In his new position as head of Shriners International and Shriners Hospitals for Children, Cornelius resident Alan Madsen hopes to increase membership and improve the organization's finances.
Madsen, a 69-year-old retired Charlotte business executive who lives in The Peninsula, will serve as Imperial Potentate of the 325,000-member international organization for one year.
Formerly known as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Shriners International oversees 22 nonprofit hospitals that treat children under 18 for orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate.
Last year, all 22 hospitals - including the closest one in Greenville, S.C. - treated 24,000 youths.
The organization also provides research and teaching programs for medical professionals.
Madsen's ascension marks the first time that a member from the Oasis Shrine in Charlotte has served as the international organization's head.
Paul Whitfield, a Charlotte attorney, said he nominated Madsen for Imperial Potentate 10 years ago because of Madsen's can-do attitude.
"He doesn't let any grass grow under his feet," said Whitfield. "He's a doer in a world of talkers.
Madsen has been climbing the ranks of the organization's board of directors ever since that initial nomination.
After his successful election run in late 2011, Madsen will be installed during Shriners International's annual convention from July 1 to 5. This year, it will be held in Charlotte.
The Michigan native said the organization is at a transitional point in its history.
Membership has declined from nearly 1 million to 325,000 since 1980. And since the average age of a Shriner is 62, the membership grows smaller each year as members, especially those who swelled the ranks after World War II, die.
Madsen said he hopes to combat the trend by improving the organization's mentorship program, which he credits for some of the turnover the organization has seen in recent years.
He also said that a lack of information about Shriners International has also hurt the group's membership.
"We're the best-kept secret. A lot of people don't know about us," he said. "For years and years, you had to ask to be a Mason and Shriner. But now we've opened up membership."
But Mike Cook, a fellow Shriner who owns Cavin-Cook Funeral Homes in Mooresville, said shrinking membership is not an issue unique to Shriners International. Cook said organizations everywhere are falling victim to what he describes as overbooked schedules.
"It's a challenge to get people involved. There are so many demands on a young family's time and resources today," he said. "There's just a lot of demands on people's time now."
Shriners International is responsible for raising more than $600 million each year to keep its 22 nonprofit hospitals running.
Madsen will play a big role in ensuring the organization reaches that goal.
Madsen said he looks forward to serving as head of the organization that's given so much to him over the years.
"I don't get paid for it, but when I go to a hospital and a child says, 'Thank you Mr. Shriner for taking care of me,' that's my paycheck," he said. "Where else can you have so much fun doing so much good?"