Masonic Buildings & The Australian Productivity Commission Research
The Productivity Commission of Australia was tasked by the Federal Government with assessing the contribution of the Not-for-Profit sector and impediments to its development. The Commission produced a 504 page report with over 25 Sections. This comprehensive report is titled “Contribution of the Not-for-Profit Sector - Productivity Commission Research Report January 2010” which is highly respected and often referred to in that industry. The report drew together its own research, information from a wide variety of organisations including Government arms such at the ATO and ABS and submissions from diverse types of NFP Organisations.
The report is information rich and thought provoking making recommendations to Government and the NFP Sector. One observation includes;
The future of the sector essentially rests on its ability to engage the community in supporting its purposes, and to allocate resources in ways to ensure the effective fulfilment of those purposes.
Whereas the behaviour of for-profit business is driven mostly by their desire for profits, the behaviour of NFPs is driven mostly by their mission or community purpose.
These observations are interesting for us to carefully consider in the context of Freemasonry, our community purpose and the way we engage the community beyond Freemasonry. They should be reflected on beyond the scope of this article.
I think we are currently blest with an active Grand Master who, with the support of staff and volunteers, has appeared, explained, and promoted, Masonry in the media including radio and commercial television. Many of us will have seen the recent Compass Special, but MWGM Werners’ appearance on the Channel Tens “The Circle” (mainly female viewers) particularly demonstrates a willingness to put himself out there and wave Freemasonry’s flag to the public.
Brother Werner’s reaction to the question about “Freemasonry being secretive” was fantastic and spontaneous. He proudly proclaimed “I’m a Freemason”. He made me smile in pride and happiness. I congratulate him on that and his many other efforts during his term of office. He is a great example to us all.
It is generally agreed that the MWGM and most of Grand Lodge have moved onto the front foot and more into the public eye. This has been a long process but we now have a facebook presence, a youtube channel and a much improved GL web site. Insiders tell me the GL website is producing lots of inquiry every month from men interested in becoming Freemasons.
These moves engage and build upon the vast social capital Freemasonry still enjoys in the memories of people who have been touched by our benevolence and influenced through contact with impressive Freemasons, especially during past times when membership numbers were high. We, and other Grand Lodges, need to take advantage of that social capital while it still exists so strongly.
Back to the Productivity report. For the purposes of this article, it says two further interesting things;
1. Around half of the sector's (NFPs) income is self-generated (including fees for goods and services). A third is received from government (including contracted government services) and around 10 per cent from philanthropic sources...
2. NFPs need to diversify their revenue sources to improve sustainability.
People who run Masonic centres often lament reduced incomes as lodges close but to keep those centres in Masonic hands, often a simple shift from internal (lodge) rents to external hirings is all that is required. Indeed it is external rents which are keeping many of our Centres afloat and some have been sold because they failed to make that shift. This is totally congruent to the reports observation on community engagement and income diversification.
Indeed I recently spoke to 12 metropolitan Masonic centres to share ideas on how to preserve and improve our centres. They had an average of 9.25 Masonic groups meeting in them. A third have meeting rooms additional to the South and Lodge room – another potential source of income, 83% described their major source of income being “Casual external hirers” or” Regular non-masonic tenants” but 66.7% were operating on incomes of $50,000 or less per year, half of all $20,000 or below. A surprisingly 92% said GL does not help with advice on running the building. Also 58% of the 12 said they got candidates through the building (17% were unsure if they did).
The failure and sale Masonic centres is often linked with poor maintenance or lowering number of lodges, but the real reason is lack of income. To prosper, we need to diversify our income and the obvious source is external income which also provides opportunity for community engagement.
Our Masonic Centres maintain a critical community presence and have great potential to be used as a community space and shop front, as they once were. Once they are sold, that opportunity is lost. Given the current strength of the Craft and the high prices of land and construction compared to when most Centres were built, we would never establish what we are now blest with. We have a duty to the past and future to preserve our assets and pass them along to the next generation.
It was most heartening to hear our Grand Master Elect, Bob Jones, speak at the Quarterly Communications in Bendigo about buildings. In addressing the Brethren he commented that the old strategy of selling Masonic Buildings and using the proceeds to support those left would eventually result in only a handful of Centres remaining and the sales had to stop. It is great to hear this from our next leader.
My own experience in being the “Hall Manager” at Gipps St has allowed me to connect with the community through Freemasonry. The building certainly has resulted in one candidate in the last 12 months, but many more have been given a favourable impression of the Craft through the door that the centre opens into the wider community. In the last few weeks we have had hundreds of people attending functions at Gipps St, perhaps the most notable being a seminar on “Bridges out of Poverty” run by Jesuit Social Services Community College.. what a great thing for Freemasonry to see about 50 professionals at Gipps St working on addressing poverty and disadvantage. Similarly last month, we had about 60 kids in the building, some at the Australian Shakespeare Company’s workshop, the rest involved in a Student Film while last Sunday the hall was packed with kids attending an all ages music event.
It is great to see the Collingwood Masonic Centre being used by the community as a hire space.
It is great to know that because of this, hundreds of people can say they “met a real freemason” and many can even tell how amazing the lodge room at Gipps street is. We are helping to rebuild the social capital our forefathers created, while also preserving the heritage and inheritance we have in the building at Collingwood.