Promoting Odd Fellowship
by Toby Hanson, PGM, PGP
In my professional life I’m a musician. Just like being a plumber, carpenter, electrician, or any other tradesman, I get work in one of two ways: either people hire me directly to do a job for them or I work for someone else who gets hired to do a job. In both cases I rely on other people knowing who I am and what I do. I could sit in my home studio and just wait for people to call and email me but nobody will do that unless they know that I’m the person they should contact.
It should be no surprise that I started this article with a mention of my musical career. I draw a lot of inspiration from my professional experiences. The applicability of those experiences to Odd Fellowship should also be no surprise. As Odd Fellows, we have a number of wonderful resources that members would love to share—if only the public knew we were the place to find what they’re looking for.
For most of the history of Odd Fellowship, our Order was known as the place that helped working people. Being a member gave Odd Fellows and their families a sense of security in a world that otherwise offered little. The lodge provided financial security in the event of unexpected calamity like loss of job, health, or life. That economic incentive provided all the reason for people to search out local lodges for membership. After we gave up direct benefits to members we lost our main reason for people to join. Despite that, we still have many great reasons to be an Odd Fellow but we need to communicate those reasons to potential members so they know that they should fill out an application.
In my musical career, if nobody knows what I do or how to get ahold of me, nobody will hire me. The same thing applies to Odd Fellowship. If nobody knows who we are or what we do, nobody will be filling out applications to join. Following that analogy, we should promote Odd Fellowship. That brings up a couple of questions, though: what exactly are we promoting? To whom? If the promotion is successful, how can potential members get in touch with our lodges? Each level of the Order can have a positive effect on our promotional efforts as long as we coordinate those efforts at every level.
A beloved senior Odd Fellow once told me about some of the activities his lodge used to do over fifty years ago when he first joined. His lodge was very active and used to do things like visit various churches in town and make special offerings wearing full regalia. They would interact with other civic and charitable organizations to collaborate on projects like toy drives and fundraisers. They would participate in parades. They held dinners and invited members of other groups in their town. The short version is that they were active and did a lot of interaction with their community and always let everyone know who the Odd Fellows were and what they did. Anything that happened in that town had the Odd Fellows involved. That same lodge now has almost no interaction with the world outside the walls of their building, save for the occasional charitable donation. $50 each December to the food bank is useful and appreciated but the only publicity that comes from such a donation is at the food bank and it’s likely that those people are already aware of the lodge’s existence. For a lodge to successfully promote Odd Fellowship requires that they take an active role in their community. The closest and most direct line to the next group of members is for lodges to reach out to the members of their communities. There are a lot of ways to make that happen.
Lodges with active members can provide volunteer labor for events in town. Even if the members aren’t up to doing something active like that they can offer to pay for t-shirts for volunteers (with the Odd Fellows’ name and logo on them, of course) or they can offer their hall as a rest station or venue for the event. Besides participating in events, lodges can be more engaged by joining their local Chamber of Commerce or attending town council meetings and speaking about the lodge at the end of meetings during open comment time. Lodges should definitely have a positive relationship with local media outlets like newspapers, blogs, or Facebook groups. Send regular updates about lodge activities to those outlets and keep them all in the loop. The more their readers see the Odd Fellows name, the more important they will think Odd Fellowship is and the more likely they will be to seek out the lodge to join. Along with the more traditional media outlets, lodges shouldn’t neglect social media. A Facebook group or Instagram account can keep the online world informed and aware of what lodges are doing and showcase their activities for the community.
Local lodges need to keep in mind that reaching out and putting their message out into the community is not enough. They have to ensure that community members can successfully make contact with the lodge to turn in an application. Too many lodges suffer from a lack of external focus; they forget that they have to be open to contact from the outside world. If you were not a member already, how would you find a phone number or email address to get an application to join? Is there a sign on the outside of your hall that tells people how to contact you? Can you really be surprised that you’re not getting applications if there’s no way for people in your community to get one? Make sure that people in the community can get ahold of you to get information about membership. At the Grand Lodge level, our Order should be making sure that information about Odd Fellowship is freely available on the Internet. Grand Lodges should maintain functional, informative websites so that the public can easily get accurate information on Odd Fellowship. Even better, each jurisdictional website should have a QR code that can be put on promotional materials so that anyone with a smart phone can easily access the website. Grand Lodges should also have an active presence on social media with regular updates about activities throughout the jurisdiction. On a more personal level, our Grand Masters should be available for promotional events like parades, ribbon cuttings, memorials and other public events.
The Sovereign Grand Lodge should provide support and assistance for overall promotional efforts. That support could include things like hiring a full-time promotional assistant who would be able to manage social media presence, help members, lodges, and Grand Lodges with social media guidelines and management, build and maintain websites for individual jurisdictions that might not have the time and/or resources for that job, and coordinating promotional opportunities with other major media outlets like TV shows, radio shows, print media, and podcasts. There are actually some good promotional opportunities for Odd Fellowship that come up from time to time. More than one episode of “American Pickers” has featured items collected from defunct lodges. There have also been a few other shows on cable TV which have sought to include or promote Odd Fellowship in some form. Our Sovereign Grand Lodge should be ready, willing, and able to help the producers of those shows tell our story to the wider world. Similar to how a Grand Master should be a figurehead available for promotional events, our Sovereign Grand Master should be available to talk about Odd Fellowship and appear at major national and international events.
Without promotion there’s no possibility of having a viable performing career. The same thing is true for our Order. We’ve not made a cohesive and consistent effort to promote ourselves and the results are clear: Odd Fellowship is almost completely unknown to the public. Despite the challenges of near anonymity, we still have a compelling mission, an energetic membership, and the resources to be able to build on the renaissance that has already begun in Odd Fellowship. The many new lodges chartered in the past few years are testament to the enduring message of Odd Fellowship. The key now is to make sure we share that message with our next group of members.
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