DMC – Are Odd Fellows a Benefit Society?

Dear Dedicated Members for Change,

I commend any Odd Fellow who tries to recruit a new member to join his or her Lodge. But these recruitment efforts often fail because the Odd Fellow paints a picture of an Order that has not existed since horses drew buggies down Main Street. Let me explain what I mean.

When Odd Fellowship was founded in England hundreds of years ago, it soon morphed into what the British call a “beneficial society.” In other words, the fraternity provided benefits to its membership. This made good sense in the days when virtually no social services were provided by the government. So, in those early days, Odd Fellowship provided medical and hospital services, support for widows and children of deceased members including orphanages, retirement homes for aged members and widows of members, cemeteries for burial of members and widows, sick and death benefits, financial support for members who had lost their jobs, assistance to members trying to find new jobs, and more. These sorts of benefits were a great draw to membership in Odd Fellows and to other fraternal orders. All fraternal orders grew exponentially in the 18th and 19th centuries because of these benefits.

All this changed in the 20th Century. Government stepped in to provide assistance to people. Private insurance also became readily available. The need for fraternal assistance and support diminished dramatically. Today, in the 21st Century, Odd Fellowship provides only a small fraction of the kinds of services and supports that a 19th Century Lodge used to provide. That is the reality.

I raise the issue because it directly affects today’s recruitment of new members into the Order. As we all know, our membership numbers have been declining in a steady line since World War II. One of the prime reasons for the decline is that in many Lodges (and I have personally observed this to be true) members are attempting to recruit new applicants on a completely outdated and outmoded premise. They seek to interest members in joining Odd Fellowship by contending that we will offer many benefits to them – as if we were still the “beneficial society” of old. This is, however, a 19th Century view of Odd Fellowship and is misleading, at best. Sure, there are the “benefits” attendant to “camaraderie” – but to imply that we offer a range of benefits for members and their families is just wrong. Any applicant recruited on this premise will soon be disillusioned.

To paraphrase the famous expression by President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your Order can do for you, ask what you can do for others.” Frankly, the 21st Century recruitment effort should not emphasize benefits to members. On the contrary, it should emphasize the good works Odd Fellows can do for others, and the fun and satisfaction that Odd Fellows can have as Lodge members. Do not underestimate the importance and draw of public service to the new generation of potential Odd Fellows. There are many young men and women who are looking for an opportunity to do good charitable and community work in their home towns. The Odd Fellows Lodge can provide a venue for that endeavor. Local opportunities to help others – whether it be children, seniors, veterans, poor or hungry people – and local opportunities to do good environmental work abound. That is what attracts those potential members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s that Lodges desperately need in order to survive and flourish.

This should be our focus going forward. Not a 19th Century ideal that has long since passed us by.

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master

 
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