According to membership numbers published for Lodge Year 2010-2011, membership in the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks continues to decline. The Annual Report of the Grand Secretary 2010-2011 indicated that Elks' membership for the year ending March 31, 2011 was 869,019 with a net loss for the year of 23,868 members.
The top five states in terms of Elks' membership all lost members. California recorded 83,147 members (a loss of 1,911); Florida recorded 61,351 members (a loss of 2,161); New York recorded 54,749 members (a loss of 1,112); Pennsylvania recorded 48,298 members (a loss of 1,408); and Massachusetts recorded 43,062 members (a loss of 586).
The only states to gain members were Rhode Island (6,199 members; a gain of 156), Hawaii including Guam & Republic of Philippines (4,143 members; a gain of 57), Kentucky (6,445 members; a gain of 30), Alaska (6,364 members; a gain of 15), and New Jersey (42,065 members; a gain of 10).
Dr. Tom Stevens, a member of the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks since March 19, 1980, commented about the declining membership numbers as follows:
"There was a time when the most influential professionals and politicians in a community belonged to the local Elks Lodge and when attendance at Lodge meetings and events presented excellent networking opportunities. This has not been the case for a long time and as social networking opportunities expand exponentially, brothers no longer need to go to Elks meetings to connect with influential movers and shakers living in their geographic area.
The main focus now is on community service, raising money for charity and other altruistic endeavors. All are worthy projects for those interested in such activities but unless the focus is returned to creating value for current members, I believe Elks Lodges will continue to close, consolidate and lose membership.
I addressed this issue on September 2, 2002 in a letter to Grand Exalted Ruler Roger R. True, in which I wrote:
I am currently a member of Elks Lodge #878 in Elmhurst, New York. Just last month, my Lodge sold their historically protected building to a church because even with a swimming pool, bowling alley, and a large building with an impressive past, the leadership there could not attract new members or keep many of their old members. I was previously a member of the Great Neck Lodge which was also sold and the Lodge nearest to where I work in Williston Park was just sold to the Knights of Columbus.
Over the years, I have done my part to try to introduce new prospective brothers to the Elks but I have always failed in my attempts. The reasons are numerous but I shall not delineate them here.
The reason for this letter is that I was inspired by your speech, especially when you said, "each individual in our Order has a part in controlling our destiny for membership growth". In addition to your new public relations campaign to inform the public about the good works that the Elks do, I believe more will be necessary to keep the new members we may attract through these efforts. Specifically, I believe every Elks Lodge needs to promote recognition, networking, courtesy and professionalism.
As for recognition, I believe each Lodge should offer a pin or small gift in recognition of a brother being a member for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years and so forth to let them know that their continued service and loyalty is appreciated. This small gesture can go a long way to helping lodges keep their members.
Networking is also important. One of the reasons lodges like my own were successful in the past was that brothers had the opportunity to meet and network with brothers who were professionals and politicians. While it might be difficult to attract them back in this modern era, I do recommend that each lodge send out a questionnaire asking each brother to indicate their interests, hobbies, degrees, etc. and to give each lodge permission to publish this information together with their name, address, phone number and E-Mail address so that brothers can contact one another. This will lead them to want to meet and what better way to do so than to say, "Let's meet at the Lodge". This will increase attendance at meetings and social events.
Courtesy and professionalism really go together. My own Lodge Secretary frequently refers to members as "bud" and at the last meeting when a brother claimed that he was a member and had the paperwork to prove it, he was threatened with security if he didn't leave at once. When I addressed the lodge, prior to a vote on selling the building, I was abruptly cut off less than a minute into my comments because the Exalted Ruler was afraid I might convince some brothers to vote against the sale...No professional will put up with this more than once. When a membership issue came up with another lodge, in response to my letter, I received an obscene phone call from a brother who just happened to open the letter. In fairness, the Exalted Ruler at that lodge later apologized for that brother's behavior. The truth is that professional people are not going to waste their time when many lodges punish those who step forward to make suggestions and where the "elite inner corps" seek to discourage member involvement so they can keep control. Courtesy and professionalism should be the standard of conduct at all Lodges. No young person or young professional will want to spend an evening at the Elks Lodge unless this becomes the case.
Much work needs to be done if you are to stop the bleeding that threatens to destroy much of Elkdom. While your public relations campaign seeks to tell the world how wonderful the Elks are, you also need to focus inward so that the new brothers we recruit will stay with us. Recognizing their loyalty, providing networking opportunities, treating them with respect and courtesy and acting professionally toward them will go a long way in this regard.
Grand Exalted Ruler Roger R. True did not respond to or acknowledge my letter."
The Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks began in 1868 as a social club called the Jolly Corks established as a private club to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. Early members were mostly from theatrical performing troupes. After the death of a member left his wife and children without income, the club took up additional service roles and, eventually, a new name. Desiring to adopt "a readily identifiable creature of stature, indigenous to America", fifteen members voted 8-7 in favor of the elk over the buffalo. Former and current Elks members include Presidents Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy and Gerald R. Ford; Entertainers Lawerence Welk, Will Rogers, Jack Benny, Clint Eastwood and Gene Autry; and Sports Figures Vince Lombardi, Casey Stengel, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle.