Do You Have a Plan?
Toby Hanson, Deputy Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Washington, IOOF
On a cold December day I finally realized something important about my knowledge of Odd Fellowship: I knew how to find answers to just about any procedural question in the Code of General Laws; I knew the signs and passwords of the lodge, Grand Lodge, encampment, and Grand Encampment; I knew the Grand Secretaries of all the neighboring jurisdictions; but I didn’t know how to turn on the heat in the lodge hall.
My lodge, Buckley #75, has produced a Sovereign Grand Master, Art Craig. His portrait looks benevolently down on the Noble Grand’s station, keeping watch over everything we do in our lodge. However, when it comes to getting information on how to operate the systems of the lodge or its building, the portrait is frustratingly mute. Until two years ago, we had a senior member who did just about everything in the lodge. She would cook the meals, clean the floors, tell us what to do and when, and file all necessary paperwork. She knew where the paper towels for the bathrooms were kept, she knew where the good china was stored, she knew how to fill out annual report forms, she knew who to call when there was a leak in the roof, she knew pretty much everything that needed to be known to keep the lodge and its building functional. She passed away two years ago and the lodge has been scrambling ever since to discover and re-learn everything that was in her head when she left us.
I first realized that something was different when I noticed that things weren’t being kept up in the lodge hall. Paper towels didn’t get replaced in the bathrooms. Dishes didn’t get washed in the kitchen. Garbage wasn’t taken out. At first, I didn’t think too much of it. Someone always took care of those things in the past so I assumed someone would deal with it in the future. After a couple months I realized that no such “someone” was taking care of anything. A couple months later, on that cold December day, the heat wouldn’t turn on. I had always counted on someone showing up and turning on the heat by the time I got to lodge. I didn’t even know where the thermostat was.
In any organization there’s something called “institutional knowledge:” the knowledge inherent in the institution which is necessary to the function of the organization. This can be anything from procedural information, like how to file reports, to where supplies are stored or what day the garbage is picked up. In Buckley #75, all of our institutional knowledge was invested in only one person and, when she passed away, that knowledge was lost. Now we’re going through the difficult and time-consuming process of rebuilding that store of knowledge.
Think for a moment about your lodge: how many people actually know the details of how the lodge functions? The Noble Grand? The Secretary? Treasurer? Trustees? A respected senior member? This institutional knowledge needs to be shared and written down. Multiple people in the lodge should know how to take care of the building and its basic functions. They should know how to handle water, sewer, garbage, electricity, phones, and any other utility services. They should know when to file any necessary reports or returns with local and/or state governments. They should know how to look things up in the Code of General Laws. They should know how to contact the Grand Lodge and/or District Deputy to find necessary information. All too often we fall into the comfortable place of letting others do things for us in the lodge and fail to recognize the value of what they know how to do. That’s how I found myself in the situation of not having any paper towels, having a kitchen full of dirty dishes, having a stuffed garbage can, and having no heat in December.
In an effort to get up to speed with everything that needs to be learned to operate the lodge, I visited the Rebekah Lodge that shares our hall. They still had some older, experienced members who could answer some questions about the hall. Turns out the paper towels are stored in a cabinet in the dining hall. We have soap and a dish strainer in the kitchen. Garbage is picked up on Wednesday morning at 7am and the can needs to be out at the curb. The thermostat is on the wall behind the Vice Grand’s station. Fortunately for me, our Rebekah sisters were happy to share their knowledge of how to run the hall so I could get things cleaned up and back on track.
The heat was a little more complex. Even with the thermostat on, the furnace wouldn’t work. Several service calls later, I got someone to come out and fix the furnace. It was originally installed sometime in the 1950s and had seen a lot of use through the years and little maintenance. With some long-deferred maintenance and a new gas valve, it started working again and keeping our meetings warm.
Our lodge secretary was able to get together with a member from another lodge to learn how to fill out the annual report forms. Calls to the Grand Secretary yielded valuable information about how to do other administrative tasks for the lodge. We were able to get the information that we needed so we could do a competent job of running the lodge.
The challenge now is how to maintain that information and pass it along to the Odd Fellows of the future. I’m working on writing a simple guide to basic systems in the lodge hall. A simple spec sheet outlining how to do simple things like turn on the heat, locate the electrical panel/water meter/gas valve, turn off water, gas, and electricity, find supplies, take out the garbage, etc. will allow future members to avoid the problems I’ve faced in the past six months. I also plan on getting more members involved in the regular upkeep and maintenance of the building so that there are more people familiar with how things operate. For the administrative side, it’s easier now without that one senior member who insisted on doing all the administrative tasks herself. While that may seem helpful, it’s actually detrimental as it makes it harder for members to learn the administrative side of running the lodge. We now have a Noble Grand, Vice Grand, Secretary, and Treasurer with a lot more experience in how to run things. They know how we manage our finances, how we communicate with the Grand Lodge, and how we handle day-to-day business.
I would encourage each of you to start collecting the institutional knowledge in your lodge. There need to be multiple people who can handle administrative and maintenance issues as they arise. Write it down, share it, preserve it. It’s especially important to do this if you have older members with a lot of experience running the lodge. They may know things about your building and its quirks that could take months or years and lots of expense to discover. Most of all, make sure you have a plan to ensure that the knowledge used to run your lodge can be passed along to future members. As inspiring as it is to have a Past Sovereign Grand Master peering down at you, he can’t tell you where the thermostat is.