halted the drop, have stabilized, and are now seeing modest net gains in membership. When we review 2018, we see that the membership total on January 1, 2018 was 4,557 Odd Fellows, and then on December 31, 2018, preliminary numbers show the membership had increased to 4,573 Odd Fellows – a net gain of 16. A small positive number, to be sure. But a net gain – any net gain – is much more desirable than a net loss.

Interestingly, the net gain in California comes as a result of a significant increase in female members. Male members actually experienced a net loss in 2018, but the significant increase in sisters resulted in an overall net gain for 2018. Kudos to California for showing net gains in membership again! The hard membership focus of members, Lodges and Grand Lodge is paying off.

Now, the not-so-good news.

When we start peeling away the layers, however, we see that the vast majority of our California Lodges either experienced a net loss or were static – no net gain or loss. (Again, these are preliminary statistics because several of our Lodges were very late in submitting their annual reports for 2018, and some reports were incomplete.) Only 37 of California’s Lodges showed a net gain, and many of those were net gains of 1 or 2 members. Only a few Lodges showed significant net gains. But those few apparently carried the others that were static or showed losses. In fact, only six Lodges showed net gains (not from consolidations) in double-digits. These six fast-growing Lodges (with their respective net gain numbers in parenthesis) are: Morse (25), Franco-American (24), Ocean View (24), Davis (13), Odin (12), and Saratoga (11). Kudos to these fast-paced Lodges; they show that Odd Fellowship is alive and well, and quite relevant in the 21st Century.

Yet, when analyzing the total picture of Lodges as of 2018, we see, once again, that the Order is a mile wide and an inch deep. We have 111 Lodges in California (when one removes the Jurisdictional Lodge and the Volcano Historical Lodge). We have only 4 Lodges with memberships in the 200’s – Davis (296), California (261), Yerba Buena (231), and Apollo (221). We have only 3 Lodges with memberships in the 100’s – Franco-American (139), Golden West (134), and Lodi (119). The membership of these 7 large Lodges comprises about 30% of the membership of the California IOOF. Put another way: 1 out of every 3 Odd Fellows in California belongs to these 7 Lodges.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, California has 20 Lodges (that’s almost 20% of our Lodges) with 12 or fewer members. And of that 20, we have 10 Lodges where membership is 10 or less. Many of these very small Lodges function only through the help and support of associate members. Needless to say, a Lodge with 10 or fewer members is just a heartbeat away from losing a quorum. If any of these very small Lodges continue to fail to add new members, their days are surely numbered. Renewed attention should be given to these Lodges with very small membership numbers. At a minimum, the yellow flag of caution is raised.

Overall, California – the largest jurisdiction in North America – shows positive membership results. California should be proud that membership is growing.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – An exclusive environment

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

As you know, I reflect from time to time, on the future of Odd Fellowship. And each time that I venture into that zone of reflection I am led, inescapably, to the same conclusion: Some of the older, long-time members of this Order do everything in their power to maintain the status quo, and to keep out younger members (from the Millennial Generation and Generation X) who might wish to join.

Yes, I know, that’s a harsh statement. But it is the reality of our Order today. Here is why I say this.

I have attended meetings in some Lodges that I can only describe as stultifying. The meetings have no new business, no committee reports of activities. Half the meeting is taken up with “reports of members sick and in distress” and the painstaking reading, verbatim, of all correspondence and the minutes of the last session. Imagine the new member (perhaps in his or her 20’s or 30’s) , who has just been initiated into the Lodge, coming to his or her first meeting and experiencing only this. Now, it’s perfectly appropriate to report on members who are sick and in distress – that is fraternal – but brief updates are acceptable; lengthy, detailed medical reports are not. Boredom is the surest way to keep young members from joining our Order, and to quickly lose them once they join.

And negativity at meetings is the surest turn-off to new members. Negativity can take two forms. One form of negativity is the sniping, arguments, criticisms and put-downs we hear at some meetings when members disagree with one another. It is perfectly acceptable to disagree, but it is not acceptable to be disagreeable. This sort of conduct makes folks uncomfortable and they will surely find the exit doors if this persists and is not immediately stopped in its tracks. The other form of negativity is the shut down of ideas proposed by new members. When we hear the long-time members say “we tried that before – and it doesn’t work”, or “we can’t do that”, or even “that’s a really stupid idea” – what we are really saying to new members is, “we know what is best for our Lodge – just sit back and be quiet.” Once again, new members who propose new ideas will find the exits if that is what they face at meetings. Far better to listen to the proposals, and to try to encourage them. Just because the Lodge has tried a garage sale 10 years ago that didn’t work out to everyone’s satisfaction, does not mean that the Lodge can’t try it again with new ideas, new energy and new blood.

It is apparent that the new generations are computer-savvy, and social media is a way of life for them. Lodges where there is no presence on Facebook, where members don’t use email to communicate, where events are not advertised on social media, where some members refuse to touch a computer or an iPhone, and where minutes and newsletters are only produced on paper, send a message to new members that the Lodge has never progressed beyond the thinking of the 1940’s-1950’s.

And another thing is the display of pride in Odd Fellowship. How clean is the Lodge Hall? What is the condition of the restrooms and the kitchen? Does it smell old and musty? Is the paint fresh and clean? Is the IOOF sign in good repair? Do the members wear shirts with Odd Fellows’ logos? If the Lodge displays an image of faded glory, it can hardly be expected to attract interest from potential younger members.

But, you say, there are older members who work very hard to support Theta Rho and Junior Odd Fellows, professing that these young men and women “are the future of Odd Fellowship.” Well, their enthusiasm is commendable, and it’s wonderful that we can engage and encourage these teenagers. But the idea that six teenage boys or eight teenage girls will fill the ranks of our membership, and are going to save this Order is a chimera. Far better that we expend our energy to bring young men and women from the Millennial Generation, or Generation X, into our Lodges.

And as I start packing for my annual journey to the Grand Lodge Session which begins in just a few days, I am struck by the fact that even our sessions are structured against younger men and women. Our sessions in California – and many sessions around North America – start on a Wednesday and continue through Saturday night – four full days. In fact, some representatives arrive on Tuesday (for various meetings and training) and depart on Sunday (for more meetings) – so more like six days. Young men and women who work for a living, or have small children, simply cannot afford to attend four, five, or six day sessions. The Grand Lodge Sessions (and Rebekah Assemblies) are structured to accommodate retired folks, not younger members.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

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