In 2010, some seven years ago, PSGM and PGM Don Smith (now deceased), PGM Rick Boyles, and I launched “Dedicated Members for Change” (DMC) with about 30 charter members – all progressive leaders in their Lodges. I am very pleased to say that DMC has grown and prospered over the years, and now boasts an e-mail list of hundreds all across North America and even some in Europe.
We formed DMC in 2010 with one overriding purpose in mind: To focus on the need for Lodges to add members so that our Order can survive and grow. And in the seven years since it’s formation, DMC has had a laser-like focus on this subject. We have made numerous, positive and proven suggestions over the years on how Lodges can increase their membership. But ultimately, it’s not that complicated. I have often spoken about the subject and used the analogy of the three-legged stool. If all three legs are sturdy, the stool will be strong. If one leg is weak, the stool will be unsteady and will eventually topple. The three legs represent (1) the great history and ritual of IOOF; (2) good fellowship and fun activities for the members, family and potential members; (3) active outreach into the community, doing good local works. I have used my own Lodge – Davis #169 – as the “laboratory” for this concept. And it has worked. In the last ten years – while most other Lodges have declined in membership – my Lodge has grown 1,000%. From less than 30 members, my Lodge now has 275 members, with 22 pending applications for membership. And the age range covers everything from members in their 20’s to members in their 90’s, all ethnic groups, and about half our membership is female.
Significantly, it appears that our membership efforts are now beginning to bear some fruit in California. Preliminary figures show that in 2016 (the year in which I served as Grand Master for the first half of the year and Peter Sellars served as Grand Master in the second half) our Order in California – for the first time in a loooooooooong time – will show a net GAIN of members – led primarily by our largest Lodges. The most significant growth has been in the number of female members of the Odd Fellows. This net gain is a good omen, and we hope a harbinger for the future. Perhaps we have bottomed out after decades of net losses, and are showing the very glimmerings of net gains for years to come.
That said, we need to see growth in most (if not all) Lodges, not just some Lodges. In may ways, Odd Fellowship in California is a mile wide and an inch deep. We have 116 Odd Fellows Lodges in this State. Yet the largest 4 Lodges encompass almost 25% of the total membership, and the largest 10 Lodges comprise close to 40% of the membership.
Unfortunately, many Lodges have not followed our suggestions. They have become complacent, and are “satisfied” with the status quo, or they are rent by internal bickering and dissension. The sad truth is that most Lodges in our jurisdiction and around the country are continuing to diminish in membership. We see many Lodges where the membership has grown old, and they have not added a new member for five, or ten, or even more years. These Lodges are Zombie Lodges, just going through the motions of life. There is no long-range view for these Lodges. The members only focus on continuing to operate in their personal comfort zones, without regard to the future of their Lodge or the future of the Order. This is both selfish and fatal to their Lodge. They barely can muster a quorum, and often do so only with associate members from other Lodges. They do very little, if anything, other than hold a 20-minute monthly meeting to read the minutes, report on who is sick or distressed, and pay the bills – with no committee reports and no new business. A Lodge which is composed of members of just one generation cannot survive in the long run. A Lodge must encompass and include two or three generations to survive. There must always be a new generation of members and leaders who can continue the Order. That’s certainly the way it was in the 1700’s, 1800’s and early 1900’s. And it can be that way again.
There are those who point to societal changes which have changed the way the public views fraternal orders. They point to radio, television, movies, automobiles, airplanes, computers, cell phones, and lots of other innovations that have changed society. They point to social security, insurance, employment counseling and assistance, and other innovations which have stepped in areas where fraternities once functioned. This is all true. But, fraternal orders are still relevant today and can still grow and prosper, and be venues where the members feel welcomed, appreciated and engaged. I know this is true because I have seen it in my own Lodge. Burying the dead and visiting orphans may have little meaning to young men and women in 2017. But organizing a local music event to raise money to assist foster families, or adopting a highway to clean up, or organizing a community chocolate festival to benefit a local sexual assault center may have significant meaning for the current generation of members and potential members.
There is good news and there are success stories, and those success stories inspire us and give us hope for the future. In the coming weeks, we will detail a few of those success stories in this newsletter, and we welcome your input to spread this good news and show what Odd Fellowship can be in the 21st Century.
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Past Grand Master