Predicting the future of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)

Predicting the future of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)

Last weekend, I wrote an article in this DMC Newsletter about the possible effects of the pandemic on Odd Fellow Lodges and Lodge members. The future of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), of course, is hard to predict. Plus, the pandemic has “only” been with us for only six months, and has hardly run its course. Under the best of circumstances, we are in this pandemic reality for at least another six months. Under the worst scenario, it may be as much as another year before we start to emerge from this dystopian universe. And even after the coveted vaccines are approved and distributed, there may be many members of the Order (a vast number of whom are in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond) who remain reticent about meetings and social gatherings.

So this pandemic is undoubtedly a punch in the gut of fraternal orders. How will this pandemic interlude affect Odd Fellow Lodges in the short and long run?

Some Lodges are holding “virtual meetings” using zoom. Other Lodges are not meeting at all. It is quite likely that marginal members will become even less engaged, and may very well not pay their dues for 2020. Even some moderately active members may become dispirited and move into the marginal realm. Almost certainly, the pandemic will have a deleterious impact on our membership rolls. Clearly, it will be difficult for Lodges to entice new members to join. It is predictable that more Lodges than normal will show net losses in membership. Some Lodges may actually hold their own and show a steady state, and only a precious few (if any) will show net gains.

I’ve received a fair number of emails in response to my pandemic DMC Newsletter. One of the most poignant came from a member (who will remain confidential) from a Lodge that is relatively active. If this member in an active Odd Fellows Lodge is discouraged, I can only imagine how difficult it is for a member of a low-energy Lodge.

I wanted to share the member’s email with you (I have deleted the name and the Lodge identification, and have otherwise excised content which would reveal the Lodge). Here’s the email:

“Hi Dave,

I have been thinking about this same topic. Our Lodge is conducting Zoom Business Meetings. As grateful as I am to be able to “see” folks on Zoom, it does not replace the regular dinners we could enjoy together.

A big problem for me (and others I am sure) is that with so few lodges left, they are geographically further apart and members live all over the place. Even if we had any younger members who wanted to help shop for groceries for older members it would be a hard sell to tell them, “Oh, by the way, Sister Mary lives twenty miles from the lodge.” And the willing volunteer may live 10 miles in the other direction.

For some members, a big draw is the regular meals we offer, both for social reasons and for some, just getting a free balanced dinner. I fear that there is going to be a big drop off in membership in our lodge at the end of the year because most of the reasons for belonging are not there anymore. No dinners, either in lodge or in restaurants, no intra-Lodge activities, etc.

You are absolutely correct about a lot of older people being unwilling to risk dining or even meeting inside the lodge until there is an effective vaccine. We were getting some younger members from local colleges but they are not around anymore either so pretty much everything has come to a screeching halt!

My spouse and I are active people, but have had to totally rethink what we can still do with our lives.

Odd Fellows provided a nice secondary social activity for us, but not really that large a part. Consequently I have thought of dropping out, but since the dues are not a killer for us to pay, we will likely hang in there for now.

I believe that all in all, this pandemic is going to accelerate the end of the Order. In some states the membership is going to die off even sooner than expected. Maybe California and a few other states or provinces will survive and can then effect the necessary changes that should have been started years and years ago.”

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Pandemic

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Pandemic

A few days ago a relatively new member of my Odd Fellows Lodge asked me a question that struck me as pretty straightforward. The member asked: “How do you think Lodges will do after this pandemic ends?”

The question only encompassed eleven words so I was poised to answer quickly, and off-the-cuff, by saying, “Oh, I think they will be just fine.”

But I didn’t.

As I reflected on the question for a moment, it seemed to me that the expected answer may or may not be the right one. For one thing, none of us can, with certainty, predict the future. We can, however, certainly visualize alternative futures. So, yes, one alternative future is that “they will be just fine” and all Odd Fellow Lodges will come out of the pandemic kind of where they left off when they went into the pandemic. We have very few guideposts to help us frame an answer. The closest event that parallels the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 is the so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 – a century ago. Some parts of society were absolutely devastated and took years, if not decades, to come back from that 1918-1920 event. Other parts of society bounced back quickly and strongly.

I can envision at least two other alternative futures for Odd Fellowship after the pandemic winds down.

On the one hand, this pandemic may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some IOOF Lodges where membership was already small, inactive and/or dispirited. Without the ability to use the Lodge Hall, those Lodges may be pushed over the precipice of survival. Without strong leadership and a sense of togetherness, there will be little to bind the members. They will have grown apart. Even when the pandemic “ends” there will undoubtedly be members – particularly older members – who will continue (for months and perhaps years) to socially isolate themselves for fear of infection. For those Lodges with elderly members who do not use email or cell phones or cannot manage zoom technology, the year-long distance and disruption may be a road too far to traverse. These are the Lodges that will buckle, will never quite recover, and will ultimately fade away.

On the other hand, this pandemic may be the litmus test for the strength of the Lodge. If Lodge leadership and members use the opportunity to be imaginative in how they can stay connected, how they can meet virtually, and how they can help each other and the community, the Lodge will have proven its worth, staying-power, and stamina. These are the Lodges that don’t stand still – these are the Lodges that evolve and change to fit the times. There are Lodges out there that have been “meeting” using zoom technology even in these times of social distancing. There are Lodges where the younger members have been helping the older members with grocery shopping. There are Lodge that have had members volunteering to help at food banks, at making face masks for nursing homes, at organizing blood drives, at sending email communications to members on a regular basis to keep everyone connected. These are the Lodges that are going to be resilient. These are the survivors. And they will be “just fine” after the pandemic.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)

“End of Days” for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows?

“End of Days” for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows?

The apocalypse is allegorically ushered in by the “Four Horsemen” representing Conquest, War, Famine and Plague. Without over-dramatizing the situation, one can certainly envision the “end of days” for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows if we have an intersection of the trend lines representing (1) aging members and (2) declining membership rolls. We have our own version of the four horsemen, and they will surely bring our Order down UNLESS we recognize these horsemen and make serious efforts to unhorse them. This can be done, but we have to collectively work to make it happen.

In a manner of speaking, we have our own “oddpocalypse”. What are the four horsemen of the IOOF? They are: Oblivion. Complacency. Negativity. Inaction. Let’s visit each of them in their stable and understand how they insidiously undermine Odd Fellowship.

Oblivion. We have a big problem in Odd Fellowship – and this problem has been with us for decades. That problem is the decline, and continued decline, of our membership. The very first step in dealing with a problem is to recognize and admit that there is a problem. Odd Fellowship – at every level of our Order – has not fully recognized or admitted that we have a membership problem. Too many members operate in blissful oblivion. Several years ago, when a Sovereign Grand Master of the IOOF (displaying some courage and foresight) wrote an article highlighting the serious problem of membership decline, he was generally ignored. When a recent candidate for Sovereign Grand Warden of the Odd Fellows had the honesty and temerity to raise the issue in his speech to the assembly, he was criticized and shunned as if he were a trouble-maker. And this modus is replicated at Grand Lodges and at Lodges everywhere. To fail to recognize and admit that there is a membership problem puts everyone in a state of oblivion. Effectively, the Order’s leaders are saying, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” The result is that Odd Fellow Lodges, Grand Lodges, and the Sovereign Grand Lodge keep doing what they have been doing for the past 50, 60, 70+ years. It’s as if they were saying, if we could only read the ritual book with a little more fervor, if only we could practice Friendship, Love, and Truth (FLT) a little bit harder, if we could simply memorize the unwritten works – all would be fine and membership would increase. But, as the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, and expecting a different result.

Complacency. Too many of our members have become overwhelmed with membership ennui. They have become complacent. They appear to be satisfied with the status quo. They find the Lodge to be perfect, just the way it is (and has been for the last decade or two). In fact, if the Lodge were to add new members it would disrupt their idyll. New members represent a change in their universe – a “disruption in the force” if put in Star Wars vernacular. These complacent members have not brought in a new member for years, perhaps never. They take the view that sponsoring a new member is someone else’s job. The complacent members – many of whom have been members of the Order for 25, 35, or 50 years – have a short, rather than a long view, of Odd Fellowship. They care more about their own creature comforts in a Lodge that suits them, rather than the long-term viability of that Lodge. This plays directly into the hands of the horseman of complacency. That horseman will lull you to sleep. But in time, the awakening will be rude.

Negativity. It may be that there is a member of the Lodge – perhaps a few – who really want to bring in new members and re-charge the energy, vitality and future of the Lodge. Opposing that energetic member are the complacent members. These oppositional members ride with the horseman of negativity. The negative member can bring down the Lodge in two ways. First, anytime the energetic member makes a suggestion or a proposal, the negative member finds a reason to shoot it down. That negativity can take several forms, either criticizing the idea or even denigrating the energetic member for the audacity of suggesting it. We hear the following things from the negative member: “That won’t work,” or “We tried that a few years ago and it failed,” or “It’s against the Code,” or the old standard “That’s a stupid idea.” In particular, the most insidious negative comment is to say “It’s against the Code.” I have found in virtually every single case that the member who starts spouting the “Code” as a weapon has very little idea what the Code actually says on that particular subject. [Word of Advice: If a member of your Lodge weaponizes the Code, simply ask them for the specific citation. In other words: “Show me the language of the Code Section which prohibits this.”] The other insidious aspect of the negative member is that they often forget FLT and use their negativity to spread misinformation and rumors about other members, typically behind the backs of those other members. This sort of internal turmoil is a quick way to destroy the fraternal spirit of a Lodge.

Inaction. The final horseman is that of “inaction.” If allowed, this will be the Coup de Grace of a Lodge. Let’s be clear about this: Declining members is ultimately fatal to a Lodge and a fraternal order. However, declines in membership can be reversed. There are Lodges throughout the country that have reversed the trend and are increasing their membership. How do they do that? It requires the collective attention of the Lodge members, a plan of action, strong leadership, and follow-through. There are ways that Lodges can attract new members and retain existing members. There are Lodges (precious few of them) that are consistently showing net gains in membership, rather than net losses. We have presented numerous techniques on how to do this in the pages of these newsletters. But the surest way to kill the Lodge is inaction – the failure to implement a plan. The sad part of inaction is that it becomes the death by a thousand cuts. The Lodge doesn’t die instantly. The death is prolonged and painful. And the longer the Lodge stays in the “inaction” mode, the harder it is for the Lodge to recover. If a Lodge delays until there are less than a dozen members, almost all of whom are in their 70’s and 80’s, it really is just becomes a matter of time until that Lodge loses its mojo. The Lodge suffering from inaction will lose its quorum, fold up its tents and fade into historical oblivion. And what a shame that would be. That Lodge may have been around for 100 years, perhaps 150 years. Dozens of members over the years had dedicated themselves to the growth and prosperity of the Lodge – and now, in the 21st Century, on YOUR watch, YOU let the Lodge die.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.)

The solution for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows recruiting new members

The solution for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows recruiting new members

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

Recently, a long-time and distinguished member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows sent me this message in response to one of our DMC Newsletters:

“We need a program that all Lodges should try to implement that will attract the 20 to 40 year olds. When I joined, I was in my late 30s. I was so excited to be part of my lodge and have been responsible for over 100 members joining. The lodge is getting younger members to join but not many. The bigger problem is, to get them involved and come to meeting and take offices. I have been the FS for most of my time because no one will take it over. I believe the younger folks have different mentality than us older guys. They don’t write checks. They don’t carry cash. So what can attract them?”

This member has clearly identified an existential problem for the Odd Fellows: We are slowly aging, and we are failing to bring in younger members.

A century ago, the average age of Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodges hovered in the 30’s and 40’s. I have looked at records of Lodges which showed that desk officers were often in their 20’s and Nobles Grand were typically in their 30’s. About 50 years ago, Don Smith of California became Grand Master of the Odd Fellows of California and subsequently became Sovereign Grand Master of the Odd Fellows in the United States in his 30’s. Now, in the 21st Century, we see most of the leaders of our Order – both Odd Fellows and Rebekahs – in their 70’s and 80’s.

What happened?

Well, we have had two intertwined membership problems which have been hectoring our fraternal order for the past 100 years. If we fail to recognize and address these twin problems, we fail our Order. Here are the problems: First, we have failed to bring in sufficient new members to compensate for the existing members who depart (resulting in net losses in our ranks). Second, when members do bring in a new member, they tend to bring in members in the same general age range as the sponsoring member. This second problem is the main focus of this DMC Newsletter.

Here is what has happened over the decades: A Lodge member in his/her 70’s will tend to bring in new members who are also in their 70’s. And a Lodge member in his/her 60’s will tend to bring in new members who are in their 60’s. And a Lodge member in his/her 50’s will tend to bring in new members who are in their 50’s. Not always, but that is the tendency – and that is only natural because we tend to know people who are our peers. But this tendency is a self-fulfilling prophecy which will inevitably lead to demise as our Order ages, and ages and ages. Let me hasten to add that this is not a criticism of members in their 70’s and 80’s. I, myself, am in that age-range. We need members in every age range. However, if a Lodge only brings in older members, the long-range future of that Lodge is in peril. A Lodge composed almost exclusively of members in their 70’s and 80’s ten years from now will be a Lodge composed of members in their 80’s and 90’s. And what happens ten years after that . . . .

The solution? It’s pretty simple and straight-forward. The solution to problem #1, of course, is for every member of the Order to do his/her primal duty and bring in at least ONE new member to replace that sponsoring member when he/she departs (bringing in TWO new members will result in growth of the Order). The solution to problem #2, is equally obvious: members must sponsor new members who are younger than they are – preferably a decade younger. In other words, that member in his/her 70’s should sponsor a new member who is in his/her 60’s. The member in his/her 60’s should sponsor a new member in his/her 50’s. And so on.

Slowly, over time, this Order’s membership will stabilize, will grow, and will become younger. The problems are obvious. But the solutions are also obvious, and are in our hands as Odd Fellows.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows

Asking to Become a Member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows

Asking to Become a Member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows

Redgie Fleeman was recently elected Grand Warden of California, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and has submitted the following article to the Dedicated Members for Change (DMC) Newsletter. An issue of concern to Brother Redgie is to keep our fraternal focus on membership. We appreciate the article and the focus, Brother Redgie.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows


It’s a cool morning in my town. I live in a town not so different from yours. Sitting at an outdoor restaurant the other day, looking at folks passing by, I see people enjoying the day. Dozens and dozens of young adults.

Everyone looks happy, eager and energetic! I ask myself, why are they not members of my Lodge! Is it as simple as asking?

Among the 60 or more people that I see, only two of them are using their phones. That’s nice to see. They are talking to each other the “old-fashioned” way, face-to-face and verbally, the way people did before cell phones took over. They all seem to enjoy the interaction, person to person.

I don’t have the answer. I only pose the question. Why is membership dropping in some Odd Fellow Lodges, while it increases in others?

Every town is different, but every town has young adults with new ideas. I imagine many young men and women are looking for an organization that is composed of congenial people, who are outgoing and like to have some good social times together – whether it’s a meal together, or a hike, or enjoying some music. I also imagine that many young people are looking for an organization that cares about the community – that helps frail seniors who need help, that cares about the environment, that works with foster kids. The attitude for wanting to help others starts at an early age. Odd Fellowship can provide the vehicle to deliver that help to others. Because, bottom line, people want a sense of belonging. They want to be part of a greater good – a group that welcomes them, that accepts them for who they are, that values their ideas and suggestions. Those Odd Fellow Lodges that have recognized these realities are Lodges that thrive and grow.

So, to answer my original question: Yes, it may very well be as simple as asking. If you don’t ask, you will never know.

In F.L.&T.

Redgie Fleeman
Grand Warden
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows

200+ years of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows

200+ years of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows in North America is over 200 years old. Very few institutions on this continent can say that. And Odd Fellows can be rightfully proud of that fact.

For over 200 years, hundreds of thousands of Odd Fellows throughout the United States and Canada invested their time, energy, money, blood, sweat and tears building Lodge Halls, furnishing them and upgrading them, bringing friends and neighbors into Odd Fellowship, and growing our Order. There was a time in America when over 1 million Odd Fellows held meetings, marched in parades, and provided cemeteries, orphanages, hospitals, retirement communities and many other resources for members and for the community.

What have YOU done to advance the Order?

It’s a fair question, albeit blunt. And I don’t mean to offend. No one will know your answer – except for you. Are you a member who pays your dues once a year, attends some meetings, and serves in a local elected or appointed office? That’s good. I commend you.

But what have your done to ADVANCE the Independent Order of Odd Fellows?

Membership in our fraternity requires more than paying dues and going to meetings. Paying dues and attending meetings is important, but it only maintains the status quo. To ADVANCE the Order you must assist in moving your Lodge into the future. That effort involves far more than maintaining the status quo. The main thing you have to do to ensure the future of your Lodge and of Odd Fellowship is to sponsor a new member. If you have done so over the last couple of years, you can pat yourself on the back because you have done the single most important thing that an individual Odd Fellow can do for his or her Lodge. Let’s face it. Without new blood, your Lodge will inevitably wither and blow away as the last of your old-timers passes away or moves away. You will have failed your Lodge if you do not bring in new members.

So, have you brought in a new member over the last two years? If so, kudos to you. If not, why not? How hard can it be to bring in ONE new member? Don’t look to anyone else in the Lodge to do it. Yes, it’s their responsibility, too – but it’s also your responsibility. In fact, sponsoring a new member is the primal responsibility of an Odd Fellow. It’s an infinite irony to me to contemplate the reality of our shrinking Order. Think about it: If every Odd Fellows brought in just ONE new member, we would not have a membership problem.

Look at it this way: If you bring in one new member, then you have done your duty to your Lodge. That new member will replace you when you move on so you have helped the Lodge to survive and continue. Now, if you were to bring in TWO new members, then you have not only done your duty for your Lodge but you have advanced the cause of Odd Fellowship because now you have facilitated growth in the Order, not just maintenance of the status quo.

And how hard is it to bring in new members? It shouldn’t be that difficult. You can ask a relative. You can ask a friend. You can ask someone with whom you work. You can ask a member or your church, temple, or synagogue. You can ask your dentist or accountant. And, assuming you are proud of Odd Fellowship and proud of what your Lodge does, telling that prospective new member about the Order and inviting that person to join with you should also not be that difficult.

The future health and viability of your Lodge is up to YOU.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California

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