I am often surprised at the turnover we continue to have in our Lodges in the office of Exalted Ruler and Lodge Secretary. Arguably the two most important leadership positions in a Lodge, far too many are quitting in the middle of the year and oftentimes for reasons not related to health, work or family. For many years, this question was asked of Exalted Rulers at the state annual officer training seminar: How many of you are here because you think you are doing your Lodge a favor? In recent years we have had to stop asking that question because too many Exalted Rulers were responding in the affirmative. In an earlier article I wrote about the game being played in many of our Lodges where one faction takes over the Lodge and their detractors sit patiently on the sidelines awaiting the next elections. They then bring legions of members in to sway the vote and overthrow the sitting administration. This game goes back and forth, year after year, and then we wonder why the Lodge never moves forward. It is hoped that by members simply recognizing the game and how it is played that a strategy can be implemented to prevent this from happening this year!
I am not certain this is enough, however, and wonder if the members in Florida would be willing to support a change to the statutes that would require a member to attend the nominating meeting in February in order to be able to vote in the election meeting. Even this might not be enough, but, as unbearable as our members seem to find attending our meetings, if we require them to attend two to be able to perpetrate their game on the Lodge, this just might be enough to thwart them! Heck, I would even suggest that the Lodge plan to hold initiation on nomination night, the long form of course, and do everything you can to inflict maximum discomfort upon those who attend to simply disrupt!
It is very difficult to be an Exalted Ruler in our Lodges today! Most see the job as the thankless task of keeping the Lodge solvent while operating failing restaurant and bar operations. It’s a wonder that anyone would want to even take the job with that type of job description! It is easily understood why they consider themselves to be doing the Lodge a favor when they become ER! Gone are the days that officers are afforded progression through the chairs. This advancement not only provided training in Elk traditions but also in working with others and understanding Lodge finances, and it allowed them to develop a little pride. Just last year, one-third of the Exalted Rulers in Florida had been members five years or less. It was the same percentage for Lodge Secretaries! Too often we see Exalted Rulers and Secretaries who lack the management and leadership skills to effectively do the job. Devoid of those skills, they regress to managing through fear and intimidation, aka the “my way or the highway” form of management. One can only imagine how volunteers react in these types of environments! The only ones who benefit from this are the Moose, the Legion, the VFW, etc. as they get our members!
I used to think that the best group of people to target for membership in our Lodges was teachers. They could do our bulletin boards, run our children’s programs, do after-school tutoring, etc. No longer do I think this way! If we are to survive we better get out there and start recruiting accountants and CPAs and small-business owners. We need to get them on board now! Then, once we get them involved in our operations, we will have to do possibly the hardest thing for most of us to do and that is we will need to listen to them! What might have worked 20-30 years ago in the workplace and Lodge no longer works. Businesses rely on up-to-the-second data from computers. Margins and profitability are based on fractions of a cent, not dollars. It has become painfully obvious to me that we are not going to part with our bars and restaurants! So, the only thing left to do is to commit to running them right or suffer the demise of the entire Lodge!
The facts speak for themselves. There are currently 99 Lodges in Florida. At present, seven of our Lodges are working with our state Business Practices Committee addressing such items as high cost of sales, failing club operations, declining finances, embezzlement, and setup and training for QuickBooks. Twenty of our Lodges are being overseen by special representatives of the Grand Lodge, meaning the Lodge has had to relinquish the control of their finances to a Lodge outsider for the best interest of the Lodge. For the year ending March 31, 2014, and with 84 of our 99 Lodges reporting, total Lodge profitability was -$231,303 or -$2,754 per Lodge. Drilling down further we see that Lodge operations produced a loss of -$33,089 or -$394 per Lodge; bar operations produced a loss of -$4,624 or -$55 per Lodge; and kitchen operations produced a loss of -$193,590 or -$2,305 per Lodge. There were only 12 Lodges that turned a profit in all three of the areas: Ocala, Inverness, Largo, Live Oak, Marathon, Cocoa, Arcadia, Crestview, Winter Park, Boca Raton, Cocoa Beach and Brandon. Of these 12, four do not have kitchen operations, so for the other eight, 32% of their profit came from their kitchen, 28% from the bar and 40% from the Lodge operations.
I am sure that any of these 12 Lodges would be more than happy to share with you how they do it. Give one or more a call and ask them for assistance. Can you afford not to?
There are 22 other Lodges that were profitable overall but not in all three areas. Of those 22, 20 have kitchen operations but only three are profitable. All 22 have bar operations but only 10 produced a profit. All but three produced a profit in their Lodge operations. Overall, with these 22, only 7% of their profit came from the bar; 93% came from Lodge operations and that was used to subsidize the loss from the kitchen operations.
Sadly, 60% of the Lodges reporting produced an operational loss for the year. Sixty-eight percent of the loss was from Lodge operations, 9% was from bar operations and 23% was from kitchen operations. Only 12 of 44 Lodges reported a profit from kitchen operations. Only 17 of 49 reported a profit from bar operations, and only 10 of 50 reported a profit from Lodge operations.
So what does all this mean you ask? First and foremost there are only a handful of Lodges in this state (maybe 11 or 12) that have any business operating a kitchen. Second, it tells me that only about 20% of our Lodges are able to profitably operate a bar operation. Finally, this data tells me that if you were unprofitable for the year you are definitely working off of borrowed funds or prior years’ savings and you might want to divide your savings by your losses to determine how many more years of viability you have left before you are forced to shut the doors!
For the majority of us, our Lodges were in existence even before we were. For all of us, the order was in existence before us. We need to stop viewing our Elks Lodges as an entity here today to please us and us alone. We owe it to those who came before us to ensure that those who come after us have the same opportunity we did to participate in a Lodge and be a part of this great fraternal and social organization. Every member in this state should insist on and participate in a project to ensure the long-term existence and success of their Lodge. With few, if any, exceptions, every Lodge in this state has facility needs, be they renovation, down-sizing, maintenance, etc. We need every Lodge in this state to invest in a vision of perpetuity and provide the capital and manpower to get this done. There is way too much at stake here to leave it to another generation or think that if we ignore it the situation will go away! We need leadership and, more importantly, support for that leadership. If we elect those who will continue the same old ways, with no experience and with no skills, those “my way or the highway” people, you might as well go ahead and shut it down. If we elect people with business acumen and people skills and people who are motivators and real leaders, then we might just have a shot at a future. Supportive members, PERs and PDDs could shore up a leader who might not know what a DDGER is. Does attending every VP visit in the district really make this leader a better Exalted Ruler? As I see it, many of our Lodges are in need of a major infusion of leadership and business know-how. Can we afford NOT to do this? We need leaders who won’t run our Lodge as a dictatorship but who will share the work, both the tasks and the rewards. The operation of a Lodge is simply too complex for just a couple of people to manage. We need leaders who will educate and train others. We need leaders who will operate the Lodge for the benefit of every member and not just a chosen few. Granted, not everyone is cut out to be a leader but that’s okay! Leaders need followers. When led properly our members will accept most any task given to them. The pride they will feel when given a task, given clear-cut goals and objectives, and then given the freedom to get the job done, will bring them back again and again. Before long the Lodge will be reaping the benefits of participation with pride. Just think what this will do for our membership growth prospects!
Our officer training this year is March 6-8 in Orlando. It is not perfect, but it’s a far cry from no training at all, and no one yet has told us it was a total waste of their time. In electing your leaders this year, require that they attend at least this one thing. Please don’t require them to personally foot the bill to attend. Hold a fundraiser or two in the Lodge to raise the necessary funds to send all of your key people to the training. This event is operated as a break-even activity for the FSEA; no profit is made from it and we exhaust every effort to see that the training is informative and useful. Even if your officers attended last year, this training is invaluable and is constantly evolving. There is much to gain from attending. If your leaders are unwilling to devote this one weekend to spending it with their peers, are they really worth electing? Get a commitment before they are elected! If they are not just doing the Lodge a favor, they will do whatever it takes to attend!
This is for another column, but I want to share a thought I have had for some time that I believe will go a long way into getting new members to become immediately active in the Lodge. It goes back to my fraternity days and was a very effective means for instilling pride in a new class of initiates. Each new pledge class was required to select leaders and then perform a project for the betterment of the fraternity. It could be a fundraiser to purchase an item for the house or a renovation or upkeep project in the house. It didn’t matter what it was. It taught us to work together, it brought us closer together, and the fraternity benefited from a need being met! Why couldn’t we do this? We would probably need to initiate several members at a time to make this effective, but the night they are initiated they could meet, select their leader(s), decide on a project, and begin work on making it happen! Do you think this would instill a little pride in a new member and maybe give them an immediate sense of purpose? Let me know if any of you implement this idea and let me know how it works!
Take pride in your Lodge! Commit to the future of your Lodge! Prepare a road map for this future, and elect leaders this year who will lead much-needed change, who will commit to producing a profit in the Lodge, and who will start you back on a road to recovery! Until we fix ourselves we have nothing to offer others!
Let me know what you think! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.