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
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At this point in my year as Grand Master, I have visited in excess of 20 Lodges. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and even the ugly. Some Lodges are thriving. Many Lodges are trying. Other Lodges are fading. In the spirit of giving Lodges the warning signs of a failing Lodge, here – based on my experience – are what I consider the “Top Ten Reasons” that Lodges fail (with apologies to David Letterman and his Top Ten Lists):
Number 10. Inadequate signage. Most of our Lodges have been around for over 100 years, and many are located in the heart of downtown. Yet too often I have seen Lodges that are invisible. If you are an Odd Fellows Lodge, be proud of it and make sure that there is a large, distinct and easily visible sign that proclaims the building to be a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
Number 9. Decrepit halls. Nothing turns potential members off faster than a shabby Lodge Hall. A building with old paint, a clear need for repairs, and a dusty and dirty interior speaks volumes to the public. Such a building says, “we are old and we don’t care.”
Number 8. Failure to let go. In some Lodges, the same one or two people run everything, and have done so for 10 years, 20 years, or even longer. It’s time to let go. A new generation of leaders needs to be given their turn to be in charge of the Lodge. If you continue to do everything in the Lodge, you may think you are helping. But what you are doing is restricting newer members from enjoying the full IOOF experience. Don’t hold a position beyond your time. Better to train the newer members so they can flourish and continue the Order into the next generation.
Number 7. No, no, no. I have experienced the dreaded “no” in too many Lodges. Newer members are stifled, disappointed, frustrated, and even angered when the “long-time” members always say “no” to every new idea. Don’t always say “no”, or “we tried that a few years ago, and it doesn’t work”, or “that’s a stupid idea.” Learn to say “yes”. Let the newer members try.
Number 6. Constant comment. Nothing is more restricting and embarrassing for newer members than to always hear comments from the sidelines during a meeting such as: “You are standing in the wrong place” or “that word is pronounced ‘sectarian'” or “wait, it’s not your turn”. Don’t become the Lodge bully. Of course, you want to help the new members, but do it discretely, and perhaps following the meeting. Everyone makes mistakes in the beginning.
Number 5. Booooooring. Nothing says “this is a Lodge of grandfathers and grandmothers” louder than holding a boring meeting. Unfortunately, I have attended too many meetings where the meeting consisted of little more than verbatim reading of the minutes, sick and in distress, paying a couple of bills, and that’s it. Without committee reports, old business and new business, the message conveyed is that this is a moribund Lodge.
Number 4. Bicker, bicker, bicker. Many times I have heard from newer members who tell me that they attended a few meetings and then stopped because they couldn’t stand the bickering and sniping amongst the members. We are Odd Fellows. We are supposed to practice friendship, love, and truth. No one wants to hear about your petty complaints about other members. Get over it, shake hands and move on.
Number 3. Failure to have fun. The surest way to send a Lodge into its death spiral is to forget that we are a fraternal order and it’s OK to have fun. Lodges must plan social events that the members enjoy. Without such social events, the Lodge loses an entire dimension of its value to members.
Number 2. Failure to reach out. It is important to the work of this Order and the image of IOOF for Lodges to reach out into their communities to do good works. It’s also important to the new and younger members. This is the next generation who we wish to attract. These young men and women want to help out in the community and want to foster charitable causes. And it’s not just writing a check here and there. That’s too easy. Members want to engage hands-on in good charitable and community works.
Number 1. Failure to bring in new members. The #1 reason the Lodges fail is self-evident. I visited a Lodge recently that had not brought in a new member in over 5 years. The remaining members had dropped to less than 20 and virtually everyone was in his/her 70’s and 80’s. What do you think the future of that Lodge might be? That Lodge had skipped an entire generation (perhaps two) of new members. Obviously, the Lodge is heading down the path of demise. Without new members, a fraternal order ultimately perishes.
Do you recognize any of these “Top Ten Reasons” in your own Lodge?
F – L – T
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
While a handful of Odd Fellows Lodges are growing, and another handful are maintaining a static membership, the vast majority of Lodges are shrinking. The math is not complicated. Members move away, depart, stop coming to meetings, lose interest or pass away – and at the same time, the Lodge doesn’t add new members or, perhaps, adds one or two new members who might be close friends or relatives of existing members. And too, often, the new members added are of the same age as existing members. The result is inevitable: Lose three members and add one member and you have a Lodge in trouble. Clearly, we must do something to change this equation.
I am often asked: What can we do to grow our Lodge?
Well, talk is cheap. Action is required. So, here, for those who are truly interested, is a three-year plan to re-charge, re-invigorate, and re-new your Lodge. (For those members of the Order who are satisfied with the status quo of your Lodge, and who are happy to maintain your Lodge just the way it is for the balance of your life, you can stop reading here.) For those members who wish to build for the future of your Lodge, and guarantee that the tenets and ideals of this great fraternity live on and flourish, please read on. The secret of success is not just to hold meetings. We must also increase our internal good fellowship activities and increase our involvement with and exposure in the community.
- Open your Lodge to the public (and to potential members) by having open, social meetings – one such social meeting each month should do it. Of course, no ritualistic work is conducted and no secrets are revealed at such meetings.
- Bring in one or two major community leaders into membership in your Lodge. This can be a local elected official, a recognized business leader, a leader in his or her profession (like a lawyer, a CPA, a banker, a Judge, a physician, the County Sheriff, etc.) These people will dramatically raise the community profile of your Lodge and can become “rainmakers” in bringing in new members.
- Plan and execute one major community event, to benefit a local charitable or community group, and make sure it is publicized.
- Plan for and put on one social event each month for the Lodge members and their guests. This can include themed potlucks (for example, Italian potluck), “Bunko” Night at the Lodge, Trivia Night, Poker Night, Movie Night, a talk and demonstration on beer brewing, etc.
- Target husbands and wives, both, to consider membership in your Lodge.
- Hold a “retreat” of your active members and lay out five goals for the year. These five goals should always include a goal identifying the number of Lodge applicants you intend to bring in during the year. Resolve at this retreat NOT to be negative. Positively listen to all ideas that are proposed and put on the table, and then decide which you will implement.
- Continue each of the Year One activities into Year Two.
- Develop a “signature event” that your Lodge will organize and put on for the community – which will become an annual event. For example: An “OddtoberFest”, a wine tasting event at the Lodge, Pasta Feed, etc.
- Organize a committee structure for the Lodge. These committees can include: A Good Fellowship Committee, a Community Support Committee, a Music Committee, a Photography Committee, etc. Give each committee an assignment and let them do their work.
- Target young potential members for your Lodge – from 30 to 40 years of age.
- Continue each of the Year One and Year Two activities into Year Three.
- Find out what member’s are interested in doing, and do it. If members wish to take a wine country trip, figure out a way to do it. If members want to put on a Bingo night for the community, find ways to do it. If members wish to go on a hike, etc., let them organize to do it.
- Contact, personally, each of your “inactive” members and let them know about Lodge activities – see if you can bring them back into active membership in your Lodge.
- Connect with your members. Ideally, have all members connected through e-mail so that everyone can be kept posted and informed. For those who don’t have e-mail, set up a phone tree.
- Target even younger potential members for your Lodge – from 16- 29 years of age.
This Plan of Action can work for your Lodge! It does not diminish, in any way, the principles of our Order. It seeks only to increase your membership, and in this way will benefit your Lodge as well as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
F – L – T