Last week, my Chapter had a Past Matron and Patron dinner, after which we took time to honor those who had held that office, as well as give out a 50 year pin. When the Worthy Matron asked all those who had served as Worthy Matron or Patron to stand, I looked around the room. I was the only one not standing. I am the youngest in my Chapter by about 20 years. There are a few members my age, but I tend to be the only one who is there on a regular basis. My first thought was that I wished that there were more people at least in my generation that were members of my Chapter. My realization was that, at least partially, this is my fault. My 60+ year old Associate Conductress doesn’t know any 20 somethings, nor do any of the other members. Grandchildren are an option, but many member’s families do not live in the area. So, I have decided to take it upon myself to help breathe some new life into my chapter. Right now I am just doing some research, so this post is as much for myself as it is for you.
The main issue is that Freemasonry, and most of its affiliated groups, are aging organizations. Many members are 60 years or older, and they do not have a great influx of younger members. I think that this happens for a few reasons. Many youth in youth groups like DeMolay or Rainbow for Girls, are not educated on the groups that help run and support them. Since they are often not, or undereducated, they do not become members of adult groups. This issue tends to extend far beyond the youth groups, and into society overall. Many people, especially young people, do not know that Masonry or OES even exist, or think they are long gone, or a secret society that no one can really join. This is, unfortunetly, something that we did to ourselves. Masonic groups attempted to be so secreative in the 50’s and 60’s, that people forgot any other way ever existed. This results in things like, adult children not knowing that their parent was a Mason or a member until their death. Masonry, at least Blue Lodge Masonry, is forbidden to advertise. This causes numerous problems, espeicially in today’s society of constant information. Many affiliated groups follow suit, except for the Shrine. The Shriners are the best known group of Masonry, because they are the ones that not only advertise, but members openly affiliate themselves in public. Even someone who claims to know nothing about Masonry has heard of a Shiner, or at least know them as “the guys with fezzes and tiny cars”. Unfortunetly, this can often lead to members who want to get through Blue Lodge degrees as quickly as possible so they can join the Shrine. Many Chapters, and a few Grand Lodges have changed their official policies on advertisement in order to attract new members. This seems to be doing well for those who go that route.
The other issue is not only attracting new members, but keeping the ones that we have. Member retention has been an issue for many years. Many people will join, go through all of the degrees, and rarely, if ever, show up again. I myself am guilty of this; I recently joined Daughters of the Nile and have not been back; the reason here is another issue, choosing the best time for optimal availability for most members. While my OES Chapter meets at 7:30 pm on aWednesday, Daughters of the Nile in my area meets at noon on a Thursday, yes, noon. People don’t come back for many reasons, often though, it’s because the group turned out to be different than what they expected. Many people join Masonic groups thinking it will be all hooded robes and secret handshakes, and are disappointed when it turns out to be more about paying rent and arguing about where money for building maintenance should be spent next. Education of the older generation can lead to issues as well. Many of our older members think than pancake dinners are the best way to bring in new members, which is often not the case.
So, what can we do about these issues? Perhaps one of the biggest problems is that there are so many options out there to help recruit new members, that Chapters and Lodges often get overwhelmed, and much, if anything gets done. It is usually best to start with one or two options, and go from there. Most of the solutions are really quite simple. There’s a ton out there, just do a Google search for “getting new members” or the like. I will share with you a few of my favorites, that I am planning on addressing with my Chapter’s membership committee.
- Have a membership committee- It sounds like such a simple solution, because it really is. Many smaller chapters do not have a dedicated committee just for membership. It’s really best to have a group of people that come together once a month or so, and come up with ideas for getting new members, as well as implementing them. Come up with fun new meetings to have, interview friends and family, and find out what is stopping them from joining; a lot can be done with this committee.
- Promote it– As I said above, many Grand Lodges or Chapters may have a “ban” on openly recruiting through advertisement. That doesn’t mean that you can’t let people know you’re out there. I am currently working on my Chapter’s Facebook page to help spread the word. Even something as simple as a flyer left on a college campus or busy business can help. Many local Shrines buy billboard ad placement, but you don’t even need to know that far; your local, non-Masonic community just needs to know that you exisit. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out, but be sure you won’t have any issues from your Grand Lodge.
- Make your events with younger members in mind- The majority of Chapter and Lodge new members are those who are younger. That being said, being young often means that your schedule can be hectic. Make your meetings at an attainable time and day, so that as many people as possible can come. (I’m looking at you Sat’ra Temple). Have more events on weekends, or later in the evening. You could also plan alternative meetings, where just minutes are read, and no business is discussed; another option would be to have a more casual meeting in addition to a normal meeting, much like the difference between the 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. church services. Many people in their 20’s and 30’s have children, so be sure to have an option every so often where the whole family can come.
- Offer a “one time deal” on your dues, and maybe even raise them- This is much more for the Lodges then anything else. My dues for OES are $20 a year, where I know that T’s Lodge is more like $150. When T joined the Shrine, it was because we were at a friendship dinner with a friend, and they were offering half off the first year of dues to anyone who signed up right there. It may also be worth it to look into rasing dues. While no one likes to pay more money, it allows the Masonic body to spend more money on new events.
- Streamline the sign up process- This one, I am not so sure we can do a ton about, but I always feel like more can be done than what we currently do. From the day I signed my petition, until my initiation, almost 4 months had gone by. I will talk more about this next week, but while there are a number of steps to go through when signing a petition, sometimes I feel like they get pushed around a bit more than need be. I also feel like more education could be done during the initiation process that could help deter people that are in it for the goat sacrifices.
So, what does the perfect Lodge look like as far as membership? I would say that T’s Lodge is actually pretty close to what I imagine a perfection would look like. His Lodge is actually so popular to join, that not only do they end up giving one degree or another each week, but they also have a waiting list to get in! What do they do that’s so different from my elderly Chapter? Not much. They have a number of young members, most of whom have been brought in by T. They are also very active, they have family dinners before every business meeting each month, they have a good time and go to the Shrine bar after every meeting, and they are active both in and out of the Masonic community. They just are a bunch of people who want to have a good time, and have no shortage of people that want to join in. I hope that someday, my Chapter can say the same. If I don’t take the initiative to help my Chapter out, our future looks bleak.
What have you tried in your Chapter or Lodge that worked? What didn’t work at all? What do you think Masonry can do to help bring in new members? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this often heated topic. Next week I will be discussing what you should expect when you first sign your petition. Until then, have a great week!