Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
DMC was founded in 2010 with one singular purpose: To focus the Odd Fellows on the most critical issue we face – how to stop the sad and debilitating loss of members (and the happy and energizing obverse of that issue – how to increase our membership). Since that time, we have – with laser-like determination – discussed this issue in all its ramifications, and we have offered a number of real-world, positive suggestions on how Odd Fellow Lodges can increase membership. By now, it would seem that everyone in the Odd Fellows understands the need to direct our attention to the existential task of reversing the trend of declining memberships and diminishing Lodges.
And yet, there is a major impediment to our efforts to save this Order from the decline. What is that impediment? Brace yourselves. It is our own Sovereign Grand Lodge.
As shocking as that may seem, let me give you three examples of how Sovereign Grand Lodge (SGL) has become its own impediment to growth.
(1) The two percent goal. SGL passes out award certificates to Lodges if they achieve a 2% growth of members from one year to the next. On the surface, this sounds like a nice thing. But it is not. It is, in fact, a recipe for disaster for our Order. Let’s think this through. The vast majority of our Lodges have 50 or fewer members. In fact, we have a substantial number of Lodges that have 20 or fewer members. Around North America, Lodges with 100 or more members are the exception, not the rule. And it is apparent to most that the average age of Lodge members is in the 60’s. So, what does a 2% growth rate get us? A Lodge with 50 members growing at 2% per year would gain 1 member in a year. If they do that, they get the 2% award certificate. But this award is a chimera. Over a 10-year period, that Lodge would gain 10 members. But membership is not static. Over that same 10 year period, that Lodge is likely to lose more than 10 members as a result of members moving, withdrawing or passing away. Plus, over that 10-year period, the 50-member Lodge’s average age has now moved into the 70’s. And the situation is even more ludicrous for a 20 member Lodge. Growing at a 2% rate means the Lodge waits more than 2 years to gain 1 member. Now, a 2% growth rate for a Lodge of 200 members means a growth of 4 members in a year – and that’s not bad – a large Lodge like that can afford to have slow years. But to set a 2% across-the-board rate makes little sense. To survive, the largest Lodges can get by with a 2% per year growth rate (at least in the short term), but the mid-size Lodges really need to grow at 5% per year, and the smallest Lodges need a growth rate of 10% per year.
(2) The dues increase. What could SGL do which would create the biggest single impediment to membership growth? That’s simple. SGL could – defying all membership development rationale – impose a 10% dues increase and then another 10% dues increase the following year. Remarkably, that is precisely what SGL did, to be implemented in 2019 and again in 2020. Without specifying why they need it, or what they intend to do with the dues increase money – SGL went ahead and implemented the dues increase. This will affect every dues-paying member in every Lodge in every jurisdiction of SGL. Most members of the Order will grumble and pay it. But some members of the Order – on very fixed incomes – will not. Without question, it will have an impact on existing members (some who barely get by financially will not renew) and on potential new members (some will not join because of the higher dues). It defies all reason to believe that increasing the cost of admission to the game will increase the number of attendees.
(3) Small jurisdictions are rewarded; large jurisdictions are penalized. The structure of SGL is such that every single jurisdiction gets 2 votes at SGL. It doesn’t matter if it is a shrinking jurisdiction of, say, 300 members with 4 Lodges, or a growing jurisdiction of 3,000 members with 100 Lodges. So, essentially, SGL is controlled by jurisdictions with small memberships, to the detriment of jurisdictions with larger memberships. The focus, thus, becomes maintaining the status quo. There is zero incentive provided at SGL to a jurisdiction which grows. The opposite should be true. Without diminishing the 2 representative minimum for the smallest jurisdictions, SGL should permit larger jurisdictions to have more voting representatives – thus rewarding growth and making this organization more representative of the members.
Look, I fully understand that the task of gaining new members is the responsibility of every member and every Lodge in the Order. It is not the responsibility of Sovereign Grand Lodge. But at a minimum, SGL cannot be an impediment. The old saying is true in this regard: If Sovereign Grand Lodge can’t lead or follow then it should simply get out of the way.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California