Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Last week I gave you 9 red flags which can serve as warning signs that an Odd Fellows Lodge (perhaps your own Lodge) is in trouble, and is in danger of expiring. This is serious stuff. Your Odd Fellows Lodge has been around for decades, in many cases for generations, and in some cases for over a century. Odd Fellows over the years have developed, have nurtured, and have grown your Lodge. They tended to the Lodge as if it were a garden. And now, your Lodge is trouble on YOUR watch. Are you going to sweep aside all that hard work of your predecessors over all those years, and just let your Lodge fade away? Of course you aren’t. But how do you even start the process of resuscitating your Lodge?
Well, I’ll be frank. It won’t be easy. If you and your Lodge mates have ignored your Lodge for years (perhaps decades) and let it fall on hard times with diminished membership, the resuscitation of your Lodge will not be accomplished easily or quickly. But it can happen. And to bring your Lodge back from the gates of oblivion is worth it. So, to help you on your journey of resuscitation, here are 9 steps to follow. They are proven methodologies which will bring your Lodge back from the brink.
1. The Lodge Retreat. A retreat is the important first step. To be successful, you must contact each and every member of your Lodge and do your best to ensure their presence at the retreat. If some members can’t attend, follow up and talk with them either personally or on the phone – and get their input. Find an appropriate place for the retreat (perhaps the home of a member), and set it up to last for at least two hours, preferably more. Invite a facilitator – if you request one, DMC will provide an appropriate facilitator to your Lodge subject to working out the details of time, date and place. The key to a Lodge retreat is to make sure that all suggestions are considered, and no one is put down or criticized. Write down the points of agreement going forward, create a “Revitalization Committee”, put someone in charge of the committee who has some clout (like the Noble Grand or the Vice Grand or a very respected member) and have this committee monitor your progress.
2. Collectively Decide the Character of Your Odd Fellows Lodge. The value of a retreat is as a starting point to determine the character and culture of your Lodge, going forward. You can’t change the past. The retreat is the present. What you can do is plan your future. Trying to plan 10 years ahead is usually not too productive; but planning for the next 3 years is realistic and achievable. Questions to answer include: What do you want your Lodge Hall to look like in 3 years? How will you encourage current members to more actively participate? How many new members do you plan to bring in over the next 3 years, and what are your strategies to do so? Other questions might involve: How to increase Lodge visibility in the community? How to improve signage at the Lodge? How to do a better job handling Lodge finances.
3. Plan on Having Some Good Times. If a boring Lodge is a dying Lodge, then an active Lodge is a thriving Lodge. We are, after all, a fraternal order. Odd Fellowship originated in the pubs and taverns of England where members could enjoy a good social life with their Lodge mates. That old-fashioned and old time connection is valuable today in our disconnected society. If your Lodge doesn’t plan some fun activities for members, and potential members, then you will be a diminished Lodge. So, plan some fun activities. And don’t be afraid to fail once or twice. Better to have failed than never to have tried.
4. Plan to Be Involved in the Community. Every Lodge must have a purpose. And that purpose has got to be more than merely reading from a red book and obtaining degrees. Virtually no one will want to join your Lodge because they can sit and recite from a book. In particular, young men and women in the 21st Century want to be active to help others in the community. If your Lodge doesn’t have at least ONE community-serving project each year, then shame on you. This is not as difficult as you may think. There are dozens of community projects your Lodge can choose from – just decide on one and do it.
5. Designate a Membership Committee. Crucial to the continued viability (if not the very existence) of a Lodge is the need to bring in new members. Without new blood – new members – to continue the work of the Lodge, the Lodge will wither away and die in time. Bringing in new members is a responsibility of every Lodge member, but every Lodge should have a Membership Committee to ensure that membership development is always a focus of the Lodge.
6. Eliminate the Bickering. Do your Lodge meetings often devolve into bickering and arguing between two or three individuals? Such meetings cause members to be uncomfortable, and eventually to stop attending. This will lead to the downfall of your Lodge, and must stopped. The best way to halt the bickering is for the Noble Grand or a respected, long-time member, to privately speak to the bickering members and ask them – kindly but forcefully – to stop the bickering or to stop attending. If this is not feasible, then the DDGM or DDP must be notified and called in to intervene.
7. Upgrade Your Gene Pool. Some Lodges have shrunk to a point where only one or two handfuls of members remain to attend meetings. This has ramifications. One of the ramifications is that the “gene pool” of talent within the Lodge has shrunk. There was a time in the past when Lodge members were the leading citizens of the community – bankers, attorneys, accountants, ranchers, business owners, mayors, even judges. There were plenty of people of talent to handle the important financial and administrative matters of the Lodge. Today, we find Lodges where that talent pool is diminished or even non-existent. This can lead to lots of problems as Lodge members cope with budgets, leases, financial statements and bank accounts. An immediate target of such a Lodge must be to bring in one or two leading citizens of the community to re-charge that gene pool of talent.
8. Clean Up Your Lodge. A Lodge that has little or no signage, is not clean, or has shabby paint, sends the image of an old and dying entity, or a place where the members don’t really care. It is uninviting. And an uninviting Lodge tells members of the public: Don’t apply here. An important step to bringing a Lodge back to life is to invest time, money and effort to cleaning up, and brightening up the Lodge.
9. Review and Evaluate. It is very important that you evaluate how your efforts are doing. Adjust and modify as needed. This evaluation should occur once a quarter, as well as annually. Your Revitalization Committee can monitor and report on progress of your Odd Fellows Lodge.
Good luck! We are rooting for you.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
It is my pleasure to pass along to you an article written by Linea Bredenberg, Past Grand of Mountain View Lodge #244, which provides some suggestions on how smaller Lodges can grow and be successful. The concept discussed in the article comes from the business world. Query: Can it apply to the fraternal world?
I commend this interesting article for your reading pleasure.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like to take a moment to talk to you about the concept of scalability. This is something discussed in the world of entrepreneurship. Scalability is the capacity of an idea or an endeavor to be successful, both when a company is small and starting out, and also when the company gets larger.
I bring this up because, in this era of rebuilding and growth, Odd Fellowship has a lot in common with a Silicon Valley start-up. Lodges may run with a minimum quantity of members, and the leaders of the lodge often have to wear many hats in order for all of the work of the lodge to get done. Just like at a start-up, we’re interested in increasing the number of people involved, and we are especially, at this early stage, looking for “investors” to put in their time and energy before we are hugely successful.
In order to get someone to invest in a start-up, one needs to do two things: put out a credible “minimum viable product, and sell them on the dream of what the organization can grow into once it gets larger.
Minimum viable product is produced when a business idea or endeavor is scaled down to a proof of concept having the most basic functionality needed to be successful. Investors often want to see that the idea can work before they are willing to help something grow larger. In our case, this means asking ourselves what we can do well with the number of people we have. Whether we are putting on a degree or other lodge event, it is far better to do less and to do it well, than to allow our big dreams of what we should be as an organization trick us into biting off more than we can chew.
For one example of this, let us look at the Three Degrees. Two of these degrees come in two possible respective legal forms. There is the form with which you might be most familiar, wherein lodge members dress up and act out Bible stories. There is also a minimum legal version of the degree wherein an officer gives a charge that carefully explains the meaning of the story in question, explicitly connecting it to the values and virtues that the degree is meant to instill in the candidate.
Presently, across our
jurisdiction it is common to see people reading their dramatic parts out of books. The overall impression is not of a drama or play, but of a dry-reading or rehearsal. The reason that this happens is obvious: the members of our lodges have a great deal to do and making it to the sheer number of rehearsals required to do this version of the degree credibly is just not practical.
By contrast, the Initiatory does not suffer nearly as much from the lack of memorization. The important parts to memorize are each less than 20 sentences, in total. The rest of the parts can be read from podiums. Because this degree takes so much less effort to do credibly, the overall impression of it is far more favorable.
Many of us have also attempted events at our various lodges which would have been absolutely amazing, had they not required far more volunteerism than our small lodges could muster. The result was stressed-out lodge members, tension between people as a result of that stress, and a not-so-great final outcome. Other ideas start off well, but peter out because they require more person-power than we actually have.
In other words, many of our lodges would benefit from scaling down. In our every endeavor, whenever an idea is proposed, we need to start thinking, “What is the minimum viable product?” What is the smallest number of people that we need to pull the event off credibly? If the number needed to do it credibly is too large, how can we scale it down to suit the number of volunteer hours we have available?
If we pull off a smaller project more credibly, it is easier to convince our new and potential members that, if we only had the right number of people, we could also do larger event credibly. It is much harder for people to imagine an event being done well with more people when they have already seen it go badly. By understanding scalability and by focusing first on putting together a minimum viable product, we can begin to build a culture of success. Success begets more success and as we bring more people on board with what we want to accomplish our endeavors can grow larger and we will soon reach the sorts of achievements we are all striving for.
Independent Order of Odd Fellows, IOOF, Davis Odd Fellows
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The human lifespan is limited to about 100 years, more or less. But the fraternal lifespan can last for centuries. The fraternal order we call “Odd Fellows” began in England in the 1700’s and traveled the ocean to the United States in the early 1800’s. The Order flourished in the United States and Canada and grew to thousands of Lodges and, at one time, about 1 million members. In California alone, Odd Fellowship once numbered over 400 Lodges and close to 60,000 members. We have maintained this Order in North America for almost 200 years. And, in theory, the Order could continue for another 200 years, or more.
In these DMC Newsletters, for the past five years, we have talked about the perils of small Lodges with continually shrinking memberships. And, indeed, that is a great challenge to the perpetuation of this Order. But like a bolt from the blue, I have become aware of a similarly great challenge that affects most of our Lodges, and even the largest and most active of our Lodges.
Recently, I visited a very large, active, and quite successful Lodge that was celebrating an anniversary of its charter. There were literally hundreds of folks in the room. I had occasion to speak, so I asked for a show of hands of those Lodge members who were over 70. A number of hands went up. I asked for those who were over 60. Quite a few hands went up. I asked for hands to be raised for those over 50, and hands went up. Then, on a whim, I asked for those under 40 to raise their hands. I was astonished to see only one hand raised. (And I later spoke to the young lady who had raised her hand and found that, within two months, she was moving to another state.) The fact that only one person in that room was under 40 was a stunning revelation to me. And it was, to me, a yellow flag of caution. Here was a large, active and successful Lodge that was in trouble – not today, and not in the immediate future, but eventually. And that is because we all age, and we all age at the same rate. In other words, in 10 years the 50-year-old members of that Lodge will be 60, and the 60-year-old members will be 70, and so on. Where is the next generation of members? In 10 years that Lodge will have precious few, if any, members under 60.
Now, this is not a knock on folks in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond. I am one of those folks, myself, and I daresay we are remarkable and accomplished people. Lodges need the senior members for their knowledge, involvement, stability and wisdom. But, Lodges also need the next generation of members and leaders. Interestingly, I have looked at the historical books and records of our Order and I have found that in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Lodges had many members in their 20’s and 30’s, and Noble Grands were often in their 30’s. Today, however, the average age of Lodge membership has eked upwards into the 60’s, and I have met quite a few Noble Grands in their 70’s. As members age in place, where is the next generation of members and leaders?
Here is the simple and hard truth: We cannot just recruit new members who are our own age.
If we are 70, it won’t do for us to bring in only our peers who are in their 70’s. And if we are 50, we can’t just bring in 50-year-olds. We must bring in the next generation. Again, this is not a knock on 70-year-olds or 50-year-olds. It is the reality of a fraternal Order. When those who are 70 turn 90, and those who are 50 turn 70, the Lodge will be a Lodge of 70 and 90 year old members. The Lodge will have skipped an entire generation. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that the more members we have in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, the easier it is to bring in new members in that age group – those younger members can tap into the universe of their friends and peers much more readily than can a person in his or her 70’s.
Odd Fellowship is generational. In other words, members of a Lodge must always be prepared to pass the torch to the next generation. Strong Lodges have members who range from their 20’s to their 80’s. If a Lodge skips an entire generation (or, as I have regrettably seen, two generations), that Lodge is in trouble. If the youngest member in a Lodge is in his or her 60’s, what will that Lodge look like in 5 years, or 10 years, or 20 years? And as the years go on, it won’t be any easier for the aging members of the Lodge to attract members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
Each of us has an obligation to our Order. We must bring in the next generation of Odd Fellows. If we fail to do so, we will have failed our Lodge and we will have failed our Order.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Today’s Newsletter features a very compelling article by Past Grand Master Rick Boyles, one of the founders of “Dedicated Members for Change”. Rick highlights a truth that has become increasingly apparent to me in my year as Grand Master. The “problem” is obvious: For the past three generations, our Order has been steadily losing more members than we have gained. The “solution” is less obvious. But one thing is pretty clear: The problem cannot be solved by Sovereign Grand Lodge, or by Grand Lodge. The problem can only be solved by the members in our own Lodges.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California
How We Grow
A little more than five years ago, when Past Sovereign Grand Master Don Smith (now deceased), Grand Master Dave Rosenberg, and I set up the Dedicated Members for Change, we saw the problem and were determined to find a solution to that problem. Specifically, for the last 75-100 years we have consistently lost members with little intervention from our order’s leaders. Brother Don Smith, surely one of the greatest leaders our order has ever seen, actually spearheaded other endeavors to halt the decline but it is a difficult chore, indeed. But really Brother Don, Brother Dave and I have become more and more convinced that the problem is internal and that no external intervention can extend a lodge’s lifespan if the lodge itself does not embrace it.
One of the statements I have heard from some in the order is that the DMC is good at illuminating the problem but not so good in tackling the problem itself. But this is not altogether true, because the DMC has over the years suggested many specific programs that lodges can consider to rejuvenate and attract new members. Unfortunately, for those who hope for salvation from outside their lodge, it will not happen. Our salvation comes from within. Too many times in my year as Grand Master when I went to lodges that were really on their last legs (some of which are still limping along, albeit weaker and weaker), I found that lodges were waiting for someone outside their walls to provide them with an answer. Many of us in the order do our best to revive a lodge here and a lodge there but this is difficult if not impossible from outside its own environs. There are some heroic individuals who do a lot of altruistic deeds just to help another lodge stay afloat, and while sometimes announcing a lodge’s decline it also illuminates that one traveling member’s heart. Many among us have traveled many a mile to just pump up a lodge’s morale or point of view. But here’s the rub – nothing works unless the lodge itself wants it to work.
If we look around at the lodges that are growing, we will see that somehow they have caused their members to retain interest. We grow by maintaining interest. Here are some basic things, the DMC has found –
1) Offer your members something of interest. Ask yourselves why do members attend?
2) Committees should be formed that pique members’ interest. If your members like walking, reading, sports, cars, or any of a myriad of interests, form a committee around these interests.
3) If your members have a committee, often they know of non-members who may share these same interests. New members will only join if they see some value to joining.
4) Remember that your own members are your single most valuable asset. Money in a dusty bank account is nice, but bank balances do not alone bring in new members. Think of an inexpensive gesture the lodge may make to show the members they are valued. Example: lodges with active committees can often pass along deals from merchants to their committee members, at little or no expense to the lodge. Years ago many merchants existed to help Odd Fellows; growth can come by interdependence with each other in a lodge. Our museums have old catalogues on display, where Odd Fellows were given discounts for shared interests; many lodges were lending libraries. It is this type of interdependence we need to return to.
5) Your lodge should be inviting. Whether or not it is an old building does not matter, but it should have signage on the outside, and pride showing at every vantage point.
6) Think of what your lodge has to offer. Promote your own lodge to the fullest. Friendship, Love and Truth is wonderful, but platitudes alone don’t tell a prospective member anything about the order itself. What do you like best about your own lodge?
7) Leave your anger at home. Many fraternal groups have failed due to internal friction. This can easily translate to a bad exterior view. Laughter is contagious. Have fun! Show the outside world what is the best point to being an Odd Fellow.
There are some other things we should note as we try to grow our order. I always hear simplistic ideas from some in our order. There are members who state that we should all get behind one charity. While this is admirable, it frankly will not work. For one thing, our order is becoming too small to make a perceptible impact on a charity, and for another, other fraternal groups who do this are also losing members so if this were the answer, they would not be losing members just as we are.
Other members talk about maintaining some type of old-fashioned stance, that somehow there is going to be a revival of old mannerisms, codes, rituals, and modes of dress. This is ludicrous, as many of our centralized events have declined in attendance at an even greater pace than our attendance at large. No, it is time to modernize.
Lastly, we must be realistic. Lodge halls that have modernized and intertwine themselves with their own communities are the ones most likely to grow. Look at the California lodges that have experienced greater growth – Davis, Yerba Buena, and others have succeeded in making their lodges most like the communities around them. Past Sovereign Grand Master Don Smith would be proud.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles
The Davis Odd Fellows Lodge #169 is delighted to report that last evening, July 24, 2013, our membership voted to initiate the following eighteen (18) new members into our Lodge:
These new members will be initiated at the Lodge meeting of August 28, 2013, during the regular Lodge meeting.
Congratulations to our new Odd Fellows!
F – L – T
Chair, Membership & Initiation Committee
Davis Odd Fellows Lodge # 169