Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Let’s begin with basic mathematics. If, in a given year, a Lodge loses members (because they pass away, stop paying dues, move away, etc.) and doesn’t add members in sufficient numbers to cover the losses, it will show a net loss of members for that year. If that scenario continues year after year, the Lodge will deteriorate, diminish, and eventually die. This is not rocket science. It’s just math. Unfortunately, it is the path on which most of our Lodges find themselves. Let me now give you a different, more hopeful scenario.
There are a few of our Lodges that have shown a net gain of members year after year. This net gain experienced by some Lodges is not a fictional or theoretical scenario – it is real. The fact that there are some Lodges that increase membership proves a very important point: There is nothing inherent in Odd Fellowship that would cause our Order to decline. The fact that many Lodges are declining in membership has nothing to do with our Order or FLT. It has everything to do with the MEMBERS of that Lodge not doing their jobs. And their jobs are to make their Lodge relevant to the community, to ensure that membership is an enjoyable experience, and to recruit new members.
So, all this begs the question: Why do some Odd Fellows Lodges increase their membership and some do not? I have often discussed the basic premise supporting gains in membership: Creating the three-dimensional Lodge which emphasizes (1) the ritual and unique historic character of Odd Fellowship; (2) active community outreach and charitable involvement; and (3) an active and fun social and fraternal life. Without all three dimensions, a Lodge will struggle to obtain and retain members.
In this article, I wish to discuss an important adjunct to the three-dimensional Lodge: How to process applicants for membership. Generally, Odd Fellows Lodges go about this all wrong. The tendency in many Lodges is to rush the applicant into initiation as soon as possible – often with little or no preparation for the applicant. It’s as if the Lodge fears it will lose the applicant if it delays. But once this applicant attends his or her first meeting, they often wonder what they got themselves in for and many quietly stop attending and fade away. I suggest that the exact opposite approach is desirable – we should make the process of joining somewhat challenging for the applicant. If we do so, the applicant will be more motivated and will become more knowledgeable.
In my Lodge we have established a process that takes an applicant four to six months between submission of the application and initiation. Here’s how it works:
1. When an application is received, the Chair of the Membership Committee meets with the applicant and explains the process. Upon submission of the application form, the applicant is designated as a member of a “Pledge Class” (e.g. the Summer 2017 Pledge Class) along with other applicants. Because of the number of applicants we receive, we have three Pledge Classes each year. The applicant is referred to our website which contains a great deal of information about our Lodge, and is also asked to print out a “Pledge Book” which is available on the website.
2. The Pledge Book is full of useful information on the Lodge and Odd Fellowship in general. The applicant is asked to bring the Pledge Book with him or her every time he or she comes to the Lodge. The applicant is required to attend a minimum of 8 social meetings or Lodge events (each signed off and confirmed by a member), and to interview a minimum of 13 Lodge members (each interview signed off by the interviewee). Most attend and interview more than the minimum. A one-page “interview form” is provided in the Pledge Book for every interview. The interviews are great ways to break the ice, and allow applicants and members to get to know one another. Applicants are also asked to join one of the many Lodge committees, and many do.
3. After a process which takes at least four months (and sometimes as much as six months) the applicants are interviewed by the Membership Committee, acting as the Interviewing Committee. Among other things, the Pledge Book is reviewed to make sure the applicant has completed the minimum requirements, and the applicant is tested about his or her knowledge of Odd Fellowship. If the Membership Committee is satisfied, it will make recommendations to the membership as a whole.
The Membership will vote on each applicant. If successful, they are initiated with a much greater knowledge of Odd Fellowship and the Lodge than when they first applied. We find that new members who go through this somewhat rigorous process are not only more knowledgeable, but are more enthusiastic. They tend to stick around and participate year after year. I do not present this process to you so that you can emulate it. I simply present a process to you that has proven to be remarkably successful for our Lodge. You might find elements of it that will work for your Lodge.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master