Membership and Why We Avoid the Topic…
A close friend of mine died earlier this year. He was a long time Odd Fellow – popular in our district, always fun, spoke his mind, but also was friends with everyone. You can blame him for bringing me into the order. Anyway, I used to say to him that our order was failing and what we should do about it in the coming years, and he always said “Who cares? I’ll be gone”.
This is a common vantage point within our order. When we hear our order is short-lived, destined to die out in ten to twenty years, I believe we hear this and secretly breathe a sigh of relief, because, to put it plainly, so are we. As Brother Dave Rosenberg has often pointed out, we have skipped at least two generations in attracting members. There are few, if any, younger members, so when we hear our order will be finished in 20 years, many of us figure that’s about right.
But if we truly care about someone besides ourselves, we must change our view. If the order is to survive, it must attract young members, but obviously young members are not going to be the mirror image of us. Young members will not like what we do, will try and change things, and may not see normal behavior as our behavior.
The basic question we should ask ourselves is how do we make our order more amenable to young people? When you were young did you like to hang out with people 50 years older than yourself? Probably not. If we are to have a future, we must face the simple fact that any possibility of a future depends on our ability to attract the young.
Of course, this is distressing as our youth groups have sunk to a low level. But I have a simple suggestion that almost all youth I’m sure would agree with. Let’s stop trying to micromanage our youth. Many of us feel the need to script everything the young in our order do. This will not work. Young people like to be themselves. If we don’t want our young to be put in compromising situations, let’s not attempt it.
No one was born an Odd Fellow. They had to grow into it. Culture and technology is changing rapidly. We are failing because in many ways we ignore this fact. Yet, every event and lodge I attend has many members texting on their phones or doing other things electronically. Some lodges I have attended do all communications within their lodges via email. Many others now have facebook sites. Most lodges no longer even have landlines in their lodge. It’s a whole new world. If we want the young people to join we must grow and become as technologically advanced as they are.
Rather than privately thinking with relief that our order will die at just about the same time that we do, perhaps it might be preferable to remember why we joined the order and leave it in at least as nice a condition as how we found it.
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles
Recently, an Odd Fellow wrote to me and asked me what would happen if the Order continued to shrink in membership.
That’s not a very pleasant question or subject, and I don’t know that I am any more qualified than any other member of the Order to opine on that. It also flies contrary to all the work that we have been doing in DMC over the past 7-8 years. DMC’s purpose to is focus the Order on the dilemma of declining membership and to offer tried and tested methods by which Lodges can stop the decline and can actually grow membership. I am convinced that Odd Fellowship remains very relevant in the 21st Century and can draw members from the younger generations who were born after 1980. I have seen our DMC suggestions work in my own Lodge, and also in other Lodges that have utilized them. My jurisdiction in California has also begun to buck the downward slope, and is showing small but important gains in net membership.
Yet the question – while distasteful and unpleasant – is relevant and legitimate. Very recently, a Past Sovereign Grand Master who chaired the SGL Membership Committee, announced in an open letter that unless this Order dramatically changes its trajectory and the way it does business, we had best start planning for our orderly demise. I, for one, don’t quite share that extremely pessimistic outlook. The fact that there are Lodges that are bucking the trend of net losses gives me hope, and shows me that this Order is still relevant to people in the 21st Century. SGL has done little to help reverse the trend – for example, SGL recently raised dues (unquestionably, raising dues will depress membership, not increase it), and the five-year plan that SGL adopted years ago (you remember, that plan to start merging the branches), never was implemented. And it remains a mystery to me why the SGL Membership Committee has never taken the time to visit those those Lodges showing consistent growth to determine why they are robust in the face of general membership declines; find out why those Lodges are growing and spread the news to all Lodges.
So, here is the reality: There are Lodges that are losing members (and have been losing members steadily for years – decades actually) and there are jurisdictions that are shrinking throughout North America. We cannot put on blinders to this fact. We have Lodges with less than 10 members, and we have entire jurisdictions with less than 300 members, some with less than 200. And we must realize that those numbers reflect members “on the books” including members who may pay dues, but don’t really attend meetings and events. Yet we have Lodges going through the motions of life even though only five or six members show up for meetings, the Lodge is supported by associate members, and members simply rotate through the chairs. We have Lodges where the youngest member may be in the late 60’s and the Lodge has not added a new member for years. We have jurisdictions with less than 300 members (on the books), which contain only 2 or 3 Lodges, and where less than 50 attend the Grand Lodge Sessions. Yet the jurisdictions continue to go through the motions as if they were living in 1918, when the jurisdiction had thousands of members.
So, yes, the question is legitimate. What would happen if the Order continued to shrink in membership?
So here is my analysis and answer. The past is the best prelude to the future. If one looks at the past, one finds an analogy in the situation of the Knights of Pythias – which in many ways may presage the future of Odd Fellowship if we continue on the downward spiral of membership. Who are the Knights of Pythias? In fact, the Knights are a fraternal order much like the Odd Fellows. They have been around since 1864 when founded by Justus Rathbone who was inspired to form a fraternity after watching a play called “Damon and Pythias.” Much like Odd Fellows are grounded in FLT (“Friendship Love and Truth”) the KofP profess the watchwords of FCB (“Friendship Charity and Benevolence”). The Knights have subordinate Lodges (once called Castles), Grand Lodges and a Supreme Lodge. They have degrees and secrets.
There was a time when the Knights were the third largest fraternal organization in North America, right behind the Masons and the Odd Fellows. They had hundreds of Lodges everywhere. And then, the KofP experienced a steady decline of members, year after year after year. Today, the KofP have only 9 Lodges in the jurisdiction of California. So, that is the likely scenario – in my opinion – if the Odd Fellows continued to lose members. It is not likely that the Odd Fellows would disappear as a fraternal organization (like hundreds of other fraternal organizations actually did in North America). It is more likely that continued member losses will result in weak Lodges slowly losing their charters as membership shrinks below minimal levels; it is likely that we will see more and more consolidations. At the same time, there are strong Lodges that will continue to exist and grow. In California that may be as many as 30, but it could be as few as 15. In other jurisdictions, that could mean as few as 2 or 3 Lodges. Individual Lodges will become more and more autonomous as Grand Lodges and even Sovereign Grand Lodge become weaker. Obviously, the shrinkage is a process that would take many years – perhaps as much as two decades. But it is coming and it is inevitable, unless Odd Fellowship changes its path and modernizes.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Mendocino Quartet, featuring former member of Byrds, to play in Davis Oct. 13
The Mendocino Quartet, a multi-generational folk/Americana band whose musicians include a former member of the Byrds and the longtime bass player for Van Morrison, will perform in concert 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in the Odd Fellows Hall, 415 2nd St. in downtown Davis.
Tickets cost $20 (plus any surcharges) and are available at Armadillo Music, 207 F St. in Davis, or online at mendocinoquartet.eventbrite.com. The doors will open at 7. Tickets will also be sold at the door unless they sell out in advance.
Featuring four-part harmonies, the quartet includes long-time collaborators Steven Bates, David Hayes, Gwyneth Moreland and Gene Parsons playing contemporary and traditional folk music.
Each writes songs, sings and plays guitar, among other instruments. Each has recorded and performed solo and with other musicians, ranging from Michael Jackson collaborator Bill Bottrell (Bates) to Foxglove (Moreland), Morrison and Jesse Colin Young (Hayes), and the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers (Parsons).
As a duo, Hayes & Parsons played a sold-out concert at the Odd Fellows in September 2016. Moreland has also performed in Davis several times. Last year the Mendocino Quartet, which takes their name from their home county on California’s North Coast, released their first CD, Way Out There.
The show is being produced by the Odd Fellows of Davis, local house concert host Bill Wagman, and Bill Buchanan of KDRT. Any profits will go to the Odd Fellows fund that pays for the free Thursday Live Night concert series during the year.
Read more about the Mendocino Quartet at http://www.musicofmendocino.com/styled/index.html
in photo, from left: David Hayes, Gwyneth Moreland, Steven Bates, and Gene Parsons
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The term “insanity” was once defined as “doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result”. By this measure, the leadership of Sovereign Grand Lodge qualifies.
Why? Because every year they meet in session, and every year they talk about the decline in membership, and every year they peck and cluck about the terrible losses of members. Yet every year, the leaders at Sovereign Grand Lodge continue to do the same thing – again and again and again. They elect each other to office, they ceremoniously march around the room, they have dinners and speeches, and they profess the importance of Odd Fellowship and FLT. And yet year after year the leadership does nothing substantive to stem the loss of members, and does precious little to empower members and Lodges with the tools to increase membership. They did, in their collective wisdom, raise the dues that members must pay to SGL. What a mistake! Raising of dues will simply create one more impediment to recruiting and retaining members.
Currently, there are 16 jurisdictions (states and provinces) with less than 200 members. My own Lodge in Davis, with 300 members, has a greater membership than 16 entire jurisdictions. My Lodge continues to grow, and these jurisdictions continue to shrink. Yet those shrinking jurisdictions (each with less than 200 members) continue to go through the facade of having Grand Lodge Sessions, electing each other to Grand Lodge office, holding annual dinners, and making believe all is well. And all is not well. Lodges are losing their charters or consolidating. Every year, the membership of our Order in North America declines. How long can that last? Perhaps 20 years before total collapse? The branches are disintegrating. The Order is in peril.
The irony is that there are some Odd Fellows jurisdictions, like California, and some Lodges, like the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge, that are growing and have been adding members. And yet not once has the leadership of SGL come to the jurisdictions and the Lodges that are growing and made the obvious inquiry: “How do you do it?” and “How can we replicate this growth?” Instead, the leadership at SGL just continues to do precisely what they have done for the past 100 years – year after year after year – and hope that if they only continue to do what Odd Fellows did in 1920, somehow the Order will resurrect itself and all will be well.
Our California Brother Rick Boyles ran for the office of Sovereign Grand Warden this year. Brother Rick has just returned from SGL sessions. He did not win the office of SGW, but he went to SGL and he did what very few Odd Fellows have the guts to do: He spoke truth to power. It may have cost him a lot of votes. But it needed to be said.
His speech to SGL, as a candidate for SGW, is reprinted below. I urge you to read it.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Speech to Sovereign Grand Lodge
Presented by Rick Boyles, PGM
How many times was membership brought up yesterday? Only once, and by Manchester Unity, never by anyone in America.
So, when do we get serious? Have you read PSGM Jon Petersen’s May 2018 membership report?
All reports point to the fact that our order is shrinking –
Membership nationwide ending 12/31/15 was 33,745
Membership nationwide ending 12/31/16 was 32,412
In one year, we lost 1,333 members or 4% of our total membership.
-at this rate, we will be defunct very quickly.
Reading the sessions book, we have 16 jurisdictions with less than 200 members, including 6 jurisdictions with less than 100 members. 32% of our jurisdictions are distressed.
Almost all jurisdictions are now losing members.
It is not enough to say we need new members, or that we need better members, we need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
California, on the other hand, now comprises 14% of our nationwide population – we showed an increase of 90 members. Sovereign Grand Lodge just awarded us the first prize in membership.
Less than ten years ago, Past Sovereign Grand Master Don Smith, Past Grand Master Dave Rosenberg and I started the group called Dedicated Members for Change.
In the past five years, California has shown an increase in membership every year. Thousands of members are now members of the Dedicated Members for Change.
Brothers and Sisters, unless we make substantive changes soon our order is doomed. Just talking about membership really is ineffectual. Sooner or later we must walk the walk.
It clearly is discouraging to read negative reports about membership, but they are accurate representations of the state we are in. It is time now to change or see our beloved order pass away.
I ask for your vote. Why not vote for a successful jurisdiction for a change? The jurisdictions you tend to vote for are not showing net gains. This bears repeating – the jurisdictions you normally vote for are not showing net gains.
The real question is, do you care? Evidently not, or you would show it with your votes. Either we change now or we “should start making arrangements for an orderly demise within the next very few years” (Jon Petersen).
Last week in my local newspaper, I saw an advertisement that surprised me .
This was an ad that ran across the bottom third of the front page of our local newspaper. Front page ads are rare, and very expensive. The surprise, however, is that this was an ad for Rotary. The ad did not advertise an event. Rather, the ad was essentially a recruitment for members. As such, it was surprising at many levels. First, I had assumed that Rotary was a booming club that did not have to recruit new members. Clearly, that is no longer the case. It’s not just fraternal organizations that see diminishing memberships – apparently, clubs are experiencing this downward trend, as well. Second, the ad gave the impression of a needy organization. Third, and perhaps most importantly, that ad was not going to be effective. It provided no reason or incentive for anyone to join. It was just a raw, impersonal solicitation.
And this got me thinking about the entire subject of “publicity” on behalf of organizations, be they clubs or fraternities. It’s an important subject. Yet publicity is often underutilized, or poorly utilized. I know a thing or two about publicity. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, and have spent the early part of my working career in that field. I have been the Publicity Chair as well as the Membership Chair of my Lodge for over a decade. In that decade, my Lodge membership has increased by 1,000%.
There are three types of publicity: (1) No publicity; (2) Bad publicity; and (3) Good publicity.
No publicity is the state of life for the majority of our Odd Fellow Lodges, unfortunately. These Lodges do virtually no activity in the community, and there is precious little, if any, outreach in the way of advertisements, posters, ads, brochures, emails or use of social media. “No publicity” Lodges are invisible in their communities, and because of the invisibility membership numbers show steady declines. An Odd Fellows Lodge will not long exist if the only folks who join are members of the family of existing Lodge members. No publicity is the worst possible scenario for a Lodge’s growth and development.
Regrettably, bad publicity is the norm for many Odd Fellow Lodges. Bad publicity is only a small step up from the realm of no publicity. We begin with the proposition that a fraternal order can live for centuries (far past the normal lifespan of an individual) if it continues to attract new members. It is the nature of a fraternity that it must attract younger members. If a Lodge is composed only of members in their 70’s and new members are also in their 70’s – that Lodge is in serious trouble; in 10 years the membership will all be in their 80’s, and so on. So, all that being the case, let me give you an example (one that I have seen all too frequently) of “bad publicity.” If a Lodge wants to attract young men and women to its ranks, it will fail to do so if it sends a photo to the paper showing several Lodge members at a potluck who are in their 70’s and overweight. What message is the Lodge sending with such a photo? Dining with septuagenarians will only attract more septuagenarians. If a Lodge wants to attract a younger crowd, the Lodge needs to plan events featuring music, or hikes or other dynamic endeavors, and send along photos of young men and women enjoying the activity.
Good publicity is critical to success for a Lodge. Let’s assume a Lodge provides lots of activities for members, and also reaches out into the community to help others. Those are excellent functions for a Lodge, and can translate into applications for membership. However, if there is a failure to provide publicity both before and after the events, then the tree has fallen in the forest and no one has seen it. A Lodge must not only come up with good events, but it must strive for good publicity about them. Let me give you another example. Years ago my Lodge resolved to set a Guinness World Record by having the longest line of people riding bikes in a row. We did it, and attracted thousands of people to the event (and hundreds of participants) – plus full coverage by local media (both print and electronic). The result was a remarkable amount of positive publicity, high visibility for Odd Fellowship, and several applications for membership.
And make no mistake about it – social media is the preferred tool for folks under 50. We have to accept the fact that fewer and fewer people are reading newspapers in print. The newer generations are all about Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and other forms of social media. If a Lodge is not on social media, it is invisible to the younger generations. Odd Fellows Lodges fail to use social media at their peril.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Every Odd Fellows Lodge has a Register of Members which contains hand-written information on each member of that Lodge from the day of its institution to the present day. The name of each member, and his/her signature, is included as part of this historic book.
Recently, I had occasion to serve as Secretary pro tem at one of my Lodge meetings (the Secretary missed that meeting due to another community commitment helping foster children) and as I was setting up to do my duties, as pro tem, I flipped through the pages of our dd Fellows Lodge’s Register of Members. It’s an interesting historical journey – and I recognized some names of early members who were prominent figures in the early days of our community. Our particular Lodge – Davis #169 in California – was instituted in 1870. Since the Lodge formation, I saw that 780 men and women had signed the Register of Members as of the present date. Of course, I looked through the register to find my own name and signature and found it in March of 2004 as Number 411.
And then it struck me like a bolt of electricity. There were 410 members who had signed the Register before me, and there have been 370 members who have signed the Register after me. As I drilled down on these numbers, it was apparent that in the 134 years before I joined the Lodge 410 members had joined – an average of 3 members joining per year. And in the 14 years after I joined the Lodge 370 members had joined – an average of over 26 joining per year. In fact, almost as many members had joined the Lodge in the last 14 years as compared to the prior 134 years.
What had happened in the last 14 years to so dramatically change the trajectory of this Lodge?
The Davis Odd Fellows Lodge had moved from a small, static and generally moribund Lodge to a fast-growing and dynamic Lodge – currently the largest in the Jurisdiction of California . For over a century, membership had eked along, and then over the past decade membership in the Lodge had literally exploded. I attribute this sea change to SIX STEPS TO SUCCESS that were put into place during the years 2005-2009 – a period of time coinciding with my 4-year tenure as Noble Grand of the Lodge. (Caveat: It’s not normally a good idea for one person to serve as NG for so long a period – but it was necessary in this case in order to change the culture and the direction of the Lodge.) These six steps made all the difference in the world. And they are not exclusive to the Davis Lodge. Any Lodge can use these six steps (or facsimiles of them) to change its direction. Here are the six steps that made all the difference.
1. A conscious decision to open the Lodge to all. The Odd Fellows Lodge, for over a Century, had been composed almost exclusively of middle-aged or older white men. This was not reflective of our community or our State. We made a conscious decision to reach out to the community at large and welcome people of all ages, races and religious/philosophical beliefs. We have initiated folks in their teens and folks in their 80’s. We admit so many new members, that we have to schedule 3 Initiatory Degrees per year. In particular, we increased our outreach to women – encouraging many husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends to join. If we admitted only men, we would be excluding 50% of our population – what’s the logic and sense in that? But we also made a point of reaching out to the great diversity of our community. We wanted the Lodge to be a big tent reflective of the eclectic folks who live here. This diversity has greatly expanded the universe of potential members, and has made us stronger.
2. A clean Lodge Hall. Just as it is important to have a welcoming home, we endeavored to have a welcoming Odd Fellows Lodge. In 2004, the Lodge Hall was old, run down, and barely used. From 2005 till 2010, a major effort was undertaken to clean up, repair, upgrade and refurbish the Lodge – including new carpeting, wood-paneling on the walls, new ceilings and chandeliers, increased storage capacity, and a stage in the Upper Hall. We used money that had been saved and we took a loan from the Grand Lodge. You can’t invite the public if your Hall is not accessible, so we made sure it was. We removed the chairlift from the railing (what message does a chairlift send to the public) and we installed a modern elevator and four accessible restrooms. We converted our kitchen into a commercial kitchen so that we could host and cater events. We undertook a protocol of preventive maintenance of our roofs, heating and air-conditioning, carpeting and other fixtures to avoid large expenditures in the future. Members of the Lodge today take great pride in their Lodge Hall.
3. Increased visibility in the community. Prior to 2005, the Lodge Hall, and the Odd Fellows in general, were virtually invisible in the community. This changed. For example, there was no signage to identify the Lodge as an Odd Fellows Hall. We installed lots and lots of new signage, including a vertical neon IOOF sign (that is, by the way, lit 24 hours) we had purchased from a defunct Lodge in Pennsylvania and had shipped across the USA to Davis. We worked with community artists to put murals up on seven of our walls – in full color, depicting local community scenes. And most importantly, when the Lodge had an activity for the public, we made sure to publicize it beforehand and put out press releases and posters. We even installed two large poster boards in front of the our Lodge which highlight events coming up at the Lodge of interest to the public. Today, the Lodge Hall is brightly lit, visible and active. There is something happening at the Lodge Hall 15-20 days every month. Ask most members of the community where the Odd Fellows Hall is located, and they can tell you.
4. The Committee structure to serve the community and to have fun. A keystone to our success is the creation of a strong Committee structure. Now, every Lodge has some committees required by Code (e.g. Finance Committee, Visiting Committee, Bylaws Committee) and most Lodges conjure up one or more other Committees to accommodate administrative tasks or Lodge Hall maintenance. But in Davis, we embraced the Committee concept with both arms. We currently have over 50 Committees. Some of them have administrative functions, but most of the Committees are either for community service (e.g. Bingo Committee, Adopt-a-Highway Committee, Music Committee, Community Support Committee, Classic Film Festival Committee, Davis Chocolate Festival Committee, Taste of Davis Committee, Breakfast with Santa Committee, etc.) or internal so that Lodge members can have an active social life (e.g. OddtoberFest Committee, New Year’s Eve Party Committee, Needlework Committee, Halloween Party Committee, Gaming Committee, Cigar Lounge Committee, Ping Pong Committee, Take a Hike Committee, etc.) When Lodge members express an interest in launching a new Committee, we encourage them. Committees are given annual budgets, if needed, and then are allowed to “do their thing”. Lodge meetings at the Davis Lodge rarely have “old business” or “new business” – 75% of the meeting is taken up with Committee reports.
5. The creation of the Pledge Process. We decided that we didn’t want to make it too easy for folks to join our Lodge. Instead, we wanted them to learn about Odd Fellowship, and our Davis Lodge and earn admittance as a member of the Order. So, we created a Pledge system and a Pledge process. When a man or woman submits an application to join the Lodge, they are considered a “Pledge”, placed in a group with other Pledges – we have three such groups each year. (Did you know that the Initiatory Degree was once historically known as the “Degree of Trust”?) The process of joining our Davis Lodge takes 4 to 6 months. During that time period the applicants must read a “Pledge Book” (full of information about the Lodge and the Order), must interview a minimum of 13 Lodge members (a great way to break the ice and meet members) and must attend a minimum of 8 social meetings and Lodge events. Through this process, they learn a lot about the Lodge and when they are finally initiated, they appreciate membership even more. Attending their first meeting as a member does not scare them away. They are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about continuing their journey in IOOF.
6. A positive attitude, and a rejection of negativity. None of the above works if the Lodge is an uncomfortable place of bickering and negativity. No one wants to come to meetings to be distressed. No one will join a Lodge (or stay long as a member of a Lodge) where negativity reigns. We resolved early on to be an island of peace and enjoyment – a place to escape the turmoil of everyday life – just as early Odd Fellows envisioned. Rumors are immediately quashed. Negative comments are not welcomed. Every idea – particularly ideas from new members – are encouraged. Let me give you just one example. Years ago, a member proposed that the Lodge try to set a Guinness World Record. In other Lodges, this idea would not have gotten to the starting gate and would have been shot down as “that won’t work” or “it’s too much trouble”, or simply, “that’s stupid.” In our Lodge, we said, “Fine, let’s form a committee and see if we can do it.” Well, it took almost a year of work and planning by the “Bicycle Parade Committee”, but we did it. The idea ultimately involved thousands of people in our community, and generated lots of interest from television, radio and print media. Great publicity for our Lodge. And in the end, the Davis Odd Fellows Lodge set a Guinness World Record for most bicycles constantly moving in a single line.
These Six Steps to Success really do work and – in time – will allow your Odd Fellows Lodge to grow and prosper.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows