Why are some of our Odd Fellows Lodges growing in membership while other Lodges are shrinking?
This is, to be brutally frank, an existential question for Odd Fellowship: a question which goes to the very core of our fraternal order’s existence. Can we survive? Yes, we can. Will we survive? That remains to be seen.
The Age of Odd Fellows
The vast majority of our Odd Fellows and Rebekah members are over the age of 65. Many of our members are over the age of 75. Clearly, there are Lodges that have essentially skipped an entire generation of potential members, sometimes two generations. Where are the members in their 50’s and 40’s, let alone their 30’s and 20’s? And when the over-65 generation of members resign, move away, or pass away – who will take their places to continue our Order?
Recently, I was given the job of Membership Chair for the Jurisdiction of California – the largest jurisdiction in North America. I welcome the assignment and the challenge. The first thing I did was to analyze the statistics. I looked at the numbers of members in each of our Lodges as they existed on December 31, 2019, and compared them to the numbers of members on December 31, 2020. Overall, our jurisdiction showed an unfortunate net loss in that year. But I didn’t stop there. I looked at each Lodge and found that 57 of our Lodges reported a net loss of members, 31 Lodges were static (no net gain nor net loss), and just 25 showed a net gain of members. Granted, this is just a one-year snapshot, and it’s on top of a pandemic year, to boot. But if this were to continue as a trend, it points to a dismal future for our fraternity. And I am confident that there are many other jurisdictions in North America in similar, if not more dire, straits.
But there is a small, but important, silver lining in the statistics. While the overwhelming majority of our Lodges are showing net losses (or are in a steady state), there are a few Lodges (25 to be precise) that showed net gains, notwithstanding the pandemic year. And as I drilled down those statistics over the past several years, I found an even smaller number of Lodges that were not just “one-hit one-year wonders” – they showed net gains for many years, year after year. Based on that, I have checked in with the leaders of some of those growing Lodges to find out what they are doing which not only retains members, but also brings in new members – and I would like to share with you what I have learned. Make no mistake: this is important. Because if we can “bottle” what these growing Lodges are accomplishing, we can bring hope to the Lodges that are static, or which might be on the downward slide.
Highly Successful Off Fellows Lodges
So, here is what I learned from five remarkably successful Lodges. My intent here is not to toot their horns, but rather to share what they have done so that other Lodges might find helpful hints to future achievement. I have re-printed, in their own words, what these Lodge leaders have told me. Here we go:
1. Oceanview Lodge #143
We went to one business meeting and one social meeting a month which livened things up and increased attendance and participation
Each meeting begins with a pot luck meal with the Lodge providing the meat or anchor dish(es) and members bring sides, salads or desserts – a true “Pot-luck” are there is no coordination or assignments.
We are open to suggestions which have led to some wonderful one time experiences and also some events which have become annual.
One timers: attending a baseball game, riding the train to John Steinbeck National Center in Salinas, Cruising the Bay on the FDR’s Presidential Yacht Potomac etc.
Repeaters: Women’s Clothing Swap a roping St. Valentine’s Day, History walk in Odd Fellows Cemetery near Halloween, Cowboy Christmas Banquet and Auction, Music concerts, Film series, Lecture Series,
Sprucing up the Lodge has always been a priority, it inspires volunteerism, pride in our place and has made immense improvements over time.
Reaching out and supporting other groups has establish us as an appreciated, consistent and viable organization in our community; Boys and Girls Club, Adopt-A-Family Christmas program, Square Peg (horses as therapy), Local Farmers’ Market, HEAL Project (kids growing food), Second Harvest food distribution, CORA (women’s shelter), High School Literary Club, Continuation School farm to table program, etc.
We always march in the Fourth of July parade and have won many ribbons.
We have always done our own Initiations and use as many members in the cast as possible. It is not only a cherished rite but fun and welcoming and we always have a welcoming dinner on that evening. Participation is empowering and expands a member’s sense of belonging.
One member suggested a morning coffee meeting just to be social and BS. This has become a regular thing and is coming out of its Pandemic hiatus. This has been an easy place (since one of our tenants is a Coffee House) to invite prospective members to meet some of us informally…
2. Franco-American Lodge #207
Our membership increase is mainly due to having more fun times with the members. It was a trip to Seattle that attracted more members. Then a trip to Louisiana brought in more members. Nashville is on our plans for 2022.
The second BIGGER DEAL was the video initiation process. The previous three day training was a “deal killer” for new young members. Too big a time commitment.
Nice monthly dinners at our social meeting has made it easy to find directors for our board of directors meeting. The fact that we are very good friends and we have fun at our meeting helps to retain board of directors. We almost always vote unanimously for decisions (except next month’s dinner). Two years ago we added in $300 annual Collegiate scholarships for members and their kids. Finally we like speaking French and we enjoy our ritual. It was pretty simple. Inform friends of the member benefits and they join.
3. Oceanside Lodge #346
Make the Lodge usable and inviting
Hold a “give your lodge some love day”
Pick a small area, room, or task to clean, paint and/organize. Throw unnecessary stuff away.
Hold on a Saturday morning
Bring coffee, bagels or donuts
Create a social area for members to use before meetings
We turned an office into a social room with pool table and tv. Members now come well before the meeting and stay long after to socialize and plan events.
Get the Internet!
HAVE A LODGE THAT IS ACTIVE IN THE COMMUNITY
Participate in local events – we participate in the annual Oceanside 4th of July parade and events at our harbor.
Have a party and invite leaders of other local organizations.
Partner with other organizations in your community. We regularly partner with a local Moose Lodge for friendly competition. Each lodge commits a sum of money and it is donated to a local charity of the winning lodge’s choice. We have had competitions in bowling, pool, and golf. We plan to have a softball game. We will make these annual or at least regular events.
Support Local Charities. We have partnered with Moose and Elk Lodges holding food and clothing drives to benefit a local charity. The leader of that Charity has joined and is an active member of our lodge. We are planning a poker tournament to benefit this charity.
DON’T RUN MEETINGS THAT SUCK
If your meetings are filled with bickering over how to do rituals – you are doing them wrong – plain and simple. Meetings are the reason for our decline. If you cannot retain members it is because of your meetings. Be honest. If you do not believe me then reach out to some of the people that quit.
Formal Meetings that simply contain reading ritual from the red books, members bickering or correcting each other over the ritual and last more than 45 minutes are awful and killing your lodge. Remarkably the fix is easy.
First, have only one formal meeting per month. If this meeting lasts more than 45 minutes and contains bickering, majority of focus on ritual, and/or has no items that relate to community involvement or being social then you are doing it wrong.
Second, if you are not having a social meeting each month then you are doing it wrong.
Third, how you run the meeting is crucial.
- Have an agenda.
- Email the agenda to your member before the meeting.
- Ask members for agenda items – especially new business – It’s new business NOT surprise business.
- Have committee members provide updates to include in the agenda.
- We have included draft motions in the agenda – so there are no surprises
- Stick to the agenda during the meeting
- Follow Rosenberg’s Rules of Order. Learn them. Print out and hand them out to members. Use them in the meeting
Having an agenda, sticking to the agenda and following Rosenberg’s Rules of Order will cause your meetings to last 30-45 minutes. It will also allow more time for socializing which will improve the overall health and wellbeing of your Lodge.
4. Yerba Buena Lodge #15
Our lodge, Yerba Buena Lodge No. 15, kept its composure throughout this recent pandemic by doing what it needed. Our membership did not falter; however, this was due to several fortunate circumstances. Our Odd Fellows Building never closed its doors, as our many tenants required continuous access. Our officers came regularly to maintain the paperwork and send dues notices and collect and deposit the dues received. Our newsletter staff saw the success in sending our tangible newsletters on a periodical basis. Members were always informed. A key to our maintaining the interest in our lodge was having our event committee, led by brother “Stark” Dagesse, still plan our monthly outings and list them in the newsletter and online; if by chance the venue was open, the event could still take place. As things reopen, our events are already in place. We do not have to work up plan or wait for someone else to say, it’s time to do x, y, & z. We opened the sign-up sheet for our members to attend our annual weekend outing (to the gold country) for September and in 48 hours, 60 members signed up! Like most of the other lodges and organizations and everybody else, we held zoom meetings; but we also started holding hybrid meetings early this year, where members who felt safe could attend in-person meetings and those still concerned with COVID risks could attend by zoom. For some, the whole point of belonging to a fraternal group like the Odd Fellows is to physically interact and socialize, which our Noble Grand, David McLaughlin, who recently assumed his duties in January, realized. One of David’s projects in January was to distribute free face coverings to the public in front of the Odd Fellows Building. This was an opportunity for the lodge members to meet and participate in an activity unique to the moment. Members who normally stayed involved, kept up their involvement. As mentioned, the officers came to the building and did their work. Those who attended Grand Lodge session, all 17 of us, still participated this May by zoom. Those who worked on legislation still drafted several pieces of legislation for the jurisdiction, not only for our lodge members, but for others. We shared with the legislation with several lodges with the most representatives to ensure these were properly written and benefited the lodges first. Yerba Buena members kept the energy alive,. And, what would we be without our infamous social media page – Facebook? We have always been “entertaining” and progressive enough to stir the audience and to create reactive responses by speaking our minds. Our members know we do not censure anyone on our page,. We allow open opinion and dialogue. Most of the time members check in to see what activities we are having. We faired better than many lodges, because we were fortunate and we have enough members with diverse opinions who were willing to continue their activities. Being just edgy enough worked well during this pandemic.
5. Davis Lodge #169
Our Lodge has shown a net gain in members every year for the last fifteen straight years. We started fifteen years ago with less than 30 members, and now have over 300 members. We have done this with a simple formula that does the following:
- Our Lodge is open to men and women without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, gender or orientation. We particularly encourage husbands and wives and couples to join. We are almost equally divided – men to women.
- We emphasize social meetings. Every month we have two meetings. One meeting is a formal meeting, normally with ritual, passwords and signs. The other meeting is a social meeting where we hear reports from our committees and have a good time together in the Lodge. Our social meeting takes place on the Second Saturday of each month and is a breakfast meeting. This has proven very popular with members, and is also a good place for potential new members. Even at our formal meeting we have a social hour just prior to the meeting with snacks and drinks. Members want to socialize and we facilitate that.
- We have over 50 Lodge committees. If members have an interest, we encourage them to form a committee and enjoy their interest. For example, we have a committee that likes to go on hikes, another committee that likes to do needlework, another committee that enjoys fine cigars, yet another committee of members who enjoy golfing. These committees have no budgets, they just enjoy the social time. We don’t say “no” when members suggest a committee – we say “how can we help”.
- We are actively involved in the community in a myriad of community support functions. For example, we have a Breakfast with Santa Committee where we provide breakfast and quality time with Santa to hundreds of children – funds raised from this committee go to support foster children and foster youth in the community. We have a Zombie Bike Ride Committee where community members dress up like zombies and ride their bikes along a bike loop – our last such event attracted over 1,000 community members of all ages. Funds raised from this event were used to build special tricycles for disabled children. We have a Taste of Davis Committee which features local restaurants, breweries and wineries. Community members enjoy sampling their wares, and funds raised from this event go to support the local food bank and meals on wheels.
- We provide a vehicle through our 501 (c) (3) entities to give scholarships to local high school graduates. When a local female police officer was shot and killed, we set up a scholarship in her name and have handed out three to five $1,000 scholarships every year. The fund now has over $100,000 and is self-sustaining. When a popular local newspaper columnist recently hit the 50-year mark, we set up a scholarship fund to provide $1,000 scholarships to high school grads who wish to go into journalism. Again, sufficient funds were raised to make the fund self-sufficient. And through a generous corporate contribution, our Lodge has provided scholarships of up to $10,000 to excellent students who are also former foster children or orphans. These charitable endeavors go a long way to providing membership satisfaction.
- We rent out our Lodge Hall to community groups, and often provide the hall without charge for certain charitable groups. This creates high visibility of and good feelings about Odd Fellowship in our community. Our various Lodge Committees organize events every month that are for both the members AND the community. For example, once every month, we support local musicians and do live music at the Lodge, open to the town. We also do monthly Bingo for the community – each Bingo event provides money to Bingo winners, but also provides the proceeds to a community group. We have a classic film festival twice each year at the Lodge (using our big-screen television) which has proven very popular with the Davis community – the film festival is hosted by a local movie critic. We put on an annual “Davis Chocolate Festival” for the town – who doesn’t like chocolate?
- When members wish to sponsor potential new members into our Lodge, we have created a “Pledge” process where the potential new members have to go through a process to learn about the Lodge and Odd Fellowship, and get to meet and interview members, before they can be initiated. We don’t make it easy, but we make it attainable and valuable for those applicants who make it through. They become more knowledgeable and invested members.
- In addition to our meetings, one of our most successful events is “Club Night at the Lodge”. Every week, on Thursdays, the Lodge is open for members and their guests to just come and relax. Dinner is available at $10 per person, our full bar is open, there is live music, there are jigsaw puzzles on the table, we play trivia with prizes for the winning tables, and there is lots of time to socialize. It’s a winning formula.
So, there you have it. Five Odd Fellows Lodges that have successfully increased their membership year after year, and have grown. Hopefully, there have been some helpful hints for YOUR Lodge to consider.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Odd Fellows of California