Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
In 1853, the Grand Lodge of California began to record statistics on the number of members in our Order. The number of members in 1853 was 985. Next to that number was the number 780, showing the net gain from the prior year. So, apparently, the starting point for statistic compilation was actually 1852 when the Order counted 205 members in California. The Grand Lodge has continued compiling these statistics for every year from 1853 to the present, showing either a “net gain” or a “net loss” for every year. A “net gain” is the increase in membership year-to-year when the Order has admitted more members than have been lost; a “net loss” is the decrease in membership year-to-year when the Order has lost more members than it has admitted.
The view of these statistics is nothing less than fascinating. And it shows certain cycles.
In the first cycle – which stretched from 1853 until 1893 – a period of some 40 years – the Order grew rapidly, year after year showing a net gain on occasion as high as 10%. In 1893 the membership number statewide was 30,741. In 1894 there was a momentary retrenchment for four years – showing net losses in those years, but then the Order snapped right back to show a steady stream of net gains from 1898 until 1913. In 1913, the membership stood at 46,099. The years of World War I showed an unsurprising shrinkage in membership as young men went to war. The years 1914 to 1918 showed net losses, except for a small net gain in 1917 (presumably as some young men started coming back home). From 1919 to 1928, with the exception of just one year, the Order had net gains every year. In 1928, the membership was 58,820. That number of 58,820, by the way, is the high-water mark of Odd Fellowship in California – a very large number considering the entire population of California at the time was just a shade over 5 million.
And then the Great Depression hit.
Membership dropped in 1929 and then continued to drop until 1942, with steady declines year after year. In some years, the net loss exceeded 10%. In 1942, the number of Odd Fellows in California had fallen to 25,567. From 1943 to 1947 – around the time of World War II – the membership increased with net gains every year. This was the last period of sustained growth in our Order in California. In 1947, the membership had increased to 30,739 as young men came back from war searching to reintegrate into society. Then, in 1948 the Order saw a net loss, and those net losses continued for 67 years (with the exception of 2002 when there was a small net gain) until 2015. This sustained period of net losses brought our membership down to 4,075 dues paying members in 2015. A statewide membership number of 4,075 is anemic in light of the overall population of the state which had skyrocketed to 40 million. There are several high schools in California which have more students than Odd Fellows have members.
The drop is breathtaking. In 1928 we had 58,820 members and in 2015 we had plummeted to 4,075 members – a descent of some 93% in our membership. Statistically, if this trend were to continue, the Order in California would number only in the hundreds in less than 20 years. These net losses are especially troubling in light of the fact that California, from 1850 until the present day, has experienced rather huge net gains in population. In some decades (particularly the 1950’s and 1960’s) California’s net population gains exceeded 5% per year. So, while California’s population was increasing, the population of Odd Fellows was in steady decline.
But then, in 2016, a remarkable thing happened. Statistics for Calendar Year 2016 showed a small net gain in the membership in California. And then for Calendar Year 2017 the statistics showed a small net gain for the second year in a row. The fact that the net gains for those years was small is of little consequence. The fact that California has finally stopped the tide of year-after-year net losses is of consequence. Because reversing a trend takes two steps: First you have to put the brakes on it, and second you have to move in a different direction on a consistent basis. We have entered phase one of this important process. We have finally put the brakes on decades of net losses. As if in a fraternal stupor, we had seemingly grown accustomed to year after year after year of membership losses. And now – in 2016 and again in 2017 – we are hopefully starting a new paradigm of membership gains. If it continues in 2018, we can truthfully say that we have reversed the trend and are starting a new trend of net gains.
How did this happen?
May I suggest that the creation of Dedicated Members for Change (DMC) at the end of 2010 was a significant factor in reversing the trend of declining membership. For the last eight years, DMC has focused the Order in California on the reality of membership losses, and more importantly, has suggested proven ways that Lodges can reverse the trend. While most Lodges continue to lose members, there are some Lodges that continue to show net gains in membership. So, by analyzing what the membership-gaining Lodges are doing, we can provide suggestions of “what works” to all Lodges. And more and more Lodges are starting to get it. A focus on ritual alone will not grow Lodges. To grow in the 21st Century, a Lodge cannot be so one-dimensional. Instead, growing Lodges expand their focus on good works in the community, and also on fun social activities for the members.
Without question, Odd Fellowship is relevant in the 21st Century and Odd Fellows Lodges can grow and prosper. We have proven it in California.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Odd Fellows and Pledges,
WHEN: Tomorrow evening, March 22, from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m.
WHERE: Lower Hall, Davis Odd Fellows Lodge.
WHO: Members and Pledges, and their Guests, are cordially invited.
WHAT: Thursday evening’s “Club Night at the Lodge” features: (1) Dinner at the Lodge. It’s a crowd favorite, prepared by our Chefs Sarun and Michael – Lasagne (both Meat Lasagne and Vegetarian Lasagne), Greed Salad, House-Made Dressing, Garlic Bread. Delicioso! Dinner will be available soon after 6:05 p.m. (2) Our Full Bar will be open with a complete selection of mixed drinks, spirits, craft beers and wines. (3) Trivia Night. Trivia Master Raleigh Klein will return and will challenge you with three rounds of Trivia, including prizes for the winning tables.Trivia starts around 6:35 p.m. (4) Social Time. There will be plenty of time to chat and socialize with your Lodge mates. (5) Jigsaw Puzzles. Lea Rosenberg will supply the ever-popular jigsaw puzzles for the tables. (6) The Big-screen TV will be on with your favorite sporting event. (7) The Odd Fellows Store. Back by popular demand, Dave Rosenberg will have the coveted All-Seeing-Eye sweatshirts for sale, as well as the Little Red Books for sale, Odd Fellows pens for sale, magnetic bumper strips for sale, and Odd Fellows flashlights – all for sale.
WHY: Club Night at the Lodge is brought to you virtually every Thursday evening – just to kick back with your Lodge mates, relax, socialize and have some fun.
F – L – T
For the Club Night Committee
You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, goes the old saying.
Sometimes I think that’s exactly what we are trying to do. Many of us look at charity work to somehow make us progress and grow membership, but it’s not clear that this is how charity works. Charity is admirable, to be sure, and we should all practice it, but does it help us gain members? Many will quote the Shriners and their children’s hospitals, or other fraternal groups which do acts similarly inspiring, but if you delve into the numbers in all fraternities, you will see that all groups are losing members.
Why is this? A mix of reasons, of course, but neither the rise in membership nor the decline are influenced much by charity work, unless it is, wait for it, of a directed poignancy. Why is this? Several reasons, of course, but this may be easiest borne out by looking at our history, or, in fact, almost all fraternal histories. Our order was at its biggest when it had its most direct relevance upon its own members. The problem with most modern groups, not just our fraternity, but almost all groups, is that they fail to retain relevancy. Over time, many lodges have, essentially, become groups of one socio-economic level. The lodges that retain relevance have a clear amount of influence on their members lives and are capable of growth. Lodges that fail have lost any relevance to their own members. If you the reader have never been to a failing lodge, I implore you to visit one and see for yourself. Lodges that are failing, are skeletal, full of artifacts, perhaps, but lacking in any trend in modernity. In fact, often failing lodges are a window on our past; they show photos of eras long gone and tell of groupings much larger than their composition today. Successful lodges, such as Davis, Yerba Buena, and others are practicing events modeled around today’s world. The Davis Lodge, for example, does community and charitable work based upon today, such as environmental cleaning of roadways and helping foster children who have “aged out” of the foster care system. Yerba Buena Odd Fellows Lodge, along with several other Bay Area Odd Fellows Lodges, such as Alameda and Berkeley sponsored appearances in the largest parades in the Bay Area, including, to the horror of some regressive members, the Gay Pride Parade, never mind the fact that hundreds of veterans traditionally march in the Gay Pride Parade. Many successful lodges have experienced at least a leveling of their membership by practicing diversity, not charity directly, of course, but practice of a charitable spirit.
We see that we can sustain growth by having some influence with our members. If a member among us is tired, hungry, homeless, depressed, we should feel compelled to help in some way. If we do not, how are we practicing our own mandates? Almost out of a work by Dickens, we can’t house all the homeless, feed all the hungry, lighten the load of all those depressed but those among us who are in need, physically or spiritually, should be the recipient of something relevant from our own lodge. Isn’t it tiresome to hear that another failing lodge closed without even a sign of relevance? To grow, requirement one should be to assist one’s own members in their times of need. Show a sign that we care. To me, lodges close, because first, they have made the conscious decision to fail to care. Lastly, some members look at their lodges as a profit center. This was never the point of the Odd Fellows. We must maintain our lodges, but we are also compelled by no less than the IRS code to assist our members. We are all brothers and sisters, theoretically, at least that is the pronouncement we make at every occasion.
Do any of us go home hungry, or lonely, or embittered? Then we have failed at a basic lodge level. This is not just a gesture to be extended at Christmas time, but every day within every year. Either we practice what we preach or what we preach is a lie. Membership growth is fostered by an exhibition of the human heart, nothing less. Lodges fail, and we all fail, when we fail to care about our own members. I remember when I was still new in the order and riding with another member to visit a distant lodge passing a member who had broken down in her car. We didn’t stop and help her and that has haunted me to this very day. I have no recollection why we didn’t stop, but if we fail to help a member in their moment of need, what does that say about all of us and our precepts? We are all mortal, and particularly those who profess deep religious beliefs are truly fooling themselves if they are looking for a spot in heaven while denying a crust of bread to someone we encounter on this earth.
In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles
1. Membership has fallen to less than 15. This is a pretty big red flag. We all know that only about half the members on the books really show up for meetings. Accordingly, if your Lodge has 14 members on the books, it’s likely you really only have 6 or 7 active members – and it goes down from there. A bare quorum to have a Lodge is 5. Frankly, that number is more of an historical paean (Thomas Wildey started his Lodge with 5) than a realistic number for a functional Lodge. To have 5 members means you can go through the charade of a meeting. Having 6 or 7 isn’t much better. If your Lodge has not brought in a new member in years, you are in trouble.
2. No member under 65 years of age. If your Lodge’s members are all 65 and older, your Lodge is flirting with disaster. Believe me, there is nothing wrong with members in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond (I’m in my 70’s myself). But if ALL your members are in that age bracket, it means your Lodge has been asleep for at least a generation – more likely two generations – in the quest to bring in new members. A healthy Lodge has members of all ages. As older members move on or pass on, there has to always be another generation available to learn the ropes and take over. That’s what allows a fraternity to survive for centuries.
3. Meetings in the afternoon. I find this next to incredible, but there are actually Lodges that schedule their Lodge meetings in the middle of the afternoon. I scratch my head in wonder at this. If your Lodge has done this, then the Lodge has hung up a virtual sign that says: “No young people and no working people need apply.”
4. Inadequate signage. There are Odd Fellows Lodges – many of them located in the heart of the downtown – that are almost invisible because they have grossly inadequate signage. An old sign that says IOOF that is next to the roof line is inadequate. A small sign over or next to a doorway doesn’t do it. You have to tell the community who you are and where you are. Lodges without adequate signage are subtly saying to the community: “Don’t bother us. Keep away.”
5. Lodge supported by associate members. I have visited Lodges that are, in reality, out of business, but they continue to function through associate members. In fact, many of these Lodges function because the members have reciprocal associate member status. Rather than bring in new members, these revolving associate members prop up a Lodge that would collapse on its own. This may keep the Lodge afloat for a few years, but inevitably, the Lodge is just a facade, supported by the kindness of brothers and sisters from other Lodges. Rather than recruit new members from the community, they just rely on associates.
6. Officers holding long terms in office. A sure way to stifle a Lodge is for one or two members to keep a death grip on Lodge offices. There is certainly something to be said for desk officers serving longer terms, perhaps up to 3 or 5 years, and sometimes Noble Grands must serve more than one term. But this should be the exception, not the rule. It is not healthy for a Lodge to be controlled by one or two members.
7. Lodge lacks accessibility. Most Lodges have two stories, sometimes three. If access is limited, the Lodge cannot be open to all members of the community – in particular members who are disabled in some way. A primal goal of every Lodge is to make all its facilities accessible. When facilities are accessible, the Lodge can schedule community events and rent out the Hall when not in Lodge use. Without access, the Lodge is not being fully utilized. When you open the Lodge to the community, you encourage members of the community to join.
8. No community events or projects. If a Lodge has no community outreach, and not even one project to benefit the community, it is a Lodge with no visibility, and little purpose. Virtually no one wants to join a Lodge where all the members do is sit around and recite from a small red book. Every Lodge should be visible in the community, and every Lodge should have at least one community project. Failure to do so will make it pretty hard to bring in new members, particularly younger members.
9. No fun for members. A Lodge of Odd Fellows is not a church, synagogue or temple. A Lodge is part of a fraternal order. And an important element of fraternal life is a social life. Lodges that have no little or social life are boring Lodges. Who wants to remain a member of a boring Lodge? Who wants to apply to join a boring Lodge?
If you see one or two of these warning signs in your Lodge, it’s time to take some action. If you see three or four of these warning signs, the time to take some action is urgent. Five or six of these signs should be a flashing red light of an emergency. And if your Lodge displays more than six of these signs, it may already be too late for your ship to avoid the iceberg.
But I won’t leave you without recourse. It’s not the intent of DMC to simply alert you to danger. We wish to also give you some tools to steer away from danger, save your Lodge, and give you some ideas to grow your Lodge in your community. So, next week’s DMC Newsletter will be dedicated to the following subject: How to Resuscitate a Dying Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
It’s almost that time.
Believe it or not, the annual Grand Lodge and Rebekah Assembly Sessions is coming up in just three months – May 16-19 in Visalia. A fair amount of business will be transacted, elections will be held, appointments will be made, acquaintances will be renewed, and there may even be some time for a bit of fun. And one of those fun activities will be the annual DMC “Tacos and Tunes” evening. Please mark your calendars. That evening will be Thursday, May 17 at the Convention Center next to the Visalia Marriott Hotel. Details regarding the specific room location at the Convention Center and start time will be announced in the coming weeks. I can tell you that there will be a sumptuous taco bar buffet, a no-host bar, and lots of live entertainment. It’s the place to be on Thursday evening.
We keep the price tag on this event quite low because a number of generous Lodges contribute money as Sponsors of the event. Because of their sponsorship the expenses are subsidized and the cost to individual Odd Fellows, Rebekahs and their guests is reduced. The actual “admission fee” will be announced in the next few weeks as soon as we determine how much the sponsoring Lodges have contributed.
I’m pleased to announce that the following Lodges have already stepped up and agreed to be Sponsors of the DMC “Tacos and Tunes”:
Alameda #3 $500
Yerba Buena #15 $250
Davis #169 $250
Morse #257 $25
If YOUR Lodge wishes to be listed and recognized as a Sponsor of this fun event, and help reduce the cost for your brothers and sisters, please let me know in response to this e-mail. And mail your Lodge’s sponsorship check, payable to “Grand Lodge of California” to:
Dave Rosenberg, PGM
Odd Fellows Lodge
415 2nd Street
Davis CA 95616
We welcome the sponsorship of your Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California