Saturday, September 01, 2007

Dreaded Doomsayers of Dues Part Deux

The Burning Taper today posted a link to a terrific article about lodge rejuvenation by W:. Stanley Bransgrove on the extensive Mill Valley Lodge website (take a quiet evening and explore its many historical articles. It is a true gem of a site).

Bear in mind that Wbro. Stanley's article was written back in 2001. Six years ago, he was making a similar study about the effects of low dues, not just on his own lodge, but on fraternal groups as a whole. Here's the pertinant bit as pertaining to our current dues discussion:

Something that we have not, in my opinion, been able to fully correct is a badly antiquated initiation fee and dues structure. Neither had been raised since 1972 (and before that since the 1920's) from $139 application fee and $36/year dues. Per capita tax had surpassed 50% of dues. Adjusted for inflation, conservatively, initiation fees should be close to $500 and dues should be at least $149. Yet, our dues were less than most magazine subscriptions; we have had candidates filling out applications laugh at the fee and pull the $139 out of their wallets on the spot. To put it into perspective, most people in my community pay at least 12 times our annual dues (12 months at $36 = $432) for cable television. If you've paid 12 times your lodge dues for cable TV, it seems more likely that you'll want to stay in and see what you've paid for on TV. This last year, after three years of discussion, we did manage to raise our dues to $50 and application fees to $175, which is still, in my opinion, far too low. (The San Rafael Elks Club pays annual dues of $175/year. Similarly, third degree members of the Ordo Templi Orientis purportedly pay $180/year dues.) However, one of the problems that swayed members from voting for a greater increase was the fact that the two neighboring lodges dues and fees would then be much less and might result in a drain of membership toward those lodges, not in my opinion too likely.

In researching fraternities for an on-line history (Survey of Marin Fraternal History) I found that low cost of membership had long been identified by some as having a deleterious effect on fraternal societies. For instance, in 1924, the acting Great Incohonee of the Improved Order of Red Men, W.A.S. Bird, stated during his official visit to California Great Council session:

"I've heard it said from the Golden Gate to the Atlantic, from the north to the south, "Bird, you have a cheap organization." I say to them, "Now, don't measure our organization by the amount of wampum [money] it takes to get into it." But they say, "Now, here, in your City of Topeka, you have a waiting list in five Masonic lodges at a hundred dollars per membership." The Odd Fellows at ten to fifteen, the Knights of Pythias at fifteen, the Improved Order of Red Men at ten, go begging, and lots of our boys who complain about ten fathoms [dollars] to join the Red Men have recently gone into the Masonic fraternity at a hundred, and what is the trouble? May it not be advisable at this time to consider the proposition of making the minimum fee twenty-five instead of ten fathoms. The man that can love a woman for nothing will break his darn neck to love one if it costs him a lot. I tell you, we pay for what is worth while, and you get out of this life and this fraternity just what you put in, and nothing more. (Record...1924, p. 123.) [Nb. Converting 1924 dollars to 2000 dollars - $100 would now be $977.19; $25 would now be $244.30; $15 would now be $146.58; and $10 would now be $97.72.]"


In our estimation, even increasing dues to a respectable level when adjusted for inflation, will be insufficient to fund a budget for the types of activities we envision adding to our current program, such as sponsoring a little league team, sponsoring underprivileged children's attendance to summer camp, and upgrading our own meal functions, as well as maintaining an increasingly expensive building. To do so, our Hall Association has developed a new business plan to make maximum use of our biggest asset - the building.


There is far more that is outstanding in the article, so please read it, regardless of what you may or may not agree with on the dues question.

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