Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Recruitment Results are in!

Well the votes are in from Much Ado about Recruitment and it appears that most brothers who frequent my blog support Passive Strong Recruitment with 68% of the vote. Active Strong Recruitment came in second with 18%, Passive Weak with 9% and Active Weak with 4%. Unfortunately with a sample size of 22 votes, its impossible to make a direct correlation with the opinions of Masonry as a whole. We would need a much larger sample size to make any statements about how Masons feel in general. However, I was pleased to see that many brothers who read the Masonic Renaissance share the same point of view as myself. I didn't want to basis my questionnaire with my own view point, so I didn't state it at the time. I am a supporter of Passive Strong recruitment.

I believe that we as Masons should not actively ask non-Masons to join the fraternity. Men who are willing to seek out Masonry are more likely to be seekers of truth, the true profession of a Freemason. However, it is important to talk with non-Masons about who we are and what we do. The Masonic Service Association of North America performed a study a few years ago that showed that the majority of Americans (approx 80%) have no idea what Masonry is. Public awareness of Masonry is at an all-time low and it's important that we rectify this problem.

I have never asked a man to join the lodge, however I have signed nearly a dozen petitions in my eight years of being a Master Mason. I take the time to talk about my lodge, my brothers and our good works with my friends and family. I let my excitement show and this makes my acquaintances wish to know more. We don't need booths at fairs, billboards or TV commercials asking people to join. We need brothers who can talk about our brotherhood.

I try to remember this simple axiom when it comes to Masonic Recruitment, "Small is beautiful." I take this idea from economist E. F. Schumacher, who wrote against the idea of globalization in the 70's. Schumacher railed against the concentration of resources and proposed a system of decentralized economics that focused on the human aspects of production instead of an evaluation based solely on efficiency. Freemasonry should take the same approach. We need to focus on decentralized recruitment that focuses on the human aspects of Masonry instead of centralized recruitment. Quite simply, Masonry is about people and that should be the focus. The message of Masonry should be spread in a personal manner. More members can be gained through a supportive handshake, a shoulder to lean on when times are tough or advice to help guide a friend.

What I propose is no easy task. It requires two of the most difficult virtues to embody, patience and trust. First, we must be patient. The Temple of King Solomon took decades to build and the second Temple took decades to rebuild. Masonry is also in the process of being rebuilt. Many of our brothers are not knowledgeable about the craft and they must be taught. Many Grand Lodges wish to take a centralized approach to recruitment, because they fear that our brothers' ignorance will disgrace the dignity of our profession. The answer to this problem isn't to get a new set of brothers, it is to teach the brothers we have already to become true Master Masons. Second, we must trust in these brothers that we have taught. Once they have the tools that they need, let them do the work that they were trained to do. In short, we must patiently train our brothers to talk about the fraternity and then trust that they will help our craft grow.

In my next post "The Best of Both Worlds", I will conclude my four part series on Masonic recruitment. This post will focus on the specifics of creating a fraternity that has both quality and quantity.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Quality vs Quanity - A False Choice

In part, the following post will discuss the subject of Masonic Recruitment. For many brothers, this is a touchy subject, but I would like all readers to approach this post with an open mind. Although I won't go fully into depth on the subject of recruitment during this post, I will say that I am in favor of a limited form of Masonic recruitment. As defined in my previous post "Much Ado About Recruitment", I support passive strong recruitment. Personally, I don't believe that McMasonry is a good idea. We as Masons should not be jamming petitions into people's hands or asking every Bob, Joe and Harry to become Masons. However, I do believe that a Mason who knows of a man that he feels would make a good Mason, should talk to him about the lodge. Talking is not the same thing as asking and recruiting is not the same thing as pandering. However, even before we can begin a limited form of recruitment we need to increase our standards, our investigation processes and our methods of Masonic Education. I believe that more men should know who we are, but it needs to be more difficult to join.

I have made several attempts to broach the subject of Masonic recruitment with the members of my lodge. These talks have focused on learning how to talk with non-Masons about Masonry and inviting non-Masons to public lodge events. For the most part, these discussions are very positive and I believe that some of my brothers have taken my advice to heart. However, I do occasionally hear the argument that we don't need quantity, we need quality. Although I completely agree that the fraternity needs quality far more then it needs quantity, this response still really makes me upset. My reaction is not based upon a disagreement with the brother over the validity of actively recruiting (even in the reduced method that I promote). My reaction is towards a rebuttal that I feel is unjustified, continually repeated without thought, potentially dangerous for the future of Masonry and an obvious deference of responsibility for the dismal state of modern Masonry. "We need quality, not quantity" is a sure fire way to get me pink in the face.

So, why does this anger me so much? I am upset that brothers will rely on this poor argument to justify stagnation. I have found that the brothers who use this argument have typically done nothing to increase the level of quality we want in prospective members. Furthermore, this argument is an example of a logical fallacy. A logical fallacy is method used in debate that is dependent upon flawed logic. A false choice, otherwise known as a false dilemma, is a specific logical fallacy, whereby an argument is made that forces a decision to be made between one choice or another. Typically, the two choices are presented as being mutually exclusive, while in reality, there may be a middle ground or compromise that breaks this dichotomy. An example of a false choice is "either you're with us or against us."

When a brother cites "We need quality not quantity," they are really saying that these two states are mutually exclusive. In other words, if we choose to have quantity, we will not have quality. Furthermore, the converse is proposed to be true. If we choose to have quality, we can not have quantity. To me, this is utter hogwash!

To gain quality members, we need to display the positive attributes of our fraternity. The most positive attribute of our fraternity is the character and actions of our brother. If we don't have many Masons in this world, then we can't display our fine attributes and therefore it becomes difficult to gain quality members. Quite simply, to gain quality we need to be shown as a quality organization. But, to be shown as a quality organization, we need active members to show off this quality. It's a catch-22. To gain quality, we need a quantity of active quality brothers.

Another argument for a direct correlation between quality and quantity is that quality members are typically pulled from a pool of diverse members. This is otherwise known as the shotgun effect. This theory proposes that out of a certain population of new members, you will naturally get active members and non-active members. To clarify, I would prefer that all men who join the fraternity are of the highest quality and will become highly active, but that is not always the case. No matter how hard we try, we will always suffer from a shotgun effect. Some brothers find something they enjoy in Masonry and become active, while some brothers do not. However, the more members that we get in general, the more quality members we will receive. Unfortunately, the converse is also true, the more members that we get in general, the more poor quality members we will receive. To control this effect, quality control must be implemented, which would limit the number of poor quality members. However, to support a growth in the fraternity, the pool of prospective members must correspondingly increase. Therefore, once again, to increase quality, quantity must also increase. In this case, the quantity of prospective members must grow.

My educational background is in physics and mathematics, so please bare with me a moment while I use a graphical representation of our membership to summarize the situation our membership is in. In the following graph, the x axis represents the quality of our membership. Quality in this representation can range from 0 (the worst possible quality Mason) to 1 (the best possible quality Mason). The y axis represents the number of brothers in the fraternity. This graph represents the quality vs quantity distribution of our current membership.

In this model, we have very few truly high quality members and very few truly low quality members. The largest portion of our brothers are of medium quality. In our current situation, we practice little to no quality control and little to no quantity control. This evaluation is simplistic at best and is open to interpretation. However, I am using this representation of our current membership as a baseline for future possibilities, where the comparison to the baseline is more important than the baseline itself. (Note to the Math buffs out there. This is a standard Gaussian Distribution with a height of .25, a center peak position of .5 and a standard deviation of .17)

Now, one possible recruitment method is the shotgun effect. In this approach, the fraternity would simply instate quantity control and no further quality control. Here, I define quantity control as knowingly implementing processes to control the level of the membership. In this case, the fraternity is attempting to increase its membership. This approach is characterized by one day classes, large scale advertisements and openly asking potential members to join the fraternity. In my previous article "Much Ado about Recruitment", this would be defined as Active Strong Recruitment.

In this model, the hope is that more quality members will be gained by simply increasing the pool of brothers. This may be true, but the adverse is also true. We will gain more poor quality brothers as well. Overall, the median quality level stays the same. This model is represented in the following graph by the red function with the blue function as our original baseline. (Note to the Math buffs out there. This is a standard Gaussian Distribution with a height of .5, a center peak position of .5 and a standard deviation of .17)

The next possible recruitment method is implementing quality control, but not seeking to increase the membership. This is the method that is proposed when brothers state that we need quality, not quantity. In this model, the standards of membership are raised and poor quality candidates are denied membership. The effect of this model is that we will have less members, but the members we do have will be of high quality. (Note to the Math buffs out there. This is a standard Gaussian Distribution with a height of .25, a center peak position of .75 and a standard deviation of .1)

Heretofore, we have reviewed three possible recruitment models for the Masonic Fraternity. The first model is our current state, where neither the quality nor quantity of our membership is increased. The first model is obviously flawed because this model has failed for the past fifty years. There are very few brothers that feel that this is a good solution.

The second model is promoted by several Grand Lodges in the United States. This model proposes that the membership difficulties will be solved by making it easier to become a Mason. I have often referred to this model as the "Field of Dreams" model, because it promotes a "build it and they will come" mentality. However, it is also flawed, because it will bump our numbers in the short run, but the Fraternity will lack in overall quality members. In essence, this would return us to our post-WWII membership situation, which would correspondingly suffer the same fate. This model would only prolong the inevitable demise of the fraternity. The success of the "Field of Dreams" model is only a dream.

The third model is typically promoted by Traditional Observance Organizations and European Style Masonry. This model proposes that the membership difficulties will be solved by making it more difficult to become a Mason. Commonly, this school of thought supports that all men must seek to join without any interference by the Craft. They interpret the "free will and accord" clause as meaning that Masonry isn't allowed to promote itself to potential members in any form. Although I believe that this is a better option than the previous two models, it is also flawed. The Masonic Service Association of North America recently conducted a survey that showed that the majority of Americans are completely oblivious to the existence of Masonry. This means that there are good men out there that do not know that Masonry exists. How can we expect good men to knock on our door, when they don't know there is a door to knock on? This model will eventually suffer from a lack of critical mass to support making new men interested about the fraternity.

I will now hypothesize a forth option. This model proposes that Masonry can have both quality and quantity at the same time. This means that we can have more members, who are of a high quality. This can be accomplished by limited recruitment, while implementing strong quality control. The following graph represents this model of the fraternity. (Note to the Math buffs out there. This is a standard Gaussian Distribution with a height of .5, a center peak position of .75 and a standard deviation of .1)

This "best of both worlds" model is possible. It will take hard work, dedication and creativity from the fraternity to achieve it, but it can be done. In my next post, I will give my proposal on how Masonry can achieve both an increase in active membership and an increase in the quality of its members. In the meantime, please give me feedback on the models that I have proposed in the comments section.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Much ado about recruitment

Recruitment! This is one of those words that lead to argument and disagreement in almost all lodges. There are many camps and many schools of thought regarding Masonic recruitment. The spectrum begins with "absolutely all forms of recruitment are prohibited" to "no forms of recruitment are prohibited."

The pragmatist in me believes that the longer we fight about what should be done, we miss what could be done. However, to progress we must reach a common ground. I believe that most of our brothers argue over recruitment not because they disagree with what should and should not be done. They argue because they perceive the definition of recruitment differently. So, what is recruitment? What does it entail? How is it done? Where is it done? With whom is it done? If we asked these questions instead of "Should we recruit?", we'd get more brothers agreeing and less brothers fighting. So, let's try to delve into these questions and find the multitude of answers we can find.

Merriam-Webster defines recruitment as "the process of adding new individuals to a population or subpopulation (as of breeding or legally catchable individuals) by growth, reproduction, immigration, and stocking." By this definition, we're recruiting no matter what we do. Masonry has a process in place to add new individuals to its population. This process is called initiation. However, this is not what most Masons think of when they think of recruitment. Many brothers hear recruitment and they think about handing out flyers and pushing petitions into people's hands. As a minimum, many Masons define recruitment as the "act of asking a person to join the fraternity".

Now we can see two different meanings of recruitment arising. To differentiate between these meanings I would like to define recruitment in two separate terms, passive recruitment and active recruitment. Simply stated, passive recruitment is "the process of adding new individuals to the fraternity without asking" and active recruitment is "the process of adding new individuals to the fraternity by asking." With these two definitions, we can progress forward without alienating any of our brothers. Now we can talk about recruitment as a craft.

I would like to now propose two additional definitions that can be added to these ideas of recruitment, weak recruitment and strong recruitment. My definition of these terms refer to the amount of information that is disseminated amongst the non-Mason population. For instance, a brother in favor of weak recruitment would believe that Masonry does not need to disseminate information about itself to gain future members, while a brother in favor of strong recruitment would believe that Masonry needs to disseminate information about itself to gain future members. This delineation does not refer to propositioning non-Masons, only informing non-Masons.

With these new definitions of recruitment; passive and active, strong and weak, we can now define four definitive schools of thought regarding recruitment. Here are my definitions for these schools of thought:
  • Passive Weak Recruitment - No one should be asked to become a Mason and Masons should not inform non-Masons about the fraternity. These brothers typically never speak about Masonry to the point that their families do not even know what they do with the lodge. These brothers expect candidates to ask to join the lodge without prior knowledge of what occurs in the lodge.
  • Passive Strong Recruitment - No one should be asked to become a Mason, but Masons should inform non-Masons about the fraternity. These brothers typically talk about Masonry frequently with their family and friends, but rarely discuss it with people they are not close to. These brothers expect candidates to ask to join the lodge with prior knowledge of what occurs in lodge.
  • Active Weak Recruitment - Individuals are allowed to be asked to become a Mason, but Masons should not inform non-Masons about the fraternity. These brothers typically ask people to join Masonry directly, but inform the candidate that he can only learn about the fraternity once he is part of it. These brothers are willing to ask a candidate to join the lodge without prior knowledge of what occurs in lodge.
  • Active Strong Recruitment - Individuals are allowed to be asked to become a Mason and Masons should inform non-Masons about the fraternity. These brothers typically talk about Masonry frequently and are willing to ask non-Masons to join. These brothers are willing to ask a candidate to join the lodge with prior knowledge of what occurs in lodge.
I know that these four categories are a simplistic categorization of how our brothers feel about recruitment. However, I feel that it is important to understand what our members currently believe about the subject and to establish a vocabulary about the subject before a dialog can begin. After reading this article, please vote on the right hand side of the blog with what kind of Masonic recruitment do you support. I would be interested in hearing what my readers think about the subject.

This is part one of a series of posts I plan on writing about recruitment. Please tune in for the next installment entitled "Quality vs Quantity - A False Choice." This will be published once I finish the article, hopefully over the weekend. Thanks for reading :)

Monday, February 4, 2008

If we didn't have a hall, where would the three of us eat?

(Editorial Note: When using the term "hall" in this post, the author is referring to the large meeting area where dinners and other social functions occur in a Masonic Building. I am in no way promoting getting rid of lodge rooms. Lodge rooms are necessary for making Masons and are therefore a critical aspect of a Masonic building. The purpose of this article is to challenge the typical design of a Masonic Building, in favor of a new design without the large dining hall commonly included in most Masonic Buildings. Special thanks to Brother MMM from The Northeast Corner for pointing out my lack of clarity.)

As masons, we place a peculiar importance on the buildings in which we meet. There are several reasons for this. The most common reason for this importance is because we practice secret ceremonies, which by definition must be held in a facility that can shelter us from the outside world. Furthermore, we place importance on our buildings because the symbolism of our craft is entrenched in the tools of operative stone masons. Our lodge rooms are physical representations of King Solomon's Temple and therefore command a level of reverence uncommon in the halls of other fraternal organizations. Many Freemasons feel as though our buildings are the last bastions of positive idealism and our walls guard us from the collapsing civilization, where we commonly reside in our normal lives.

By thinking about why a Masonic building is important, we can define what exactly is the purpose of these buildings and use this definition to plan out the Masonic building of the future. So, what is the purpose of a Masonic building? In the most simplest terms, the purpose of the Masonic building is to house a Masonic Lodge. Since the purpose of a Masonic Lodge is to make Masons, then the purpose of a Masonic building is to provide a location to make Masons. The requirements for a location to make Masons are simple, a secure location that can hold the number of individuals participating in the degree.

Since form typically follows function, the heart of the Masonic building is the place where Masons are made, the lodge room. I would argue that it takes more than a degree to make a Mason. It takes time, contemplation, research and discussion with well informed brethren. The perfect place to perform these actions is a library. However, very few Masonic Buildings contain a communal study area. There is also the need for spaces to coordinate the organization of the lodge, such as a secretary or Master's office. Obviously, a Masonic Building needs storage facilities for lodge paraphernalia and other supplies.

Now, what is the most common aspect of a Masonic Building that I have not mentioned? What is the first thing that the visiting public thinks of when they think of a Masonic Building? The answer is the Hall.

Why didn't I mention the Hall before? Because, I don't believe that it is necessary. That's right! We don't need a hall in our buildings. This is a vastly different building philosophy then modern Masons are used to. We have become so accustomed to the Masonic Lodge room being built on top of a large hall formula, that we can't think of a building without it. Trust me, we don't need halls in most Masonic Buildings. I know that this is a lofty proposal, but I will give a list of reasons why the "Masonic Building must have a hall" philosophy is outdated and flawed. Here it goes.
  1. Our halls are too big. Most of our halls were built in the early and mid parts of the 20th century, when Masonry was big. We had a large membership base that needed large spaces to eat. The average number of members at a stated communication could not fit in the local restaurant and therefore needed another place to congregate. Today's Masonry is smaller. We have a quarter of the number of members we had in the 1950's, but our halls have not shrunk to meet with our demand.
  2. Our lodge buildings do not hold the same social and entertainment role as in the past. The Masonic Building used to be a place to hold dances, concerts, plays, dinners and many, many more events. As modern forms of entertainment, such as TVs, video games and computers, became more popular these types of events became less and less prevalent. No longer do families fill their calendar with events to attend for entertainment. They fulfill their entertainment needs within their own home.
  3. Halls are a black hole of time and energy. How much time and energy goes into sustaining the hall? In my lodge's old building, we would have to spend several hours a month on maintenance and upkeep. We would have to clean, mop, wax, paint, wash and dust on a regular basis. This was time and energy that the brothers of my lodge could have used being Masons, not custodians.
  4. Halls cost a lot of money. The bills to support a hall can be staggering. Some common expenses for a hall are heating, air conditioning, insurance, electricity, taxes, maintenance and security. A typical hall can cost $6,000 - 10,000 a year.
  5. To cover these costs, many lodges will rent it out to the community. By renting it out, the upkeep on the building increases even further. A rented hall commonly costs between $20,000 and $30,000 a year in upkeep. The following is a summary of how these costs increase with rental.
    1. Heating and cooling cost go up to support the patrons needs for a comfortable environment.
    2. Insurance rates can double or triple, once the lodge's property is rented to people outside the organization.
    3. Electricity rates increase to cover DJ equipment, lighting needs and food refrigeration.
    4. Taxes are based on the assessed value of the property of a building. A hall means more square footage, more square footage means a higher property value, which in turn means higher taxes.
    5. Renting will add more wear and tear on the property, therefore raising the maintenance costs.
    6. A semi-public building can attract crime and theft. This will increase the costs of security.
There are several alternatives to having a hall in your Masonic Building. The hardship of not having a large meeting space can be countered with some creativity. Here are a few examples of how a hall-less lodge can function.
  1. Meet at a local restaurant before Lodge meetings for your dinners. Many restaurants don't charge a rental fee for large functions during the week because this assures them that they will have a large amount of business. Shop around and you may find a restaurant willing to give you a group discount. This has the added benefits of exposing the outside world to your Masonic Lodge and you may see a membership growth because of it.
  2. Rent out a hall from another organization for larger events. If another local hall costs $500 a rental and you only have four large events a year, then you pay $2000 a year. Compare this to the $6000-$10,000 needed to keep a hall going ever year.
  3. Coordinate within your district and have one lodge building serve as the hall for many lodges. This plan is an alternative to renting a hall from another organization. If the other organization is a Masonic Lodge, then you're supporting Masonry.
  4. During the summer months, rent out your local park and have a picnic before a lodge meeting. Park rentals typically cost $50 to $100. It's a cheap and fun alternative to sitting in a stuffy hall during the hot summer months.
  5. Brothers who have a large home or yard could host a small dinner or an outside barbecue.
Remember, Masonry isn't our buildings, our halls or our equipment. Masonry is not dependent on physical things or location. It is dependent on its brothers and the intangible principles of our ancient craft. Don't let physical conventions of the past threaten our future. All it takes is three men to form a lodge, where they eat is immaterial.