When I was in college, like many other young men, I joined a fraternity on campus to have an opportunity to live with like-minded men and to share in a bond of mutual support and encouragement. Early in the process we were told about the costs of joining, which included initiation fees and yearly dues. To a young man with little income and paying for education, this can be daunting. Fees at that time ranged around $300 to join including first year dues. This didn’t cover costs for living or food, just for costs to be part of the group and normal expenses for entertaining and upkeep of our facility. The treasurer at the time was responsible for collecting these fees, and some of the candidates and members often dropped because they could not afford the expense. In response the treasurer liked to remind everyone that: “Brotherhood begins and ends with dues.”
While this is a simplistic view of fraternity and brotherhood, I think there is a slight hint of truth. When we choose to join an organization there is a financial cost that goes along with that commitment.
Masonic Lodges continue to fall away through decline in membership, and there is enough evidence to point at part of this failure is in how we value the fraternity and the financial evidence shows that we have chosen to price it in such a way as to reduce its value both internally and externally.
This gets me fired up and I would love to change it locally. I am thinking out loud here to get some feedback on my thought process because I am going to challenge our Lodge about this very thing.
Our local dues are next to nothing ($65 USD if I remember right). [We don’t have rent or property tax, so we don’t have huge expenses.] A large portion of this expense goes directly to Grand Lodge to help facilitate its expenses and contribute to the programs it runs. The balance is left with the local lodge to pay bills, entertain, do charitable work, etc.
Doing some simple math using an inflation calculator I get some interesting insight. Our original Lodge dues were $1 in 1865, that translates to about $15 in 2013 (last year for CPI). Running that same cost in 1865 and adjusting for CPI turns out a number like $225 for 2013. This means we are only charging less than 1/3 of the value our founding members were paying, and only valuing it $4.33! (Average salaries in 1865 were about $300/yr.; in 2013, they were about $51K/yr, so if I look at this in terms of percentage of salary we value 1/3 less than they did then.)
On that same note, the Lodge initiation fees were $10, $5 & $5, or $20 to join in 1865, which makes the value in today’s dollars at $300, we are charging $75 and sending the lions share to GL! Why?
Our Lodge has around 116 members. Let’s say 20% of those are paid life members (they pay nothing having put in time). That leaves us with 93 dues paying members. Let’s also say that we have 3 of those who are destitute or need to have dues remitted for some logical reason over the course of the year (secretary fee, or whatever). That means in our current state we bring in about $5850 in dues yearly. If we raise dues, let’s say another 20% demit, leaving us with 72 paying members. I’d say that is a shame, but I only need to have 26 members paying to keep the funds at the same rate to keep the lights on. If all 72 members stick around and pay $225pp, then there is over $16,200 in funds to be used for enabling the Lodge to do more. That is $10,350 more, which could be used for improvements, scholarships, programming, dinners, etc.
This kind of solution could also be used to help fund deferring costs for some of the members. We have a lot of fixed income members, so having a solution like this can still keep the lodge sustainable, and position it to get back on track with reasonable costs. If we create a solution to defer costs for some of the retirees we could still keep them on the books and position costs to grow over time.
I hear all kinds of arguments about why we cannot raise the dues. The continued argument that raising the dues will make people leave is hogwash. While low dues does make the barrier for entry and sticking around very low, it doesn’t incent members to invest themselves more. If a man hears that a lodge charges only $65 to participate year round, I am certain he will have set a mental expectation about what that money will provide. If a man sees that a Lodge is charging $225 for dues, he will also have a mental expectation about what that will provide; taste economics tells us that is how we as people respond.
I believe We are afraid of change. We feel bad for those that cannot pay. We don’t want to deny a potential candidate due to funds and don’t want to place a hardship on our older or fixed income members. Frankly, we don’t want to pay more for this than we have to. But we should! Ask ourselves: Is the Lodge engaging men? Are we providing value? We can accommodate Brothers who cannot afford to attend lodge and do it all the time. Most often it is subsidizing their time with our own. I think we need to get real, as it were.
We’ve (and I am speaking generally) hit the point were subsidizing dues for members who don’t come is detracting from our ability to focus on why were are in Lodge. Eating baloney sandwiches might have been fine in the past, but younger generations want more. Dealing with old or broken equipment might have been fine for a time, but having moldy costuming just doesn’t cut it anymore. Spending quality time learning and digging at Masonic light is what the younger generation wants. Let’s at least give them a fighting chance by making this all sustainable financially.
Prospects that know they are spending more will think twice before joining and be prepared, not just a flippant drive to be a joiner. Members that have invested financially will think twice before skipping and have more pride in something that is exclusive. We just have to change ourselves.
Inflation calculator http://www.westegg.com/inflation/
Aug 1865 minutes of Lodge