Membership building for Masonic Lodges in North Florida
“Among real friends, there is no rivalry or jealousy of one another, but they are satisfied and contented alike whether they are equal or one of them is superior.” Plutarch, born A.D. 46
“Philosophy is that intellectual and moral progress, which the religious sentiment inspires and ennobles.” Albert Pike, born December 29, 1809
Do you want more members in your Masonic Lodge?
How about younger members?
New members of quality character but also successful?
Perhaps new members of energy and drive?
All the above can be achieved if you are willing to do the “WORK”.
I will briefly cover 3 aspects of membership building today. All of them will require work.
- Basic sourcing of new members
- Surveys to determine how to re-engage current members
- Empowered Volunteer support for success
The easiest form of membership selection is to just run the numbers. Sales professionals know that if you ask for the sale enough times the odds increase in your favor for a yes, or a petition to be filled out and submitted in this case. No regard for compatibility or quality, just a warm body with a pen to fill out the petition and a willingness to apply. This is the least of the ways to rebuild any membership and it is not recommended because it nearly always turns off other potential members from considering the opportunity as you drive to a yes. It is literally just a numbers game.
Professional salespeople increase their odds by using qualifying questions and tailored dialog. This tends to leave the potential applicant feeling better if they don’t fit the sale, or in this case the petition filing as an applicant.
In Florida, Masons are allowed to mention the opportunity for membership since 1996 if the masonic education we were all encouraged to take can be believed.
This means that you can legally tell someone they might enjoy the fellowship and comradery of our fraternity if they are interested. Many other states have rescinded the former rule altogether and leave no barrier to any recruiting conversation.
In my book where I break down the recruiting process in detail for all volunteer groups before I list all the fraternal, civic, and veteran groups I could find which were still functioning, with the population numbers also noted. Many groups have reduced their membership numbers significantly since my e-book was published. There are a few which have bucked the trend though with effort and a proper plan.
Survey the current lodge membership and then contrast it with surveys of the population containing potential new members for contrast and comparison. The survey is very important to conduct properly. It can’t be just a phone call from a perceived ranking member looking down at other non-participants, in the eyes of the members not attending the functions.
Keep in mind that their view is what counts if you want the facts, not your confirmation bias instead.
Any version of this top-down surveying, no matter how good the intentions of the surveyor, is doomed to bias and the data gathered is “garbage in, garbage out”. Be professional if you want worthy results.
Use an outsider, if possible, like a community college professor who has experience conducting such surveys and supervises students for the survey. Get creative. The last known survey was in 2016 for the Masonic Service Association and reported by Brother Jon Ruark in 2017 and 2018, and in the Scottish Rite Plumbline in 2019, Winter edition, Volume 26, No 4.
Let’s hope you followed the basics and obtained a survey of your membership that reflects reality and can be trusted. What now?
Robert D. Putnam has a group that presents lots of data and conclusions for volunteer groups in general and those are available online. He is a Harvard professor and is easy to find. The surveys were available when I wrote my book years ago and again when I published my book a bit more recently.
Now if you are lucky enough to have put together a ‘steering committee’ of responsible brothers in positions to ensure that you are supported, it’s time to set up a plan for seeking out members. The steering committee must support the empowered volunteer in his seeking out new members. He can’t present new applicants who are not well received, nor welcomed, nor presented with opportunities for becoming a ‘master’. It takes a village to seek out new members.
The lone wolf recruiting attitude is incongruent with masonry and our community perception. We are a group and that’s one of our strengths. The committee needs to have a plan for each and every newly minted master mason. If you cast him out to dangle and wander, he more often than not will vote with his feet depending on why he joined in the first place. Always positively engage new members with positions they are interested in for the best results. Engage them soon after they prove up. Communication with them is the key.
This could be a new committee looking to make building improvements over the next five years. Maybe a new lift or roof or kitchen equipment is needed? Have a reason that new members are needed once they have completed their initiation expectations. This process is like inertia, they engage, or they walk away.
The empowered volunteer has masonic business cards issued to him by the steering committee. Cheap ones can be purchased at Vista print. When I wrote my book, they were free, but times change. It must have his name on it. No general cards for the lodge, please. We are far more professional than that, so show it.
It is suggested that you have an information night for the prospects and a nice meal, at no cost for the prospects. Keep it low-key, just informal and light. The more prospects who show up for the night the better. This is the function of the steering committee. This process is highly successful in some places. The Scottish Rite in Des Moines, Iowa uses poker chips with a code for smartphones to direct prospects to a website for general information. The next prospect information meal is listed on their calendar for all to see.
Follow the success set by others here. Please note that the SR Valley of Tallahassee has a new website now. Some forms of chips are in the future for membership building as we institute membership-building processes for our future.
The empowered volunteer just talks to prospects, and hands out cards with the date and details of the event that prospects are being invited to where a professional presentation will be presented for their review and hopefully their signed petitions and money are collected. Be ready to set dates for the initiation which reflect the needs of the petitioner, not just an arbitrary date set that may not work for his schedule. Be flexible if necessary. Don’t present any new objections to the new applicant. After all, it is supposed to be all about them!
Finding and qualifying new prospects is hard work. Some groups think that making up lists of prospects that are desirable is a good path. I would caution that this could be construed as a ‘hit list’ and become a very negative message if it was revealed. The best way is to not have one, but if you absolutely decide I am not correct and I don’t know what I am doing, then I recommend never writing it down as the second-best path. Cover your tail my brothers on this one.
Selecting an empowered volunteer is a key part of this process. An experienced salesperson is a likely choice but beware of conflicts of interest. They can’t be inviting men to the information event as they are selling their wares too.
The empowered volunteer should be contracted for two years if possible. The steering committee, the WM, and the SW need to all be engaged and fully supportive of this process to ensure the best results.
It is the duty and the responsibility of the WM and the Steering Committee and the SW to ensure that the new member presentation is functional and smooth. The empowered volunteer finds prospects mainly, without extraneous issues.
Avoid the rouge PM who may be unhappy with the idea of an empowered volunteer and goes out on his own to undermine either the process or the current leadership and could undermine the entire process.
The empowered volunteer needs to be comfortable approaching all the nonmembers with confidence that his proposition is not being undermined by a rogue trying to work another agenda that compromises the message and confuses the applicant.
It is also the responsibility of the steering committee to engage the returning members with positions in which they can be challenged and happy. They were not attending functions or meetings for a reason. If that reason was discovered and if it was something that could be overcome, set that returning member to work.
The whole point of reaching out to new members is that you have goals and needs which are not filled. Have all of that sorted out before seeking new members. You have vacancies. People who feel needed and valued perform better. They also join more often, so keep new brothers busy and everyone benefits. If the only need for members is for paying dues, you have already lost the battle for their attention.
How to deal with objections. This must be addressed before sending the empowered volunteer out to hand out his new business cards. If the empowered volunteer isn’t comfortable with some forms of objections, have a ready source available for him to call upon. This can be a more seasoned brother in whatever form the steering committee feels is appropriate. It is possible for several brothers to be expert sources for different objections. No matter how you feel about things, the objections need to be dealt with professionally, and then make sure that any other objections are also reviewed. Very seldom is one objection the only one an applicant has. This will also make the work of the investigating committee far smoother.
Never wing the answers to objections. Have printed answers ready for standardized responses in support of the empowered volunteer for use by his support team!
What about the survey for new members? The survey is your guide to what potential new members are looking for in a volunteer group. Oh, don’t get hung up on the volunteer group as a label. So many older members get really defensive at this term. Get over it. Young people look at groups as either volunteers or not. I don’t know of any groups which compel your membership, conscription in the military was terminated in the US back before I graduated from high school.
From the potential candidate’s point of view, all groups of fraternal, civic, or veterans are voluntary even if they have membership requirements or involve oaths.
The current membership survey, when completed properly, is absolutely gold. Don’t lose it and make sure all the quantifications are kept confidential from those not needing to know about them. That information is potentially useful to competitors or objectors to your group, your internal dissenters, and even new members who may not understand your group fully.
Be careful please and keep the info on a need-to-know basis. If you are ambitious enough to conduct a survey every ten years, the changes and trends will be incredibly useful for setting goals that are realistic and achievable. Guard your gold brothers!
The empowered volunteer must be someone who will not set any negative tone no matter the objections he faces. He is the face of your group. No feedback of any nature can be allowed to provoke him because he has mastered his passions.
Remember, membership building is a process and not a one-act play. Trust the process.
Professionalism must always be shown. Winging the process is a surefire way to fail. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Don’t do that please, brothers. If you want more information, download my book to your Kindle Fire or to your computer. I hope this has inspired you to start your journey to rebuilding your lodge.
The EA degree teaches us to bring order to our hearts. The FC degree teaches us to bring order to our minds. The MM degree teaches us to bring harmony to all mankind but more especially a brother Mason. So mote it be.
Paul R. Swanson, 32°
The remaining portion of this is meant to be read individually and is not part of the oral presentation. It should serve as reference material.
Americans are joiners, as noticed by a Frenchman in his book, Tocqueville in America in the 1830s. We join groups, often with enthusiasm and energy to ‘change the world’ and make our mark in history. The American ideal is that everyone matters, unlike communism when only the party elite and the dictator matter.
Note: Socialism, a popular threat of regressive slander in politics, isn’t the same type of government as communism. The differences even in capitalism include economics and politics with either capitalism for the few or capitalism for the many which serve to separate Republicans from Democrats in America today.
Tocqueville said America was different in five ways as a constitutional republic. Liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and Laissez-faire. Furthermore, he felt that Americans had the same wealth because we lacked nobles and a hereditary social class. He was also a strong supporter of the separation of church and state. He published an 800-page book after touring America in 1838. That’s where we started, more or less with volunteer group analysis.
Fast forward to America after WWII. Americans returning home after the war found their lives wanting. They joined groups in droves, including Freemasonry. Many things credited this trend, which was well documented during the ‘progressive era’. Many rival volunteer groups were created during this era, or as Brother Mark Twain termed it, the Gilded Era.
The Freemasons and other fraternal groups flourished, including the Oddfellows, the Moose, and Elks. Civic volunteer groups like the Rotary, the Kiwanis, and others sprouted. The ‘progressive era’ was characterized by the idea that citizens should care about society and their country and not just about themselves individually at the expense of others. But it wouldn’t last.
Robert D. Putnam called this the “we” cycle of American society. People often joined a group with goals they believed in and were even in some cases willing to suspend their individualism for the common good as long as it didn’t involve material injury to them or their families. They believed if society was improved, their circumstances would also. A rising tide lifts all boats was the sentiment.
So, what happened? Society changed, the “I, we, I” cycle shifted, and Americans stopped joining. That’s the big picture. The details are many and the individual reasoning decisions are as well, all blaming a multitude of things. Technology, young people being lazy, television shows, time pressures, and many other things. Those things are competitors for a new Mason’s time and decisions to join.
But these things are NOT the entire story, nor are they the root cause of our membership issues.
We moved from a ‘we’ society to an ‘I’ society in the 60s. Putnam claims that it can be pinned down to a few months with the shift in music from ‘we’ to ‘I’, reflecting the “me” generational chant during the 80s and 90s with all aspects of society shifting to the new beat.
Corporate mottos shifted, MBA students were now taught that companies existed only for ‘stakeholders’ and not for society too as was the norm in the first half of the 20th century. Everything became about ‘me’ and screwing society and the devil take the hindmost. Corporate raiders abounded, making fortunes by buying companies and liquidating the pensions and health plans of the labor force for their stakeholders and then jettisoning the shell remaining in a sink-or-swim death march. The labor force suffered and most of the adrift companies went under.
The ‘we’s’ were dead, long live the ‘I’s”. Survival of the fittest was the motto.
Volunteer groups memberships nosedived. Putnam documented this in a best-selling book of 500 plus pages with numerous charts and sources in 2000. While most volunteer groups struggled to survive, the ones which prospered tended to self-evaluate and find ways to appeal to the new population which was addicted to technology and everything being about them as an individual. In other words, these successful groups did the “work” needed to rebuild their membership base.
What could Freemasonry offer when its “work” involves memorization and group efforts? The “work” was sold as done when you reached the level of a master mason. This differentiated our group from others which only required a paid-up due card.
But was it the best thing for the individual mason or for the fraternity?
If you believe many learned brothers, the answer is no. We have neglected to help our brothers realize their potential through the working tools and the 7 liberal arts and sciences. Individual character-building fell by the wayside, unfortunately.
Masonry is said to be “A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”
Masonic Coach John S. Nagy, from the Tampa area, in Florida area says that this was fine when our education was grounded in the classics years ago and the masonic lessons generated pattern recognitions for the brothers who joined. They had a foundation that supported the allegories and symbol recognition in preparation for the character building that Masonry promised.
That foundation no longer exists. He offers several remedies in his books. See his 16 (at last count) books and daily blog for more information and solutions. They are worthy and I personally check out his blog daily as well as his Facebook page.
With our education system departing from the classics many years ago, the link for pattern recognition fell away and our brothers were set adrift without a life raft support system to replace the pattern recognition their predecessors had. Brothers were looking for “light” which if they saw any, it was dim at best. Few had the drive or desire to figure out the path which used to be better lit and available.
The “work” of freemasonry changed to become title gathering and ritual memorization as a substitute for the previous character-building and wisdom realization process that the classics supported.
Society changed but Freemasonry didn’t support the changes by evolving. Thus our membership growth reflected the changes by declining steeply.
Potential solutions? There are several social media podcasts and blogs which all Masons can draw from if they want to improve themselves in Masonry.
For me, Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
I believe we can rebuild ourselves internally, one person and one lodge at a time.
Pattern a study group on many churches which have Bible study groups. There is no wrong way to study the working tools and the 7 liberal arts. Coach Nagy offers books on the subjects. Several podcasts and blogs from others do as well. You don’t have to create a structure where only Past Masters teach either.
It likely would be better if everyone was on the ‘level’ instead of elevated. Perhaps a facilitator could help with direction if one who is experienced can be found. This just depends on the group. If you put effort into it, the effort will yield worthwhile truths which can with reason and effort yield wisdom. But you must be willing to do the “work”.
All of this “work” is internal in nature, growing in character and maturity as a man.
“Character is simply habit long continued.” Plutarch
This week I heard a candidate who had just experienced his EA state that he didn’t know many of his family belonged to the fraternity until they died, and he saw the funeral rites. This is unfortunately the result from the WWII generation of it’s a ‘secret’. This mentality has poisoned more potential applicants than anything since the Morgan affair back in the days of Andy Jackson, a mason and later our president.
When someone visits your home, can they readily recognize that you belong to Freemasonry?
Are you proud of your fraternity and of being a member?
Political divisiveness is another issue sinking our chances with new members. I was checking out a FB podcast (On the Level) which recently entered the YouTube realm and they have recommended the opposite view to what I have been operating under for years. They feel that no topic should be banned in the lodge. That’s very risky in my opinion. I feel right now all divisive topics should stop at the door of the lodge and not just while the lodge is tyled.
Coach Nagy has posted that few of our members today are mature enough in our mastery of masonry to hold a discussion on a hot-button topic in economics or politics and have all the participants keep their calm and composure, with a respectful tone and in the end stay friendly and arrive at a reasoned conclusion, devoid of slogans, strawmen arguments, slander, or ad hominins, etc.
Two different views of true masonic mastery, the podcasters from On the Level out of the Tampa, Florida area say we can or should and Coach Nagy saying we don’t seem to be able to for the most part. To date, I have seen little evidence that most Master Masons are truly masters as defined by Coach Nagy, and could engage in such dialog without controversy or issues. But my observations could be biased.
I will say this. I visited all but one lodge in District 7 last year at least once. In every lodge, I could hear politically charged conversations and in several cases, these conversations were continued while tyled. I heard several political slogans too while tyled. “Let’s go Brandon” was the mildest, there were others. Is this a masonic ideal? Does it make for a comfortable atmosphere for all members?
Slogans are by their very nature divisive in some form or another. The bumper stickers on the vehicles outside of a lodge as a prospective member approaches the lodge building for the first time, can either bias him or repel him. It takes a very strong individual to not turn around with all the hate those bumper stickers of a certain political stripe present my fellow masons! We are NOT a political party, we are freemasons!
Our potential candidates shouldn’t be forced to choose one view of politics or the exit, meaning not applying or petitioning.
During the Revolutionary war the actions which are attributed to Masons of that era, namely the Boston Tea Party were popular as what we would call today “liberalism” against the status quo of England and taxation without representation.
Masons led the way in many cases, which in the end resulted in a revolution. Today liberalism is a word that generates lots of anger and angst. The chants of “lock her up”, a bumper sticker popular with several district 7 members say something. Are these messages welcoming to everyone? Be honest.
One last topic before I print my oral presentation for April 4th. This is still February when I am writing this, the 24th to be exact. I need the time to practice the delivery and ensure I keep the duration to a minimum time, per RW Jason P. Evans’s directions! As a good, retired US Navy guy, I will do my best to follow directions.
Ritual, we claim that in masonic instruction it has remained the same, unaltered since Time Immemorial. We do this with a nod to the archaic words, phrases, and other items we use. We are also given that Landmarks of Masonry can never be changed, per Freemasonic Landmarks that some USA Jurisdictions recognize in their Constitutions, per Coach Nagy. If you have ever visited a degree or lodge out of your home state, you are likely aware that this is not true.
To quote Coach Nagy, “The premise of Landmarks or Ritual being unaltered is false”.
Lastly, the Plumbline 2019 edition reported that the survey from 2017 brought forth that “one in four” members say they did not find what they were looking for in joining Freemasonry or are uncertain if they did. In the business world, we call that “churn”.
Use these empowered volunteer best practices to gain new members, reduce the “churn” of members leaving who didn’t find what they wanted, and we can and will solve our fraternities’ issues of satisfying the customer without the expense of killing our craft.
Paul R. Swanson, MSM
February 24, 2023
- Create a steering committee comprising members who believe in this process and are positive in their composure as men and masons. Engage the SW and the WM with the steering committee, all must cooperate and agree to a two-year commitment.
- Engage an empowered volunteer for a two-year commitment.
- Conduct a proper survey, and ensure validity and confidentiality for those surveyed, garbage in, and garbage out is a truism for sloppy surveys.
- Turn the empowered volunteer loose, and ensure no rogues undermine his efforts by cherry-picking prospects so he is seen as the second person presenting the offer, which irritates prospects no end.
- Set a date, usually in 6 months intervals for an information seminar, at no cost to applicants. Use a professional speaker, if possible, slides, visual aids, etc.
- The steering committee must fully engage the new member with jobs they want, as well as returning members who were not participating before.
- Masonry engages in internal character building, also called the “work”. This is the most desired aspect young professionals are looking for in surveys. Be ready with answers on how your lodge promotes this very valued service we claim we can accomplish, that of making good men better and our process for achieving such lofty measures. Start with the several podcasts available and find one to follow as a suggestion.
Note, I personally own each of these listed sources and I often have them highlighted and underlined for reference. I am attempting to do the work of becoming “well-read” regarding the fraternity of Freemasons while progressing into a recognized leader in membership building for Masonry.
Great Books of the Western World, Mortimer J. Adler, Editor in Chief 60 volumes
Bowling Alone: The collapse and the revival of American Community, Robert D. Putnam, 2000
The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, Robert D. Putnam with Shaylyn Romney Garrett, 2020
Principles for Dealing with The Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail, Ray Dalio, 2021
American Schism, Seth David Radwell, 2021
The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents 1773-1783, Joseph J. Ellis, 2021
Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, Robert B. Reich, 2015
A Pilgrim’s Path: One Man’s Road to the Masonic Temple, John J. Robinson, 1993
House Undivided: The Story of Freemasonry and the Civil War, By Allen E. Roberts, 1961, 1990
Masonry Dissected, By Samuel Prichard, 1730 Expanded and revised Commentary by Harry Carr, Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris
The Craft Perfected!: Actualizing Our Craft, Brother John S. Nagy, 2019
The Craft Unmasked!: The uncommon origin of Freemasonry and its practice, By John S. Nagy, 2014
Cracking the Freemason’s Code: The Truth About Solomon’s Key and the Brotherhood, By Robert L.D. Cooper, 2006
Tocqueville in America, By George Wilson Pierson, 1938
The Empowered Volunteer Rebuilds America: One Fraternal, Civic, and Veterans Group at a Time, By Paul R. Swanson, e-book format for a Kindle Fire or your personal computer, only through Amazon, $3.00/copy