Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Of course there are many reasons membership growth lags in most of our Lodges. But in my experience – having visited many Lodges and having heard from many Brothers and Sisters from other Lodges – I can safely identify the NUMBER ONE IMPEDIMENT TO GROWTH in Odd Fellows Lodges. That’s certainly a bold statement, I know, but I have found it to be true across the board. And I am ready to share it far and wide – because it is prevalent, and it is a problem, but it is entirely fixable.
The number one impediment to growth is the long-time member who just won’t let go of his little realm of power. This member has been instrumental to the health and success of the Lodge. This member may have served in important positions in the Lodge (such as Noble Grand and/or Trustee). The Lodge owes this member a debt of gratitude for the member’s contributions to the Lodge and the Order. The member may be the one who has keys to all the locked cabinets, rooms and closets. The member may be the person who knows how to fix that troublesome toilet, turn on the hidden light switches, find the documents in the basement or attic, unlock and lock the front doors, etc. And that’s all well and good, but unless power and authority is shared – it is likely to foster resentment and it is likely to cause newer members to feel disillusioned and disenfranchised. This is the member who thinks he or she knows everything there is to know about “the Code” and who weighs in (often unsolicited) on almost every decision of the Lodge – indicating whether it is worthy or not. In truth, the member has become a bottleneck to progress, essentially holding a veto power over any new idea or change in the status quo. I often hear from members throughout the United States and Canada about their frustrations with these controlling members.
A true leader – who has the ultimate good of the Order in mind – knows when his or her time to lead is done, and then steps aside to allow new leadership to learn and flourish. A true leader is a great and valuable resource if they sit back and wait for the new leaders to ask for advice, rather than offering that “advice” unsolicited and often. A true leader takes on the role of mentor for younger members, rather that the apparent role of “Noble Grand For Life”.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A wise, experienced, and older member is a great resource, and that person should continue to play an important role in the Lodge, not only as a person who can provide good advice and mentoring to others, but as a person who can continue to help the Lodge through many roles, including service as Chair of a Committee such as Finance or Membership. But, the wise, experienced, and older member becomes an impediment to the growth and development of newer members, if that wise, experienced, and older member just won’t let go of those perceived reins of power. Look, no one on the planet is indispensable. Age, infirmity, and death will catch up with every single one of us sooner or later. The wise, experienced and older member would show his/her wisdom best as a mentor to others. Teach the newer members – help them learn, but don’t dictate to them. It’s OK for the newer members to make some mistakes (even the wise, experienced and older member has made mistakes at some point during their time with the Order). Sometimes we actually learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.
So, bottom line, if you happen see yourself in this article, please take this opportunity to step back; take a breather and revise and revisit your role in the Lodge. And if you see these characteristics in another member of your Lodge, feel free to share this article. The health, welfare, and future of your Lodge may be at stake.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
By far, the largest Odd Fellows jurisdiction in the realm of Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) is the Jurisdiction of California. Yet Sovereign Grand Lodge treats California Odd Fellows like an unwanted child. How can that be? Let me count some of the ways:
1. SGL decided to raise the per capita fees they require from every Lodge by $10 (spread over two years). The leadership of SGL muscled this through without explaining why the increase is needed, notwithstanding repeated requests for an explanation. The dues increase is anathema to the most important challenge facing fraternal orders – membership growth. This increase in dues will have a negative impact on our efforts to encourage new members to join. Sadly, I am confident that the increase in dues will cause a drop in membership throughout the jurisdiction – thus sending a torpedo into the efforts to stop the decline in IOOF membership.
2. SGL “mislaid” legislation submitted by the California Grand Lodge to allow a modest increase in representation for the largest jurisdictions at SGL (without a decrease in representation for any jurisdiction) – thus making representation more reflective of membership. California, with over 4,000 members, currently has 2 reps to SGL – the same number as is given to jurisdictions with less than 300 members. Officials at SGL finally “found” the legislation, it was voted on, and overwhelmingly defeated. So, in fact, we are being taxed without adequate representation.
3. The ritual of SGL has language that is not gender-neutral and some language that is demeaning to people of color, and repeated efforts to eliminate those references have been delayed or rebuffed.
4. Recently, SGL voted to present its highest honor – the Decoration of Chivalry – to two Confederate States of America monuments. This action is completely tone-deaf in light of our times, and the concerns of our African-American community members. The Confederacy sought to continue the sanction and practice of slavery of black men, women and children. What message does this send about equality and justice?
5. And speaking about tone-deaf, how can we forget the recent decision by some leaders at SGL to deny access to the Pilgrimage for Youth to a young man with a disability – and then to attempt to defend the decision in the press. The actions of SGL were certainly not acceptable to the young man and his family, nor to any Odd Fellow who believe in F-L-T. The SGL decision also brought negative publicity to the Order and great derision of Odd Fellowship, angered the UN, and caused every Jurisdiction and Lodge to be concerned about negative legal consequences.
6. The recent Chair of SGL’s Membership Committee has rung the fire bell of our declines in membership and has warned that our Order is on a fatal path. Yet, SGL has essentially ignored these warnings, and blithely continues on the path of decline while giving lip service to the need to increase membership.
7. The Jurisdiction of California constantly orders supplies from SGL which take months, if not years, to fill – directly impacting our ritualistic practices. Why can SGL not fill a simple supply order?
Students of Odd Fellows history know that the annals of our Order are replete with instances of groups of Lodges breaking away from their particular “mother ship” when the disconnect and chasm between them becomes too great. Even the split that created the Manchester Unity was the result of a schism in the Order. How long can California continue to tolerate being unfairly taxed, neglected and ignored?
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
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).