Sunday, October 30, 2011

Massachusetts to Double Dues?

Longtime readers know that I tend to fall in with the "Freemasonry in the U.S. is too cheap" crowd. Now brethren are reporting that the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts is looking at doubling their current per capita dues to the GL, from $29 to $60, as well as raising the minimum lodges may charge for initiations from $50 to $300. I suspect there will be heated conversations on both sides of the question.

The proposal was announced in a letter from the Grand Master:

M.W. Richard J. Stewart
Grand Master
October 17, 2011

Dear Brother,

As you may know, at the September Quarterly Communication I spoke on a subject of such great importance to our future that I believe it is necessary to share my remarks directly with you. The title of my address was "The Value of Freemasonry."

As active members of this great fraternity, we appreciate the role Freemasonry plays in our lives. To those who feel Greatness lies within us, Freemasonry offers an unparalleled opportunity to build moral and spiritual well-being and can truly make a good man better. We say that we make good men better; actually, we take good men and allow them the opportunity to become better men.

As custodians of the Masonic legacy of the oldest Grand Lodge in the Western Hemisphere, we have a duty. In all of our Masonic endeavors we must strive to support, defend, and build on what we stand for as a fraternity. Our brand, if you will.

We also have an obligation to future generations to ensure them that Freemasonry - not withstanding the many moral, social, and economical trials facing the world in the Twenty-first Century - will not only survive, but to thrive.

I believe we, as a fraternity, are making great progress. We have begun to see the fruits of our labors over the past several years, raising thousands of new Masons. We have created high-quality education and training opportunities to prepare our members for leadership positions in their Lodges and in Grand Lodge.

Think of where we would be if we had not embarked on our membership program in 2005 and launched the Ben Franklin awareness campaign? Your Board of Directors and Past Grand Masters have thrown their support behind all of these initiatives. The financial investment has been considerable, but worth it.

The cost of these programs plus those associated with running Grand Lodge and fulfilling its mission is in excess of what we collect in dues, rent, and charitable donations. For this Masonic year we will have a deficit of well over $3 million. That money has to come from somewhere: it comes from our invested funds.

But, is it fair to all concerned to engage in deficit spending in the years ahead? In particular, is it fair to the next generation of Masons? How can we properly instruct them on the value of Freemasonry if we rely too heavily on the contributions and labor of previous generations to pay our current bills?

At my request, R.W. Mason W. Russell, Past Deputy Grand Master and Grand Lodge Director, addressed Grand Lodge and explained the realities of our financial situation. To ensure we share the message as widely as our members will hear it, Bro. Russell presented his remarks a second time on film. The video can be viewed on MassMasons.org, our new members-only information center. You must register to enter the site, so please have your dues card on hand because you will need to provide your member identification number.

I strongly encourage you to spend a few minutes watching the video and to familiarize yourself with the issues we are facing, the steps we have taken to address them, and the solutions we are proposing to move forward.

As R.W. Bro. Russell explains, we cannot continue to incur deficits at the current rate and level without jeopardizing our future. I, as well as our Past Grand Masters, whole-heartedly support the Board of Directors in their efforts to cut spending where it can be done, and to increase revenue.

The first step in the process was initiated this spring when the Budget subcommittee of the Board of Directors conducted a line-item review and reduced spending by more than $100,000 from last year. We will continue to scrutinize spending to identify other potential reductions.

So that it is in writing, above my name and signature, I have summarized the proposed changes to the Grand Constitutions:

To increase Grand Lodge dues from $29 to $60 (Section 330).
To increase the minimum initiation fee a Lodge demands from a candidate from $50 to $300 (Section 400).

At the December Quarterly Communication, you can expect to hear proposals to amend the Grand Lodge Constitutions to increase our annual Grand Lodge dues as well as the fees for the degrees. These proposals will be discussed at the March Quarterly, and voted at the June Communication.

We cannot change the Grand Constitutions on a whim. Nor do we take lightly the decision to change the Grand Constitution. If we did not believe these actions were necessary, we would not propose them to you. I urge you to acquaint yourself with the facts, discuss your concerns and questions with your Lodge, and consider well the proposals.

May the Great Architect of the Universe continue to bless you and your family, our beloved Fraternity, and our great Country.

Cordially & fraternally,

M.W. Richard J. Stewart
Grand Master

10 comments:

Masonic Traveler said...

Value to worth, what do you get at with the greater expense that your not getting already?

Don said...

By initiation fees, I do hope at least they mean all 3 degrees?

John Anderson said...

The increase of initiated masons should cover for the increase of dues. There is still a recession going on. What if we just said wait.

Tom Hathaway said...

While I believe that a Grand Lodge may charge whatever it deems appropriate as a per capita. I believe that to direct a constituent lodge, an autonomous body in most respects, what they may charge as dues is heavy handed. This is further complicated in Massachusetts as I believe there are a few warranted, "time immemorial" lodges who predate the Massachusetts Grand Lodge within its jurisdiction. Of course since it has already been accepted that the grand lodge may establish a minimum dues standard; the only remaining question is one of degree.

Tom Hathaway, Ann Arbor Fraternity #262

A.C. said...

One of the potential issues with such a such a sudden, sharp increase in GL dues is that a lot of lodges in Massachusetts have set their own dues as a multiplier of Grand Lodge dues, with the assumption that adjustments would be gradual over time; so a blue lodge whose bylaws state that dues shall cost 2 x Grand Lodge dues will charge its members a total of $88 per year; $29 per year for Grand Lodge, $1 assessment for the George Washington Memorial, and $58 blue lodge dues.

If Grand Lodge dues jump to $59 per year, members of that lodge are suddenly going to be hit with a dues bill of nearly $180 next year.

I also believe Freemasonry is too cheap in the U.S., but I'm not sure that an overnight dues increase of 100% will have the desired effect. (If you chase half of your members away by doubling dues, you're right back where you started.)

Increasing initiation fees to $300 is a great idea, but only if lodges can provide that kind of value.

MP said...

Br. Tom - nothing in wat I have seen in the GM's letter directs Lodges to increase their dues.

Am I missing something?

Br. AC is right on the money with looking at the Lodges which have tied their dues to GL dues for increases, via by-laws. I expect we will see a LOT of by-laws amendments before GL in the next 6 months.

Meanwhile, I'm definitely going to pay life membership due for GL before 31 Dec 2011.

REK said...

Michigan did the same two years ago but decided to split the increase over 4 years.

Nathan said...

What shocks me is the negative reaction to a $30 increase. That's less than $3 a month. Skip a latte or a pack of cigarettes every month, or don't make that $30 impulse purchase that we all make from time to time, and see how quickly that's covered.

Recession or not, from the way some people are reacting, you'd think the GL was asking for real money.

J said...

Increasing from $30 to $60 is not a big deal. Even with a $30 increase that is not a large dues payment, let's be honest here. Lodges can amend their bylaws if their dues are tied to the Grand Lodge dues.

What is more of a big deal (and a totally bad idea in my opinion) is requiring all lodges to charge at least $300 to each new candidate for them to join. During a big recession no less. Great way to scare off new applicants and force a lot of lodges to do something they do not want to do.

EGC said...

By now most will know that the gl dues increase to 61 was approved and the mandatory initiation fee increase was not.

My take
(a). doubling a membership fee is not good judgement, reflecting lack of previous realities OR poor communication. But even more foolish is spending in the red. However greater attention to budget at grand lodge and curtailing or placing a moratorium on ELECTIVE spending such as tv/radio ads - which frankly being in the same medium and channels has reached saturation levels anyway - very much seems in order.

(b) The dictate to lodge to increase initiation fees also seems well-intentioned, but misguided as well. First, according to GL, lodges are responsible for gl dues not an individual member. Though lodge may by definition of their dues structure/bylaw collect it from each member. SO if that is true, then by association G.L should have no direct dictate as to how much a candidate must pay for initiation. Granted lodges are REQUIRED to purchase candidate kits from grand lodge which are overpriced due to among other things hard copy books that could be easily and more cost effective replaced by paperback or kindle editions. However whether a lodge passes those cost into initiation fees and lodge fees is and should be up to each lodge and its somewhat unique organization defined by its bylaws.

Lastly, the argument used by many that we are undervalued is risky. Often comparisons are made to cost of golf club, country club, yacht club, etc membership are used to compare. THE PROBLEM doing that is those entities provide a direct physical benefit for that cost paid. Eg. docking fees, access to private golf greens, access to target ranges (sportsmans clubs), etc. Our dues do no such thing. That is not to say it has no value; most untrue. Its just making direct comparison is very flawed logic and fraught with peril in terms of making the comparison of what direct personal value to I get vs other clubs/associations.