For a fraternal order to survive, there is nothing more important than bringing new members into the Lodge. Without new members, the Lodge will diminish over time, will wither and will eventually die. And, this is a task that is necessarily performed on an on-going basis. There is no time for complacency. If a Lodge skips a few years in the process of initiating new members, that Lodge may find that it has lost an entire generation of membership. This is a gap that is extremely difficult to overcome. A Lodge where the youngest members are in their 60’s will have great difficulty recruiting new members in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. I have visited Lodges where no new members have been brought in for over five years, or where the youngest member is 68 years of age, or where the only new member brought into over the last 10 years was Uncle “John” or Cousin “Sally.” Ignoring the need for new members, or simply bringing in a relative or two is a sign of the laziness and selfishness of the current members. It says: “We only care about keeping the Lodge comfortable for ourselves, and we could care less about the future of this Lodge or the Order.”
New members are not only the lifeblood of a fraternity, but they bring new energy and skills to the Lodge “gene pool”. Without that new energy and those skills, a Lodge may find itself dependent on fewer and fewer members with lesser and lesser skills to handle the multiple duties that fall upon Lodge members.
A few of our members have remarkable skills in the recruiting new members. Lodges should recognize those skills and make sure that those members are the core of the Lodge’s Membership Committee. And let’s hope that your Lodge HAS a Membership Committee. As membership development and recruitment is such a primal function, the lack of a Membership Committee, to me, is a red flag of a Lodge that is (or will be) in trouble. While the task of bringing in new members is a responsibility of each and every one of us, a Membership Committee, which can coordinate the effort, is a critical component to a membership development plan.
And having such a plan is pretty important. Except in the case of a handful of extremely active, community-involved, and high-visibility Lodges, potential new members do not just walk into the Lodge asking, “How can I join the Odd Fellows.” The vast majority of Lodges should develop a plan to expose the Lodge to the community and recruit new members. Those plans can include things such as a Lodge brochure (outlining who you are and what you do), a community evening (where you open your doors to the community – a good opportunity is the annual anniversary of your Lodge’s charter), community-serving events, as well as fun social events for the members and their guests.
For most members, the hardest part of membership development is that first contact. What do you say?
Well, the simplest thing is to invite your friend or neighbor or co-worker to a Lodge activity. Perhaps, it is a St. Patrick’s Day Party with a Trivia Quiz. Or perhaps it is Poker Night at the Lodge. Or perhaps the Lodge is renting a bus to visit some wineries or cheese factories. Whatever it might be, having a function is a great ice breaker and an excellent way to expose the Lodge and its membership to a new prospect. Of course, if your Lodge has NO activities, then you are limited to talking about the Lodge Hall and the rich history of the Order. Realistically, however, if a Lodge is active the prospect of coming into contact with potential members is heightened and the opportunity to discuss something of mutual interest is increased Helping foster children, working to stock the local food bank, assisting frail seniors in their homes – activities like these resonate with potential members.
In my own Lodge I have found that virtually every time we host an activity open to the community, inevitably there will be guests who express an interest in learning about IOOF, and thus the door is opened for a productive discussion and a potential member. A recent example of this dynamic occurred just a few months ago when I proposed and my Lodge hosted our first ever “Chocolate Festival”. We opened our Lodge to the community with chocolate vendors, chocolate-making demonstrations, music with a chocolate theme, dinner with “chicken mole over rice”, chocolate beverages, and more. It was all things chocolate, all the time. During that event, three young women in their early 20’s expressed an interest in our Lodge, discussions ensued, and all three ultimately applied and were initiated. All three have already dived in and are active in the Lodge.
If a Lodge is invisible in its community, it is unlikely to attract new members. If a Lodge is visible in its community, the chance to make connections to new members is dramatically increased.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master