The Master's Book 9
Carl H. Claudy
If all Lodges had charity funds; if all Lodges put all fees for the degrees in special funds, and had dues sufficient to run the Lodges without recourse to fees; if all Lodges had budgets and lived within them; if all Lodges had members, all of whom paid their dues in advance, Masters would have little need to consider finances. Needless to say, all Lodges do not have such utopian arrangements!
A few Lodges are so well provided with high dues and large fees that they do not have to worry about money. The majority of Lodges, like other organizations, must plan expenditures to be within income.
A Master can do much in these matters; even with a wise and experienced Treasurer, a capable Board of Trustees, a hard-headed Finance Committee, a Lodge may spend more than it should if the Master does not keep his hand on the tiller which guides the ship between the Scylla of parsimony and the Charybdis of extravagance.
Consider the advisability of a Lodge budget. The Master who goes into office knowing what the Lodge faces in fixed expenditures — Grand Lodge dues, rent, heat, light, taxes, salaries, average charity appropriations, average entertainment appropriations, and so on — can calculate just where he must cut corners, if any. It is some trouble to make a Lodge budget — but a Master gets accustomed to trouble. Most Masters have either a Finance Committee, or a Board of Trustees, or both; usually these are wise old Past Masters, who will like nothing better than to help prepare a budget! The wise Master, of course, will see to it that the budget is advisory, not mandatory, since sudden calls may come to any Lodge.
Particularly is this true of the charity and relief calls. An average of what has been spent in relief for the last ten years as the sum budgeted for charity may be upset past all righting with one unusual case.
Freemasonry is not a mutual benefit society, insurance organization, institution for relief of the indigent. In no words of the ritual, in no law nor edict, is a promise given or implied that the Lodge give relief to the needy. Charity is an individual matter.
Not as a right to be demanded, but as a free gift gladly offered, does a Lodge disburse its funds in helping members in need. As this is one of the real privileges of Freemasonry, no budget should be so iron-clad that it cannot be changed when the need arises.
Methods of handling charity are as different as the some sixteen thousand Lodges in the nation. In the main, however, Lodges may be divided into those which handle relief from the general fund, and those which keep a special fund for the purpose.
It is not here presumed to advise which is better, since circumstances alter cases. But it may be noted that Lodges occasionally have to resist a well-meant raid on the treasury of charity funds.
Some brethren like to spend first and think from whence will come the money afterward. The Master can rule such motions out of order, or he can use a little device familiar to most presiding officers. John Smith gets the brilliant idea that because the Lodge will be twenty-five years old next month, it should take five hundred dollars from the charity fund and stage a big "home coming night" for all members. If the Master refuses to entertain this motion, he may probably will- -offend John Smith and his friends.
Instead, try this: "I am in sympathy with my brother's idea of a celebration. I think, however, we should have advice from wise financial heads on such an important matter. I refer this motion to a special committee on celebration, which I will appoint later in the evening."
The Master appoints three brethren in whom the Lodge has confidence, and whom he knows will report adversely on the idea of throwing charity money away on a "big feed." When that committee reports at the next meeting, the Master has support for his contention that conservatism is more important than filled stomachs. As he appoints all committees he will entertain no motion that the proposal to spend be referred to a committee composed of Brothers Jones, Smith and Brown.
The importance of payments of dues and assessments to Grand Lodge can hardly be over-emphasized. In some Jurisdictions the Lodge pays dues or assessments to Grand Lodge; in others, the financial responsibility is direct from brother to Grand Lodge, the Lodge acting only as a collection agency. In either case, out of what Grand Lodge receives, that body finances the Grand Charity of the Jurisdiction — Home, School, Orphanage, Hospital, Foundation, what have you — pays its salaries to its employees, prints it Proceedings, pays all expenses of the upkeep of Freemasonry in the Jurisdiction.
Lodges occasionally get in arrears in Grand Lodge payments, sometimes through misfortune, sometimes through mismanagement. The Master who inherits such a condition may not be popular, but he will be brotherly, if he bends every effort to get his Lodge out of debt to Grand Lodge. The Master who comes to the East of a Lodge which does not owe Grand Lodge, and leaves her in any less comfortable position, must have a real reason or a troubled conscience.
Lodges which have Temples to pay for have problems all their own. Like Grand Lodge dues, this should come first in Lodge finances. The credit of Masonry before the public is of greater importance than entertainment, aye, even than most charity and relief disbursements. A Lodge which defaults on its interest on real estate notes to the bank is no breeder of community respect. A Lodge which pays its obligations on the nail, no matter how it hurts, is doing a real Masonic service in the interests of Freemasonry. He is a good Master who puts his shoulder to this wheel, even if it makes his muscles sore!
Most Masters are plagued by the dues question; collection, on the one hand, remission on the other, often trouble sleep. A few Lodges have such by-laws as make both problems easier, but it is a Master's part to take the by-laws as he finds them, not remake them to his heart's desire.
There are just two classes of brethren as regards dues; those who can, and those who cannot, pay. Those who won't pay until compulsion is exerted are still members of the "can" class.
The Master who continually emphasizes to his Lodge that Masonry is a privilege, that Lodge membership is a valuable property which members have bought and which is well worth preserving, will have less "won'ts" among his "cans."
No Lodge wants to drop brethren for N.P.D. Most Lodges make strenuous efforts to make this unpleasant duty unnecessary. At times Lodges lean too far backward for the good of the brother being "carried." A brother suspended for one or two years N.P.D. does not face an insurmountable obstacle when he wants to return; he who has been "carried" for longer periods owes so much that it is often impossible for him to ask for reinstatement.
The Master who goes over his delinquent list with a fine tooth comb and the help of all his Past Masters can usually determine which brethren, because they are really unable to pay, deserve to have dues paid by the Lodge, and those who could pay but are just careless, indifferent, or need drastic treatment.
Collection of dues is too often left entirely to the Secretary; that official usually does his best and his best is often very good indeed. But with a large Lodge and farflung membership, the Secretary can do little personally. The Master, through a committee, can do much. One Master appointed his Senior Warden as Chairman of Dues, Suspensions and Remissions, gave him twenty assistants and had the smallest number dropped N.P.D. and the smallest number of remissions of any year in the history of the Lodge, and this in the middle of the depression.
A personal contact will work wonders with the man who has not paid his dues but who really can pay. Of course, it all depends on the kind of contact. This Senior Warden Chairman's idea is set forth for what it may be worth. To his committee members he said: "We are not to go to brethren in the attitude of bill collectors. We are not to demand, coerce, threaten, turn up our noses! We are going to those who owe dues as one brother to another, for help in our mutual problem. Tell him of some of our charity cases (no names, even if you know them). Tell him of some of our members who are much worse off than he, whom we are helping. Ask him to help us by paying his dues promptly — if he can't pay them all, let us get what we can now and the rest later. Let's remember we are all brethren, and talk as if we were...."
And it worked!
Whatever his method, dues collection is of real importance, and he is living up to his obligations in the East who takes his share of this often hard and disagreeable labor.
Occasionally comes the problem of raising dues. Conditions change; what was enough in the past is no longer sufficient; Grand Lodge has raised the per capita; charity demands have become too heavy for Lodge income; fees have fallen off with a dearth of candidates. Whatever the rationale of the practice, it is a melancholy truth that many Lodges do depend partly on fees for current expenses!
Raising dues is always a hard job.
But it can be done.
The easiest, least painful way is that of education. Ascertain what brethren, influential preferred, Past Masters doubly preferred, are in favor of the raise. Appoint them all on a committee. Meet. Describe the problem. See that all understand that unless the dues are raised from six to eight, or sixteen to eighteen dollars, or whatever the sum may be, the Lodge will suffer, charity will suffer, brethren will suffer. Then divide the roster of the Lodge among the committee members, giving to each the names of brethren he knows best.
If the committee honestly works, calling on, calling up, writing to, the names on their lists, they will persuade enough to come to the meeting at which the new by-law will be passed or the old one retained, at least to make a good showing.
Faced with this problem, one Master had the raise in dues by-law introduced three times in his year. It requires two-thirds majority in that Lodge to change the by-laws. Forty percent voted for the change the first time, fifty-two percent the second and seventy percent the third, showing that education and pertinacity will win.
Sometimes when a permanent raise cannot be passed, a five-year plan can; that is, the by-law is made to read that the dues shall be raised from the present to the increased amount for the succeeding five years, the increase to be applied to some particular purpose; retirement of a note, payment of back taxes, whatever the need may be.
In one Lodge in which this was done, near the end of the five years a far-sighted Master appointed a committee to revise the bylaws. The committee brought in revised by-laws with the dues stated as those then being paid. Accustomed after five years to the larger sum, no one questioned the old bylaw or asked to have the amount reduced.
A man owed a bill of seven dollars which the store to which it was due could not collect. A bright collection man sent him a bill for seventeen dollars. A wrathy customer appeared at the store to complain, protest, declaim! He owed no such sum. He owed only seven dollars. That was what he owed and that was all he was going to pay.
The collection man apologized: " Very sorry, mistakes will happen!" He mollified the debtor. The debtor then paid what he owed — human nature.
In a certain Lodge it was necessary to raise dues from seven to nine dollars. The Master persuaded the proposer to make it ten dollars. In the midst of the hot discussion in which most brethren were against the drastic change, a planted brother amended the proposed by-law from ten to nine dollars. The Lodge of course passed the amendment; with this as a background, and feeling it had won a victory, it then passed the raise. Human nature.
"There ought to be a law" is a national belief. In Lodge it often expresses itself in a new idea, plan, scheme which its proponents think financially desirable.
It is not the province of these pages to discuss the pros and cons of life membership, sustaining memberships, perpetual rolls, remission of dues to all who have been in good standing for twenty-five or any number of years. Ideas which are good for Lodge A will fail in Lodge B. But it is the province of any Master who faces a sudden proposal to do something different and drastic with Lodge funds, or who is opposed to some life membership or remission idea, to know how to meet it.
First, let him postpone action until "further light" can be had. Second, let him write to his Grand Secretary to learn what, if anything, Grand Lodge has said on the subject, and what other Lodges in the Jurisdiction have tried this or a similar plan. Third, let him learn the nation's experience; recourse to his Grand Lodge Library is indicated, or correspondence with those who will know. The Fraternal Correspondent of Grand Lodge will doubtless be able to put any inquiring Master immediately in touch with information regarding any one of dozens of financial schemes which have been tried in various Grand Jurisdictions.
As a general rule, Punch's advice to those about to marry applies to any proposal which has, as even a remote possibility, the reduction of the income of a Lodge. A new Lodge, just chartered, in the enthusiasm and ignorance of youth, proposed a by-law that, when it was twenty-five years old, all who were charter members should become exempt from the payment of dues. It appeared very easy to what was then "today" to remit the dues of loyal brethren twenty-five years in the future. It was supposed that some would have died, some dimitted, some be dropped, and that only a few of the original eighty one charter members would be eligible for this reward for fidelity.
Saner counsels and good advice prevailed and the Lodge did not adopt this by-law. The Secretary was among the charter members who survived, and at the end of twenty five years made a calculation. Of the original eighty-one members, forty-three were living. The Lodge had grown but slowly, and its total membership on its twenty-fifth birthday was one hundred and thirty-seven. Had the original proposal gone through, more than thirty-one percent of the members would have gone on the free list, reducing the Lodge income by much more than one third, since the Grand Lodge dues would still have to be paid.
Let the Master faced by any revolutionary or startling financial proposal put it off, refer it to a committee, say he does not wish consider it at the time — then let him get competent and factful advice; then, and only then, should he let it come before the Lodge. Sentiment should never interfere with properly safeguarding Lodge funds. The same audits, bonding, double signatures, familiar to good business, are also indicated as wise protections for Lodge funds.
One of the important items in a Master's list of duties is to act as a brake upon the runaway enthusiasms of the well-intentioned!