What’s your Chapter’s process for suspending members? Is it waiting until they don’t pay dues for a few years, sending an email, and then cutting them loose when you don’t hear anything back? Does your High Priest, Secretary, or Membership Retention Committee try calling the member or sending a letter? Does your Chapter even have a Membership Retention Committee? Does anyone stop by the member’s home and try to have a face-to-face conversation with them? How about contacting family members or friends?

The other day, I received a call from a man who’s father is in a nursing home but left explicit instructions that “until the day I die, I want my dues paid.” The son merely wanted to know how to do that. He knew his father’s wish to honor his commitment to the fraternity was that important. 

We always talk about the need to get new members. Honestly, it’s the number one concern I have heard in my seven years of travels to our Chapters. EVERY Chapter wants — and needs — new members. Some much more than others. Ask any High Priest who’s been sitting in the East for another year what he desires most and he’ll tell you to retire from his position and let someone else take over. That can only happen if there are new members to replace him.

So we spend a lot of effort in getting new members. Chapters visit lodges, give presentations, and try to entice our brethren into continuing their journey in the Craft. The Grand Chapter has never had more programs to help Chapters attract new members. Many of our Companions are using our Invitation to Petition process with great success; it is designed for you to bring in a Brother that you know would make a great Royal Arch Mason and contribute to your Chapter.

But what about those members that we don’t hear from any longer? Do we expend as much energy in trying to keep them, trying to get them back active (in whatever way) as we do in attracting and bringing in new members?

Getting a new member is hard: Talking to them and convincing them. The petitioning and approval process. Degree work so they can sit in our Chapter. And then finding a way to keep their interest so that they don’t wander away.

But we’ve already “captured” an existing member. He’s just not participating anymore. Maybe he’s lost interest. Maybe he just doesn’t feel a connection. Maybe we’ve stopped caring whether he shows up. That’s a tragedy, especially considering how hard we worked to get him in the first place. And when he stops communicating and paying his annual dues, do we know why? Do we bother to reach out to him? Do we look for other ways of contact once email doesn’t work? Do we care enough about this Companion to redouble our efforts, or do we just write him off and get frustrated that our numbers keep dwindling?

At this upcoming summer’s Grand Convocation, legislation will be introduced to revise the current suspension process. Now, we’re primarily talking about suspension due to non-payment of dues. Those Companions that have wronged our Craft in some way deserve what they get. But if you are truly interested in stemming the tide of suspensions, here’s what you can do:

Do you communicate?
The first question might be, is the only time we contact our members when we need their dues payment? If the answer is “yes,” you have big problems. No wonder these members don’t want anything to do with their Chapter. I wouldn’t either if the only time I heard from it was to get my money. There’s an excellent article on this topic, “Why Dues Notices Are Not Communications.” Take a look here.

Membership Audit
My guess is no Chapter does this. Once a year, make personal (as in face-to-face or via telephone) contact with EVERY member, checking things like their telephone numbers, mailing address, email address, and — most especially — the methods they want to be contact by and for what type of communication. For instance, a member may want his meeting notices and meeting minutes emailed to him, prefer that he get a phone call about degree work and social events, and a mailed dues notice. By performing this audit once a year you maintain contact with members, let them know that they are important to the Chapter, and you always are able to know the best way (and alternative ways) to contact them. Need some help? Download our handy Chapter Membership Audit Guidelines here.

Make contact
I would guess that at least 80% of our Chapters use email as their primary contact method. A much smaller portion use USPS mail. An even smaller number likely call their members on the phone. I also know a surprising number of Chapters who don’t regularly contact their members in any way. So they first question is, “How often and how do you communicate with your members?” Here’s an possible plan for regular communication:

  • Monthly “save the date” notices: For stated convocations, special meetings, events, etc. Send these via email to those that want and regularly respond to it, USPS Mail to those that don’t. Send these out 2-3 weeks ahead of EVERY event.
  • Stated meeting/event reminders: A few days ahead of every stated convocation, special meeting, or event. Again, use the guidelines from the Membership Audit to determine the best contact method.
  • Convocation minutes: There’s no reason why the minutes of EVERY convocation (stated or special) can’t be communicated to every member. For one thing, it keeps everyone informed. It also updates everyone on upcoming events. And it can streamline how your stated convocation’s meetings are ran (even if the minutes are read again for some reason). Send these out after every meeting.
  • Quarterly phone calls: Every Companion has a phone. Assign regularly-attending members (and that means everyone, not just the officers and not just the sideliners) a group of Companions to make regular communication with via telephone. Talk about what is going on with the Chapter, what’s happening at meeting, what’s coming up, and what the members are interesting in seeing, hearing, or learning about. Ask the members if they might know of a Master Mason who might like to join. See if they’d like to participate in some way (being a mentor, giving a presentation, coming to a social event, taking part in a degree, etc.).

Membership retention
Does your Chapter have a Membership Retention Committee? One that actually does something? Why not? This committee’s sole responsibility is to make contact with members who have lost contact with the Chapter or are otherwise unable to attend meetings and events on a regular basis. Every method of contact should be used to talk to these members. Some may just be unable to attend (work or family commitments, health issues, moved from the area). Still others may not feel a part of the Chapter. This committee’s members should know the status of every member the Chapter does not regularly see.

Chapter Newsletter
Very few Chapters do this, unfortunately. Those that do seem to have active members and a Chapter that is growing. It’s not hard to put a newsletter together. Talk generally about what’s going on in the Chapter. Have a schedule or calendar of upcoming events (don’t forget the scheduled convocations!). Make sure there are ways to communicate with the High Priest and Secretary. Have stories about what the Chapter is doing (degree work, social events, fundraising, being a community member). Send it monthly or quarterly. USPS Mail works best here as it’s hard to read and digest an email that has so much information in it. This becomes yet one more way your Chapter is communicating.

The suspension process
There’s no set process for suspending a non-paying member. Yet. But here’s one way to do it, which is actually pretty easy if you are following the other ways to make and maintain contact:

  • Send annual dues notices: Not just a “you owe this much” but maybe also let the members know what the budget is or at least what the Chapter is doing with their dues. For those members who are life members or 50-year members, send one too, but thank them for their service and commitment and ask if they would like to make a contribution (maybe specify “building fund” or “Companion relief fund” or something like this).
  • Send two more notices, one month apart: These are gentle reminders that the Companion owes a financial commitment to the Chapter. Stress that the Chapter still pays their per capita even if they don’t pay their dues and what a burden this is.
  • Make some phone calls: Assign those members in arrears to the dais officers to call and find out the situation. You have already done the Membership Audit (so you know how to contact them more directly) and you are communicating monthly (or more often), so this shouldn’t turn over too many surprises.
  • Send a registered letter: We’re getting close to the end here. Make the letter’s content clear that you are attempting to work with the Companion. Maybe they have been on vacation. Maybe their phone or email doesn’t work any longer. Maybe they are ill or unable to pay their dues (in which case, grant them waiver if your Chapter can).
  • One more phone call or inperson visit: From the High Priest. Make at least three attempts. If you can’t get through or the Companion just doesn’t care, proceed to suspend them.

About email
We get it, email is cheap, it’s fast, it’s efficient. It’s also easy to ignore. And email addresses can be mistyped, forgotten, or abandoned over time. So while it’s great to use this form of communication, if it stops being effective for one reason or another, then it becomes worthless. That’s why those annual Membership Audits are so critical — they let you find out what form(s) of communication every members wants, expects, and will reliably react to.

In conclusion
No Chapter wants to lose members. It’s hard enough to get new ones. But just writing them off after a couple of emails go unaddressed is not a good process for maintaining contact with your membership. Try a little extra effort and not only will your Chapter stop declining in numbers, but you’ll find more and more inactive members returning to meetings and events AND new members will be less likely to wander away.

Have more ideas on how to communicate with members? We’d love to hear them in the discussion below.