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Sacred River explores spirituality grounded in religious naturalism & progressive ethics that is both non-theistic and non-supernatural.

Because you all just can't get enough of this topic, I wanted to take a moment to share what I've been seeing as the totally of the local dues issue.

Aim: to increase the quality of our local bodies via methods that are both fair and effective.

Top-level Problem: generally, our local bodies are not bringing in enough money to meet increasing standards of quality, such as the acquisition of a temple space.

Level Two Problem: in general, there exists an unfair and ineffective imbalance between initiates who locally pay no dues, those who pay some dues, and those few who carry the greater part of the local financial burden.

Level Three Problem: for too many members, there is a lack of (either or both) external pressure and internal motivation to pay-in at the local level.

Level Four Problems:

  1. External
    • There are few, if any, incurred costs to not paying dues (e.g. losing: income, time, possessions, bodily freedom, etc.)
    • There are few, if any, personal benefits to paying dues (e.g. gaining: as above)
  2. Internal
    • Not enough personal investment into OTO/local body to overcome various barriers to pay-in
    • Motivation to avoid payment of dues for various reasons:
    1. belief that money degrades the local OTO environment
    2. lack of trust in how money will be used or handled
    3. unable to take full advantage of pay-in (e.g. living far away or being time-burdened)
    4. in protest against either personal or institutional circumstances
    5. belief that efforts on the inter/national or non-MoE Grade level supercede local participation

If we are going to succeed in our Aim, we have to address all of these levels by creating various goals and objectives, some of which will be policy-based, while others will be oriented towards cultural change. Generally, the way to get to our Aim is to increase both external pressure and internal motivation.

External Pressure Solutions

There are two aspects of external pressure: gain and loss, also known as the carrot and the stick. Normally, a stick is much easier to manifest, since it's relatively simple to build and enforce punishment systems. We have recently seen GL develop a rudimentary stick for the local dues issue: a local body can now deny a member initiation if he is not paying local dues to a satisfactory degree, as determined by that body. Put more bluntly, a potential cost of not paying local dues is the inability to take an initiation (it is potential because the policy is not mandated and there is a 100-mile loophole). If we are going to turn this whiffle bat into a proper stick, it must (1) somehow close the loophole, (2) make the policy required (not merely suggested or allowed) and, (3) make it a mandate for all local bodies to establish in writing what constitutes local good standing, which must include some form of dues structure.

It is certainly possible that a local body can formulate other sticks for non-payment of local dues in their written definition of "local good standing." To a large degree, these sticks will depend on the circumstances of the particular body. That said, the two basic categories of stick are institutional and social. In the former, some kind of organizational rights could possibly be removed, such as the ability to attend certain events or to officer in our Rites. The latter kind of stick cannot be placed in a policy, but can only be developed culturally. Such sticks are those that deliver consequences in the form of social pressure. This can be done responsibly, but it is also possible for this to go awry. For example, it is possible that an initiate who cannot pay dues for a time might be completely ostracized from the community. Local body leaders must be careful that social sticks do not reach the point of abuse or intolerance of any circumstance.

The flip side is developing the carrots; local bodies must strive to articulate the benefits of paying local dues. Like the sticks, there are institutional and social carrots. Common institutional carrots are a free subscription to the body journal, library privileges, discounts on ticketed events or salable products, the ability to produce an event, etc. A very important carrot is the development of transparent financial aims, such that the initiate understands where his money is going and what it is being used for, both in the short and long term. Social carrots should also be established. An example of this could be a symbolic appreciation ceremony for local dues payers, or a framed cert hung on the temple wall with the names (motto or civil) of all those members in "good standing." At the end of the year (or other time frame, like the quarter), an announcement could be made regarding how much was brought in from dues and the successful ways that money was used (important: people are more motivated when they know their contributions are going towards something successful). And because local dues should not be a "money in payment for services" model, the local body should institute some kind of local Stewardship manifesto, to make it clear that while an individual might enjoy certain benefits for payment of dues, the ultimate reason is to invest in the community, so that it can succeed in its greater aims.

Internal Motivation Solutions

This is much more difficult than solutions dealing with external pressure, largely because every motivation is unique. Remember, the two main barriers are insufficient investment in OTO or the local body and particular motivations to avoid paying local dues.

Building investment in OTO is not about money, but about the development of a socio-emotional connection between one's self and both the OTO as a whole and the community of the local body. Because OTO is a volunteer organization, it is vital to promote exactly this kind of investment if we want to build a membership characterized by devotion and participation (including dues-paying). Without personal investment, no amount of policies will increase financial income, and in fact will likely have the opposite effect.

I wrote about this topic in "Community Building, Part II: Member Retention," where I discussed various elements that go into promoting a tightly cohered community. As a brief summary, there were two parts, being a description of all-too-common morale killers that should be eliminated (e.g. cult of poverty, right way battles, social insulation, valuing character below skills and knowledge, and social insulation) and empirically-proven methods that inspire personal identification with the community which leads to a lower incidence of attrition and the development of a more healthy and effective group. The essential key to this is the establishment of trust, both of individual to group and group to individual, which leads to one or both types of cohesion: instrumental (or task-based) and socio-emotional. The essay mentioned many different possible programs for promoting both kinds.

Besides this, when it comes to local dues, there is the issue of initial contact and new membership. This is a sensitive time when a person is in a transitional period. Generally, she is interested and possibly excited about OTO and the local community, but is too new to have developed a deep sense of commitment or identification with them. Local body leaders must be careful to remember that having excitement and curiosity is not the same thing as commitment, which normally takes years to develop. It is not uncommon in my experience to have new folks show up to the local body filled with excitement, even to the point of taking a Minerval, only to disappear when a mountain of expectations is dropped on them. This is not to say that new members should have NO expectations...but a wise local body will find ways to ease newbies into higher levels of obligation at a reasonable pace, so to allow their identity and commitment to the community to mature and deepen.

Now then, about all those motivations to not pay local dues. This is the really hard part, and each of the motivations I mentioned (which likely doesn't exhaust the list) would require an entire essay for each (which I will not torture you with). However, most of these issues have been and are still in discussion here on LJ and in other places, I'm sure. I have addressed the first issue (the belief that money degrades the local OTO environment) at length (such as here). The other issues must be addressed on the local level whenever they might appear. Most of them will not have simple answers. For example, if a member of the Lovers Grade spends all her spare time working on GL and Chapter projects, should she still be required to be a fully participating member at a local body? If a local body has a record of poor money management, is it inappropriate for members to stop paying dues until the situation is fixed? If a member is in such a situation that he can only attend local events rarely, should he be expected to pay as much in dues as those who can take regular advantage of body resources?

I do not think there can be a simple answer for most of these situations. Whatever Grand Lodge does, I hope it allows local bodies to have the flexibility needed to meet these regional challenges. At the same time, I hope that local leaders will take some risks and try out various solutions to these issues, and then report back to the membership at large to let us know what works and what doesn't.

Final Word

There has been a lot of talk about local dues of late, and I like a lot of what I'm hearing. I think we are headed in the right direction. I simply wanted to point out that the underlying issue is far more complex than "should members pay local dues or not?" Yes, we should more clearly define what we expect from members locally. At the same time, we should not forget that the local body leadership is largely responsible for the health of the community and has many tools available to inspire participation and greater levels of commitment. Moreover, local bodies have an obligation to make pay-in worthwhile, with the development of things like setting responsible financial goals, having appropriate transparency, and conforming to accounting best practices. It is a two way street, and we are all going to have to work together to reach our final Aim: to increase the quality of our local bodies via methods that are both fair and effective.