THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
At this moment in time, there are 115 Odd Fellows Lodges in California (and 1 jurisdictional Lodge). How are those 115 Lodges doing in terms of membership development? I don’t have final figures yet for membership development in 2017 because (believe it or not) some Lodges have STILL not turned in their 2017 per capita reports. But from what I have gleaned, in summary, the news is generally good, sometimes bad, and occasionally ugly.
First, the good news.
We see Lodges adding new members. Better yet, we see Lodges adding more new members than they are losing members – that results in a “net gain” of members, and net gains are our goal. Net gains abound – and that is truly good news. Overall, we see (if confirmed) a small net gain in membership state wide, a trend that began toward the end of my year as Grand Master and (thankfully) continues till today. Halting the yearly decline of membership numbers, and starting a yearly ascent in membership is the direct result of the work of DMC and our renewed focus on the need to bring in new members. We see the net gains across the board – in large Lodges, in mid-size Lodges, and in very small Lodges. For example, Odin #393 in San Francisco increased its small membership by 30%, from 10 to 13. That’s a huge shot of adrenalin to a small Lodge.
Now, the bad news.
We have 18 Lodges in California that have 10 or fewer dues-paying members. There is no way that this statistic can be viewed as a positive. The barest quorum for a Lodge is 5 members. We all know that, typically, only about 50% of the members of a Lodge are truly active members, so when a Lodge has 10 or fewer members, it will barely be able to muster a quorum. Oh sure, many of these Lodges continue to exist and function because they have associate members. Associate membership is not necessarily a healthy thing. I’ve seen associate members travel around to various Lodges in their region to fill offices and make a quorum. A Lodge which is propped up by associate members coming over to meetings from other Lodges creates the facade of normalcy – the illusion that all is OK. But associate members only buy the Lodge some time. And during that time, the few regular members of the Lodge are aging. When a Lodge fails to bring in new members (or only brings in members of the same age as existing members) that Lodge is walking a tightrope. The Lodge with fewer than 10 members necessarily can do no more than have a bare-bones meeting or an occasional potluck. It offers very little to potential new members. And so, it’s just a matter of time until that Lodge must surrender its charter or consolidate. (Consolidation, in most cases, is just a genteel and face-saving way for a Lodge to surrender its charter.)
And, the ugly news.
What could be worse than a Lodge having 10 or fewer dues-paying members? How about a Lodge with 6 or fewer dues-paying members. Yes, there are 7 Lodges that fall into that category. If ever there were a red flag raised about Lodge survival, it is certainly raised when a Lodge has only 5 or 6 dues-paying members. That Lodge may have a few more members who are so old that they are exempt from dues, or it may be a Lodge carried by associate members. But any way you slice it or dice it, that is almost certainly a Lodge that has not added new members in years. And the failure to add new members will certainly, inevitably, and inexorably lead to that Lodge’s demise.
What does the future hold?
We like the trend. Up until 3 years ago, our Order in California had been on a steady, 60-plus year, downward slope in terms of membership. Now, we have stopped the slide, and are showing small gains. The good news must be tempered with reality, however. Of the 115 Lodges in California, about 35 are showing net gains while 80 are either standing par or are showing net losses. So, the overall net gain is being driven by just 30 per cent of our Lodges. Further, of the 115 Lodges in California , the membership of the 7 largest Lodges comprise fully one-third of the total membership in the state. And there are 49 Lodges – over 40% of our Lodges – which have less than 20 dues-paying members on their books. So, in terms of membership, we seem to be a mile wide and an inch deep. This is a precarious place to be.
With renewed focus and energy, most of our Lodges can show a net gain in 2018. Even a net gain of 1 or 2 members in a small or mid-sized Lodge can make all the difference in the world for that Lodge, and for our Order in California.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California