At our recent national convention in Indianapolis, the Florida Elks were honored to receive two very flattering mentions. The first was from our national president, John Amen, who remarked at our Florida Dinner that in his travels to all 50 states this past year, the Florida Elks were by far the best state in Elkdom. His exact quote was that we were at the “pinnacle” of leading change in all of Elkdom! The second honor came from Rick Gathen, the Grand Lodge Membership/Public Relations Manager, who recognized Florida for being the most improved state in all of Elkdom for membership after the dramatic turnaround in our membership loss wherein we slowed our annual loss from -3.77% to -0.37%! These are great honors indeed from men who are in the know, and many thanks go to all our members who have worked so hard for us to earn them!
Should you ever need confirmation that you belong to THE BEST state association in all of Elkdom, you have it now. Not to rain on the parade here, but what is it going to take for us to remain on top? It has been a long and slow grind to get here. Do we have what it takes to stay?
After hearing these wonderful accolades, it would be very easy for us to return to Florida thinking that the Florida Elks have arrived! We could return thinking the hard work is done, that we can now focus on other things less stressful, and that we can rest on our achievements! I submit, however, that this is the worst thing we could do and I believe that if we adopt this strategy, we are doomed to fail and fail miserably! Granted, it would be hard for anyone to not believe Florida is a success when appraised by our robust trust fund and our two outstanding major projects, but lurking deep behind the scenes lies the true measure of our success and I believe that to be our Lodges! If we lose focus on this foundation of our success, we are surely doomed to fail! Our major projects might survive on their charitable merits alone, but imagine if we had to start selling those merits to others less knowledgeable of our history and if we had to compete for that ever-shrinking pool of existing public support dollars. I believe that without our Lodges and members we would be forced to relinquish our projects to the sharks of the nonprofit world who would happily welcome our assets, but if they continued to operate them they would do so with profits in mind and never with the heart in which we do so today!
This my friends is why we must now begin to focus on our Lodges and their survival! Now, when I say Lodges, I am not talking about the collective of our members and our activities; I am talking about our facilities, operations and the finances that support them. I am talking about the things that are most attractive to our members who join. Unfortunately, I am talking about the things that are leading many of our Lodges toward failure! What we must address, and do so immediately, is a plan for the hard work it’s going to take for us to ensure success for our Lodges and thereby grow the assemblage of members who are the support system that makes us the greatest state association in the greatest fraternal organization in America. If you’re not ready for a pensive introspection into the subject of our Lodges, then this might be a good place to leave off! If all you are going to do is read further and then revel in a gloom and doom perception, then I would also offer for you to take leave! However, if you are willing to become an active part of a solution to our woes and future, I encourage you to continue reading and we would welcome your assistance! If we are to stay on top it is going to require a new approach to how we do business and an open mind to change and improvement! Gone are the days we can let the fraternal organization down the street set our prices, our membership dues and the dates of our activities! We must rise above the “average” fraternal and become the organization that everyone wants to be a part of and support even if it costs more than the one down the street!
Let’s look at the numbers that detail the decline of the Lodge in Florida. These numbers will show that since 1990 we have lost 21% of our Lodges and 40% of our overall statewide membership, and the average Lodge has lost 24% of its membership.
Lodge count in 1990 = 127 Average Lodge in 1990 = 734 members (range 104 to 3,613)
Lodge count in 2015 = 100 (-21%) Average Lodge in 2015 = 559 members (-24%) (range 69 to 3,719)
Membership in 1990 = 93,213 Membership mean in 1990 = 520
Membership in 2015 = 55,851 (-40%) Membership mean in 2015 = 407 (-22%)
The bottom line is that we are trying to do more with less along with managing our aging facilities and declining locations!
So what can we do about it?
Exhausted are the easy solutions! We have excused our paid employees and are trying to manage our business operations with volunteers! We have volunteers supervising volunteers and don’t think that this scenario doesn’t lend itself to a few personality conflicts! We have sold off the land we purchased years ago to expand or build a new Lodge upon. We have sold our now oversized and no longer conveniently located buildings and are now locating in strip malls and other similar type facilities. We have fought gallantly to match prices with all the other fraternal organizations in town often to the detriment of the more active needs of our organization and facilities, and we are burning through our reserves at a rate that is no longer sustainable!
What comes next are the painful decisions and the ones not easy to make or derive consensus for! They include sharing the cost of meeting operational costs through dues increases or support assessments (think country clubs). They include deriving new ways of amassing reserves for building repairs and equipment replacement (think fundraisers for us and not always others). They include making a case for why our dues and prices are higher than the organization’s down the street (think of the pride we have in being the best).
It is WE who have decided that our food and beverage operations are necessary to attract and retain members. It is WE who have fought so hard to compete with the ever-expanding food and beverage choices available on every street corner in every neighborhood. It is WE who have such devotion and pride in our organization that we are going to fight to the end to sustain our way of life as opposed to changing it to please others!
WE must therefore devise a plan, a method, a strategy, to hold on as long as we can and maybe, just maybe, we can bring membership in fraternal organizations such as the Elks back into vogue!
George S. Patton said, “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” Does your Lodge even have a plan? How’s that “no plan” plan working in your Lodge? Will you be the member who will start the effort to make one? Who says it has to be the Exalted Ruler or Board of Directors or House Committee? Work through and with them; they are busy holding things together with duct tape and string! Become the organizer or the moderator, or do the groundwork to organize the meetings and bring in the experts! Don’t do it looking to become the savior or to advance a personal agenda; do it because you care! Do it because together we can accomplish great things! Never in our history have we been more in need of help and assistance! Do we have an option here or are we prepared to ride the sinking ship down?
Ask any ER and I doubt that any of them will tell you they don’t need some help somewhere in the Lodge. Offer your help! You don’t even have to have the expertise; you can broker it. We are all the time asking lawyers to offer their services pro bono. Why can’t we ask other service providers to help? Enlist the help of a team of volunteers including local bankers, contractors, accountants, etc. Would the loss of your services in your community create a void? Then use that as the reason why someone should get involved to help you survive! You have supported the community for many years and now it’s time for them to support you! Is your Lodge Treasurer having trouble using QuickBooks? Find an accountant in the community who will volunteer to mentor him or her! Have some plumbing needs at the Lodge? Don’t just call the local plumber and beg him to give you a good deal because we are a nonprofit. Barter an exchange with him! Perhaps he knows of a family in need (he’s in and out of enough houses mind you). Maybe you can offer to assist that family in his name in exchange for some plumbing work at the Lodge. Our help doesn’t always have to be financial! Offer manpower in exchange! We are all wanting younger members but refuse to attract them on their terms. Again, how’s that working for us? Engage civic-minded families and young adults in weekend volunteer projects in the community first and then ask them to become members later! Show them that their service to community is our first priority, not attending meetings and emptying the trash! When they work alongside our members and see our caring ways and camaraderie, they will be asking you how to become members! Be creative and there is no end to the things we can do, especially if we think outside of the proverbial box!
It’s survival of the fittest and not everyone will survive! Those who have a plan will have a much greater chance of survival than those without. Start by prioritizing the needs of the entire Lodge, not just the bar and restaurant. Put together a financial plan, an operations plan with a realistic view for profitability, and an activities plan. Create a plan in which dues revenue will sustain the fixed costs of the Lodge so that every dime made when the Lodge is open is going toward your project goals and not toward paying bills. Once these plans are assembled, chart the course for working the plan and meeting the goals! There will no doubt be a huge difference between what you are doing now versus what you might be doing in the future but if it’s a plan that your members feel they are a part of, they will want to remain a part of the actions and rewards. Have faith in your members and know that when challenged and included they will be supportive of the plan. Even if it hurts more in the wallet, Americans seem to find the way when there is a will! Above all, enjoy working together and enjoy one another! Have multiple leaders throughout the plan so that no one person gets all the attention and praise! Make this a long-term plan that will transcend the years and future officers. Imagine a Lodge where multiple members want to be officers because they want to be a part of the Lodge’s plan!
The FSEA has many fine individuals who excel in various aspects of Lodge planning and management. I don’t profess to know them all but I know many of them and expect that others will step forward as a result of this request! Contact me if you need assistance in identifying Elks who wish to help, and if you have any particular talents you would like to contribute I would be happy to add you as a resource or broker you a contact!
As the title of this article alludes, and as quoted by Richard C. Cushing, “Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”
The word for today is plan! Every Lodge needs a plan, a well-thought-out, comprehensive and workable plan, a plan for success, a plan that all members are a part of and that all members who wish to can have a say in! It won’t be easy but as our State Sponsor C. Valentine Bates often says, “If it was easy then anyone could do it!”
Once again I have introduced a lot of thoughts here hoping to open discussion and dialogue about our great fraternal organization! Log on and let me know what you think in the comment box below! Or you can email me at email@example.com.