Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The article, below, was written by a relatively new member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows from a small Lodge in Southern California, and I commend it to you. The article highlights one of the great impediment to growth that I have personally seen in many, many Lodges. This impediment – unless corrected – will ultimately destroy the Lodge.
The problem? Long-time members of the Odd Fellows Lodge who just won’t let go of the control they exercise in the Lodge. Sometimes that “control” is abundantly clear and dominant, and sometimes it is subtle. Look, no one lives forever. Eventually, new members must assume all functions and responsibilities in the Lodge. It is critical that long-time members mentor the new members, and then allow the new members to assume responsibility in the Lodge. The long-time members are a great resource and should continue to be as active as is appropriate – but they cannot continue to dominate and control. To do so will stifle the new generation and will lead to a diminution of the Lodge. The long-time members may think that only they know the right answers and that only they can properly control the Lodge. But in reality, they are slowly strangling the life out of the Lodge, and they are ultimately destroying the Lodge.
The solution? The long-time members must simply mentor the new members, and then – with grace and dignity and the appreciation of their Odd Fellows Lodge – they must eventually release the reins of control. At the same time, the new members must show respect for the long-time members, exercise patience, and then slowly assume responsibility within the Lodge – they are, after all, the future of Odd Fellowship.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
From a New Member of a Small Lodge (by Veronica Dowdy)
I am a member of a small Odd Fellows Lodge. We have only maybe a handful of active members and many who are not active. I have been a member of the small community that we live in since 2009 and had been looking for a place/organization to be part of where I could feel more part of the community while contributing and being a valuable member of my town.
My husband and I joined the Odd Fellows because we saw the potential that the organization has and we have been inspired by who they are. Having lived in a large city prior to us moving to this town, it had me miss how much more we were involved in great activities geared to making a difference.
I have had over 20 years of experience planning events for large corporations. I have successfully raised funds for non-profit organizations. One such event included the Avon Breast Cancer 5K race in Los Angeles, where I was able to get the whole company I worked at to participate 17 years ago; and they still participate to this day after I moved on. I also raised funds for the AIDS Foundation through a San Francisco Marathon in which we gave away tickets to incredibly fun events such as Cirque Du Soleil, a Harbor Dinner Cruise and a piece of artwork valued at $10,000 all donated to us by different organizations and artists. I am very creative when it comes to ways to get the community and people in general involved in activities that benefit all of us.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were discussing ways to raise funds and awareness about the Odd Fellows. It has come to our attention that hardly anyone in our community is aware of who the Odd Fellows are or what we are about. So I figured it would be a great idea to organize special events such as whale watching, short trips to fun places for the community to be able to raise awareness of what we do and raise funds for different organizations as well as for our Lodge. There has been concern from a few members of our Lodge that I have been “holding back” in my participation and I figured that this would be a great way for me to step up and do what I do best – what I have had experience with and make a difference. Unfortunately, when I brought my motion up, instead of waiting for the discussion part of the motion, my motion was nit-picked and I felt shut down completely.
My motion was simply to head a “fun-raising” committee which was initially met with smiles and cheer.
My motion was never recorded because it was nit-picked by the secretary recording the motions until I could say nothing and so I sat silent. My husband stood in my defense to argue for allowing the motion to be made first and then discussion after. No one said a word and my husband and I were given the universal “shhh” symbol. The person who gave the “shhh” to us picked up the motion and it passed but garnered one “no” vote.
I voted for my own motion only because it had to come from someone else who had “been around” longer than I have. This really left a bad taste in my mouth and completely took away any desire for future participation in my lodge. My husband experienced the same thing when he brought up an idea that would make a difference for our lodge as well. Someone else who had “been around” made the motion after watching his contribution get picked apart before the motion was made because the discussion to shoot it down preceded the motion.
I have read that some of our lodges are dying. This is one of the reasons why. New members who can be a great contribution to our communities join and bring with them ideas and experience needed for growth. Unfortunately, if they encounter the SAME opposition that we have, there is no room for leadership or contribution or growth. Like another odd fellow member stated: stores and restaurants that have survived have found a way to diversify what they offer and bring new items and products into their establishments; how can our lodges expect to survive when any new ideas are nit-picked and shut down by senior members before there is even a record of the motion? And whose motion does it become if a member who has “been around” makes it instead; isn’t that belittling? And how can anyone question why new members are holding back instead of realizing that the only reason we hold back is because we feel that any contributions that we bring will face nit-picking opposition rather than procedural debate which is fair and just and both sides can be heard in an orderly fashion?
I will continue to participate in my lodge for now, because I know that this is important for my husband and I want to support him in his commitment to our community. But if I see no change in how things are being done, I may withdraw my participation from the lodge. It saddens me to think that we have such a great resource in our community and that it’s not being utilized the way it was meant to be. I am hoping that in writing this, other members can see how things need to improve. It should be up to the older members to shepherd and support new members instead of what I have experienced. This comes from the perspective of a newbie and is meant to bring awareness to something that needs to change in order to transform our lodges from something that is dying to something that is thriving.
This is not meant to be harsh criticism, but instead, constructive criticism on what needs to change in our lodges as we can’t be the only lodge where this happens. What I proposed was not something new, but has been asked of us as members from our grand lodge in several letters to members. We have been asked to do more than meet in session. It is one thing that older members do not do what is asked of members by our grand lodge, but it is a great hypocrisy to stymie the efforts of new people to do what is asked of us by our Grand Lodge. Such hypocrisy destroys whatever vitality that new members bring.
By Peter V. Sellars, PGM
One of the most important factors of making people aware of an organization, is publicity. The Odd Fellows need publicity. Every lodge needs publicity. How does an Odd Fellows Lodge gain publicity?
There are many promotional ideas to gain publicity. Some take very little money. Other ideas require more money. Some ideas only take action, as simple as writing an article and sending it to a local newspaper or the posting of an article or idea on social media. It comes down to simply sharing what the Order has to offer.
This article could take off in so many directions, as I think of all the ways Odd Fellows Lodges have sought publicity and the numerous promotions lodges have done, and there have been many ideas tried.
Does promoting an Odd Fellows Lodge work? Yes! Will many ideas work for one lodge? Sometimes, it takes many different ways to promote a lodge. Sometimes, it may take only one great idea. Sometimes, ideas must be repeated. Some become regular occurrences. Ideas that promote the lodge should become publicity for the lodge.
So far, you should know promotion of a lodge is important and that publicity may be gained through the fruits of that promotional event or idea. Now, let’s look at some examples of ideas:
1. Submit an article (or multiple articles) detailing the success of a recent event to a local publication.
2. Placing an advertisement in the newspaper or on social media of an upcoming event – or that membership is open to all those interested (included benefits and activities of the lodge)
3. Have patches, hats, t-shirts, polo shirts, made for members and non-members to wear (either give away as a promotional or sell for a fundraiser; newer members appreciate and like our symbols of the skull & cross bones, hourglass, all-seeing eye, etc.
4. Take the Odd Fellow members on outings (at least once a month). Members enjoy activities. Go to local arcades, ballgames, museums, theatres, theme parks, boat/ferry trips, etc. The lodge can subsidize to reduce the costs for such outings; this would be considered a promotional to gain and retain members.
5. Adopt-A-Highway, Clean-up-a-Street, Clean-up-a-park, Clean-up-a-Creek, and other related great opportunities where the Odd Fellows Lodge name is posted for its good works.
6. Billboards work, if an Odd Fellows Lodge (or collective lodges) can afford. Simply place the Three-Links or another cool symbol to get the attention of the public.
7. Pay for uniforms of a little league baseball team, soccer team, basketball team, or any other type sports team where the participants wear clothing with the logo of “Odd Fellows” or the three-links, etc. This is advertisement. There are adult leagues as well. You may even pull in some new members as a result of support.
8. YOU FILL IN THE SPACE! ________________________________.
All of these ideas have been employed at one time or another by various Odd Fellow Lodges. All are very good promotional ideas. It is not a question of what is good or not; the main concern is getting every lodge participating in advertising and promoting the Order to the public.
There actually are lodges that do none of the above. There are lodges that only meet and go home and wait until the next meeting. They do not promote the Order. They do not share anything with the public. These are the lodges that won’t grow or attract new members or gain support or positive attention of the public.
Paying for the promotion of a lodge or organization is the same as promoting a business. The expense of advertising and promoting of such entities is allowable by the Internal Revenue Service, as long as your idea conforms to local law and our own Order’s code.
Every Odd Fellows lodge should join in on creating ideas to promote the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Let’s join this effort and continue being a presence in our communities.
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Some members believe that consolidation of Odd Fellow Lodges is a fine thing, and a major accomplishment. There is even a formal consolidation ceremony in our ritual that is performed when the merger of two (or more) Lodges is consummated. In the ceremony, the absorbed Odd Fellow Lodge is called the “consolidated” Lodge and the absorbing Lodge is called the “consolidating” Lodge. There is a fair amount of pomp, circumstance and ceremony involved in the consolidation ceremony. You can find it in the ritual (the “red book”).
But to me, consolidation speaks more of failure than success. It should not be the subject of a celebration. It is a cause for concern.
A consolidation is just a fancier way to saying that an Odd Fellow Lodge has gone out of business. It is a more genteel way, if you will, of pulling a Lodge’s charter. When two Lodges consolidate, it means that one Lodge has gone out of business because the membership has fallen so low that it is no longer viable. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Typically, Lodges that consolidate into another Lodge have not been viable for many years. The demising Lodge has lost a quorum of regular members, and has often been kept on life support by the kindness of associate members – typically from the gaining Lodge. The failed Lodge may have gone for months without meetings because of the lack of quorum. Truth be told, the absorbed Lodge’s leadership and members have failed their Lodge and have failed the Order. They have allowed the membership to age and to dwindle. In the past, the absorbed Lodge may have been sustained for decades, sometimes well over a Century, by members who lovingly cared for the Lodge Hall, were proud of their history and accomplishments, and happily brought in new members to continue the fraternal experience. But the current generation of members was too old, or too complacent, or too distracted, or too clueless, or too incompetent to continue that history. They let the Lodge lapse on their watch. They let the Lodge become a mere historical footnote. What a shame.
In the California jurisdiction, we have three consolidations that have just occurred or are pending. I am sure that other jurisdictions have consolidations in some phase of devolution. In two of the three California consolidations, the demising Lodge had five dues-paying member on its books. In one case, the books showed eight dues-paying members. But it’s probably smoke-and-mirrors to some extent. Of the few dues-paying members, some may have been too old or ill to travel to meetings, some may not even live in the jurisdiction, and some may have simply stopped attending even though they write a dues check once a year. The absorbed Lodges have really been defunct for years- they are zombie Lodges, going through the motions of life, but long since derelict, decrepit and deceased
Odd Fellow Lodges that have five dues-paying members on the books have gone past the point of no-return. But Lodges with 10 or fewer dues-paying members should be concerned as well – and there are 18 Lodges in California with 10 or fewer members. Having 10 or fewer members should be a red flag for the leadership and members of those Lodges. It is critical that they bring in more members. There is no time to delay. Under the theory that only about half the members truly participate in Lodge meetings and activities, a Lodge with 10 or fewer members is skating perilously close to the precipice of consolidation. (I note that there are another 14 Lodges in California with 11 or 12 dues-paying members. Should those Lodges be concerned, as well? You bet they should.)
Surrendering an Odd Fellow Lodge charter or having it pulled by the Grand Master is the ultimate indignity in a fraternal order. For a Lodge to be absorbed through consolidation is, perhaps, a step up, but it’s no cause for celebration.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
There are DMC members throughout California, the United States, Canada, and Europe. From time to time those members send me newspaper articles that are of particular interest. Below is a link to the Akron, Ohio, newspaper. Please click on the link – I think you will find the newspaper article intriguing and revealing.
It shows what Odd Fellowship was like in a small town in 1918, a Century ago. The article presents a fascinating vignette of the times. There are those in this Order – including many at Sovereign Grand Lodge and in leadership positions in Grand Lodges around the country – who believe that if we simply went back to the way it was one hundred years ago, all would be fine and dandy and we would grow and flourish as an Order. They are wrong. We cannot take an Odd Fellows’ time machine to the past. Those were completely different times, with different issues, lifestyles, views of the world – not to mention different modes of transportation, communication, education, employment, attire and entertainment. The way to the future is to embrace the future, not attempt to live in the past.
While some in leadership at SGL seem to have given up and predict the death of this Order, DMC has not given up. We know that Odd Fellowship is relevant and can not only survive but can grow. In California we are actually showing net gains in membership. In my own Lodge over the last 10 years we have grown from 30 members to over 300. Don’t tell me Odd Fellowship is dead. It is just asleep in some Lodges and in some jurisdictions. We need to simply wake up to welcome the next generation of members.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Local history: Odd Fellows paid tribute to their dead with 1918 monument
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
How about taking a little “self-awareness test”?
As we continue to decline in membership and in the number of Lodges in this Order, I thought it might be useful to develop this short, 20 question test. It’s apparent to me that there are Lodge members out there in the ether who actually do not know if their Lodge is or isn’t in danger of losing their charter because of declining membership. So, as a public service, I have developed this simple test – and all will be revealed. Think of it as the OUIJA Board of Lodge Futures. I ask you to be completely honest in your answers to this test. Remember, it’s a personal test. No one is going to see the results, or grade you. It’s just for you. The questions must all be answered either “yes” or “no”.
So, begin the test now:
1. Does your Lodge have more than 19 dues-paying members?
2. Does your Lodge typically have at least 10 members in attendance at your meetings?
3. Does your Lodge have at least two members who are younger than 40?
4. Does your Lodge have at least two members who are younger than 30?
5. Does your Lodge have any female members?
6. Does your Lodge have at least two members who are female?
7. Has your Lodge initiated at least one new member over the last two years?
8. Has your Lodge initiated at least one new member over the last year?
9. Does your Lodge’s Noble Grand typically serve for only one term?
10. Do more than two members run your Lodge?
11. At your typical Lodge meeting, is bickering among some members a rare event?
12. Does your Lodge sponsor and host at least one signature event for the community each year?
13. Did your Lodge send at least three press releases to your local newspaper over the past year?
14. If you were to ask the typical town resident “where is the Odd Fellows Lodge located”, would they know the answer?
15. Does your Lodge have a dinner or potluck or refreshments prior to your meetings?
16. Did your Lodge contribute to local community and charitable causes over the last year?
17. Does your Lodge produce a newsletter (either e-mail or hard copy) for the members?
18. Is the majority of your Lodge meeting time taken up by committee reports and new business?
19. Have you, personally, sponsored a new member who was initiated into your Lodge over the past two years?
20. Do you, personally, enjoy attending Lodge meetings?
That’s it! So, tally up the number of your answers that were “yes”.
If you had 18-20 “yes” answers, your Lodge is a superstar. I am confident that you are a member of a very well-rounded and successful Lodge that has a bright future. If you had 14-17 “yes” answers, then your Lodge has great potential, and with a little work can be considered a Lodge that will survive well into the 21st Century. If you had 10-13 “yes” answers, then you should be quite concerned about the future viability of your Lodge. Some quick corrective action must be taken, or your Lodge will wither. If you had 5-9 “yes” answers, I suggest that your Lodge is in trouble, and absent some significant turn-around, particularly in Lodge activity and new membership, will not survive another decade. And if you had 0-4 “yes” answers, then – sad to say – there is little hope for the survival of your Lodge. You are a member of a boring, do-nothing Lodge, that is slowly making the descent to a lack of quorum and loss of charter. You should start looking around for a nearby Lodge with which you can consolidate, if they will take you.
F – L – T
Statistics show that we are slowly disappearing as an Order. This trend, however, can be reversed.
First, the statistics. I have reviewed the Grand Lodge Journals from the turn of the 21st Century to the present. In reviewing the statistics from 2000 to 2013, we find that in 2000 we had 181 Odd Fellows Lodges in California. Today, in 2013, we have 126 Odd Fellows Lodges. That, brothers and sisters, is a loss of 55 Lodges in 13 years, an average of 4 or 5 Lodges lost each year. Put another way, since 2000, we have lost 30% of our Lodges.
But the situation is more dire than that. We may have 126 Lodges on the books, but only 7 of these Lodges have 100 or more members. Of the 126 Lodges, fully 55 Lodges (almost half of all our Lodges) have 20 or fewer members on their books. In fact, 10 of our Lodges have 10 or fewer members on their books. If we assume that only about half the members listed on the books of the Lodge actually participate in meetings and Lodge events, we have to also assume that these Lodges – if they meet at all – are experiencing significant quorum problems. These Lodges are limping along with the illusion of stability.
And we also see tremendous disparities in sizes of our Lodges. The 10 largest Lodges in California now have more than one-third the total membership of our Order. That is, one out of every three Odd Fellows in California is a member of just these 10 Lodges. The trend over the years shows that the 10 largest Lodges will soon have 2 out of every 5 members, and eventually will have half the membership in this Order. So, the few largest Lodges are growing, while the remaining 116 of our Lodges (over 90%) are (with a few exceptions) generally shrinking. That is not a happy trend.
In terms of membership numbers over that same period, the Journals show that on January 1, 2000, total Odd Fellows Lodge membership was 6,074. (These membership numbers are total membership which includes dues paying regular members, associate members and non-contributing members – so they represent the best possible scenario of membership.) On January 1, 2013, the total membership number was only 4,755. That’s a decline of 1,315 members in that 2000-2013 time period. Put another way, we have averaged a decline of over 100 members per year.
If we drill down the membership numbers, year after year, however, we see an ominous trend. Typically, only a small percentage of our Lodges have a net gain of membership in any given year. The large majority of our Lodges have a net loss, or at best, stay stagnant. There are a couple of handfuls of larger Lodges that gain members. Most of the smaller Lodges lose members. There are Lodges in California that have not added new members in years, while the existing membership ages, withdraws from membership, or passes away.
And what we see in the Odd Fellows Lodges, we see multiplied in the Rebekah Lodges, and multiplied again in the Branches. For example, there are less than 200 active members in all the Encampments in California, and less than 100 active members in all the Cantons in California. The Ladies Encampment Auxiliary and the Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant are in similar straits.
The statistics show that the present course is unsustainable.
But it is not inevitable.
There is a solution to this conundrum. The solution is obvious and simple: We need to bring more members into our Odd Fellows Lodges. If our Lodges are strong, our Branches will be strong, as well. Grand Lodge has offered incentives to help recruitment of new members. For example, the Membership Challenge Grant Program provided funds to Lodges for new members. And the new $1,000 Membership Grant Program supports Lodges that develop membership programs. But ultimately, membership development is not the task of the Grand Lodge, or even of the Lodges. Membership development begins at the basic unit of Odd Fellowship: YOU.
If YOU don’t bring in a new member to your Lodge, you are failing your Lodge and your Order. It is up to YOU and me and each Odd Fellow to reach out into the community to bring in the new blood our Order needs to reverse the decline. Too many of our members have become complacent and expect that someone else will bring in new members. But that “someone else” is actually YOU. Don’t sit back and depend on the other guy or gal to get the job done.
But ultimately, and honestly, this will not work until YOU work with your Lodge to make the Lodge an interesting place. New members won’t join (and certainly won’t stay) if all your Lodge does is have boring meetings. YOU have to work within your Lodge to develop fun good fellowship activities for the members. And YOU have to work within your Lodge to develop good community projects that not only benefit your community, but also provide worthwhile charitable work that will satisfy your members’ community spirit.
I have called this “The Three-Legged Stool” in the past. A stool needs three strong legs to work. If any leg is weak, the stool will eventually topple. Too many Lodges rely too heavily on just one leg – the rich history and ritual of our Order. To be sturdy, a Lodge needs to also develop and strengthen the two other legs: Good fellowship activities within the Lodge for the members, and good community works to benefit the town or area where the Lodge is located. All three are needed for a strong and growing Lodge.