July 19, 2014 in Grand Lodge
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There was a time when the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was the largest fraternal order in the United States.
Yes, it’s true. Odd Fellows had more members than all other fraternal orders, including Masons. In those years, about a century ago, America had a multitude of fraternities. It was an age when hundreds of fraternal orders formed and flourished. It was the goal of many Americans – in the time before television and movies – to be part of a fraternity, and fraternities had a friendly competition with one another for members and for prominence. In those days, Grand Lodge sessions drew literally thousands of participants. Patriarchs Militant marched through the streets in parades, numbering hundreds, complete with uniformed marching bands.
Well, we’ve traveled down a long road since those days. I recently saw some statistics about fraternal numbers today. These statistics are revealing. Comparing Odd Fellows to two other fraternal orders today we see the following: Masons show 5,000,000 members in 30,000 Lodges in over 100 countries. Elks show 800,000 members in 2,000 Lodges in 5 countries. Odd Fellows show 190,000 members in 10,000 Lodges in 28 countries. What do these number tell us? Primarily, of course, they show that Odd Fellowship has fallen, rather dramatically, from its prominence as the largest fraternity in the United States. Those halcyon days are long gone. Today, our Odd Fellows Order is a mile wide and an inch deep; we have a lot of Lodges, but relatively few members in each Lodge. The numbers show that entities such as the Masons average 166 members per Lodge. Odd Fellows average 18 members per Lodge. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that an 18-member Lodge is “challenged”. We all know that, in a typical Lodge, the number of members “on the books” don’t reflect the number of active members – a Lodge with 18 members on the books, might have in reality only 9 or 10 members who participate as active members, and the rest are members on paper. And if 18 is the “average”, then we know that a number of Lodges will be above that number and a number of Lodges will be below that number.
California Odd Fellows’ numbers appear to be a tad better than the international numbers. In California we have 120 Lodges and we have about 4,700 members. That translates to 39 members per Lodge, on average. But even that average number is misleading. California has two Lodges with 300 or more members, two Lodges with 200 or more members, and two Lodges with 100 or more members. The other 114 Lodges have 99 or fewer members. Taking out the numbers for those six largest Lodges, we are left with an average of only 29 members for the remaining 114 Lodges. If we assume only half the members are “active” and the rest are essentially “paper” members, those 114 Lodges average about 14 or 15 “active” members. Worse, again, we are talking about “average”. We know that there are many Lodges above, and many Lodges below the average. And we know that there are a significant number of California Lodges with 10 or fewer “active” members.
The warning light has been blinking “yellow” for Odd Fellowship for the last 50 years. The light is now blinking “red”.
What’s the solution?
The solution is not words, slogans or platitudes. We can’t “wish” the problem away. We don’t solve the problem of membership decline by catchy slogans, or mottoes, or choosing flowers, or colors, or songs as part of our annual program. The solution is action. And that action must be local and must be focused. Some have suggested that we spend a lot of money on television advertising to bring members into our Order. That would be a mistake (and a pretty darn expensive one), because it’s not national or regional television ads that will revive our Order. Odd Fellowship can be saved by one thing, and one thing alone: Current members of this Order must bring new members into our Lodges. That is a responsibility for each of us who profess to be “true” Odd Fellows. It’s not the job of “the other guy”. It’s our job, you and I. And our job of bringing in members is made infinitely easier if our respective Lodges offer a full plate of fun activities for the members and good works for the community. It’s hard enough to bring in new members. It’s even harder – nearly impossible – to attract new members to a Lodge that does little more than have meetings and an occasional potluck.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
July 17, 2014 in Grand Lodge
This is the primary question each of our lodges and the members within them should ask themselves. If we simply say, we are Odd Fellows then we have not done anything to make our lodges any more distinctive than the Elks Lodge, the Lions Club, or any of the other myriad of groups searching for members. We need to have an identity. In the state of California, we can proudly point to our retirement communities, our Rebekah Children’s Services, and other activities that we engage in, but in attracting members to our specific communities, we need to offer something locally. Many lodges do, so they are able to at least sustain their members but other lodges, and way too many, offer nothing to attract new members. It matters very little what you do, whether it’s a revisiting of history, a pancake breakfast, a car show, a wine tasting, a chess club, a bowling tournament, an Easter egg hunt, anything, but if you have nothing to offer, what makes you think membership will suddenly increase? There was a time 50 years ago when business people would join a lodge just to make business contacts, but no longer. Why is that? Because there is little or no activity within a lodge to warrant a business man joining to make contacts: they have become too small and often peopled with members of retirement age and often times near death.
The best way to test this theory is to ask ourselves how do we describe our lodge to a prospective member? If we can’t then it’s evident that our lodge has little or no identity. Like them or not, successful lodges have identities, and can attract new members based upon this. Lodges with five members who meet in a shadowy room in the dead of night no matter how well meaning are only partially a lodge. In the heyday of lodges, this would not even be brought into question, but in today’s world where many of us have experience with failing lodges we are often called to defend such lodges, but deep down I suspect we all know the truth. A lodge with five active members will soon cease to be a lodge just by virtue of mortality rates, so we need to stop fighting about the facts and start dealing with the reality. By ignoring reality we only seal their fates. Do we really think that ignoring a problem will allow it to go away? We are all mortal, we all will get old and die, and if we really want our order to continue, we will concern ourselves with the growth of our order in general and in particular with each and every lodge.
The DMC was an idea dreamt up by a few dreamers in the Odd Fellows, Past Sovereign Grand Master Don Smith, Deputy Grand Master Dave Rosenberg, Grand Warden Peter Sellars and myself. Our sole intention is to gain new members, and happily, we have found in the state of California, we are now moving in a positive direction. The DMC does not take credit for this but at least we are sure that we do not deter new members and there are those within our order who seem to be absolutely resistant to new members. We need to face the simple facts that without new members our days are numbered. There will be growing pains as there are in every instance. There will be problems and issues as there are in every group, but consider the alternative: shall we continue to shutter lodges, meet with fewer and fewer members, deal with dilapidated properties, struggle with dwindling funds, and argue with obstinate individuals about who is in charge of a group of three? The clear answer is that we must go into the light and not away from the light: we must move forward or we accept failure. If you are one of the few remaining who oppose DMC, what is your suggestion? What, dear fellow member, is your idea for growth, because, to be clear, we would support it. The point is, that growth is our goal, and how we each go about it, is up to us individually. The point is that we all need to be supportive of each other. We will succeed if we stick together. If we just want to argue about how to succeed we are missing the larger issue which is growth. Let’s look at growing lodges and take away what we can use. Some things may look crazy but upon closer examination seem inviting – let’s not be too hasty to judge another’s point of view. If we remember our core beliefs, we will survive, if we don’t we will continue to deteriorate…let’s take the news of a leveling off and use it to climb into the future with open eyes and hearts.
In F.,L., & T.,
Rick Boyles, Jr. Past Grand Master
July 13, 2014 in Grand Lodge
For several years, I have focused on one major subject: How do we stop the decline in membership of this Order? In my opinion, the steady decline of membership in the Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, and all our branches is the single greatest challenge we face today. Frankly, it is a matter of survival. I have raised this issue again and again, and over the years I have suggested numerous ways in which we can evolve, change, and truly reverse the course of our decline. I would say that I have accomplished at least part of my mission – virtually everyone in the Order now at least recognizes the problem of declining membership, and many have sought to address the problem in various ways.
In fact, we are beginning to show some signs of progress after 66 years of almost continual free-fall in our membership numbers. Two years ago, the decline slowed considerably. And last year, it had almost come to a halt. With further work, I believe our Order in California may actually show a slight increase in membership in the next year or two.
But as I have also often said, the solution to declining membership cannot be found at Sovereign Grand Lodge nor at Grand Lodge – although these entities can certainly make fundamental changes to the Codes that will make it much easier for our Lodges to thrive and attract new members. At bottom, the retention of existing members and the introduction of new members into our Order can only be accomplished by the members themselves (you and I) with the assistance and support of our respective Lodges. As members, we cannot look to “the other guy” to solve the problem. The solution is in each of our minds, hearts and hands.
To this end, please see the actual letter (printed below) that I received, which was sent out recently by a Noble Grand to the members of his/her Lodge.
This is a powerful letter.
I have deleted some identifying words in this letter. I do not identify this NG, nor do I identify his/her Lodge nor the area where the Lodge is located. I don’t identify these things because they are not really relevant. This NG could be the NG of 100 different Lodges in California, and hundreds more throughout the United States and Canada. This is a Noble Grand who really cares about the decline of his/her Lodge and the (dare we say it?) complacency of most of the members.
Please read the letter below. Could this be your Lodge?
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows — July 2014
————- Lodge # —–
Subject: LODGE MEMBERSHIP AND STATUS
Dear Brothers and Sisters
SOME TIME IN THE FUTURE: It is with heavy heart that I inform you of the closing of our Lodge # ——. This closing has been coming for many years as the membership, attendance and Lodge participation has been dwindling throughout the past two decades. Members age and either can or no longer want to participate. Our formal meetings barely make the necessary quorum. New members have been difficult to enroll. An example is in 2013, the Lodge enrolled 4 new members but sadly 3 of those quit participating before the end of the year. The Lodge functions have been supported by the same 5-7 members who also are ageing and are overwhelmed by the load they have. For those reasons, this Lodge will consolidate with another Lodge and the ————– building returned to the Grand Lodge for disposal.
BACK TO THE PRESENT : No, the Grand Lodge is NOT consolidating ———- Lodge # —– at this time. However, the above message is one which members will receive in the near future unless membership apathy changes. Membership has been declining, not only at this Lodge but State and Nationwide. Active members are becoming tired of carrying the load for those who do not participate. The facility is becoming run down. We have —- Odd Fellow members on the roll, however less than 1/3 seem to ever make it to any activity. The last social function, hosted by the Rebekahs, had only two Odd Fellows in attendance. Other social functions have experienced less than 20 attendees including both Rebekahs and Odd Fellows. Even the free dinner social, provided due to the membership stimulus funding from the Grand Lodge, was attended by only 34 people including spouses, children, and a few guests. A poor turnout and why is that?
This Lodge has and is starting some great projects. We have established a community benefit with the Adopt-A-Highway and are initiating a cooperative effort with an organization in ———— that provides clothing and necessaries for single moms and their children. We are awarding three scholarships this year to High School graduates. Members from Lodge # —- have been very active in helping our sister lodges in starting their own breakfast fundraiser. We are in the process of obtaining bids to renovate the hall. We have supported the Three Links Camp in both funding and in labor. We hosted, in conjunction with the Rebekah’s a two day art class which culminated with a spaghetti feed. Very little funds were made from that. And, finally we are developing a web page for this Lodge, which will provide active news and a calendar of events. We are still planning the annual —— event at my house on — August (hope you can make that). Many other ideas for fundraisers and socials are being considered. But again the core 5-7 members attending our meetings cannot do this alone. I commend those members who have dedicated themselves to the Order but we need everyone involved.
Let me ask a few thought provoking questions:
- Since less than 1/3 of our members are participating in Lodge events, and most of those for the Sunday breakfast If you are not involved, what do you get from your membership?
- The lodge pays almost $50 each year per person as a tax to the Grand Lodge. The $40 most members pay does not cover that. Should we raise membership fees?
- What is this Lodge doing wrong or not doing that prevents you from participating more fully? We have reduced our formal meetings to one each month. I understand that some people work, some are ill but is one meeting a month too much?
- A number of the proposals which have been made by members on how to change Lodge # —– e.g. Increased socials e.g. baseball games, bingo night fundraisers, card nights at the lodge, etc. Wouldn’t you like to contribute to those changes?
- The converse of that, I would like to hear from you as to how this lodge should change to enable increased attendance and entice new members. The Grand Lodge is encouraging us to be more relevant in today’s environment. How do we accomplish that from your perspective. Please e-mail me at ————– and let me know your thoughts.
Now is the time for you to step up for your lodge. Yes, I understand that you did or may have stepped up sometime in the past but your efforts are direly needed now. We are having a series of meeting with this as a topic in the Good of the Order section. Attend and share your thoughts if you care about your organization. Also, we will be having a picnic on ——- at —— park in ————— starting at 10 AM. Come and help cook the lunch and provide me your ideas, criticism and concepts then. Hope to see you there or at a Lodge meeting.
Sincerely, in Friendship, Love, & Truth.
————- ————–, NG