Society of choice
In 2016 the Membership Focus Group will build on its strategy to ensure that members have a rewarding experience, with expectations met by reality in our lodges
Over the past two years the Membership Focus Group (MFG) has reviewed aspects of Freemasonry that come under the remit of the United Grand Lodge of England, seeking the views of members through surveys, consultation meetings and interviews. The group has considered how Freemasonry is perceived, what its image should be and what Freemasonry has to offer in the 21st century.
The MFG surveys canvassed the opinions of present members and it is clear that while many lodges offer what good men seek, there is often a gap between expectation and reality. We need to communicate clearly and confidently what Freemasonry is and try harder to ensure that we select the right men, as well as offering a rewarding and enjoyable experience to the new member and his family.
The MFG has identified five areas where we must ensure the quality of what we do, and work is in progress to take these forward.
Image: As an initial step, we have a new logo and want to use 2017 as an opportunity to communicate more clearly the benefits of membership and demonstrate that, through practising our values, Freemasons contribute to the well-being of others.
A concerted effort is achieving many more positive articles and reports in the media. Our plans include an expansion of our use of social media to extend our reach and profile. Filming is under way to produce a television documentary to be shown later this year.
Members have identified their concern regarding the quality of many masonic centres and the value of their offering. These should offer a positive impression, value for money and be an asset rather than a financial millstone to members. A project team is considering how to develop advice and support for those with property concerns.
Attracting and selecting: Provinces are appointing Provincial Membership Officers as a prelude to improving the way in which we identify and select those who would add value to a lodge and appreciate our approach to life. This year we will be piloting a selection process in lodges in 10 Provinces to ascertain how best to assist them in this task.
Improving retention: We lose too many members, some through poor selection, others because we have not met their needs and expectations. This is very much to do with lodge culture and balancing the needs of the lodge with those of its members.
Many survey respondents made suggestions about the need to get back to the core of why we are masons. The sentiment was that Freemasonry was beginning to feel more like a charitable organisation than one that promotes the idea of learning and personal moral development, which in turn leads us to be charitable.
‘Of those surveyed, 75 per cent said the aspects of Freemasonry that give the greatest value are: to feel part of a movement with history and traditional values; to make friends in other social circles; to be part of something that supports those in need; and to achieve a sense of personal progress.’
Of the members surveyed, 75 per cent indicated that the aspects of Freemasonry that give the greatest help or value are: to feel part of a movement with history and traditional values; to make friends outside their normal social circle; to be part of something that supports those in need; and to achieve a sense of personal progress.
Understanding and knowledge: The MFG sought views on the importance of masonic knowledge, with 67 per cent citing it as very important to understand the symbolism and moral/philosophical issues underpinning Freemasonry. More than 50 per cent reported only average or poor understanding. This is a core issue. In consultation with Provincial Grand Masters, a project has been established to consider how we might help, encourage and promote the development of educational activity and provide resources to underpin the three degrees of the Craft and the Royal Arch.
Supporting those that lead at all levels: The future of Freemasonry depends on identifying those with the potential to lead at lodge, Provincial and Grand Lodge levels. It is also recognised that opportunities for development and the degree of support could be far better. We intend to consider how better to prepare and support those that volunteer for lead roles within our lodges so that they receive the assistance they require.
There are no quick fixes. The process of change and development will take 10 or more years to bring Freemasonry up to date and reverse the membership trends of the past 30 years. The priority for UGLE is quality, not quantity. If the experience is one of quality and genuine care and concern for one another, then the prospects for retention and growth are good. Equally, the traditional ceremonies and standards are of great importance and need to be retained rather than diluted.
UGLE recognises that one size does not fit all. Lodges vary in their style, approach and interests. We encourage them to be open to the guidance that is offered but to also adapt it in a way that best suits their requirements. By doing this, we can create a successful future together that embraces Freemasonry’s rich values and variety.