Time To Implement Plan B

Ever since I knocked at the portal of Freemasonry way back in 1997 I've been hearing the same thing echoed by Grand Lodges, appendant bodies and members alike: Our numbers are dwindling. You can't swing a dead cat without hearing a DDGM stating passing along a verbal distress sign that we urgently need new members. This issue is happening in every Masonic body and if properly known all organizations nationwide from churches, fire companies, VFWs, Rotary, Elks, etc. 

We've all heard the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and looking for a different result. Well I see Freemasonry continuing to focus on how to get new members but spend very little effort of getting existing members more involved.

Compounding our declining membership issue, we are also seeing less participation from the members of Masonic organizations. Just sit in lodge and count heads, then look and see how many dues paying members you have. The average is about 10% participation.  That is, if a lodge has 300 members you'll usually get 10% at a meeting or 30 men. If there is some charity work to be done you'll get 10% of them or 3 men that'll show up. I call this Hiram's Principal or the 90/10 rule instead of the better known Pareto's Principal aka the 80/20 rule. 

I propose an alternative method, Plan B, that will help increase participation and will later lead to more new members. Let's step outside of our Masonic bubble and visit the real world. 

I was a salesman for years. The more I sold, the more money I had and vice-versa. One of the lessons you learn as a salesman is the "Sales Funnel". Think of a funnel, wide at the top, small at the bottom. The idea is to throw as many cold calls, leads, advertising etc. into the top and magically sales ($$$) would pour out of the bottom. The only problem is - the funnel is defective. It has holes in it so not everything that goes in, comes out as a sale. Unfortunately the majority of leads you cram into the top escapes and isn't converted to sales. So in order to make more sales come out of the bottom of the funnel you have two options. Option A is increase how many leads you put in the hopper and hope for the best or Option B which is to patch up holes in the funnel so a higher percentage of your leads are converted to sales.  

If we think of Freemasonry as a funnel, we've been focusing mainly on option A - putting more crap into the funnel.

Masonic Sales Funnel - Option A: Doing the same thing over and over, Get New Members!

  • Marketing. Sure, back in the "old days" of 20 years ago you had to seek out membership yourself. ASK12B1 style. Now most jurisdictions have dropped that, and we can talk to people about Freemasonry. Heck, some jurisdictions even run commercials. Now we've gone from only those men who inquire, to all adult men as potential members. We've opened up an exponentially larger group of potential members and yet... still we decline. 
  • One-day classes is a recurring effort to throw more men into the Masonic Sales Funnel. Bringing in large numbers of men does show a nice little spike for a day, but do they stick around after? Do they become active brothers? Do they ever feel like they are part of the lodge since they maybe only met 3 men from their home lodge at the ceremony.
  • Lowering Standards. Another common technique employed by some bodies has been to lower standards. When I joined the Shrine there was a rule that you needed to be a 32nd Scottish Rite Mason or a Knight Templar to join. This requirement was lifted so now all Master Masons can join the Shrine, opening up many more prospective members to target. (BTW, this was a kick in the jimmies for the AASR and Commandery. But don't fret, those members were just check-writers and you'd never see them at meetings again anyway). 
Well, how'd that work out for us? We've expanded our potential membership roles exponentially and it's done nothing to help. So, what's the alternative?

I've always stated that I'd rather be in a small organization where most people participate than in a giant organization that's horribly inefficient. Kind of like shopping local as opposed to going to Walmart. So here's my option B:

Masonic Sales Funnel - Option B - Plug the holes!

  • Talk to the check-writing, no-show brothers. Why are brothers uninterested or quitting? Is there anything we can do to help fix that? As an account manager with a telephone company I was required to contact each of my clients once per quarter, just to check in, make sure they are happy and keep them as clients. Back to Freemasonry, what's the deal with that 90% that you never see? Well, pick up a damn phone and ask. Many might not really know anyone or ever made a connection with anyone in the lodge. They might feel embarrassed that they don't remember the word, or proper procedures to enter a lodge building. They might be having financial or family issues that we could help with. 
    • Recently while visiting a lodge in Gettysburg, PA I was told of a method they use. At each meeting attending brothers reach into a fish bowl and extract one 3x5 card. That card has the name and contact information of a brother who hasn't been to lodge in 6+ months. Their task is to make contact with that brother and find out why they've been absent. The brother will see what he can do to assist that inactive member.
    • What does your lodge do that works? Please share! 
  • Don't shortcut the experience. One day classes are nice for pictures but it really takes something out of the experience for the new member. The members don't get the individualized attention, nor do they get to interact and get to know the brothers of the lodge. It is well documented that men from the 1-day classes have lower participation rates than those who travel the same path that many good and worthy fellows have.
    • Hats off to the officers and mentors in my lodge for really doing a bang up job over the past 10 years. When men want to join our lodge they meet regularly with mentors at our lodge building between degrees. The Apprentices and Fellowcrafts also come to our lodge on meeting nights to enjoy the pre-meeting meal and to socialize and meet the brethren. When I as made a Mason in 1997 I only knew my guide, and if he didn't insist in dragging me to future meetings I might never have gone and gotten hooked. Now in my lodge when a man is raised he knows everyone in the room already. That makes it a less intimidating environment to walk into as a new Mason. 
  • Let local lodges/chapters have some individuality. I'm not talking ritual, I think keeping ritual intact is important in building that common bond across the organization. I'm talking let a local lodge be able to express their local flair. 
    • I've seen German and Italian speaking lodges, a Civil War themed lodge is being proposed, etc. all of these are things that are going to interest brothers to visit. If you look around you'll see new Traditional Observant lodges having to cap membership because it's different and interesting. 
    • What kind of unique lodges are in your area?
  • Trim the dead wood. Sometimes you need to prune some branches and Freemasonry has tons of branches. Some of these organizations need to be combined, not only to save money on real estate but to put more butts in seats and to conserve nights of the month. 
    • I live in the center of my County and within 30 minutes I can be at maybe 12 Blue Lodges. Back in the era of horse-and-buggies you needed a lodge in your local just because of logistics. But we have cars now. We don't need a handful of struggling lodges and a handful of strong ones. 
  • Reorganize the structure of the Shrine, Grotto, Tall Cedars, Sciots, etc.  Ok, I know this idea is far-out and because of the different legal entitities, charities, plus the egos of many it could never work. As the saying goes, we have lots of Chiefs and not enough Indians, and nobody wants to become subservient to another. But, make smaller organizations like Grotto, Tall Cedars, and Sciots roll into the Shrine and become units. I know this can't happen, too many pieces in place, but... sigh. 
    • In Harrisburg PA there is a ginormous Shrine building right next to a humongous Scottish Rite building - both sit empty most nights. The Tall Cedars national office did own a building but to cut costs they sold it and they now rent a building in Harrisburg Pa, but not from the Shrine or AASR building. Um...
In conclusion, I'm not dismissing Option A: Putting More Crap Into The Funnel. This is great, we need to keep trying but it is pointless if we can't figure out a way to become interesting, relevant and keeping these members actively involved. If we really work on Option B: we'll find that more of our members are staying active, staying involved. 

As a measure of success I'd hope to get back to the Pareto's Principal of 80/20. If we could go from 10% active members to 20% active members we'll see huge dividends. More people participating and having fun just starts building more interest and therefore feeds more people into the funnel. By focusing on ourselves, getting our house in order we will rebuild, better, stronger, faster. 

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