We are fast arriving at month eight of the lodge year and by now the lodge should be reaping the benefits of the leadership provided by the lodge management team! Meetings are being held and are well attended by members who are interested in helping the lodge succeed. VP and DD visits are now in full swing and your members are learning a lot about the Elks organization from attending them and from their interactions with other lodges. Goals are being met, sights are being set on electing your successors and overall things are going as well as could be expected! What’s that you say? I’m living in a dream world? That’s not at all what is going on at your lodge? If that is the case then what can be done about it? There are probably a number of solutions to the problem(s), perhaps even a few that follow:
- The pessimist - Let it go; it’s on a crash course anyway!
- The optimist - Examine your role in the success or demise and ask if you are doing enough!
- Kick the can down the road - Plug the leaks the best that you can and start focusing on electing better leaders next year!
- The pragmatist - Ask for help! (Start with your District Deputy and if he or she won’t/can’t help, give me a call!)
Should you be amongst the lucky who are actually prospering and are happy with the way things are going in the lodge, you cannot rest on your laurels. Your job is to examine what you are doing right and make sure you continue to do it!
In my many years of observing lodges and their interactions, I have observed one thing that is, by far, the common ingredient of a successful lodge. That ingredient, and you have heard me say it often, is LEADERSHIP! Without it you are doomed to failure. Unfortunately a lodge, unlike the Little League concession stand, cannot be run by just one team with one team leader. Our multi-faceted lodges require teams of leaders and those teams are not easily coordinated by a single leader (the Exalted Ruler) as much as we want them to be. It is this dynamic that causes the majority of the problems in a lodge and it this dynamic that can only be fixed through leadership. Think of all the teams it takes to run a lodge:
- Lodge Officer Team (run meetings, oversee committees and operate lodge activities)
- Board of Directors/Trustees Team (hold meetings, approve budgets, financial oversight and regulatory compliance)
- Club Operations Team (bar, lounge, dining room, employees & volunteers, club activities)
- Member Team (the followers, the doers, the volunteers, the ones we alienate with our infighting)
Am I wrong? Aren’t all four of these, often very independent teams, in almost every lodge? Am I also wrong in saying that many if not each of these four teams are led by a person who believes their team is the most important to the success of the lodge? Who is supposed to coordinate all of this? Doesn’t this about sum it up? Can you say flawed/challenged business model? Is there any wonder we are having problems holding it all together?
So how were we so successful in the past, say prior to 1980? Allow me to tell you! In 1985 when I joined the Elks, the lodges were still male-only and most lodges had two sections. One was the men-only bar area, often a separate room, and the other was the more public area where lodge functions and coed dining activities took place. In those days the men-only bar area was run by a paid, male club-steward. If the lodge operated a kitchen it was staffed by paid employees as was its dining room. Members belonged to a private social club and it felt like it.
Where today it takes four teams to run a lodge, back then it took only one! Since club operations were handled through paid staff, lodges were able to be governed by an officer team, many of which earned their right of succession by serving through “the chairs.” The lodge’s 5-year trustee was usually the immediate Past Exalted Ruler and their involvement and utilization was ensured through a five-year term on the board of trustees. Back then it was easy to recognize the Exalted Ruler as the lodge’s sole leader.
So what happened you ask? Well the 1980s hit, society began to change, families became reliant on dual incomes, seniors were living and working longer, the dangers of smoking and drinking were being realized, and on and on. This began to greatly affect our lodges and starting in 1991 our membership numbers began to decline. Because of this and the resultant declining patronage of our club operations, Lodges depleted any financial reserves they had accumulated and were soon forced to abandon their paid employees for volunteers. Now the house committee, instead of approving the hiring of staff and price setting and overseeing the club finances, became the overseers of their peers as volunteers and became glorified volunteer coordinators. They had to begin dealing with scores of member conflicts that arose from untrained staff dealing with customers, staff absent of “the customer is always right” mentality. House committees went from managing breakeven enterprises at the least to enterprises that were holding on for dear life! The lodges began to shift all of their resources toward propping up the club often at the expense of the lodge and we began to shift our membership recruitment toward people who would support our bar and restaurant not only with their money but their time. Professional people dealing with their own businesses and the times became less inclined to maintain their memberships in the lodge as similar dining and drinking opportunities availed themselves on every street corner. At those you could come and go as you pleased and without the need to participate in fundraising or volunteering to work. It was a major and dynamic shift for fraternal and patriotic organizations and one from which we might never recover.
Are you beginning to see why I say our business model is challenged and why it is going to take extraordinary leadership to work us out of this one?
So what are we to do?! Well here are a few of my suggestions:
- To start with we must recognize our business model for what it is and realize that it is one that can never be coordinated by only one lodge leader! To expect the Exalted Ruler to do it all is preposterous and possibly why we are having so much trouble attracting great leaders to serve as Exalted Ruler. At the same time the Exalted Ruler needs to realize they are a part of a leadership team and that it takes each team performing at its peak to make the whole team successful. Where the ER should focus on members and meetings and committee work and state and Grand Lodge, they should allow the Board of Directors/Trustees to do their job and the House Committee to do their job. Can you also see how this is a great reason why the ER should not also be the Chairman of the Board?
- The Board of Directors/Trustees must get out of the business of running lodge and club activities. Theirs should be the job of creating policies, protecting the assets of the lodge and requiring the accountability necessary for profitable business operations. They are the continuity in the lodge. Their first job MUST become getting accurate financial reports from the Secretary and Treasurer, reports that represent the true picture of the lodge’s finances. I realize getting this information from often untrained operators is a task unto itself and therein becomes a whole other article at some point, but the need to have trained Lodge Treasurers and Secretaries who are capable of providing timely and necessary financial reports is paramount to this team doing its job.
- The club operations team has got to lose the thinking that they are the ONLY reason the lodge exists. This holier-than-thou attitude permeates the lodge through an arrogance that turns most people away and as more and more people abandon the club, the team lashes out at those remaining expecting them to carry the load. It is a recipe for a negative environment and a solution that does nothing to change the result. I have said it before that few lodges in Florida have any business being in the food business. We cannot compete with the local restaurants and we should quit trying. A Friday night fish fry or the occasional pot luck goes just as far as running a restaurant and they take far fewer volunteers to run. We also need to continue to protect our private club status and when we open to the public just to help make ends meet, we can never expect someone to join our lodge when they get what they want without joining! We must focus our energies on creating a club/lounge environment in our lodges that is warm and inviting and one that is conducive to engaging like-minded people in the pursuit of activities beneficial to those we serve through our charitable and patriotic endeavors.
- Our members! We are losing them out the back door faster than we are getting them in through the front! Until we stop recruiting members for the sole purpose of working them to death, we are never going to win! We must also stop this endless pursuit of raising money for others and focus on our own needs! Yes, we are a nonprofit but that does not mean we are not allowed to make a profit! We have our own financial needs and must place those appropriately in line with our other needs. I say facilities first! If we lose our lodge homes, where then will we meet to plan our charitable activities? Where will we socialize and share refreshment and fellowship? Lodges built in the day were built for double the number of members we have today. We must right-size our facilities and use them to our benefit! It is only after we take care of ourselves that we will be in a position to grow our member base and consequently our service to others!
Bottom line, our lodges are no longer capable of running under the direction of a sole elected leader. If we are to remain a viable player in service to our communities we must lessen the burden on the few and share the burden with others. We must create an environment in our lodges where leaders can coexist and where leaders are trained. Not only should we be known as the place in our communities where you go to find volunteers but we should also be known as the place in our communities where leaders are born! Once we begin attracting members for their ability to lead and not just work, then we have accomplished something. It will happen only if we create the environment in our lodges where leadership is expected, not just condoned!
My goal is to open discussion and dialogue about our great patriotic social organization. Let me know what you think! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.