Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
One of the most confusing, unjustified, and wrong-headed decisions in recent Odd Fellows’ history has just come down from the August 21-24, 2017, Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) Session, just concluded in St. Louis. In case you have not heard, a majority of SGL representatives voted to increase the per capita dues that you, and every member, will pay in 2018 and 2019. At DMC we wish to commend the SGL representatives who voted in the minority against this turkey of an idea. And for those SGL representatives who voted in favor, we say “shame on you.”. Let me explain why I call this decision “confusing, unjustified, and wrong-headed”.
Here is the precise language that SGL adopted to amend Chapter XXIV, Section 1 A (3) of the Code of General Laws: “dues amounts for Odd Fellow and Rebekah members shall be increased by five ($5.00) United States dollars for each year, for two (2) years beginning at the close of 2017 session of The Sovereign Grand Lodge. The yearly increase shall not be assessed when in any year the dues paying membership from all branches of the Order shows a net gain from the previous year.”
To begin with, this language – which I assume must have been hastily drafted – is not clear as to the amount of the increase over the two-year period. I have been advised that some at SGL thought that the intent was to raise the dues $5 in 2018 and then $10 in 2019: total raise of $15. It would have been easy to draft the bill to say precisely that. However, that is certainly not the plain language of the adopted bill. As I read the bill, the dues increase would be $5 in each of two years – 2018 and 2019: total raise of $10. So, at best, we have unclear language in the bill.
Second, there is a proviso that may make it all inoperative: If the dues paying membership from all branches shows a net gain over the prior year, then the increase does not go into effect. Based on historical trends, this is an unlikely scenario, but nevertheless, we would have to wait until all Branches throughout all of SGL submit their reports to determine if the proviso prohibits the dues increase. That puts the dues amount to be assessed in 2018 and 2019 in some state of limbo. Further, there are members who pay their dues two or three years in advance. What should they be paying for 2018 and 2019?
Confusing? You bet.
Even more troubling is the fact that the dues increase was not justified at SGL. I have spoken to several individuals who attended the session where the issue came up. NO reason was given for the dues increase. The presented budget was balanced. The Finance Committee did not report a need for a dues increase or a reason that the additional funds were needed.
So why does SGL need the extra money? Is there a program that they wish to fund or increase? Is it to pay representative travel and lodging expenses (that would be strange since the number of reps attending has diminished)? Is it meant to pay for insurance? Litigation expenses? Who knows! The reason was not articulated. We are left to completely guess.
But the ultimate question is: Why did some representatives vote in favor of a dues increase without understanding the purpose for which the money would be used?
But the worst is yet to come. The decision is, in my opinion, completely wrong-headed.
Look, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Odd Fellows single biggest challenge/problem is our diminishing membership numbers. That shrinkage has affected us for decades, and permeates everything we do as an Order and in our Lodges. Some Lodges have membership so low that they have trouble getting a quorum for meetings, or only survive because associate members prop them up. Some Lodges have a “gene pool” of talent that has diminished to such an extent that they don’t have sufficient officers to fill all positions, nor to maintain the checks and balances necessary for financial stability and accuracy. Some Lodges find themselves with no member younger than 65. Yet, at SGL, at Grand Lodges, and at the Lodge level, we go about our business pretty much the same way we have done so over the last Century – hoping beyond hope that if we can just run our meetings properly, all will be well.
The continued losses are debilitating, and not sustainable. We once had an Order that boasted 1 million members – the largest in the United States. Instead of growing – we have been shrinking. Today, we are a shadow of our former membership. And if the net losses continue, our Order will be decimated in North America in the next 20 years.
Here are some SGL statistics that should alarm every Odd Fellow:
* In 2015 there were 1,270 Lodges; in 2016 that number has slid to 1,236 Lodges – a diminution of 34 Lodges. I understand that the number in 2017 is even lower.
* In 2015 there were 33,745 dues paying members in the United States and Canada. The percentage drop in membership we have been experiencing in the United States and Canada is close to 4% year-to-year.
* There are 56 regular jurisdictions in the United States and Canada with 33,745 members and 8 other countries under the direct jurisdiction of the SGL with 696 members. I note that there are independent jurisdictions in Australasia, Europe, Latin America with 71,067 members. These other jurisdictions have far-surpassed the membership totals of the United States and Canada.
* Some of the jurisdictions in the United States and Canada have gotten paper thin in terms of membership. How thin? Let me give you an example. My own Lodge – Davis #169 in California – has more dues paying members than each of TWENTY jurisdictions (states and provinces) in North America. In fact, there are fully FOUR jurisdictions with memberships under 100.
So, unquestionably, the Number One concern of our Order, of our Lodges and of our members is, and must be, to INCREASE MEMBERSHIP. In light of that, here is a simple truth: Raising dues is anathema to increasing membership.
Increasing dues will make it more difficult to gain new members, and it will make it difficult for some members – who have limited resources – to continue their membership. Even if this were to affect only 2% of our Order, we can ill-afford lose 700 members or potential members because the dues increase has compelled them to withdraw or not to apply.
Members, Lodges and Grand Lodges need to resist this dues increase. SGL must revisit this bad decision. SGL should focus, instead, on membership, membership, membership. The sinking ship of Odd Fellowship can be righted, but not with a dues increase. When over 90 percent of our Lodges are showing net losses of members, while less than 10% of our Lodges are showing net gains, isn’t the solution obvious? We need to focus on the few Lodges that are gaining members, and replicate their formulas for success. Everything else is just whistling in the dark.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California