When Membership Declines

The answer is NOT to raise dues.

I have been around nonprofit organizations of all kinds for several years. I don’t know about you, but I have found far too many in decline due to such things as apathy, lack of relevance, or just bad public relations.

Regardless of the reason, when membership declines, the first knee-jerk reaction by the powers that be, is to raise the price of dues. Again, I am reminded of the old expression, “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Instead of applying energies to fixing the hole, officials decide to shackle more weight on the passengers. I never understood the logic of such action.

Read: Three Types of Masons

Instead of forming a committee or project to identify the problem and take corrective action, the officers turn 180 degrees and run away as fast as possible.

This is just plain irresponsible and reckless behavior on the part of the officers in charge. The first step is to recognize that something is wrong; you’re membership wouldn’t be in decline if everything was working properly. Find out what it is and correct it. Face the problem, do not evade it.

Unfortunately, too many officers do not understand the basics of business and are at a loss as to what to do. There is also the possibility they fear change of any kind and do not want to be held responsible for failure. Consequently, they opt for the easy solution of raising the price of dues, an option that will ultimately encourage more members to quit, thereby compounding membership decline and hurrying the destruction of the organization. Raising dues to keep pace with inflation is one thing, raising dues because you are in a death spiral is another.

Read: 11 Persona Types of Freemasonry – Part 1, New Members

Re-examine the membership process and offer suggestions for improvement. What does your chapter offer? Why would somebody want to join your organization? What is the competition?

You basically have three alternatives:

  • Change the status quo
  • consolidate or merge with another chapter, or
  • close your doors before the creditors come knocking.

Understand this, nonprofit organizations are legal entities in the eyes of the state. Even if you are a 501(c)3 charity, you are not immune from prosecution. Whether you like it or not, you are a business and, as such, better learn to act as such.

To me, the answer is obvious: fix your membership and the money will take care of itself. Then again, the obvious is not always obvious.

Increased membership is a much better alternative than raising dues or charging an assessment. Then again, I’m a capitalist. Let’s consider how this applies in the corporate world. Instead of paying more taxes and enacting more regulations on business, government should reduce taxes and regulations thereby freeing business to produce more, hire more people, and stimulate the economy.

Whether you are in government or a nonprofit, suffocation is hardly an effective means for stimulating business. If anything, learn the Heimlich maneuver. At least you won’t kill off your membership.

Just remember, if you cannot fix the hole in the Titanic, it is time to make preparations to bailout.

Keep the Faith!

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Freemasonry From the Edge

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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Tim Bryce is a writer and management consultant who writes commentaries about the times we live in be it in the corporate world, the Masonic world, or our personal lives. His writings are well known on the Internet and are humorous, educational, and at times controversial. You won’t always agree with him, but Tim will definitely get you thinking.

To read more of Tim’s columns, please visit: timbryce.com


  1. Well here we go again not working together why is everything about money everything is not about money it’s about working as one but who am I to say the world is what it is we lose anyway we need to regroup and really take a look in the mirror. Moving Forward

  2. Increasing membership to solve such a problem treats only a symptom, rather than the underlying issue faced by Lodges today. Grand Lodges all over the country have adopted this ‘solution’ (in the form of shortcuts, ‘one day classes,’ etc), and decades of experience with the approach is anything but encouraging.

    While a membership boost may alleviate the income problem in a superficial way (and, I, would argue, for quite a limited time), the question remains as to why men do not petition Lodges and become active, productive Masons in a way that would justify what Mr. Bryce (there being no indication in his piece that it is Brother Bryce) denigrates as a solution: raising dues to put the Lodge in a financial position to pay for the program it should be providing its members.

    Throughout the article, Mr. Bryce speaks of the operation of non-profit organizations. Although Masonic Lodges may be such, in the eyes of the law, this is most decidedly NOT their raison d’etre. Lodges do not exist to do the sorts of things that would justify their 501 (c) 3 status! Masonic Lodges exist, if they are what they claim do be, to WORK…to put the tenets of Freemasonry into daily practice in the lives of their members and, if they do it correctly, with the RESULT that they as a whole and the brethren, as individuals, willingly produce the results in their communities that conform to that ‘tax exempt’ status.

    I recommend Observing the Craft by Andrew Hammer’s, A Traditional Observance Lodge by Cliff Porter or, for an overview of the concept, this article…


    …as ways of looking at this issue with an eye to a Masonic rather that merely a business model. It’s not that Mr. Brice’s approach is wrong: well-run Lodges should be business-like in their approach to that aspect of their existence. Rather, it is not sufficient only to apply good business practices to be a successful–even a financially successful–Masonic Lodge.

  3. Bro. Achbach – Many thanks for your comments. BTW, Masonic Lodges fall under the category of 501(c)10 and, Yes, the officers have a fiduciary responsibility to their membership. I think you will particularly enjoy my upcoming article on “What is Freemasonry” scheduled for Wednesday, January 22nd. Stay tuned.
    All the Best,
    Tim Bryce

  4. Glad to hear that it is indeed Brother Bryce. I definitely look forward to the upcoming article. I suppose that my point, taking the long view, is that neither dues increases nor membership increases effectively address Masonry’s challenges, per se. However, if Lodges become to their members and to their communities what they are meant to be, both membership and solvency tend to fall into place.

  5. then there are lodges that all the money—in the world could not help—-teaching masonry can not be for in these lodges politics is crippling it—-what to do with lodges like this? as far as that goes –the grand lodge of arkansas is riddled with politics–but they thumb there nose at the world teach the opposet of masonry as far as i see .they have the money of many a mason expelled unmasonicly by perpetual dues–allways asking for more–money wont help sick lodges—masonic teaching—how?–when they run all faithfull masons off..==as far as im concerned let them sink on ther ship of politics–the sooner the better—then maybe true masonry can take over not hate

  6. Bro. Fred – I read your column and agree. I’ve got another coming out Wednesday which I think you will enjoy; it’s my spin on “What is Freemasonry?”
    All the Best,

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