By Toby Hanson, Deputy Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Washington, IOOF
Since I joined the Executive Committee of the Grand Lodge of Washington upon my election as Grand Warden, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling and visiting lodges in my jurisdiction. The experience has taught me a lot about the workings of various different lodges. One of the most important things I’ve picked up in my travels is that some lodges tend to have more of an internal focus and some have more of an external focus.
A lodge with an internal focus is one that tends to pay most of its attention to what’s happening inside its building. It’s focused on the people who are already members, on the activities of those people, on the building itself, and generally just on survival. Inwardly-focused lodges tend to be small, don’t have much of a presence in their communities, don’t interact with other components of Odd Fellowship, and don’t see many new people come through their doors. Often times these lodges are consumed with just existing. They’re trying to get a quorum of members out to meetings, trying to have enough money to pay per capita taxes, trying to just keep the doors open and maintain functionality. These are often the lodges of long-suffering members who know and remember the “good times” and work as hard as they can to prolong the life of their lodge until that glorious day when things turn around. Frequently the outsides of these buildings will be somewhat dingy and run down, with obvious signs that nothing interesting happens there.
A lodge with an external focus is one that tends to pay most of its attention to what’s happening outside of its building. It’s focused on the community surrounding it and what’s going on in that community. Such a lodge is usually volunteering for community events and participating in various social and charitable activities. Their lodge halls are usually a hub of community activity with a lot of events and other things happening. Those lodge halls are generally some of the nicer looking buildings in their communities. Lodge members are often times well-known around town for their community involvement. They march in parades and volunteer to help out at a lot of events. It’s usually pretty easy to find these people and their lodge hall in town.
There’s nothing inherently bad about either type of lodge. After all, as Odd Fellows, our roots are planted in mutual aid and assistance. We’re supposed to pay attention to the needs of our fellow members. Inward-focused lodges can be very successful and their members can enjoy Odd Fellowship very much. However, if your lodge wants to grow, it’s much easier to grow if at least some of your focus is outward. What kind of fraternal experience are you offering prospective members if your lodge doesn’t do anything besides open, pay bills, and close? If a prospective member were to watch two weeks of your lodge activities what would he or she see? Fun opportunities for fraternalism and volunteering? Dinners and other social gatherings? Brief, focused business meetings? Tidy, attractive lodge hall? Would there be anything for a prospective member to do in your lodge after he or she joined? All of the previous things I listed are things that are attractive to potential members. They all offer the kind of personal connection that makes fraternalism successful. People like to feel that they’re part of something useful and engaging. An active, outwardly-focused lodge gives many opportunities for community members to interact with lodge members and find out about their work. As one of our Past Grand Masters said, “A lodge that is open to their community is a lodge that will have that community as members.”
If your lodge is currently one of those with a more inward focus, there’s no need to worry. A lot of lodges have an inward focus because they’re small and they have a lot of business they need to deal with. Maybe it’s a leaking roof or some other building maintenance issue, maybe it’s just the worry of whether or not enough people will show up to make quorum. No matter the reason why, it’s possible to refocus your lodge on the community outside. Consider volunteering once a month at a local community group or charity like a senior center or food bank. Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Send press releases to your local community newspaper or blog about your meetings. Send letters to community groups and churches offering your hall for their use for events too large for their own spaces in exchange for a donation. Send letters to other fraternal, community, or charitable groups telling them about who you are and what you do and invite them to pay you a visit before a meeting. Offer to partner up with a youth organization in your area like 4H, FFA, or Boy/Girl Scouts. You could even just put chairs on the sidewalk in front of your lodge hall and talk to passers-by before a lodge meeting to tell them about who you are and what you do. Those are all approaches I’ve seen lodges take to build bridges to their communities. Not all were equally successful, but it’s impossible to know what’s going to be successful until you put some of them into practice and give them a chance to succeed. The most important thing to remember is that to grow, lodges have to have a focus beyond the boundaries of their lodge halls. They have to consider their place in their communities and in what way they interact. Isolation is the beginning of the end for most lodges because once new people don’t come through the door, the days of a lodge’s existence are numbered.