Our Best Un-Tapped Asset
It was some time in November of 2009 when I got an email while at work in reply to a message I’d frankly forgotten I’d sent a few months before. The email was from Eric Vogt, who was the secretary at Queen Anne Lodge.
A few months before, I decided to reach out Grand Lodge to see if there were any lodges in my area. At the time, I had no idea that there was a lodge building just 3 blocks away from my house.
For a lot of younger members, showing up to a stated meeting is very intimidating… So, getting an invite to meet a few members for just a casual dinner felt far more comfortable for my 22-year-old self.
When I first showed up, I met three brothers who were all cooking and having a glass of wine. They were just there for dinner with each other, as if it were all of their home. Eric often stayed late in the city for work, Zane and “Mighty” both had recently gone through divorces… It was as if this was their second home.
At that time in my masonic journey, the Lodge building itself wasn’t used much for rentals, but when it was, they were much smaller private events brokered by the brothers who were within driving distance of the lodge in order to keep the lights on.
We talked for years about making the place nicer. At the time I didn’t have all that much work in the summer, and being who I am, wanted to see how I could contribute. So, I spent a few weeks building a proposal for the Temple Board to redesign our entry way in a more planned out classical style.
If your Temple Board is anything like ours was, all of the focus is generally on SAVING money, so the idea of spending any money at all, let alone taking on a risky project at the hands of the newest, youngest member was a bit of a risk. Let’s just say there were parts of that meeting that were not peaceful or harmonious. That being said, those virtues did prevail and we approved a few thousand dollars for the project.
Granted, I did a lot of the work myself… But from beginning to end of the renovation, which was extended to makeover the whole main dining room, we had over 500 volunteer hours of work on the building together. Members of every age, about a dozen young brothers interested in joining, and even their friends and family all helped out. Neighbors would stop in to see the progress and explore “that old creepy building across from the library”.
All throughout this work in progress, the community around the lodge begin to grow as more brothers began treating the building like it was their communal home. We even went so far as to try to build a wine cellar and humidor, which we could NEVER keep stocked.
I know every lodge doesn’t have a lodge building… And for the most part, the focus of the Temple Board is to protect the lodge brothers from liability. However, I think we should return to a foundation of our fraternity by understanding that temple boards are actually entrusted with one of our most useful tools for building community, our buildings.
Whether we like it or not, the most ignored asset that we have have as Freemasons are the buildings we own. However there is a common downfall I’ve observed in many lodge buildings that they get focused on sanctioned events, insurance and liabilities, and forget the fact that our lodge buildings are venues for community to happen organically. In order for this organic community to happen and thrive, we need to give the members of the lodge a sense of ownership. We need to allow for easy, regulated use, make the space available and known in the community for rentals, and build up resources needed by brothers who otherwise lack resources. The result is that people end up actually coming together to work and bond. This is something that happens far too rarely in this digital age.
So, the following are my tips to the temple boards and lodges in order to encourage the growth of the lodge’s non-stated activity, based on what happened in our lodge.
- Give your members a sense of ownership by letting them earn sweat equity in the building.
Our current worshipful master started his involvement in the lodge mowing the lawn and doing general maintenance.
One petitioner gave us the bar that’s the central piece of our dining room.
One of our older brothers found a beautiful piano to add ambiance, and fixtures for our bathrooms.
Time and time again, when people get the chance to work on a building, they get more involved, they’re at lodge more often, and they bring with them their families and communities.
Not every lodge needs to do a total renovation in order to build this. University spent years working on their library, while others build museums. However, my recommendation is that everyone contribute to social spaces or events. Doric doesn’t have much work to do on their building, but every year the brothers like Hotte rally other brothers to put on their beer garden for the Fremont Solstice Parade.
So, while doing general work on the space itself is important, if your lodge doesn’t already feel like a clubhouse in addition to a formal meeting space, I dare you to recruit a skunkworks of brothers willing to swing a hammer and launch into a project similar to our next two endeavors: A ‘man cave’ in our basement and an extending our porch for better BBQing.
I get it, some of you are visual… So here is some inspiration we’ve been using as we daydream these next adventures.
- Make it easy for regulated, casual use by your membership.
I suppose this is where we got tripped up a little bit… And honestly, I haven’t had the chance to work on our building in a few years since I’ve been busy growing my business. In the process, however, I’ve discovered a few things to solve this very resounding question that every Temple Board is going to care a lot about.
First of all, before you start opening the floodgates of building use by members there have to be rules set and agreed on as to who has both limited and unlimited access, as well a clear way for everyone to reserve the building for use, or see if it has been reserved. I’ve got a few tips for that.
As far as the rules are concerned, we were small enough that we could simply designate all past masters and principal officers with a key to the building. However, some lodges can limit that even further if there are just too many living past masters active in the lodge. In that case, I would recommend delegating use of the building to the temple board, treasurer, secretary and/or principal officers. So long as the rules are written and public so there is a sense of fairness, as well as a clear pecking order and person/people the average member can go to for access.
For security, we use a lockbox with a keycode on the outside of our building in order to also allow renters in. It’s a somewhat outdated solution. Instead, I’d recommend anyone installing a lock system for their members to jump straight into the 21st century and opt for a smart lock system like Kevo, which integrates with the home security camera system Nest. Something like this allows for access not only to lock/unlock directly from any verified smart phone, but also allows direct two-way communication with people on site, control of the door locks, and motion-activated push notifications in case there is anything suspicious.
- Rentals aren’t just for revenue, they’re for community exposure.
Alright, even if you don’t have the sexiest building on earth, most lodges are useable to one degree or another by outside groups. While I do recommend tackling the project of making your lodge as beautiful as possible, buildings of all kinds have their uses.
At first my vision with our renovation was to focus on community organizations using the building, like the chamber of commerce, historical society, and other logical overlaps in order to get the exposure. However, those efforts took a lot of time to cultivate. Let’s face it, even in this town, if you say “free rent”, it still doesn’t mean if you build it they will come.
We never experienced true success in our rentals until we began working with a local event planner, who we let use the space and manage the rentals on a profit share basis. The result was their events would be so well attended that the lodge got much more exposure, simply due to the number of people and diverse purposes people were seeing it used for.
In fact, we ended up building a new brand around the use of the building itself. We had reason to believe the use of the word “Lodge” was confusing because it implied it might be an Inn, bed-and-breakfast or hotel. On the other hand “Temple” seems far too formal and rigid and singular in use. Instead, after talking with the event planning company I hired to manage the rentals, we settled on the name “The Clubhouse”. We felt it would be far more fitting and exciting to potential renters… and it worked.
- Turn your lodge into a valuable resource to make your members’ lives easier and better.
Alright, this one might be the most controversial, and I might get in a little bit of trouble for telling the world about this, but your lodge SHOULD be USEFUL, especially to its younger members.
Here’s the truth, Millennials earn a relative 30% less than their gen x and boomer counterparts did at the same age. Rent is also far more expensive, which means the vast majority of us don’t own our own home. We rent, and that’s especially true in Seattle. Do we want to attract younger members? Just like any institution, we have to provide real, tangible value in addition to the social value to our members. And our lodge buildings are the gift that can keep on giving.
Granted, we took this to another level by building out an apartment in the lodge for brothers in desperate need to stay in for a few months. This has helped no fewer than five of our brothers get back on their feet after losing a job, or a spouse. Just like lodge access, limited access and rules have to be set in place. For us, the Temple Board granted discretionary authority to the Worshipful Master to allow a brother to use it. Once it’s granted, the needs of the brother are assessed every month during the Temple Board meeting.
I will note that, either because the life stages of our members has shifted in the past few years, or the because the economy has simply improved enough, the use of the lodge for that purpose has diminished over the past three years.
On the far less desperate side of the spectrum, Millennial men still lack several things, including a good place to host their friends and family for celebrations, since most of us even lack a suitable back yard and a great many of us also lack a garage. The Queen Anne Lodge has made its old bones useful to many brothers in exactly that way.
In fact, it’s the usefulness that gave me inspiration to write this post.
My marketing business has taken off in the past few years, now with nearly 30 employees, and I recently had to move offices for the first time in three years. In order to save on expenses, my little brother and I ended up doing a lot of the work ourselves in the build out. The problem being that our parents live an hour away, and have most of their tools tucked away in storage because they recently moved themselves. So when we needed things like a skilsaw, power drills, and other normal tools, we were stuck either renting them from Home Depot, or borrowing them on an app like Nextdoor. Then all of a sudden I remembered, “Wait, there’s a fully stocked workshop in the basement of the Lodge!”
What a concept! A masonic lodge making itself useful for it’s members to BUILD stuff. Yes, there are some logistics, like having a good check in and check out system so things don’t get lost or broken and having some form of accountability. But it’s 2017, there are plenty of tools to help with that. The bigger issue is collecting the tools, building a home for them, and regulating access.
However, once something like that is in place, the most obvious thing to do is build up the shared resources of the Lodge. We live in a day and age where even miniature free libraries are popping up on street corners. It behooves the Freemasons to share with each other. Our culture is shifting in this direction with the emergence of the shared economy over the last few years. Freemason Lodges are primed and ready to epitomize all the value of membership and more than what we could get off the app store. After all, we’re brothers.
The bottom line for me is that we’re neglecting one of our greatest assets for building fraternity, our venues. We need to stop thinking of our buildings as sacred temples, and start thinking of them as our clubhouses, a practical resource and retreat to improve the lives of its members. If we simply and objectively think of what the modern man would want out of their dream clubhouse, that’s a starting point for progress.
Once we reorient our way of thinking about our lodge buildings and realize they are not museums, and but should be practical venues of both refreshment and labor that fit easily and practically into our modern lifestyles, is when Freemasonry would will become visible in the day to day lives of our communities.