Vol. XIX No. 6 — June 1941

Lodge Finances

No small bulletin can attempt textbook completeness on so large a subject. The purpose of this sketch of financial problems of which every lodge has some and some have many, is to draw attention to a subject which vitally concerns every member.

The subject sounds so complicated that a large majority of the brethren are all too willing to leave it to the officers, the trustees, the finance committee. This might be an excellent plan if the same brethren would leave to the same experts the amount of dues, the fees, the expenditures.

But the brethren who blithely leave management of finances to others, insist on their own right first to set the dues and then to raise them never, or, if ever, only after a long fight and grudgingly. It is the lodge, not the finance committee and trustees, which decides'if certain brethren are to have fife exemption from dues. The result is confusion and often a lodge far less effective in the fives of its members than it should be.

Every lodge has a certain income fixed within fairly narrow limits. It cannot always accurately be predicted in advance, due to deaths, unexpected calls for charity, an unusually large or unusually small number of applications. Every lodge has fixed expenses which must be met, and other expenses which may be met or avoided. The difference between actual income and fixed expenses is the amount which may be spent on extra relief, entertainment, investment, new furnishings and fixtures, retirement of debt, etc.

Not to budget the estimated income and the fixed expenses so that the lodge can five within its income is to commit slow but certain financial suicide.

The budget need be neither complicated nor mandatory. Rent, heat, light, salaries, supplies, interest on debt, payment to grand lodge, etc., in one column; fees from the average number of candidates, dues from a known number of brethren, income from investments, rent for quarters owned, on the other, show at a glance whether the lodge operates in the red or in the black. But note that it is not sufficient merely to operate in the black. It is necessary to operate in the black effectively, if the lodge is to succeed.

A typical — and mythical — lodge budget, much condensed, is as follows:


Interest on mortgage $ 90.00
Repairs and upkeep of Temple 300.00
Light and heat 165.00
Secretary, Treasurer, Tiler 250.00
Sinking fund (for debt retirement, major replacements, or other future needs) 200.00
Relief (average) 100.00
Postage and printing 50.00
Per capita to grand lodge ($2 each on 156 members) 212.00
To grand lodge from fees for degrees 37.50


Dues from 156 members at $6.00 $ 936.00
Rent of Temple 300.00
Fees for the degrees 105.00
Interest on investments 25.00
Miscellaneous 150.00
Amount of income over expenses $111.50

A very small balance with which to work. If the average number of petitions is less, the average for relief greater; if unusual repairs due to fire or other disaster to Temple must be made, the budget will be out of balance. One hundred and eleven dollars and fifty cents will not go very far in entertainment, buying a past master’s jewel, providing for the many small items of expense which can confront a lodge.

Yet many a lodge operates on a less margin, and members wonder why other lodges get so many more petitions, never thinking that it is because of their own enforced inactivity because dues are too small or expenses too great to permit a proper and interesting lodge life.

If the income is too small, one of the first plans usually made to balance the budget is almost invariably: “Let us work up sentiment to have grand lodge reduce the per capita tax!” Access to tables of payments to grand lodges is not difficult, and brethren eager for this form of relief to indigent lodges soon discover that the average lodge per capita payment to grand lodges in the United States is $1.922 cents; that the largest per capita is $4.50 and the smallest 90 cents. What is seldom taken into account is that certain grand lodges maintain expensive Homes, Hospitals, Orphanages or Sanatariums; others do not. Certain grand lodges pay mileage and per diem to lodge officers attending grand lodge at annual communications; others do not. Certain grand lodges have funds from which they reimburse lodges for a part of lodge relief; others do not. It is no argument to say “Grand Lodge of such-and-such a state only gets $1.00 per capita from the lodges, while we have to pay $2.00; ours should be reduced.” The amount of per capita tax to grand lodge cannot justly be averaged unless these items are also averaged.

A grand lodge with 500 delegates from 200 lodges may pay $7,500 per annual meeting in mileage and per diem; another grand lodge with the same number of delegates from the same number of lodges may pay no mileage and per diem. Obviously, the second grand lodge can get along with less per capita than the first. The first collects the money from the lodges and pays part of it back in mileage and per diem; the second lets the lodges pay their own delegates the mileage and per diem, and therefore needs less per capita for grand lodge funds.

Some grand lodges have greater and more expensive activities than others. Thus some grand lodges maintain great Masonic Libraries; others provide a Service Bureau to supply speakers, look after relief, run schools. Many grand lodges publish, and pay a salary to write, a Fraternal Correspondence report; others do not. The general offices of Grand Secretaries are large or small, elaborate or simple, well-staffed or small-staffed, depending not only on the size of the jurisdiction, but on the service demanded from that office by lodges and brethren. Of course, the larger the office, the greater the service asked, the more call on grand lodge funds, and therefore, the greater must be the per capita.

When the well-intentioned but uninformed brethren learn that there is no hope of increasing their lodge income by reducing payments to grand lodge, the next cry is usually: “Reduce expenses in this lodge!” This is plausible if expenses are too high. But “reducing expenses” by cutting out all entertainment, all “big nights,” all hospitality to visiting lodges, soon results in a lodge in which the members lose interest. Similarly, to cut already small salaries is merely to encourage incompetence or slovenly work by paid officers, which in itself soon breeds lack of interest in the lodge.

As for cutting expenses by dropping, N.P.D., worthy brethren who should be helped, nothing need be said. A lodge which would rather refuse Masonic help to its own than raise its dues to the point of meeting its needs is so soon slated for demise that it need not here be considered.

What then, can be done? “Our income is not sufficient for our needs — we MUST reduce expenses!” It is curious how the idea persists; sometimes it needs a club in the hands of a grand master or his deputy to make brethren see that the answer is not less expenses but more income!

Once in a while expenses can be lessened. A lodge with too many exempt-from-dues members may get back on its feet by doing away with life memberships for past masters, and for those who have been members a quarter of a century. But it usually requires a threat to use the big stick to get the brethren to do it!

Far better not to get in such a hole, by such a means, in the first place!

Thirty-five years ago a group of enthusiastic young brethren secured a charter for a new lodge — call it Lodge A. It was to be modern, progressive, active, beloved. To make it beloved, the founding brethren wrote in the by-laws that any member who paid dues for twenty-five years continuously need never pay them again, and that every master as he left the East be made a dues-exempt life member.

The arguments in favor of remitting the dues of all who would be some day twenty-five years continuously members were summarized in Minnesota from answers to a questionnaire sent to Secretaries, as follows:

With none of these reasons can there be any quarrel, IF the income of the lodge was large enough to take care of the drain.

The arguments against remitting dues of twenty-five-year members, or past masters, or any other class of Masons, taken from the same summary, read:

But those arguments can also be reduced to cold figures. Lodge A is now 35 years old. It has 25 living past masters. It has 31 brethren other than the past masters who have been continuously members for twenty-five years. Total members exempt from dues, 56, or almost 36 percent.

Lodge dues are $6.00 annually.

Lodge per capita to grand lodge is $2.00 annually.

The lodge must pay to grand lodge, then, on 156 members at $2.00 each, or $312.

If the lodge had no exempt-from-dues members its income would be $936. Subtract payment to grand lodge, leaves $624 to run the lodge.

But with only 100 paying members dues should be not $6.00 but $9.36 in order to give grand lodge its $312 and leave the lodge $624 for its usual expenses.

Some brethren in Lodge A believed that “the fees will make up the difference.” They did not. The average fees for the degrees in the United States are $33.97. Of this, an average of $10.69 goes to grand lodge for charity. That leaves $23.28 as its part of the average fee for the degrees which the average lodge retains.

Last year there were raised slightly less than 56,000 brethren, divided among nearly 16,000 lodges, or in round figures, 3.5 raisings per lodge per year.

Three and one-half multiplied by $23.28 results in $81.48.

Lodge A cannot lose $326 in dues on exempt brethren and make it up with $81.48 in fees!

Many grand lodges frown on life memberships given by remitting dues to twenty-five or thirty-five or fifty year Masons, or past masters, for just these reasons. What seems brotherly, easy to do, a good move when a lodge is young, becomes a burden when the lodge gets older. To meet a growing deficit dues must be raised. If the raise is too great the result is less members, a still further loss of income, and slowly, but often inevitably, a dying lodge.

It is, therefore, a matter of moment to approach the subject of remitting dues of past masters, or of Masons of a certain age classification, with a pencil, paper, figures and realism, rather than sentiment.

Many lodges have sufficient dues, or sufficient dues plus income from investments, easily to cover all necessary expenses and provide a full, rich, interesting lodge life. But many other lodges which were once in that happy condition, have seen interest rates on investments decline, petitions grow fewer and fewer, membership decrease while fixed expenses remained almost constant. Of these, some try to meet the problem by paring expenses; some get donations from interested brethren who can afford something extra; some eat into their capital, hoping against hope that "times will improve” and a new year solve their problems.

And others do at once what inevitably has to be done sometime, if the lodge is not to demise, and raise their dues to provide “a living wage” for the Mother lodge!

The Masonic Service Association of North America