The State of California, in case you haven’t already heard, is more than twice as large as the next largest jurisdiction. And, we are growing; therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that California is looking for more attention to be focused in its direction. The rest of the order in the United States is shrinking. This is borne out by an examination of the annual population lists printed by the Sovereign Grand Lodge. Let’s look at a few ways in which California feels it is under-represented:
- Sovereign Grand Representatives – all jurisdictions have 2 representatives to Sovereign Grand Lodge. In a smaller jurisdiction with, say, 200 members (there are quite a few this small) – there is a representative for every 100 members. In California, there is a representative for every 2200 members. Therefore, by this ratio, California members feel much less represented, in fact, they are as much as 22 times less represented.
- Political Candidates – Elections, as well as Sovereign Grand Lodge Sessions, are almost always held on the East Coast, therefore those running from the Western United States run at a distinct disadvantage, since transportation costs are substantially more.
- Politicking. Politicking, while specifically against the code, is recommended at Sovereign Grand Lodge Sessions. Of course, politicking even by its textbook definition costs more for West Coast members. While listed as being against both the Roberts Code of California and the Code of General Laws, it is permitted at Sovereign Grand Lodge perhaps because the general membership may feel that West Coast members are helped by this, but in fact, it works against them. One must examine the records of those running from the West Coast to see how poorly this works for Westerners. The Sovereign Grand Lodge Code of General Laws states that an offense of the order is “using political or electioneering methods for the selection of officers”. How does Sovereign Grand Lodge, you might ask, operate differently than the State of California? At Sovereign Grand Lodge, candidates may circulate, shake hands, pass out leaflets, pens, and their candidacy may be promoted by a nominating person who can make a speech extolling their virtues. A candidate may place into print a flyer more extensive than allowed in California, with a formatted or banner heading. Naturally, the more contact a candidate has with a voter, the more probable their vote. Conversely, in California, the candidate is only allowed to have their name placed into nomination (no further discussion is permitted), after a formal letter of qualifications is given. Again, the perception may be that all things are equal, but if on a regular basis a local member on the East Coast hob knobs with his local voters, how is this a level playing field? Answer it is not.
- Membership, or the lack of it, is seldom discussed at Sovereign Grand Lodge. Look at the first day proceedings at Sovereign Grand Lodge this year. Only Manchester Unity from England brought this topic up. Why is that? It is clearly apparent that most elderly members are not looking for new, generally younger, members.
- California, conversely, is growing steadily. We are increasing our statewide events. Of course, everyone knows of our Rose Bowl Float, but our Grand Master Mel Astrahan is also leading the way with IOOF TV, we have another brother who is championing an app for cell phones to locate local members, and other new developments. Yet there are those out there that profess their hatred for California. Why is this exactly?
- California demonstrates by its actions that it truly wants new members. California members started and run the Dedicated Members for Change, which now numbers in the thousands, and has singlehandedly added many members. Since you are reading this, you are reading it because it is endorsed by the DMC. Where exactly is the Sovereign Grand Lodge Membership Committee? The Sovereign Grand Lodge Membership Committee is comprised of mainly Past Sovereign Grand Master Jon Peterson, who wrote a scathing yet excellent report on the state of our order which has been totally ignored. No one else seems the least bit concerned.
- California, showing several consecutive growth years, is positioning itself to grow even faster in upcoming years. Why? Simple. New members tend to be younger than long time members. Simple longevity charts will prove this out. It’s time for elderly members to at least not serve as an impediment to the younger joining members.
Sovereign Grand Lodge can still grow by learning from the example of California. A) Establish an actual membership committee, with nationwide participation. B) Make representation equally fair to all members. Hold fair elections, without regional preference. C) Encourage growth and younger thinking. D) Accept that newer technologies are here to stay. And finally, make this an order of today, not yesterday. We can do it. Let’s start now.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
There are some Odd Fellows Lodges out there in Odd Fellows Land that I call “Zombie Lodges”. These Lodges go through the motions of being a real live Odd Fellows Lodge, but they have essentially died years earlier. Eventually, these Zombie Lodges will no longer be able to continue the facade of life, and they will give up their charters, or the Grand Master will pull their charters, or they will consolidate with a nearby Lodge. It’s really sad, because many of these Zombie Lodges have been around for over a Century – there was a time that the original members spent blood, sweat and tears to build a Lodge Hall; and other predecessor members expended considerable energy to furnish the Lodge, obtain regalia and books, bring in new members and develop the protocols and traditions of a real Lodge.
And then complacency hit. At some point in time, the remaining members got comfortable with the status quo and didn’t really care about the future of the Odd Fellows Lodge. As long as things remained the same, they were content. New members meant expending effort, and (gasp) new members might bring change.
So, how do we define a Zombie Lodge? Here are the 10 characteristics of such a Lodge, and I hope you don’t see any of these characteristics in your own Lodge.
1. Membership of the Lodge has fallen to less than 15 on the books.
2. Of the membership on the books, less than half attend meetings of the Lodge. More than half the members just pay their dues and are never seen.
3. Members, for years, simply rotate through the chairs so that virtually everyone has served in elected office, often two or three times.
4. Other that the mandatory committees (e.g. Visiting, Bylaws and Finance), the Lodge has no committees.
5. The Lodge has no Membership Committee, focused on bringing in new members.
6. The Lodge would not have quorums at some meetings except for associate members.
7. The Lodge has not brought in a new member for over 3 years.
8. The average age of the Lodge membership is over 65.
9. The Lodge has no functions involving the surrounding community, and other than potlucks before meetings, has no social functions.
10. The Lodge building is in serious need of maintenance and repair, and has not been seriously attended to in over a decade.
If you see one or two of these characteristics in your own Lodge, please view it as a yellow warning flag of caution. If you see five or more of these characteristics, take it as a red flag of danger.
If you recognize these characteristics in your Odd Fellows Lodge, can you do something about it? Yes, you can. It won’t be easy, and it will require some work. Ask to convene a meeting of the Lodge to discuss this article. Have a full and frank conversation about it. Resolve to re-energize your Lodge. This means that you must discuss, in detail, how your Lodge can develop one or two community projects and one or two social activities that the members can enjoy. (You can’t bring in new members if the Lodge does nothing but have meetings.) And then develop a plan to bring in at least two new members each year for the next five years. Don’t allow the demise of Odd Fellowship to happen on your watch.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Membership and Why We Avoid the Topic…
A close friend of mine died earlier this year. He was a long time Odd Fellow – popular in our district, always fun, spoke his mind, but also was friends with everyone. You can blame him for bringing me into the order. Anyway, I used to say to him that our order was failing and what we should do about it in the coming years, and he always said “Who cares? I’ll be gone”.
This is a common vantage point within our order. When we hear our order is short-lived, destined to die out in ten to twenty years, I believe we hear this and secretly breathe a sigh of relief, because, to put it plainly, so are we. As Brother Dave Rosenberg has often pointed out, we have skipped at least two generations in attracting members. There are few, if any, younger members, so when we hear our order will be finished in 20 years, many of us figure that’s about right.
But if we truly care about someone besides ourselves, we must change our view. If the order is to survive, it must attract young members, but obviously young members are not going to be the mirror image of us. Young members will not like what we do, will try and change things, and may not see normal behavior as our behavior.
The basic question we should ask ourselves is how do we make our order more amenable to young people? When you were young did you like to hang out with people 50 years older than yourself? Probably not. If we are to have a future, we must face the simple fact that any possibility of a future depends on our ability to attract the young.
Of course, this is distressing as our youth groups have sunk to a low level. But I have a simple suggestion that almost all youth I’m sure would agree with. Let’s stop trying to micromanage our youth. Many of us feel the need to script everything the young in our order do. This will not work. Young people like to be themselves. If we don’t want our young to be put in compromising situations, let’s not attempt it.
No one was born an Odd Fellow. They had to grow into it. Culture and technology is changing rapidly. We are failing because in many ways we ignore this fact. Yet, every event and lodge I attend has many members texting on their phones or doing other things electronically. Some lodges I have attended do all communications within their lodges via email. Many others now have facebook sites. Most lodges no longer even have landlines in their lodge. It’s a whole new world. If we want the young people to join we must grow and become as technologically advanced as they are.
Rather than privately thinking with relief that our order will die at just about the same time that we do, perhaps it might be preferable to remember why we joined the order and leave it in at least as nice a condition as how we found it.
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles
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
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.