Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Every single member of every single Odd Fellows and Rebekahs Lodge is precious. Odd Fellows in North America traces its history back to 1819 (some 201 years ago), and Rebekahs in America goes back to 1851 (about 169 years ago) with the formation of Daughters of Rebekah. After a period of remarkable and exponential growth which spanned a century and saw the Independent Order of Odd Fellows become the largest fraternal order in America, there followed another Century of mixed growth and decline. We once boasted 1 million members in IOOF in North America; and today have less than five per cent of that total.
So again, every single member is precious. We can hardly continue this level of decline. It is absolutely unsustainable for a fraternal order. Of course, we must bring in new members, and much of the discussion within DMC is on the subject of bringing in new members and the methodologies to achieve that. But at the same time we cannot ignore another critical element of the equation, and that is the retention of existing members of the Order. And if you are a current member of the Order, please consider all the benefits you get by being a member of IOOF: (1) You have met and gotten to know members who will be friends of yours for many years to come. (2) You are a member of a fraternity that has a heritage going back two centuries in North America, and even longer if traced back to Europe. How many of us can say we belong to an organization that is hundreds of years old? (3) You belong to a Lodge that provides a social outlet for you and also provides support to community groups in many small and big ways. (4) You have a Lodge Hall available to your and your brothers and sisters for meetings and events. (5) You belong to an Order that provides many benefits to members and mankind in general – including member benefit grants, first-class retirement campuses (like the Saratoga Retirement Community and the Meadows of Napa in California), support of the World Eye Bank and Visual Research Foundation, the Pilgramage for Youth, the Educational Foundation of IOOF, and much more. And all this is provided to you for dues which typically run only $5 per month.
This is a particularly challenging time for our Order. We are in the midst of a pandemic which has made it difficult, if not impossible, for Lodges to meet. The pandemic has made it equally difficult, if not impossible, for Lodges to carry out their community functions. Let’s face it. Odd Fellowship is a fraternity, and a huge part of fraternal life is the social interaction between members. Holding meetings by conference call or zoom is a weak and inadequate substitute for in-person meetings. We miss shaking hands, slapping backs, hugging and laughing together.
This is not the first pandemic to hit the world. Epidemics, particularly of flu-like diseases, hit us on a fairly regular basis. Less common are the worldwide pandemics – the most recent one being the so-called Spanish flu of 1917-19. That pandemic hit the United States and Canada pretty hard. People had to social distance, wear masks, and cancel meetings. But we lived through it and we survived it. We shall live through and survive the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well. But, we have to be very conscious of the fact that many members of our Lodges are hurting, mentally and emotionally and financially. Leadership at each and every Lodge has to be very aware of this, and has to strive to do what it can to keep the members connected and engaged. We cannot afford – as a fraternal order – to lose members because they have lost their connection to their Lodge, or they feel that they cannot afford to pay their dues.
And leadership in each and every Lodge has to also find ways in which members who are economically strapped can pay their dues for the year. Among clubs and organizations, the dues paid by Odd Fellows and Rebekahs are among the lowest. Even though low, it can still be a hill too far for members who are now unemployed or underemployed. The choice between food, rent or dues is obvious – dues come last. So, Lodges need to come up with ways to help members. Obviously, it is prohibited for the Lodge to pay member’s dues from the Lodge treasury. However, there are other imaginative ways that Lodges can help. For example, arrangements can be made for members to pay dues on a staggered basis (perhaps quarterly or semi-annually) rather than all in one lump sum. And perhaps a quiet and confidential program can be set up where members who are more financially secure can cover dues for members who are financially strapped.
It’s up to all of us to keep the flame of Odd Fellowship alive.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California