Freemasonry is not a charity. During a recent interview with a candidate I had to state this fact. A while back, a different interested party came to meet with the brothers before one of our meetings and asked what it is we do. He was not entirely satisfied with the cookie cutter answer of "we make good men better" and wanted concrete information on the charitable activities that our lodge does. He stated that his time was valuable and before he made the decision to join an organization he wanted to make sure that they did enough charity to warrant his membership. Now, this very direct line of questioning is not something the brothers that were there are used to getting from a prospective candidate (I was a little late getting to lodge and just was able to get in a hello in at the end of this). Usually men approaching Freemasonry for the first time are a little more timid with their questioning about the craft, but this young man was not. Needless to say that we have not seen that man since that night, because I think he did not believe we did enough charity for what he was looking to do and I am perfectly fine with that. As desperate as we are for energetic young membership we need not portray ourselves as something we are not. I say again we are not a charity.
Back to the interview.
Our prospective member, unlike the young man, had done his fair share of charitable work with a couple of different fine organizations and came knocking on the door of Freemasonry to do charity of the "non-commercial" (his words) type. He was looking to improve himself further! Can you can imagine the smile on my face when I heard that. While my brethren expounded on the charities that our institution is involved in, I tried to refocus our attention to what it really is we do. Yeah we give money to different charities and do charitable works but it is in the making of better men that makes us what we are. We were put in a penniless state to remind us that charity is an important component to the greater good of a man, but it is not the end all be all of one. Freemasonry through its various lessons does much more in making our society better than a simple charity can.
One at a time, by making masons out of men we strive to the better good of all. If done right and to the right man our three degree system reawakens the light that every man was given by our creator. By reigniting that spark a man will do charitable work, not for the sake of the craft but because it is the right thing to do. I feel we sometimes oversell the charitable doings of our organization to legitimize our existence to those who do not know us. That is not what we are put at labor to do as Freemasons.
I tell every prospective brother that the majority of our secrets are already known to him before he enters the craft, he just needs our benevolent order to shed a better light on them.