DMC – Membership and why we avoid the topic

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

DMC – Stop the Insanity

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

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

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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).

DMC – Good Publicity For Your Odd Fellows Lodge

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

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – Odd Fellows Must Be In It To Win It!

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.

DMC – Your Behaviors Can Be Toxic

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

Rodney King, perhaps, said it best: “Can’t we all just get along?”

The surest way to turn off and drive away new members is to be in an Odd Fellows Lodge where one or two members act in a dominant or controlling way, or bicker, quarrel or criticize each other. The negative behavior can take many forms: The negative member may take the form of a bully – loud, aggressive, controlling, rude. The negative member may take the form of a contrarian – proposals are shot down because the Lodge never did that before, new ideas ideas are stupid, or motions violate the “Code”. The negative member has been in control of everything and anything that happens in the Lodge – and won’t let loose the reins of control to any other member.

This sort of negative attitude and behavior is toxic to a fraternity. Members who engage in this conduct can cause a Lodge to fracture and even disintegrate. Not only will it turn off and drive away new members, it will also affect existing members, make them uncomfortable and reduce attendance. Negative members indirectly affect efforts to retain and increase membership in the Order.

As members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, we are supposed to go to Lodge meetings to escape the turmoil of everyday life, to elevate our character, not to witness members sniping at each other, or criticizing ideas that are proposed, or being loud and belligerent.

I have had the misfortune to visit some Odd Fellows Lodges where it appeared that members had never heard the words “friendship, love and truth.” They certainly weren’t friendly to one another. There was little, if any, love shown. And truth had been replaced by slander and rumor. Frankly, it was the exact opposite of what Odd Fellowship is all about. The tension in the room was palpable.

Not only is this kind of negative culture anathema to our fraternity, it also discourages members from speaking at meetings or for that matter from even attending. Social times and meetings should be enjoyable, sometimes even uplifting. There is nothing in the ritual or Codes that prohibit members from having fun.

If you see this sort of conduct occurring in your Lodge, you have a moral duty to take action. The best solution is to talk directly to the member who is acting or speaking inappropriately, face-to-face and in private. In a brotherly way, let that member know how you feel about it. If that task is too difficult, uncomfortable or distasteful for you, then you should have a conversation with the Noble Grand or a respected senior member of the Lodge about it – hopefully the Noble Grand or senior member will take the appropriate action. If this doesn’t remedy the situation, then by all means bring the problem to the attention of the District Deputy Grand Master, and if necessary, the Grand Master. The future of your Odd Fellows Lodge may very well be at stake.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

DMC – We Are Still Alive

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

Without question, Odd Fellows Lodges need to change their culture, or they simply will not attract the lifeblood of a fraternity: new members. Men and women of the new generation (those born after 1980) will not join our Order simply to attend boring, do-nothing meetings.

This is not to disparage the basic tenets of this Order: Friendship, Love and Truth. Those tenets are timeless and have as great a meaning in the 21st Century as they did in the 19th Century. However, we continue to tout historical relics from our distant fraternal past that have little or no significance to potential new members today. For example, how does the ancient “command” to “bury the dead” or “educate the orphan” resonate with a 30-year-old potential applicant? It doesn’t. If anything, it is off-putting.

Here is an email from a member of a Odd Fellows Lodge that touches on issues relating to the culture of the Lodge. For the sake of privacy and peace, I will neither reveal the Lodge name nor the name of the writer of the email. Ponder it well . . . .

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California


Hi Dave,

It is funny that you and Rick are touching on the very topic that I have been thinking about. It strikes me that too many lodge meetings have become “organ recitals.”

The meeting is proceeding just fine, taking care of business and then they get to the “sick or in distress” items and then we have to listen to dreary accounts of everybody’s ills and which members and members’ relatives are dead or dying. I know we are supposed to help “bury the dead”, whatever than means nowadays, but can’t there be some sense of proportion in a meeting?

I AM an old person and I get depressed hearing this stuff, over and over. Imagine you are a member in your 30’s or 40’s (those few we have) and you have to sit through this stuff, month after month! Why would you want to attend a meeting, merely to get bummed out?

At one lodge of my acquaintance, if you mentioned in a meeting that you had been suffering from a common cold, or a bum knee it would end up in the newsletter!

Why can’t we change the “sick or in distress” portion of a meeting to a portion that encourages reporting on both positive and negative things?

I would rather hear about somebody’s grandkid getting their degree, or a good job rather than that “Brother Fred is having knee surgery.”

Why not have a member outreach committee than not only checks up on people when they are ill but also that checks up on members who have not been attending to see if there is something the lodge can do to bring them back?

We need to change the Independent Order of Odd Fellows culture and encourage living while we are still alive!

Cheers!

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