The Odd Fellows as a Business
As a new member to the Odd Fellows (February 2017), it never ceases to amaze me that when I talk to someone about the IOOF, I always hear, “wow, I didn’t know they are still around.” Believe me, I talk to a lot of people about the IOOF!
So how did I become an Odd Fellow? Well, glad you asked! My grandfathers, and great-grandfathers were Odd Fellows in the early 1900’s and 1800’s. Being a recent retiree, I have some idle time on my hands. I was unpacking stuff in my new home, and was going through my grandad’s old trunk. I came across an old Odd Fellow memento of his. So, I thought I’d get on line and find out whatever happened to the IOOF. I thought they were long since defunct.
I searched the internet, only to find a few out-dated websites. Even the Sovereign Grand Lodge’s website is…well…honestly…horrible. Fortunately, one of the better and up-to-date websites was the Grand Lodge of PA’s website. I found a local Lodge…and contacted them the old-school way…by writing a letter! They didn’t have a website, and no email. So, off to the USPS I went with letter in hand.
The Lodge was quick to respond, and I became a member! I was so glad that I was able to honor my ancestor’s memory. And, I’ll be very frank and honest here…I am having a blast! It is one of the greatest organizations, and friendliest that I have ever joined. I was welcomed right away, and have made some good friends…in a town where I knew very few people. Although I am from the big city, DC, and joined a comparatively small-town Lodge, I was welcomed as one of their own…a Brother. That is amazing!
So…if the organization is so fantastic (at least in my opinion), why aren’t people standing in line to join? Why aren’t we receiving applications every month? Well, the answer lies in my story of joining.
I didn’t know the IOOF still existed. I had to search long and hard to find them. Most Lodges either don’t have websites, or they are sorely out-dated. I found one that was announcing its 2015 events! Public Relations material is sadly out-dated, and does not target audiences. It is very high-level, generic, and doesn’t tell me why I would want to be a part of this amazing group of folks. That’s a major problem. If a business ran that way, they would surely fail in double-quick time. Not good.
As one blogger so eloquently wrote, “I needed to feel like I was a part of something larger than myself. Something that is fun. Something that helps the community. Something that gives me a purpose and reminds me to do the right thing.” Now, how do we reach that person, if they do not know we exist, or we make them work to find us? It’s actually a simple business principal. Marketing.
We need a paradigm shift. We need to look at our Lodges as a business. What are we trying to accomplish? How do we make our business successful? We need new members (customers). We need income to pay our bills, and to do our good work in the community, and build/update Lodges. Get my point? Customers + income = a successful business.
I will use my Lodge as an example, and this is not by any means meant disrespectfully. We rent a small room in a local building. We cannot modify the room to look “lodge-like”. We are even limited by the town in that we cannot put a sign outside! We don’t have any facility to hold social functions. No kitchen facility. No banquet hall. If we have more than 10 members at a meeting, it’s crowded. In other words, we have no way to generate real income, or even advertise that we exist. We are throwing away money (rent) every month to maintain the status quo and just exist. This is predictable and will doom our Lodge to non-existence. Why would someone want to join us? We can’t hold socials. Our Lodge doesn’t look like a Lodge. We can’t do anything to generate real income. The average person would probably quit after a few meetings…but I’m bull-headed and determined to make our Lodge into a model Lodge. How do we do this?
Marketing. Just like a business. First, we get the word out that we exist. Then, we find a facility, even if temporary, where we can re-locate and hold social and money-making events. Those two factors, will attract new members, and generate income. It’s really simple!
Our Lodge adopted a “Three-Link Revitalization Plan”, which I’ve already written about. It’s based on the Davis, CA, Lodge’s “Three-Legged Stool Program”. It is already working.
We have partnered with one of our District Lodges to hold Initiations. This impresses the new candidate…because there are more members in attendance, and it is a formal event in a beautiful and historic Lodge…and it builds camaraderie between Lodges. We also added a special element to the end of our Initiatory Degree ceremony, the formal signing of a Membership Certificate. That Certificate is handed to the new candidate in a frame after the ceremony….marketing….now the new candidate has something that they can proudly display and people are sure to ask about. Simple and subtle…but very effective! We just initiated our first candidate this way. Both Lodges and the new member had a blast! We created memories for everyone. It’s been posted on Facebook and in the first day it was forwarded well over 200 times. People want to be a part of something exciting and fun! Marketing!
We also developed Service Award Certificates to give out to members who have served 5 years and over. We recently gave two of our members 70 year Certificates! We developed the new Membership Certificates, thank-you cards, and Certificates of Appreciation. Marketing!
We developed our own website and Facebook page. Our website is maintained by one of our members, uses the latest software and bells and whistles, and is continuously updated. Another member maintains the Facebook page. We had new business cards printed with our web address, and every member is given a handful. On the back of those cards is a space for the members phone number, and their lodge email address. I hand out many of those cards, and one has already lead to the return of our original bible, long since thought to be lost! So…$19.95 for business cards = return of original bible! That’s a deal. Marketing!
We updated and printed brochures specific to our Lodge. We even printed a brochure titled, “Now that you are a member”, and is given to new members to explain what’s next, and the degree program. Our members reach out to them every step of the way. Marketing!
We recently struck up a deal with a local reporter. Our goal is to get at least one article in the local paper each month. Marketing!
Our next big step is to get our own Lodge…and this is a huge one. Our vision is to have it the center of the community. Somewhere that can host weddings, parties, socials, and other income-generating events. Income and customers! If someone comes in for a social event, and see Lodge members having a blast hosting the event…they will want to be a part of the activity and excitement! It’s human nature. Bring in the customer (potential member)! We are working with a local real estate agent on this one, and it will be a long road, but I’m sure we will succeed.
Work with local officials, like the town Mayor. Market the Lodge. Ask them if there is a local project that the Lodge can get involved in…something that is “visible”. Again, that’s marketing. It’s making the Lodge’s presence known.
All of these things, with the exception of a new Lodge, really don’t take much effort, and cost very little. But look at the returns. We had our original Bible returned at the cost of one business card! That is priceless. We are gaining new members (three this year, so far!).
The IOOF needs a serious paradigm change. It needs to be approached as a business. We are approaching out 200th Anniversary. That is a major event to capitalize on, and use to our benefit. It is a time to completely revitalize the organization and bring the excitement back. Has anyone heard anything about a 200th celebration? Is your Lodge preparing? If not, we are already behind the power curve. We only have two years to go, and marketing begins yesterday! Catch my drift? Marketing!
Your Lodge is a business. Are you doing your part to keep it alive, and/or revitalize it? Are you marketing it? Are you satisfied with the “status quo”? Now, some may debate my “Lodge is a business” theory…but I’ll bet you a steak dinner that I am right. If you do not look at your Lodge as a business, and market it to bring in customers and income, you are doomed to extinction as so may Lodges before us have suffered. Don’t let this happen to this amazing organization. For more info, or to discuss further, drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you. And, by the way, check out our website – www.iooflewisburg.org.
Yours in F-L-T
Lewisburg, PA, Lodge No. 96