My Brother Knights,
I would like to apologize up front for the length of this missive. Please take the time to read this and the attachment. I aim to provide you some information about a new program of the Knights of Columbus called Online Membership, active as a pilot program in Virginia as of 16 January.
Many of you have heard “rumors” of this program that has been variously called Online Membership, e-member, and e-Knight. As those rumors spread, I heard some very serious concerns about this program from many of you. And I had some significant concerns myself.
At the State Meeting 13-14 January, Brother Matt St. John from Supreme was in attendance to give a presentation on the program. He was also present at our DD meeting Sunday morning for more questions and answers. There is also an hour-plus long webinar about the program as well.
Again, please read the attached information pamphlet. My note does not attempt to repeat all of the information contain in the information pamphlet nor provide all details of the program. For example, I will not go into some of the procedural steps. I do hope to emphasize the program intent, and hopefully assuage some concerns that you have expressed over the last few months.
I will start off with a statement from our Supreme Knight Carl Anderson:
“Our goal is to introduce substantial numbers of younger men into the activities of our Order in a way that will strengthen the benefits of our local councils. Our goal is to recruit large numbers of young men who will for a large membership pool in each state that can be linked with local councils. To do this we have concluded it is necessary to recruit younger members through the communication channels that they use and rely upon.”
This statement brings up my first point. This program is a recruiting tool. It is a first step toward attracting younger me into our order. It is not an end into itself. The longer-term goal will be for these online members to convert to council membership. This recruiting tool takes advantage of the communications sources used by many younger men. But it by no means eliminates or competes with local council recruiting. This program is also geared towards military and college students, who may not have steady access to local councils.
Nothing in this program that changes in any way the requirements for membership in our order. Anyone joining online must certify through the application that they are male, 18 years old, and a practical Catholic. That is the same requirement we check through our admission process. The online application states: “Failure to answer truthfully to any of these declarations, or failure to remain a practical Catholic in union with the Holy See, renders void your membership in the Knights of Columbus.” The same is true for any of us when we join.
Online members are dues-paying members of the Knights of Columbus, with many of the same benefits as the rest of us. Rather than belonging to a council, they will belong to what is called a State Division. It is not exactly the same, but similar to an “at-large” vice “chapter” member of the VFW. However, they are not First, Second, or Third Degree members. The program does not include an “online Admissions Degree” – contrary to one of the rumors. Nothing in the program does away with any of our degree ceremonials.
Online members may attend local council meetings. Online members will have a membership card, and I am providing samples of that card to each GK, Warden, and Guards in each council in the district. But they are not authorized to vote on issues, just as the rest of us can attend meetings of other councils but do not vote on their business.
Online members will receive regular communications from Supreme, which will discuss Faith formation, tailored messages about Knights activities, and information stressing the value of council-based membership. Again, the goal is to recruit the members online, then get them to convert to a local council. Supreme does not want them to stay stagnant as online members.
Now I would like to address some specific concerns that I have heard:
The dues are lower than for the council. There are dues for online membership. Those are $30 per year. A concern was raised about the difference between online membership and council dues. Part of the difference is a few assessments that we pay such as Penny per Knight per day. There are also benefits to council membership that don’t come with online membership. For example, how much do we charge members for our council Christmas party or our end of year PGK Dinner. Usually nothing, and I’m sure there are other similar examples.
This will compete with council recruiting of younger men. I mentioned already the idea of converting online members to council membership. The process for this conversion will be the same as for a new prospect we recruit ourselves, although the paperwork will be a little different. The online member will meet with the council Admissions Committee. The council will vote to accept the member. Then the member will participate in the Admissions Degree – and then the Formation and Knighthood Degrees. An important point here is that online membership does not compete with council goals toward Star Council. When an online member converts, the council gets credit! As of early January the order has had about 290 men join online. 15% of those have already converted to council membership.
This is just to sell insurance. Again, this is a recruiting tool. Online members will have access to a web portal. During the rollout, only online members will have access to this content. I don’t believe there is anything here not also on the Supreme website. Importantly, the first button across the top of that portal is “Lead with Faith” – emphasizing the importance and beauty of our Catholic roots. Yes, there is a section on the portal for “Protect Your Family” with information about our insurance program. Online members are eligible to become owners, just like the rest of us. Which is fine, because protecting our families is one of the reasons Fr. McGivney founded our Order! Interestingly, those who have joined in the pilot programs in a couple other states to date have been more engaged in the “Lead with Faith” page that in the insurance page.
This is a means for non-Practical Catholics or women to join our order. Who is checking when they apply online? Yes, someone could lie. They could also lie to the Admissions Committee! Let me provide a hypothetical situation. An online member wants to convert to council membership. The admissions committee asks the online member “are you a practical Catholic?” And the online member says, “yeah that was on the web site, but what is that?” Same question we get from a lot of applicants right? After explaining, the online member says, “gee, I’m divorced and remarried, is that a problem?” What do you do? The initial answer is the same as right now, we defer to the chaplain for his guidance. If the chaplain agrees there is a case of not being a practical Catholic, we refer the case to State Advocate and Supreme legal department. That would be a case of fraudulent representation when joining and would nullify membership and my understanding is would also nullify insurance if bought.
Let me give another hypothetical. A woman joins online, lying on the part that says “I am male.” I don’t know about you, but when I bought my insurance, a nurse came to the house to draw blood. Blood contains genetic markers including indicating male or female, even if the nurse somehow could not tell!
And a third hypothetical. A non-Catholic joins, lying on the part that says “I am a practical Catholic.” This may be more difficult, there is no genetic marker for the indelible mark baptism leaves on our soul. However, is it worth the risk to anyone? The non-Catholic stays an online member just to get access to our insurance. Say he invests $10,000 a year for a whole life policy. The person dies 10 years into the policy, but as part of the process at that point, we find out the person never was Catholic. Remember my comment about fraudulent representation? I’m not a lawyer, but I’m sure our Order’s legal department would have an issue with paying out the policy in such a situation. Who would take the risk?
In summary, I believe this program is a great opportunity for our order, and for our councils. You should keep your eye out for any online members you may come across and share with them the benefits of belonging to the council at their parish. You should also think about those men you know who have expressed interest in the Knights, but “haven’t had time” to join or attend meetings. They may be ideal candidates for online membership, which then will lead them to your council!
I again apologize for the length of this note, but there is a lot of false information running around about this program that I wanted to set the record straight.
Virginia District Deputy 3