Where have all Our New Members Gone?
Many times, I have visited lodges throughout our state and I have heard good news about new members joining a lodge. Often, if I return to that lodge, I ask about the new members and I hear similar responses; they stopped attending, they couldn’t attend on their meeting night, they’re too busy, or any of a myriad of other excuses. Eventually, many, if not most, of the new members discontinue attending, and our lodges tend to continue much as they always have, with the same “tired old faces”, (to quote a long-time member), and bereft of the new and fresh faces we should all be in search of. This then illustrates the other facet of the membership issue; the problem is not solely obtaining new members but also retaining them.
Why is retention of members in a lodge an issue?
Of course, the answer does not fit every lodge, but every lodge in an age where membership is problematical should at least pose the question. In my view, lodges on the downward trajectory tend to be boring, filled with ponderous individuals reciting passages from our ritual with little or no feeling. Conversely, if a new or fresh face appears, the same tired old face tends to brighten measurably, and what just seemed ponderous, can look suddenly new. Consider this sobering fact: our order gets hundreds of new members every year in our state alone, yet, hundreds more fall off the membership rolls as well. This tends to illustrate that this problem is more than an isolated problem in a lodge far from your own. In fact, many, if not most, of our lodges, are symptomatic of this issue. In many lodges, there is a core attending continually, of 5 to 15 individuals who not only rarely change, but apparently find a great deal of comfort in remaining static. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it is clearly one of the reasons for the problem itself. Eventually, this group becomes almost impenetrable, quite evidently reluctant to change in any significant way. In other words, while they may claim they want new members, they want only those who are philosophically and idealistically identical to the group itself.
How do we solve this issue?
Simple. We listen to those who fail to attend and then leave. Why did they leave? In many lodges, the reason for this is painfully obvious. In some lodges, they meet at an obscure time or place, inconvenient in some way. In other lodges, the old-timers are not friendly or welcoming of new members. And in other lodges, there is either unrest between members, genuinely mean people who seem to decide all rules, or simply other methods by which they tend to constrict growth. Brother Rosenberg is correct – some lodges simply don’t want new members, in fact, they show it in all their actions.
We need to practice a little self-examination. If we fear new members for one reason or another, then there is something basically wrong with our lodge. If we can fix this problem, not only can we move on unencumbered, we can exhibit our lodge as something all members may be proud of.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Odd Fellows Lodge members from throughout North America ask me for suggestions on how they can encourage membership development in their Odd Fellow Lodges. I commend these members for their interest and their desire to not only save their Lodges, but to find ways to strengthen and grow their Lodges. Here is an article that I first wrote in June of 2016 which addresses the question.
Evolution and change must be the hallmark for Odd Fellows going forward. If we continue to operate as we have for the last 50 years the results will be pretty much the same: membership losses and closed Lodges.
At present, I submit that there are three categories of Odd Fellows: (1) The progressive and energetic members who understand that Lodges can be transformed, and new members brought in, when the Lodge provides fun activities for members, their families, and prospective members, and also reaches out into the community to do good works. (2) Those members who, frankly, don’t really care about the future of their Lodge so long as it provides the same kind of experience that they have always enjoyed. Status quo is just fine for them. They care about the present, and not so much about the future. (3) Members who recognize the problem as their Lodge membership shrinks and as the Lodge members age, but don’t really know what to do about it.
This article is not written for the first category of Odd Fellows – those members are doing just fine, and their Lodges will, in time, experience a Renaissance. Nor is this article written for the second category of Odd Fellows. They live in their own bubble, and their Lodges will simply fade away in time. This article is written for the third category of Odd Fellow. For the members who care to reinvigorate their Lodges (but don’t know how), I provide ten tested, tried-and-true programs – pick one or two, and I guarantee the result will be rejuvenated Lodge members and new members who are interested in joining an active Lodge.
Here are ten methods you can take to the bank of membership development:
1. Every Lodge in North America has a date that it was instituted and given a charter. Spend at least three months preparing for a Lodge Community Open House to celebrate that date. Send out press releases, invite local elected officials, and plan an event open to the community. Make sure members invite their families and friends. Provide music, a cake, perhaps some historical tours of the Lodge Hall. You get the idea. This is an easy event and really opens your Lodge to the community.
2. Every community has local musicians, singers, and bands. Open your Lodge once a month to performances by these groups. Make it free to the public (donations accepted, of course). Set some chairs up for the audience. There is no reason you can’t use your Lodge Hall for such a music venue.
3. Plan and execute a spaghetti feed for a local charity or community group. If you don’t have a certified kitchen, then make it a catered event. Keep the cost low, charge admission to the members and the public and provide the donations to the local charity or community group. If you can line up at least 10 “sponsors” for the event – who will each donate $100 to the ultimate beneficiary – all the better. Put up some posters. Make sure you send a press release out before and after the event.
4. Rent a bus to take your members, friends and family on a day trip. Keep the cost down – you are not here to make a profit, just to cover your expenses. Visit local wineries, or breweries, or a cheese factory, and plan on either bringing lunch for a picnic, or visiting a restaurant for lunch.
5. Pick a community project, get some volunteers, do it, and make sure you get recognized for it in your local press. What community project? Let your imagination be your guide, and tailor your project to your community. Some examples of projects you could consider: A Downtown Clean Up Day. Volunteering at the local animal shelter. Adopt-a-highway. A social visit to the local convalescent or retirement home.
6. Plan a regular activity once a month for your Lodge members – and make it a regular feature. What activity? Again, let your imagination guide you, based on the ages and inclinations of the members. Some examples of activities you could consider: Bowling night. Poker night. Take a hike in a local park. Dinner and movie. Or show movies at the Lodge.
7. Carpool to an Odd Fellow/Rebekah facility and pay them a visit. Lots of options are available: The Meadows of Napa Valley. The Rebekah Children’s Home. The Saratoga Retirement Community. The Odd Fellow Museum housed at the historic San Francisco Odd Fellows Temple. Or visit another Lodge and take a tour. A phone call or two to coordinate the visit, and your members will be welcomed.
8. Sponsor a youth activity in your town. It can be a local Little League or Soccer team, or it could be a Boy Scout or Girl Scout Troop. The kids and their families will appreciate it. And having the three link logo on sport’s jerseys is an added benefit.
9. Create a unique event for the members of your Lodge, family members and potential members. Make it an annual affair. It can be as varied as the community your live in and the membership of your Lodge. Perhaps a Halloween Party. Or an Oktoberfest. Or a karaoke night at the Lodge. Or a chocolate chip cookie baking contest. Or a bicycle trip. The list could go on and on.
10. And one of the simplest techniques of all: When you get to the point of inviting a new member to apply, make sure to also invite that potential new member’s spouse, significant other, boyfriend or girlfriend. Why settle for one new member when you can have two.
What have you got to lose?
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At this point in my year as Grand Master, I have visited in excess of 20 Lodges. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and even the ugly. Some Lodges are thriving. Many Lodges are trying. Other Lodges are fading. In the spirit of giving Lodges the warning signs of a failing Lodge, here – based on my experience – are what I consider the “Top Ten Reasons” that Lodges fail (with apologies to David Letterman and his Top Ten Lists):
Number 10. Inadequate signage. Most of our Lodges have been around for over 100 years, and many are located in the heart of downtown. Yet too often I have seen Lodges that are invisible. If you are an Odd Fellows Lodge, be proud of it and make sure that there is a large, distinct and easily visible sign that proclaims the building to be a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
Number 9. Decrepit halls. Nothing turns potential members off faster than a shabby Lodge Hall. A building with old paint, a clear need for repairs, and a dusty and dirty interior speaks volumes to the public. Such a building says, “we are old and we don’t care.”
Number 8. Failure to let go. In some Lodges, the same one or two people run everything, and have done so for 10 years, 20 years, or even longer. It’s time to let go. A new generation of leaders needs to be given their turn to be in charge of the Lodge. If you continue to do everything in the Lodge, you may think you are helping. But what you are doing is restricting newer members from enjoying the full IOOF experience. Don’t hold a position beyond your time. Better to train the newer members so they can flourish and continue the Order into the next generation.
Number 7. No, no, no. I have experienced the dreaded “no” in too many Lodges. Newer members are stifled, disappointed, frustrated, and even angered when the “long-time” members always say “no” to every new idea. Don’t always say “no”, or “we tried that a few years ago, and it doesn’t work”, or “that’s a stupid idea.” Learn to say “yes”. Let the newer members try.
Number 6. Constant comment. Nothing is more restricting and embarrassing for newer members than to always hear comments from the sidelines during a meeting such as: “You are standing in the wrong place” or “that word is pronounced ‘sectarian'” or “wait, it’s not your turn”. Don’t become the Lodge bully. Of course, you want to help the new members, but do it discretely, and perhaps following the meeting. Everyone makes mistakes in the beginning.
Number 5. Booooooring. Nothing says “this is a Lodge of grandfathers and grandmothers” louder than holding a boring meeting. Unfortunately, I have attended too many meetings where the meeting consisted of little more than verbatim reading of the minutes, sick and in distress, paying a couple of bills, and that’s it. Without committee reports, old business and new business, the message conveyed is that this is a moribund Lodge.
Number 4. Bicker, bicker, bicker. Many times I have heard from newer members who tell me that they attended a few meetings and then stopped because they couldn’t stand the bickering and sniping amongst the members. We are Odd Fellows. We are supposed to practice friendship, love, and truth. No one wants to hear about your petty complaints about other members. Get over it, shake hands and move on.
Number 3. Failure to have fun. The surest way to send a Lodge into its death spiral is to forget that we are a fraternal order and it’s OK to have fun. Lodges must plan social events that the members enjoy. Without such social events, the Lodge loses an entire dimension of its value to members.
Number 2. Failure to reach out. It is important to the work of this Order and the image of IOOF for Lodges to reach out into their communities to do good works. It’s also important to the new and younger members. This is the next generation who we wish to attract. These young men and women want to help out in the community and want to foster charitable causes. And it’s not just writing a check here and there. That’s too easy. Members want to engage hands-on in good charitable and community works.
Number 1. Failure to bring in new members. The #1 reason the Lodges fail is self-evident. I visited a Lodge recently that had not brought in a new member in over 5 years. The remaining members had dropped to less than 20 and virtually everyone was in his/her 70’s and 80’s. What do you think the future of that Lodge might be? That Lodge had skipped an entire generation (perhaps two) of new members. Obviously, the Lodge is heading down the path of demise. Without new members, a fraternal order ultimately perishes.
Do you recognize any of these “Top Ten Reasons” in your own Lodge?
F – L – T
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
While a handful of Odd Fellows Lodges are growing, and another handful are maintaining a static membership, the vast majority of Lodges are shrinking. The math is not complicated. Members move away, depart, stop coming to meetings, lose interest or pass away – and at the same time, the Lodge doesn’t add new members or, perhaps, adds one or two new members who might be close friends or relatives of existing members. And too, often, the new members added are of the same age as existing members. The result is inevitable: Lose three members and add one member and you have a Lodge in trouble. Clearly, we must do something to change this equation.
I am often asked: What can we do to grow our Lodge?
Well, talk is cheap. Action is required. So, here, for those who are truly interested, is a three-year plan to re-charge, re-invigorate, and re-new your Lodge. (For those members of the Order who are satisfied with the status quo of your Lodge, and who are happy to maintain your Lodge just the way it is for the balance of your life, you can stop reading here.) For those members who wish to build for the future of your Lodge, and guarantee that the tenets and ideals of this great fraternity live on and flourish, please read on. The secret of success is not just to hold meetings. We must also increase our internal good fellowship activities and increase our involvement with and exposure in the community.
- Open your Lodge to the public (and to potential members) by having open, social meetings – one such social meeting each month should do it. Of course, no ritualistic work is conducted and no secrets are revealed at such meetings.
- Bring in one or two major community leaders into membership in your Lodge. This can be a local elected official, a recognized business leader, a leader in his or her profession (like a lawyer, a CPA, a banker, a Judge, a physician, the County Sheriff, etc.) These people will dramatically raise the community profile of your Lodge and can become “rainmakers” in bringing in new members.
- Plan and execute one major community event, to benefit a local charitable or community group, and make sure it is publicized.
- Plan for and put on one social event each month for the Lodge members and their guests. This can include themed potlucks (for example, Italian potluck), “Bunko” Night at the Lodge, Trivia Night, Poker Night, Movie Night, a talk and demonstration on beer brewing, etc.
- Target husbands and wives, both, to consider membership in your Lodge.
- Hold a “retreat” of your active members and lay out five goals for the year. These five goals should always include a goal identifying the number of Lodge applicants you intend to bring in during the year. Resolve at this retreat NOT to be negative. Positively listen to all ideas that are proposed and put on the table, and then decide which you will implement.
- Continue each of the Year One activities into Year Two.
- Develop a “signature event” that your Lodge will organize and put on for the community – which will become an annual event. For example: An “OddtoberFest”, a wine tasting event at the Lodge, Pasta Feed, etc.
- Organize a committee structure for the Lodge. These committees can include: A Good Fellowship Committee, a Community Support Committee, a Music Committee, a Photography Committee, etc. Give each committee an assignment and let them do their work.
- Target young potential members for your Lodge – from 30 to 40 years of age.
- Continue each of the Year One and Year Two activities into Year Three.
- Find out what member’s are interested in doing, and do it. If members wish to take a wine country trip, figure out a way to do it. If members want to put on a Bingo night for the community, find ways to do it. If members wish to go on a hike, etc., let them organize to do it.
- Contact, personally, each of your “inactive” members and let them know about Lodge activities – see if you can bring them back into active membership in your Lodge.
- Connect with your members. Ideally, have all members connected through e-mail so that everyone can be kept posted and informed. For those who don’t have e-mail, set up a phone tree.
- Target even younger potential members for your Lodge – from 16- 29 years of age.
This Plan of Action can work for your Lodge! It does not diminish, in any way, the principles of our Order. It seeks only to increase your membership, and in this way will benefit your Lodge as well as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
F – L – T
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