So close! That’s right; we were only 195 new members short of a statewide membership gain! That’s a loss of just 0.35%, the smallest loss we have had since 1991! Congratulations to everyone who helped contribute to this success and a success it was indeed! We start the year 55,865 members strong!
Back in February 2010, then Grand Exalted Ruler, Jim Nicholson, challenged our state to “throw some money” at addressing our membership losses, a membership loss trend that began in 1990. Inspired by the late Dave Vergason, PSP, our association’s staff was already underway developing a strategy after watching our membership fall from a high of 93,213 members in 1990 to 67,151 members that year. Subsequently, that same year we had our largest ever recorded loss in membership of 5.42% which took us down to 63,512 members. Shortly thereafter the FSEA made it a priority to find out how and why we were losing members and we set a goal to reverse this destructive trend.
Immediately we converted the volunteer position of State Chairman of Membership to a part-time paid staff position titled Director of Membership Development. Don Moon, then State Chairman, accepted the challenge and together we began holding town hall meetings in Lodges all across the state in an effort to raise awareness and gather an understanding of the problems from those in the field. At our state convention that year we asked every Exalted Ruler to appoint a Lodge Membership Liaison and assist that person in attending our quarterly state meetings where we held early-in-the-morning or late-at-night meetings building grassroots support for real and sustainable change.
One of our favorite buzz phrases was that we were selling the wrong product to members (cheap drinks and food) versus volunteer opportunities and becoming a part of a caring and sharing family. The Liaison team participated in team-building exercises, they practiced conflict resolution, and they developed a supplement to the Grand Lodge Membership Manual that is still used today by Lodges for developing new approaches to membership recruitment, education and retention! We began stepping back and looking at our Lodge homes and we learned to make subtle changes to them that would help make a potential new member feel more welcomed. We also encouraged Lodges to create a more positive climate for members seeking to rid our Lodges of negativity, cliques and infighting that were turning away both old and new members alike. It was thought that never again could we take our eyes off of membership development and our approach seemed to be working!
We have come a long way since 1990 but we have tons more work to do! We were greatly hoping for a membership gain this year, no matter how small, as we really felt like we needed to experience the feeling of knowing that we could create a gain so that the momentum would carry us forward into the years to come! So close we were! So close!
So what’s next? Next year the leadership has decided that the membership program will revert back to being a state committee managed by a state chairman through the state president. I must say that this project has been one of the highlights of my 31-year Elk career and my 13-year career as our State Secretary. It has taught me so much about our members and about membership development. I will miss not having the level of interaction that I have had with our members. We were making progress and it was you, our members, who were making that progress. Perhaps enough seeds have been planted and enough new awareness is in place to sustain the program for the future!
I will also continue to speak about membership when invited to do so by a Lodge or district! I am reminded by a remark that is often repeated, tongue-in-cheek mind you, about our Harry-Anna Trust Fund. It has been repeated over the years using differing amounts but I think you’ll get the gist. It was often said years ago that if we could ever get the trust fund to $10 million that we would never need another penny to run our great hospital and take care of children! Well, you know the rest of that story and know we would never say that about the fund today knowing what we know now! We must never take our eyes off of growing our trust fund and we must never take our eyes off of growing our membership!
Again, congratulations to every Lodge that experienced a gain in membership this year and even to those who came very close! We CAN grow our membership, we know how to grow our membership, and we must never again treat our membership losses lightly.
In March we held probably one of the best Officer Training seminars ever in the history of our association! This is not just me saying this; it comes from our participants:
“Best ever. The leaders seem more involved and in tune to what is happening in our Lodges.”“Enjoyed the seminar. The knowledge passed on was well-prepared and [delivered] with enthusiasm.”“Enjoyed different speakers. Each brought different perspectives. Everyone has such great energy. It’s inspiring!”“Great info. Solved a host of problems.”“Very informative – this is my seventh or eighth time for these and I continue to learn.”
After having helped run this program for the last 13 years and having attended probably 10 or so in the years prior as ER and Lodge Secretary, I have a pretty good basis on which to say that this year’s crop of attendees was one of if not the best! They seemed motivated, they were not there because they were doing the Lodge a favor, they asked really good questions, and they never once complained! This training has become nothing short of necessary for Lodge officers, especially since things change these days at lightning speed and our old and trusted training ground of going through the chairs is no longer practicable in most Lodges. Here are some statistics that bear this out:
- The average ER has been a member 13.2 years.
- The average Lodge Secretary has been a member 11.6 years.
- Of Lodge Secretaries, 9% have been an Elk for 1 year.
- Of Lodge Secretaries, 23% have been an Elk for less than 5 years.
In contrast, the average training staff member has been an Elk for 25 years! This training works, it is successful, and if your Lodge does not require at least your elected ER, Secretary and Treasurer to attend, you are missing the boat! A follow-up to the seminars will be held at the state convention Friday, May 22, at 8 a.m. Now that officers have been on the job for a couple months, the training staff will be in attendance to answer any questions. Everyone is encouraged to attend and participate!
So, the officers have been elected and installed, they have been trained both by attending the state Officer Training seminar and through a smooth and friendly transition with the outgoing officer(s). The clique that got booted in this year’s election is now at the club down the street wondering what happened and licking their wounds, and the whole Lodge is rallying around and supporting the new officer team and their new ideas and approaches!
What’s that you say? This is not happening in every Lodge in our state? Well I know where it is happening. It is happening in the successful Lodges in our state and country! It’s called leadership and respect for authority! Too often we learn of Lodges in which certain officers have made a career of their position. We also hear of Lodges where one officer has been elected to a position but runs three. The Lodge leadership (PER Association, Lodge Advisor, PDDs and board of directors) cannot allow this to happen. It’s a destructive practice and becomes a Lodge “tradition” after only one or two years. Once it gets to that point it is almost impossible to unravel!
I believe that sometimes officers lose sight of the fact that it’s the members they work for and not a Lodge or building. If we are to have a future as an organization we MUST make it easier for volunteers and new members to assume roles of leadership within our Lodge. We must take a page from society and realize that instant communications and social media are here to stay and we must learn to embrace them. Support for our organization will be relative to our willingness to be open and honest in our dealings and in allowing our members to be a part of the Lodge even without attending meetings every month! We cannot allow members to water down our Lodges and operations just so they make sense to them and meet their immediate needs, and we have got to make it desirable for members to want to become leaders in our Lodges and take on responsible roles without all of the mumbo jumbo that comes with it! We are adults and need to act like it! We can never lose sight of the fact that we exist to provide service to others, and that the social aspects (bar and restaurant) are just a perk of membership, not our sole reason for existence! Common sense must prevail in our dealings with others and in our respect for the Lodge as a business and we must not run our businesses as if it’s a snack bar! There is too much at stake!
Our success is in the hands of every member both active and inactive, young and old. We need EVERY member we have as long as they have the best interest of the Lodge at heart and we must continue to find ways to engage every member in our Lodge and activities and attract new members to aid us in our goals! In membership we have proven we can move the needle on something when we want to. We know organizational change takes time and in our organization it’s about three years. With this knowledge we must also adopt that same level of attention to other aspects of our organization if we are to remain viable and strong.
Looking at our membership statistics over the past ten years, the actions that have had the greatest effect on our numbers are when we initiate new members and reduce the members we are losing. This year we initiated the greatest number of new members, 9.5%, versus our average of 7.85%. This year the lowest number of members left our order via absolute demit, .71%, versus our average of 1.18%. Our loss from members who passed away was exactly at our average rate of 2.26% and our loss from members not renewing their membership was 9.17% versus our average of 9.11%.
We know what needs to be done and we know how to do it. Those who are not team players and cannot work with others and for the good of the order need to find other pursuits where team is not important! I have often said that not everyone has got to be a leader since a leader with no followers is not a leader. Those who seek to do nothing but profess their knowledge of the statutes or who attempt to only enforce a statute or rule when it favors them are not good for our order and should not be given a forum. Ask them to put as much effort into solving the problem as they do complaining about the problem. We agree to abide by the will of the majority in a democratic society and that extends even to our social lives! Invite members who are not beneficial to our organization to find an organization that might suit them better but make sure ours is being managed properly before just dismissing someone who is trying to right the organization to start with!
As is my norm, I have introduced a lot of thoughts here hoping to open discussion and dialogue about our great fraternal organization! I truly do believe we may be starting to turn the corner and I hope you will stay on board as we do! Let me know what you think by commenting below!