Putting The Fun Back In The Fraternity

Lewis B. Brantley, 33°
Imperial Potentate, 1997-1998
Shrine of North America

The Shrine is a well-known and respected Masonic fraternity with a long and honorable history of fun, fellowship, and philanthropy. It has enjoyed its reputation for more than 125 years, and, since 1922, has been the driving force behind Shriners Hospitals for Children. Shriners Hospitals, a network of no-cost pediatric orthopaedic and burn hospitals, have provided expert, specialized medical care to hundreds of thousands of children over the years, with never a charge to the patient or patient’s family.

The hospital system has been a tremendous success. Shriners Hospitals are recognized across North America, and even around the world, as experts in pediatric orthopaedic and burn care and research. The aggressive hospital reconstruction program begun in the 1980s is drawing to a close, and Shriners Hospitals are positioned to continue their tradition of caring well into the next century.

Even as the hospital system has been rebuilding its facilities and expanding its services, however, the Shrine fraternity has been experiencing an alarming decline in membership. In that time, the Shrine has lost more than one-third of its membership, dropping from an all-time high of approximately 960,000 in 1979 to approximately 575,000 today. In addition, many Shrine Temples are hurting financially due to their membership losses; others are suffering from a lack of leadership. Yet others are experiencing a general malaise and dissatisfaction among their membership that has led to high suspensions and demits.

This is not the case for all Temples, certainly; 18 Temples had net gain in 1997, and another 34 had net losses of less than 2 percent. And many Temples are experiencing a renewal of the energy and zest for life that once was the hallmark of the Shrine.

Traditional membership award programs have been tried, awarding everything from certificates and lapel pins to NCAA Final Four tickets to recognize top-line signers who bring new members into the fraternity. But the Shrine’s Imperial Divan realized that the extent of the membership loss, coupled with other changes within the Shrine and in society in general, meant that the Shrine needs to address some fundamental issues within the fraternity in order to ensure its continued existence as a vital, thriving organization.

Shrine Clowns
 The famous Shrine clowns add fun to any event, civic or Masonic

As the 21st century approaches, the Imperial Divan decided that increased focus needed to be placed on the Shrine fraternity to ensure its success. Something besides another membership program was in order. The Shrine needs to position itself for the future by strengthening its position as a source of fun and fellowship for its members, and by ensuring that its leadership and financial condition are solid and stable, in order to support the fraternity well into the future.

Thus was born the “Fleming-Florence Committee,” named after the two men who are considered the founding fathers of the Shrine, Dr. Walter M. Fleming and actor Billy Florence. The Fleming-Florence Committee, formed last year by Imperial Potentate Lewis B. Brantley, has been charged with a three-fold mission:

In short, the focus of the Fleming-Florence Committee is leadership, finance, and fun. “As the aggressive hospital rebuilding program draws to a close,” said Ill. Raoul L. Frevel Sr., 33°, Imperial Second Ceremonial Master and Chairman of the Fleming-Florence Committee, “we realized that it’s time to give some attention to the Temples. Our attitude on the committee is, ‘What can we do for the Temples?’”

To that end, the first step of the Fleming-Florence Committee was to gather information by conducting a survey of those Temples with the greatest increase in new creations and greatest decrease in demits. The 19-question survey included questions such as what types of programs the Temples have implemented to enhance the image and public awareness of the Shrine; what programs are used to recognize Shriners for their contributions; how the Temples select their officers; what kinds of seminars and other educational programs they conduct for their Officers, new members, Club and Unit officers, and other leaders; what kinds of programs were most successful in attracting high attendance and promoting fun and fellowship; what Units and clubs are most active and best attended; and other questions designed to elicit information from these successful Temples about what works and what doesn’t.

Some common themes appear to emerge from the answers. These Temples report that they are heavily involved in community and civic activities, partnering with local community organizations to sponsor or participate in public events. Such events include rodeos, health fairs, golf tournaments, Shriners Soccer, family shows and entertainment such as “Disney on Ice” and “Sesame Street,” booths at fairs and shopping malls, and other civic and community events.Other community involvement includes paper crusades, speakers bureaus, and mini clinics.

The surveyed Temples report a strong focus on fun, family-oriented activities that include wives, children and grandchildren, holding picnics, barbecues, Temple-sponsored outings to baseball games, holiday parties, and other events. These Temples also emphasize personal contact with new Nobles and prospective members, and they report joint activities with other Masonic Bodies in their areas.

Fund-raising efforts at the Temples relied strongly on circuses, the traditional fraternal fund-raiser, but included onion sales, auctions and raffles, bass tournaments, book fairs, baseball food concessions, and many other types of fund-raisers.

The Fleming-Florence Committee will be taking information gleaned from the survey and sharing it with other Temples. “We want to emphasize that we want to work with the Temples,” Ill. Frevel said, “to learn from them, and to share their ideas and information with other Temples. The big push is on fun, but the Temples need to be strong financially and have solid leadership in order to function effectively. We hope to foster an atmosphere in which Temples will support and help other Temples to overcome their challenges by sharing knowledge and experiences.”

The Committee held its first workshop in the spring of 1998 at the Northeast Shrine Association, meeting with the Temples in attendance there. They will continue to seek out opportunities to meet with Temples and share ideas, with the goal of helping to reinforce the Shrine’s foundations in order to ensure a successful future.