Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
DMC is all about membership development. In that regard, this newsletter offers a “Primer on Membership Development”. To be frank, it’s not for everyone or for every Odd Fellows Lodge. Some of the larger Odd Fellow Lodges do quite well on membership development in their own way and with their own style. And at the other extreme, some of the smallest Lodges are what I call “Zombie Lodges” – they are still on the books, but they have not added members in years and the remaining membership is so small, so inactive, and so on in years that there is really nothing that can be done to resurrect them. It’s just a matter of time before those Lodges surrender their charters or seek to “consolidate” with another Lodge.
This newsletter is targeted to the vast majority of Odd Fellow Lodges in “the middle”. So, for those Lodges here is a “Primer” of effective and proven ways to grow.
1. You must bring in new members. It seems kind of ludicrous to say it, but apparently some Lodges don’t get this basic concept. I have visited Lodges that haven’t brought in new members in years – sometimes over a decade. Because we are all mortal human beings with a lifespan, it is imperative to bring in new members. In fact. the quest for new members has to happen every year, year in and year out. If you skip a year, you imperil the future of the Lodge. College fraternities are a compressed model of this concept. Students typically graduate from college in 4 or 5 years. Accordingly, a member who joined that college fraternity as a freshman is “gone” once that member graduates. The college fraternity is in trouble if it skips a year of membership development, and that trouble is exacerbated if it skips even more years. The same is true in the case of a fraternal order. Eventually, every member will be “gone” when they move away, drift away or pass away.
2. You can’t just bring in members of your own age. We tend to bring in new members to our Lodge from the stable of friends and people we know. And we tend to know people who are generally of our own age. If the Lodge has a membership ranging in age representing every decade (those who are in their 20’s, 30’s, 40. 50’s, 60, 70’s, 80’s, etc.) that’s not a problem. However, if the Lodge membership is all in its 70’s and 80’s, that is a problem. Bringing in members who are of the same age as existing members will come back to bite the Lodge eventually. It is not sustainable. In the course of time, all the members will be in their 80’s, and then all will be in their 90’s, etc. A Lodge must strive to bring in members of all generations.
3. The Lodge must offer something more than sitting in a Lodge room reading the ritual. If you truly believe that folks want to join the Lodge because they can sit in a meeting and recite from the ritual, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell to you. Virtually no one joins a Lodge because they can’t wait to sit in the Lodge room and read from the ritual, month after month. Of course, people join a Lodge because of the rich history and core values of Odd Fellowship. But, particularly for the new generations that are coming up, a Lodge must offer more. And I’m not talking about a monthly potluck. People in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s want the Lodge to be active. They are interested in Lodge functions that are fun for the members and family, and they are interested in doing good works in the community. The options are endless and boundless – tethered only to the imagination of the membership. Lodges that are active are healthy and growing. Lodges that are not active, are boring. Boring Lodges do not attract new members, and certainly do not retain them.
4. You must work to retain your current members. While it is an existential requirement for a Lodge to attract new members on a consistent basis, it is also important to retain existing members. In most Lodges that I have visited, I have found that about half the membership rarely, if ever, comes to meetings or events. So for example, in a Lodge of 20 members, it is typical for the Lodge to attract 10 members to a meeting or event. This is a sad commentary, but it is reality. The pool of energy in a Lodge is the pool of members. So, it’s important for the Noble Grand and other officers and leaders of the Lodge to work with existing non-participating members to get them re-engaged in the work of the Lodge. It is a facade to have a member on the books of the Lodge who does little for the benefit of the Lodge.
5. Bringing in new members is a job for every member. There is no more important responsibility of an Odd Fellow than to sponsor new applications for membership in the Lodge. Let me repeat that: There is no more important responsibility of an Odd Fellow than to sponsor new applications for membership for membership in the Lodge. Some members seem to think that bringing in new members is the job of “the other guy”. Not true. YOU are “the other guy”. Lodges can’t just rely on the Noble Grand or the Membership Chair to bring in new applicants. Nor would you want to. To ensure a diverse membership, all members must participate in the process. Bringing in a new member is not an impossible burden. I have personally sponsored over 100 new members in my Lodge over the past 10 years. Surely, every member of a Lodge can bring in two new members in the course of three or four years. If every member brought in two, the Lodge’s health and survival would be assured. It’s that important.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
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
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
There are four degrees in an Odd Fellows Lodge: The Initiatory Degree, the First Degree (the Degree of Friendship), the Second Degree (the Degree of Love), and the Third Degree (the Degree of Truth).
Almost everyone in our Davis Lodge has all four degrees of Odd Fellowship. There are a few of you who don’t – particularly the newer initiates – and we are pleased to offer the degrees (free of charge) to those who wish to obtain them. Also, there are members who already have all the degrees, but would like a simple “refresher” on the degrees and the secrets and unwritten work pertaining to the degrees – all are welcome to come for that refresher.
We have set up a special “Three Degree Night” at the Lodge where you can obtain the advanced three degrees available in an Odd Fellows Lodge: The First Degree, the Second Degree and the Third Degree. This will all be done in one fun-filled and interesting evening! You will be given all three degrees (by video) and all the secrets and unwritten work relating to the degrees by Past Grand Jean-Paul Montreuil.
The date for the Odd Fellows Three Degree Night is Monday, April 16, at 7:00 p.m. sharp (please be on time) in the Lower Hall, at the Lodge.
The three degrees can be conferred in about 90 minutes, so we should be done around 8:40 p.m. (counting breaks). Please feel free to bring soft drinks, beer or wine and snacks or dinner if you wish.
Once you receive all these degrees you are eligible to hold elected or appointed office in the Davis Lodge, and to wear the red collar or red cord regalia. In addition, once you have all the degrees of the Odd Fellows Lodge, you are then eligible to join the Davis Encampment and receive three advanced degrees in the Encampment – the Patriarchal Degree (Degree of Faith), the Golden Rule Degree (Degree of Hope), and the Royal Purple Degree (Degree of Charity). As a member of the Davis Encampment, you can (if you wish) wear the coveted purple fez with the golden tassel. And you are also eligible to obtain the highest degree in Odd Fellowship – the Degree of Universal Justice – by joining Canton Davis. Those who are interested can also join the Rebekah Lodge and obtain the Rebekah Degree.
If you are interested in joining Davis Encampment #21 and/or Canton Davis #7 and/or Davis Rebekah Lodge #253, please let me know and we will discuss next steps. The Davis Encampment and Canton Davis are the largest Encampment and the largest Canton in California, and both are active! The Davis Rebekah Lodge is one of the two largest in California and is also very active.
Any questions? Please feel free to ask!
F – L – T
Chair, Membership & Initiation Committee
Davis Odd Fellows Lodge #169
What makes prejudice so infectious? Because those who have similar beliefs can bond together and share thoughts and hatreds normally left hidden. It’s a lonely world and all of us want to belong, so we tend to look to those who look like us, who think like us, who feel like us, to immerse ourselves beneath a blanket of what we think of as “belonging”. Sometimes we wear that blanket as a shield to block ourselves out from the world. We see anyone else as an invasion of our space, and really don’t know how to react to what we view as an intrusion. But prejudice has no place in our Order.
As most of us must know by now, Sovereign Grand Lodge has mandated that we adhere to a strict policy of non-discrimination. They have instructed us to insert a statement to this effect within each Lodge’s bylaws. Yet, to some, this is an affront to their ordinary mindset. One member, for example, has sent racist-tinged tests to a wide selection of acquaintances for years. I have saved some if you wish to view them. I asked him about it once and he said that he did not even read many of them, just passed them on. This is unacceptable. We see from actions such as these that it’s sometimes hard to recognize it on one’s self because it tends to act as a preventive mechanism meant to defy change or loss of status. Our Order has been literally decimated by bigotry of distinct types, whether knowing or unknowing. For example, texts in our rituals talk of all members as “he” (and Lodges still read from these verbatim), and in older texts, everyone other than white, are the “lower races”. Most of us are by now aware of the legal cases our Order has dealt with in defending ourselves against charges for cruelty against those with disabilities. Yet we have religious zealots, extreme fundamentalists, who are generally the most hateful among us, who see others as outsiders, yet are so confused in their own beliefs, they fail to even define what they themselves believe. Basically, then, bigotry is a blind hatred and cruelty towards anyone not in one’s own circle.
Of course, we must return to today’s main and indisputable fact: the fact that the issue of non-discrimination is currently number 1 in priority at Sovereign Grand Lodge. As your current Sovereign Grand Lodge Representative, I can tell you that SGL is extremely serious about non-discrimination, particularly in any interaction with the public. They had a two-hour seminar last year led by attorneys devoted to ensuring that all members practice (not just talk the talk, but walk the walk) genuine non-discriminatory behavior. Unfortunately, we have some members within our own state who have failed to get the message.
One example: The North-South Group. Many of you have probably never heard of the North-South Group. It is a group made up of about 30 individuals, purportedly influential members, some from Northern California and others from Southern California who meet once a year on the Tuesday evening prior to Grand Lodge Sessions. Originally, they met to discuss legislation, elections, and other issues that were to be brought up during sessions. I am a member of this group. Many of the members are fine, moral members. However, prospective new members of this group are nominated at the dinner and then may be objected to in secret messages to the Secretary. This, alone, should be a red flag to any onlooker, but of course there are none. Why is such a thing shrouded in secrecy? Three “no” votes will blackball a prospective member. The problem is that prominent women members of the Order have been nominated by myself and by others to join this group – some several times – and on every occasion these women have been blackballed. Thus, a minority of three – operating in secret – has made the North-South Group an icon of prejudice and discrimination. I am including this in my article because discrimination must end and hateful individuals must either change their ways or leave the order. It’s almost absurd to say this to Odd Fellows – people who profess to be all about Friendship, Love and Truth – but we still have members in our Order who do not interact with their brothers and sisters in the spirit of FLT. As a member of the North-South Group, I have asked the Secretary to tell me who has been barred from joining this year, and he has refused to respond to me other than saying that “some” have been excluded. No reason is given, and only casual winking by misogynistic and prejudiced types is allowed. This group has no right to exist if it thinks somehow it can lead by exclusion. If a group of friends want to have dinner, fine, but a group that gathers under the pretense of future planning for the Order that consistently and regularly allows a minority of three to bar women is unacceptable in this era of non-discrimination. It must stop now.
Example two: A.M.O.S. “The Ancient Mystic Order of Samaritans” – another small group that is men only, and fading quickly, also explicitly bars women, although they have a tiny, almost non-existent “sister group”. The point is why even bother with this pretense? Although it is a congenial group of male members they look at prejudice through that congenial lens, as though continued prejudice is a lark to be coveted. If this group barred anyone in a wheelchair, or anyone who is Chinese-American, or anyone who is Latino, would that be acceptable to you? Barring women is no less unacceptable. We should not tolerate a group that blatantly discriminates against people based on their gender.
It’s really time to stop all the prejudice. If you, dear member, want to wear prejudice as an emblem, at least have the courage to declare it openly. If you think women are not equal to you, say it out loud. If you object to other religions, declare that as well. It’s time that those who bear prejudice are no longer borne by our Order.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles