Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
How does a SGL representative justify voting in favor of the recent dues increase?
A couple of days ago, I published an article where I highlighted the Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) decision to raise dues charged to members in 2018 and 2019. The precise language of the dues increase is the following: “dues amounts for Odd Fellow and Rebekah members shall be increased by five ($5.00) United States dollars for each year, for two (2) years beginning at the close of 2017 session of The Sovereign Grand Lodge. The yearly increase shall not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.”
In response to this article, I have received e-mails from SGL representatives who had voted “yes” on this dues increase. I have asked each of them, repeatedly, the following question: “What did SGL tell you and the other reps that they would do with the increased revenue?”
I have never received an answer to the question.
In one case, I asked the SGL representative why he voted for an increase in dues when the SGL budget was balanced, with no showing of a deficit. His answer was remarkable. He said: “Yes, I do realize it was a balanced budget. But as we all know the numbers are dropping. So if you have less members to collect from you need to collect more from those that decide to continue. And a dues [increase] will not be charged if the membership increases in all branches. The incentive is there if you don’t want to pay more by increasing the lodge membership in all branches.”
Let’s analyze what we just heard here.
First, the representative’s perspective is that dues must go up because membership has decreased. Really? For what purpose? The SGL budget is balanced. So what deficit are we filling with the increased dues? More importantly, the illogic of this representative’s perspective is breathtaking. Does that mean that every year membership declines dues must go up? Do we double dues if membership gets cut in half? In truth, increasing dues to combat declining membership is a self-fulfilling negative prophecy: as we increase dues, it will compel members to withdraw resulting in decreased membership, and (thus) increased dues. Dandy.
Second, the last part of this representative’s perspective is the thought that the $5 dues increase “will not be charged if the membership increases in all branches.” He is referring to the proviso contained in the last sentence of the dues bill that: “The yearly increase will not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.” Based on that, the representative suggests that we all have now been given an “incentive” to avoid paying the $5 dues increase “by increasing the lodge membership in all branches.” Say, what? In the mind of this representative, he believes that we (each of us members) will so want to avoid paying a $5 dues increase that we will want to join the other branches of the Order, because if all the branches collectively increase membership, the $5 dues increase will not be imposed. So, he suggests that the dues increase will give me and other members “incentive” is to join other branches, and thus increase the membership of the other branches. He is actually suggesting that I will be impelled to join other branches and pay $100 more in dues to avoid a $5 dues increase. And remember, this “incentive” only works if collectively, throughout all branches of the Order in SGL there is a membership increase.
So, there you have it. This is the sort of thinking and “logic” which, apparently, compelled a majority of the SGL representatives to approve a dues increase for us. At bottom, there is no rational basis for it, and it will do no more than further drive our membership numbers to a new low.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
One of the most confusing, unjustified, and wrong-headed decisions in recent Odd Fellows’ history has just come down from the August 21-24, 2017, Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) Session, just concluded in St. Louis. In case you have not heard, a majority of SGL representatives voted to increase the per capita dues that you, and every member, will pay in 2018 and 2019. At DMC we wish to commend the SGL representatives who voted in the minority against this turkey of an idea. And for those SGL representatives who voted in favor, we say “shame on you.”. Let me explain why I call this decision “confusing, unjustified, and wrong-headed”.
Here is the precise language that SGL adopted to amend Chapter XXIV, Section 1 A (3) of the Code of General Laws: “dues amounts for Odd Fellow and Rebekah members shall be increased by five ($5.00) United States dollars for each year, for two (2) years beginning at the close of 2017 session of The Sovereign Grand Lodge. The yearly increase shall not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.”
To begin with, this language – which I assume must have been hastily drafted – is not clear as to the amount of the increase over the two-year period. I have been advised that some at SGL thought that the intent was to raise the dues $5 in 2018 and then $10 in 2019: total raise of $15. It would have been easy to draft the bill to say precisely that. However, that is certainly not the plain language of the adopted bill. As I read the bill, the dues increase would be $5 in each of two years – 2018 and 2019: total raise of $10. So, at best, we have unclear language in the bill.
Second, there is a proviso that may make it all inoperative: If the dues paying membership from all branches shows a net gain over the prior year, then the increase does not go into effect. Based on historical trends, this is an unlikely scenario, but nevertheless, we would have to wait until all Branches throughout all of SGL submit their reports to determine if the proviso prohibits the dues increase. That puts the dues amount to be assessed in 2018 and 2019 in some state of limbo. Further, there are members who pay their dues two or three years in advance. What should they be paying for 2018 and 2019?
Confusing? You bet.
Even more troubling is the fact that the dues increase was not justified at SGL. I have spoken to several individuals who attended the session where the issue came up. NO reason was given for the dues increase. The presented budget was balanced. The Finance Committee did not report a need for a dues increase or a reason that the additional funds were needed.
So why does SGL need the extra money? Is there a program that they wish to fund or increase? Is it to pay representative travel and lodging expenses (that would be strange since the number of reps attending has diminished)? Is it meant to pay for insurance? Litigation expenses? Who knows! The reason was not articulated. We are left to completely guess.
But the ultimate question is: Why did some representatives vote in favor of a dues increase without understanding the purpose for which the money would be used?
But the worst is yet to come. The decision is, in my opinion, completely wrong-headed.
Look, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Odd Fellows single biggest challenge/problem is our diminishing membership numbers. That shrinkage has affected us for decades, and permeates everything we do as an Order and in our Lodges. Some Lodges have membership so low that they have trouble getting a quorum for meetings, or only survive because associate members prop them up. Some Lodges have a “gene pool” of talent that has diminished to such an extent that they don’t have sufficient officers to fill all positions, nor to maintain the checks and balances necessary for financial stability and accuracy. Some Lodges find themselves with no member younger than 65. Yet, at SGL, at Grand Lodges, and at the Lodge level, we go about our business pretty much the same way we have done so over the last Century – hoping beyond hope that if we can just run our meetings properly, all will be well.
The continued losses are debilitating, and not sustainable. We once had an Order that boasted 1 million members – the largest in the United States. Instead of growing – we have been shrinking. Today, we are a shadow of our former membership. And if the net losses continue, our Order will be decimated in North America in the next 20 years.
Here are some SGL statistics that should alarm every Odd Fellow:
* In 2015 there were 1,270 Lodges; in 2016 that number has slid to 1,236 Lodges – a diminution of 34 Lodges. I understand that the number in 2017 is even lower.
* In 2015 there were 33,745 dues paying members in the United States and Canada. The percentage drop in membership we have been experiencing in the United States and Canada is close to 4% year-to-year.
* There are 56 regular jurisdictions in the United States and Canada with 33,745 members and 8 other countries under the direct jurisdiction of the SGL with 696 members. I note that there are independent jurisdictions in Australasia, Europe, Latin America with 71,067 members. These other jurisdictions have far-surpassed the membership totals of the United States and Canada.
* Some of the jurisdictions in the United States and Canada have gotten paper thin in terms of membership. How thin? Let me give you an example. My own Lodge – Davis #169 in California – has more dues paying members than each of TWENTY jurisdictions (states and provinces) in North America. In fact, there are fully FOUR jurisdictions with memberships under 100.
So, unquestionably, the Number One concern of our Order, of our Lodges and of our members is, and must be, to INCREASE MEMBERSHIP. In light of that, here is a simple truth: Raising dues is anathema to increasing membership.
Increasing dues will make it more difficult to gain new members, and it will make it difficult for some members – who have limited resources – to continue their membership. Even if this were to affect only 2% of our Order, we can ill-afford lose 700 members or potential members because the dues increase has compelled them to withdraw or not to apply.
Members, Lodges and Grand Lodges need to resist this dues increase. SGL must revisit this bad decision. SGL should focus, instead, on membership, membership, membership. The sinking ship of Odd Fellowship can be righted, but not with a dues increase. When over 90 percent of our Lodges are showing net losses of members, while less than 10% of our Lodges are showing net gains, isn’t the solution obvious? We need to focus on the few Lodges that are gaining members, and replicate their formulas for success. Everything else is just whistling in the dark.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
The annual membership numbers have arrived. Reports have now been compiled showing membership numbers of California Odd Fellows Lodges as of December 31, 2016.
What do those statistics reveal? Where does your Lodge fit in this spectrum?
On the plus side, there is a net yearly increase in the number of our members from 2015 – although the net increase is very small, it is at least and INCREASE in contrast to decades of net decreases. Kudos to all the members and Lodges that worked hard to finally stem the flow of losses. At the end of 2016, we had 4,157 Odd Fellows in California, a net increase from that number at the end of 2015.
On the minus side, however, there is little to cheer us. We have 116 Odd Fellows Lodges in California. At the top of the membership pyramid, we have 4 Lodges with over 200 members each. These 4 Lodges comprise 983 members which is about one-fourth of the total Odd Fellows membership in the State of California. In other words, one out of every four Odd Fellows belongs to just four Lodges. Two other Lodges have membership between 100-199 – if we add the numbers of those 2 Lodges into the mix, then the largest six Lodges have a combined membership of 1,222. Those largest 6 Lodges have a membership which is about 30% of the total membership in the State. In the next tier, we find just 16 Lodges with memberships between 50-99. So, in total, only 22 Lodges have a membership of 50 or greater. The 94 remaining Lodges in California have a membership of 49 or fewer.
That sounds OK, until you drill down the numbers.
Of the 94 Lodges with membership rolls of 49 or fewer, fully 50 Lodges show a membership under 20. Of those 50 Lodges, 34 have membership totals between 19-12, and 16 Lodges have membership totals of fewer than 12 (in fact, we have 6 Lodges with membership of 6 or fewer Odd Fellows). Those 16 Lodges with fewer than 12 members should be a great concern to all of us, and should be considered waving the yellow flag of caution. Assuming most Lodges get only half the membership to any given meeting, a Lodge with only 10 or 11 members must be skating close to the edge of the quorum precipice. And those 6 Lodges with 6 or fewer members must be viewed as a waving a red flag of danger. A Lodge with 6 members on its books must certainly be having quorum problems, unless that Lodge is being propped up by associate members.
We have a handful of large Lodges which seem to be growing, thriving and healthy. But the smallest Lodges are just hanging on. The loss of one or two members (through death or withdrawal) could spell doom for that Lodge. It should not have come to this. And it didn’t happen overnight. Loss of membership is like drip torture, it’s slow and takes time. It reflects a Lodge that did not take action to bring in some members every year. And that is the key. A Lodge must bring in new members on a constant basis – year after year – even one or two new members in a year is critical to ensuring the health and vitality of a Lodge.
Can it be fixed?
Yes, it can. But just as the diminution of membership took years, the growth of membership will also take years. Every Lodge must, however, take the first steps. And the first steps are setting some goals for the Lodge to enable it to bring in that one or two new members per year. The first steps must include a plan to make the Lodge active and interesting to potential members. A boring Lodge will not attract new members and will not sustain itself. And the first steps must also include developing a membership plan. Any membership plan must involve all members of the Lodge. As an Odd Fellow, your first duty must be to the continued life of the Lodge and the fraternity. You can’t ignore your personal responsibility to bring in new blood. You can’t expect “the other guy” to do it. YOU have to do it.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
As I have the privilege to serve our Fellowship as Grand Musician, a role that draws upon my years of musical pleasure and performance and immerses me in the joys and disciplines, the rules and conventions of harmony, I am struck by how the concept of how harmony applies to the Odd Fellows. Musical harmony is the result of several notes coming together to make an effective much greater than that which a single note can create. There is the obvious similarity between the three notes of a basic chord and our three revered watchwords: Friendship, Love and Truth. These three words and concepts together evoke a feeling of collective warmth and integrity. However, I believe that harmony has even more profound meanings for the Odd Fellows, both externally and internally. It is clear to me that achieving and maintaining some important harmonies is vital for the very survival of our order.
Harmony among the Odd Fellows
Musical harmonies bring together a variety of notes that complement one another. A vital, effective Lodge will have a variety of voices, ideas and personalities that work together to create a satisfying, effective, harmonious environment. Just as new notes added to an existing cord to create a new, richer one, new members, with the new voices and ideas can make a Lodge more interesting and more able to survive in a rapidly changing word. Such new faces, ideas and abilities should be sought, welcomed and integrated into the life of the Lodge. Our world’s tastes in rhythm, melody and harmony changes with the generations. The same happens with institutions. Our Lodges must embrace new people, hear their voices and warmly include them in our Fellowship’s song to the world if we are to prevail.
Harmony in the Hall
The impression given by some of our facilities to a person coming into them for the first time, is that of a tired, out-of-date, run-down set of rooms, out of harmony with the Odd Fellows’ desire and claim of lively relevance. Although recognition and relevance for our traditions and rituals should be expressed, the mood created by our interiors should not feel like a dirge to bygone times, but rather an anthem to enduring greatness, quite in touch with today’s world. Some tune-ups and even some serious “make-overs” are in order.
Harmony on the Street
To a large extent, the face we show to the world is the exterior of all buildings. And how they look on the outside provides cues to what and who is inside. It is vital that the facades of our facilities, the envelopes if you will, are in harmony with the streetscape, the community and the times. The local IOOF hall, inside and out, should look like something where local community members want to belong, a place that is harmonious with their lifestyles and aspirations.
Harmony in our Hearts
In these discordant times in the world I want our facilities, both inside and out, and our members both long term and new, to represent and to work and play in harmony, and that our doors open to reveal a Fellowship of Brothers and Sisters that bring together the sacred music of America’s glorious call for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness with the Odd Fellows’ glorious refrain of Friendship, Love and Truth.
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