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    Ready, Set, COMMUNICATE!

    House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R- Wis.) has said that “everything is on the table” when it comes to tax reform.  Senate Finance Committee Chair Oren Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) have created five bi-partisan “study groups” to analyze all facets of the Tax Code.  And President Obama outlined his tax reform proposals during last week’s State of the Union address.

    While none of these developments guarantee that Congress will enact meaningful tax legislation in 2015, we can be assured that a thorough discussion of the issue – including consideration of long-standing tax preferences and sacred cow deductions – will be on the congressional agenda this year.

    Which means that the American Fraternal Alliance and its members have to be fully engaged in the debate from “the get go.”

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    The Alliance is planning to kick off its advocacy initiative with a broad-based grassroots campaign in which every Alliance member society is encouraged to participate.  The online program will be modeled on the Alliance’s wildly successful 2013 “Blank Slate” campaign in which thousands of member society executives, employees, field representatives and local chapter leaders reached out to every U.S. Senator to communicate the important economic and social contributions fraternals make as a result of our exempt status.

    In 2015, our objective will be to generate as many contacts as possible with both Senators and Representatives early in the tax reform debate to make sure they understand the value and viability of the fraternal exemption and the impact that fraternals have in their district and state.  The program is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 3, and will run for six weeks – right up until our April 21 “Day on the Hill” event where we’ll bring dozens of fraternal leaders to Washington, D.C., for Capitol Hill visits with lawmakers and their staff.

    We’ll make participating in the online program as easy as possible for you and your society.  We’ll send you a link to a specially designed Alliance website where your employees, agents, local chapter leaders and individual members will be able to send a personal email to their Senators and Representatives with just a few mouse clicks.  The email will contain specific information on the impact fraternals have in their home state, as well as a link to the Swagel Study, which will provide policymakers with a national perspective on fraternals’ societal and economic contributions.

    Now is the time to lay the groundwork for your society’s participation in this initiative.  Start thinking about how you are going to reach out to your organization’s key audiences – email blasts, direct mail, articles in your society’s magazine, etc. – to generate the broadest possible participation in this critically important advocacy effort.  If you need help in planning your outreach strategies or would like more information on how your society can more effectively motivate its members to contact their lawmakers, just send me an email at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org and we’ll contact you with some suggestions.

    Even better, if you’d like to share some ideas that have worked for you in previous grassroots campaigns, post a comment here and we’ll share them with Alliance members.

    Giving Till It Helps

    Join Hands Day155

    The fraternal business model is built on taking care of one another in a cooperative and collaborative way.  It’s an organizational marvel, if you ask me.

    A society’s first duty is to take care of its members.  We accomplish this in large part by providing a variety of financial services products to families to help them secure their fiscal futures with minimal reliance on government safety nets.

    But, the miracle of the fraternal model is what happens next.  When individuals and families feel comfortable about their own financial security, they become more cognizant about the need to help their neighbors who might not be so fortunate and more generous with both their time and their treasure.  Fraternals offer members dozens of philanthropic and volunteer opportunities based on each society’s shared values that help build stronger communities across the U.S. and Canada.  This not only strengthens the social fabric of these neighborhoods, it reduces the need for costly (and often less than efficient) government programs.  There is simply no more cost effective way to deliver these services – particularly in the smaller towns and rural areas where fraternals thrive – than through the “neighbor-helping-neighbor” model.

    Fraternal members may also be among the most modest group of people on the planet.  Unfortunately, this characteristic has a couple of downsides: 1) it has resulted in fraternals being virtually unknown to individuals under 50 years old (but that’s a topic for another posting); and 2) our contributions are often overlooked by the state and federal policymakers who will be making decisions on the tax-exempt status of fraternals.

    FraternalsGIVE_logo1Last year we introduced FrateralsGIVE.org – an entirely new way for member societies to collect this community service and member activity data from their local chapters in an online platform.  And we’re pleased to announce that we’ve reached an important milestone: More than 1000 fraternal chapter events have been entered into FraternalsGIVE.org.

    This system was designed to help fraternal home offices minimize the large volume of paperwork and the manual data needed to keep track of chapter activities.  Four societies have purchased access to this system and have been busy training their chapter leaders – young and old – on how easy it is to enter their fraternal activity data.  Plus, the Alliance now has even more wonderful REAL stories to share with legislators and others who should know about the significant contributions that fraternals are making in their communities.

    Here is a small sampling of the hundreds of events logged into FraternalsGIVE.org.  Wouldn’t it be great to see your society’s activities in this list?  Contact the Alliance to find out how affordable and easy FraternalsGIVE.org is.

    • SPJST Lodge 054, West, Texas – Raised and donated $11,182 for West Texas Ambulance. They also raised and donated $11,100 to the West Rest Haven Nursing Home on 3/7/2014.
    • SPJST Lodge 196, Bellville, Texas – Members collected teddy bears for the Joe Joe Bear Foundation. Joe Joe Bear is a 501c(3) that gives teddy bears to children with life threatening illnesses. More than 100 teddy bears were collected. 5/3/2014 (6 members attended for a total of 36 hours with $500 in kind donations).
    • SPJST Lodge 196, Richmond, Texas – Members collected and donated $1,500 worth of clothes to the women’s Shelter for Battered Women.  The clothes included boys and girls clothes for the children along with clothes for the women.  The shelter provides refuge for battered women and their children.  5/24/2014 (5 members spent 15 hours gathering and delivering the clothing donations).
    • KSKJ Life, American Slovenian Catholic Union Lodge 29, Joliet, Illinois – Members cleaned the St. Joseph’s Park on Theodore Street from 9am – 12 noon. 5/17/2014 (4 members spent 12 hours total).
    • Sons of Norway Lodge 2046 Bernt Balchen, Anchorage, Alaska – Members held an adult spelling bee to benefit the Alaska Literacy Project (raised $3,000).  Teams from 16-18 local businesses participated, i.e.: BP, Conoco Phillips, DAR, Mensa, GCI, University of AK, AKLA (librarians). 14 members and 10 non-members combined for a total of 100 hours of volunteer time.

    Folks, this “Internet thing” is going to catch on.  I’m guessing your local chapter leaders will embrace FraternalsGIVE.org in the same way they abandoned their abacuses for pocket calculators.  It’s an easy, fast, and affordable way to document your societies’ contributions – to members, to prospects, to the local media, and to public policymakers that have the fate of your tax exempt status in their hands.

    Want to see for yourself? Get an inside look at how the site works on a live demo this Thursday, January 22, at 7:00 pm. Education Manager Andrea Litewski is providing online training for some 600+ chapter leaders from two participating societies via this webinar. Click here to register – if you can’t make the live demo, register anyway and we’ll send you a link to the recording afterwards.

    Game Changer

    Every so often there will be an occurrence – in business, in politics, in athletics – that may not only affect the outcome of an individual contest, but actually fundamentally re-structure the way the game is played.  Think about the impact of the Internet on retailing, the emergence of the Tea Party on political races, the three-point shot in basketball.  I consider all of these to be “game changers.”

    GameChanger2

    This week, the Alliance and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) are announcing another game changer – a shared services agreement that promises to not only make new products and services available to the members of both trade groups, but may also create an entirely new way for trade groups to work cooperatively to develop and deliver benefits to members.

    Under the terms of the shared services agreement, Alliance members will have immediate access to NAMIC’s web design and hosting services and the Mutual Career Center.  In addition, the agreement calls for the Alliance and NAMIC to develop Board of Director educational programs – an issue that’s critical to both fraternal and mutual insurers.  From my perspective, this is just the tip of what I hope will become a very large iceberg of shared products, programs, and services that will benefit both Alliance and NAMIC members.

    What’s a NAMIC?

    NAMIC logo

    NAMIC is the nation’s largest property/casualty trade association, representing hundreds of mutual insurers ranging from large, national companies to small county mutuals.  Like the Alliance, NAMIC has members domiciled in both the U.S. and Canada.  And also like the Alliance, NAMIC is committed to providing its members with the finest advocacy, policy, public affairs, and education services.

    NAMIC President and CEO Chuck Chamness said, “Mutual insurers and fraternals share many values and operating characteristics.  Both have a singular focus on members and both have rich histories based on neighbor helping neighbor.”  In essence, NAMIC members and Alliance members are kindred spirits.  Not surprisingly, that translates to many NAMIC products and services being almost perfectly suited for fraternals.  Partnering with NAMIC to offer these services means that Alliance members can access proven programs that can add value to your society TODAY – not next week, next month, or next year.

    Where’s the beef?

    NAMIC WEB Services and the NAMIC Mutual Career Center are the initial offerings available to Alliance members under the shared services agreement.  NAMIC’s web team has helped hundreds of NAMIC member companies design, develop, upgrade and maintain the quality of their web sites at incredibly affordable prices.  This service may be an ideal way for small and mid-size Alliance members to dramatically and cost-effectively improve their web presence.  Moreover, larger fraternals may also be able to assist their local chapters and field agents with the design and development of a cohesive network of sites that tie in to a society’s home page.

    The Mutual Career Center allows Alliance members to post job openings at their societies that can be accessed by thousands of qualified insurance professionals across the country. The Alliance routinely receives inquiries from fraternal leaders about how and where they can post their important openings.  We are excited to have a perfect solution that is affordable and easy – and similar to other types of successful online career centers

    Transforming a relationship into a partnership…

    You may remember from a recent posting that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to “transform relationships into partnerships.”  The shared services agreement with NAMIC is an example of what I meant.  The Alliance and NAMIC have been informally working together for years – on policy issues like corporate governance and financial solvency regulation, and on simply sharing ideas on how to better serve our respective members.  After a while it became clear that our organizations shared similar missions and visions, and that our members shared common cultures.

    That revelation paved the way for the “game changer” – the development of a formal shared services agreement in which both organizations make an investment in the effort to deliver greater value to their respective members.  I hope you’ll take advantage of this new partnership and put the NAMIC services now available to Alliance members to work in your society right away.

    Please read about the details on our website.  The Alliance will be hosting a webinar with NAMIC executives in the next few weeks to give you more information about how your society can benefit from this program.  Webinar registration details will be made available soon

    What are your “game changer” opportunities?

    I’ve got a hunch that there are Alliance members out there that have long-standing relationships with their fraternal peers – relationships that with a little courage and creativity could be transformed into partnerships that deliver greater value to the members of both societies.  Fraternal leaders have been proselytizing about this “cooperative concept” for years – certainly as long as I’ve served as the Alliance’s CEO.  Seems like a good time to practice what we preach.

    Comments?  Add them here or email me at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org.

    Life Is What Happens While You’re Busy Making Plans

    My wife and I spent Christmas in New York City with our older son and daughter-in-law.  Our daily walking excursions in the Big Apple took us from our children’s apartment on the Upper West Side all the way down to Little Italy (of course!), SoHo, and Greenwich Village.  We saw a host of historic sights on our meanderings through Manhattan, including The Dakota, the apartment building where John Lennon (the ultimate “disruptive learner” – see my previous blog posting) lived and was tragically killed more than 34 years ago.  The headline of this week’s posting is one of my favorite Lennon quotes – but the content of the blog flies in the face of his “seat of the pants” philosophy.  So with apologies to John, here are a few Alliance events I’m hoping you’ll plan to attend in 2015.

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    • Executive Summit (April 19-21, Washington, D.C.) – We’ve taken the Presidents and Fraternal Operations Mid-Year Meetings and combined them into the ultimate fraternal C-suite conference.  The meeting includes general sessions for all attendees on topics ranging from employing  “disruptive innovation” techniques in your management style to enhancing your organization’s governance structure, as well as breakouts featuring fraternal CEOs addressing topics from online sales and marketing initiatives to effective ways to transform relationships into partnerships.  The Summit concludes with our traditional “Fraternal Day on the Hill” event where member society executives will meet with legislators and key tax staff to reinforce the importance of the fraternal tax exemption in advance of the pending congressional debate over tax reform.

    • Fraternal/Communications Mid-Year Meeting (May 6-8, San Antonio, Texas) – This meeting combines the hottest topics in the areas of fraternal, marketing and communications and provides a fantastic, interactive learning opportunity for fraternal professionals at all career levels. This year’s theme is collaboration and we are planning an exciting program dedicated to helping our organizations break down the silos and work together to achieve goals. Session topics will include presentations of sales and fraternal collaboration, electronic marketing and social media, telling your story and building your brand and much more. We are also continuing our conversation on appealing to a new generation of members with a presentation being planned by the Millennial Task Force. Be sure to plan now to join us in Texas!

    • Canadian Section Mid-Year Meeting (May 13-15, 2015, Ottawa, Ontario) – This year’s meeting of our northern cousins will feature a “Day on Parliament Hill” event where Canadian fraternal executives will reach out to federal lawmakers and ministers to discuss the important role fraternals play in the Canadian financial services industry in advance of the policy debate over the nation’s laws and regulations governing all insurers.  A full agenda of educational programming will also be on the docket.  If your society does business in Canada, this is a meeting you just can’t miss.

    • Investment Section Mid-Year Meeting (June 4-5, 2015, Oak Brook, Illinois) – With topics including recruiting and retaining investment talent, updates on credit overview as well as the yield environment and alternative investments, the educational content of this year’s Investment Section meeting is looking great. In addition, the Investment Section will share a half-day of programming with the Actuaries Section, including a keynote presentation from an economist and a joint Investment/Actuaries panel addressing the current challenges within the fraternal industry. This is a great education opportunity for CEOs too – if you have never attended this meeting, this is the year to do so.

    • Actuaries Mid-Year Meeting (June 4-5, 2015, Oak Brook, Illinois) – This meeting provides an excellent opportunity for continuing education for fraternal actuaries, and this year’s program will be sure to please, with topics including updates to Principles Based Reserving, Professionalism, and a panel presentation on underwriting and e-applications. With the shared half-day of programming with the Investment Section, and the great meeting location at the Hyatt Lodge at McDonalds Campus, this is gearing up to be a great meeting.

    • Compliance Day (May 28, 2015, North Olmsted, Ohio) – While we are in the process of finalizing this year’s presentations, the 2015 meeting will include topics of particular interest to fraternals, including:  a discussion of the NAIC Corporate Governance Annual Disclosure Model Act and Model Regulation and its impact on fraternals, an update by a representative of the Ohio Department of Insurance, and a presentation by the Interstate Insurance Compact. Plus, the opportunity to network with other compliance peers from Alliance members will make this an event you will not want to miss!

    • Annual Meeting (September 10-12, Indianapolis, Indiana) – The largest gathering of fraternal executives and board members on the planet, the Alliance’s Annual Meeting is dedicated to helping members do everything they do – in both the financial services and community services sectors – just a little better.  You’ll be able to connect with hundreds of your colleagues, engage with dozens of service providers, and advance your knowledge by attending more than 12 educational sessions.  Of course, we’ll wrap up the event with an “Indianapolis 500”–themed closing celebration and a band that may bring John Lennon back from the dead.

    Therefore, be it firmly resolved…

    I’m not a big “New Year’s Resolutions” guy.  I find most of the things people “resolve” to do silly, short-lived, and inconvenient. For instance, I really don’t like competing for space at the gym in January with the dozens of yahoos who have resolved to “get in shape” in the New Year.  (Although I do take a sort of perverse comfort in knowing that 90% of them will be gone by the time Valentine’s Day comes along, leaving the workout room wide open for the small group of idiots like me trying to recapture our misspent youth…)

    resolutions

    But this year I am going to make a resolution, and it has nothing to do with weight loss or muscle mass.  This year, I resolve to be a “disruptive learner.”

    The inspiration for this resolution comes from two sources:

    • The reams of material that I’ve read over the past year about how the financial services industry is primed to be “disrupted.”  Think about how Amazon changed the way we purchase books (and, increasingly, almost everything else); how iTunes changed the way we listen to music; how Netflix changed the way we watch movies and television.  How might the way we purchase products to protect our financial future changes in the coming year?  Is the life insurance industry the next Blockbuster?  More importantly, how can we – the small, nimble, consumer-friendly fraternal sector of the behemoth financial services industry – be the disrupter and not the disrupted?
    • A wonderful quote from Eric Hoffer that I came across just a few weeks ago: “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”  I don’t think he was talking specifically about fraternals, but he could have been.

    So what kind of “disruptive learner” behavior can you expect to see from me in 2015?  Here are a few things that come to mind:

    • Turn relationships into business partnerships – You’ll see an announcement of one of these “disruptive” new partnerships in early January.  I’m confident this new agreement will allow Alliance members to take advantage of some great new products and services that we would not otherwise be able to provide.  This is a first for the Alliance, and we’re going to “learn” as we go.  But I suspect we’ll discover that there are more organizations with whom we have a relationship that we can transform into a business partnership that benefits our  members.  Do similar opportunities exist within your society’s current relationships with other fraternals?
    • Question every maxim by which we’ve lived for the past century – This starts with the old cliché that life insurance is sold, not bought.  And by “sold” I mean by an agent sitting with prospective clients around a kitchen table in the evening.  While that model may still exist on a small scale – remember, some people still go to the video store to rent DVD’s, too – I’m going to start 2015 with the “disruptive” notion that the vast majority of the next generation of consumers are going to learn about the products and services they need to secure their financial future on the web and they are going to “buy” those products in a whole new way.  And I’m going to commit to “learning” how the Alliance can help its members deliver those products and services in ways that these prospective members want them.
    • Expand our affinity by thinking of households not individuals – Our products are designed for households, not individuals.  And I think we need to “disrupt” how we assess the impact of member societies’ and “learn” how to expand our reach.  How many households do we serve?  How many households participate in philanthropic and community service activities – and how many benefit from such programs?  How many products does each household purchase?  If they only purchase one product from your society, where are they turning for their other financial services needs – and why?  What other products and services do our members need and want – dental and vision insurance, auto and homeowners coverage, financial education programs, basic legal services, identity theft protection, health and wellness programs, etc.?  Would their affinity – their bond with their society – make them willing to consider purchasing these from your fraternal?  Remember, Amazon started as an online book seller…
    • Anticipate regulatory challenges – We know that solvency and governance are the two most significant operational issues that face fraternals.  And we know the potential regulatory backlash that can result from regulators’ concerns over unsustainable organizations.  Over the years, we’ve “learned” how to address these issues through improvements to state regulation.  In 2015, let’s implement the “disruptive” notion of proactively proposing more effective fraternal regulation – rather than waiting for a crisis to emerge – to regulators in key states.  By defining the problems – and the potential solutions – we enhance our ability to establish a regulatory environment that promotes fair and effective competition and allows fraternals the opportunity to fulfill their financial services and community services missions.

    New YearHappy New Year, everyone.  May you drive disruptive practices and embrace learning opportunities in your organizations each and every day.

    The Yin and the Yang of Christmas

    Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For some reason, this old chestnut popped into my head when contemplating writing about Christmas. Why? Because, ask anyone what they love about the season; then ask someone else what bugs them most about this time of year and chances are, you’ll often find the same answer given for both questions.

    yin yang cropped

    LOVE:  The Christmas music! Its beauty just gets to me every year.
    HATE:  The endless Christmas music! When will it stop? (Seriously…if I hear Jingle Bell Rock one more time, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.)

    LOVE:  A good snowfall around the holidays that is really icing on the cake!
    HATE:  Having to travel in such dangerous and unpredictable weather!

    LOVE:  Seeing loved ones faces when they open that special present!
    HATE:  Shopping! Shopping! Shopping! What a pain!

    LOVE:  The glorious and traditional holiday foods and treats!
    HATE:  Those 9 pounds I add every year!

    LOVE:  Hearing how old friends are and what they have been doing this past year!
    HATE:  Those cheesy Christmas letters we get in Christmas cards.

    LOVE:  Being with my family.
    HATE:  Being with my family!

    It just goes to show that we are all different.  And thank goodness for that.

    Maybe you’re one who loves everything about this time of year. Wonderful! Maybe you are one who is “over it already.” That’s too bad.

    It’s easy to see why this happens.  With the urgency to prepare to create the PERFECT holiday coming at you from all directions beginning in mid-October now, our expectations for what makes a good Christmas have become unreal.

    I guess the secret is to discover what thing or things have the most meaning for you this season. What, if it were gone tomorrow, would you really regret not experiencing again, and focus all your holiday energy into living that part to the fullest. Actually, that’s not a bad daily mantra either.

    That is our Christmas wish for you. Have a great holiday and a wonderful New Year!

    Guest Blog – Give Your Staff the Gift of a Great Education!

    Alliance Education Manager Andrea Litewski takes over the blogging chair to let you know about a great new learning opportunity that is now available for you and your staff.

    Andrea Litewski, Manager, Education

    Well, the holidays are officially here and there are only a few precious shopping days left. In addition to the holiday rush, how many of you are slammed at work finalizing planning and budgets for 2015? Why not “think outside the box” when planning your team’s professional development next year and give them the gift of high quality, professional education?

    I am not sure about you, but during the cold winter months it’s hard enough for me to even think about going outside, let alone spend a day traveling over icy roads in brutal wind chills to a conference or seminar. That’s why I am excited to let you know about a great new program that is available exclusively to Alliance members that will bring world-class professional development opportunities for you and your staff directly to your desk top in the warmth of your office or conference room.

    In September, hundreds of member society executives took advantage of the educational opportunities offered at the Alliance Annual Meeting. But for every executive that attended these offerings, we know there were hundreds more that could not join us in Austin. We want all of our member societies to understand that whether scheduling conflict, heavy workloads, society budgets or other reasons prevent members of your team from attending a face-to-face workshop or meeting, that the Alliance staff remains dedicated to providing you with opportunities to keep up with new concepts and understand new requirements in our ever changing business environment.
    OLC

    One of the best educational venues available for our member societies is the American Fraternal Alliance Online Learning Center. We have continuously improved the user experience for this resource which gives members access to workshops and presentations that you may have missed or would like to share with others at your society. Click here to take a guided tour of the Online Learning Center and see a brief sample of the great workshops that are available.

    Last week in, conjunction with your society’s dues invoice, the Alliance alerted you to a special program offer. When your society pays its dues, for just an additional $275, you can receive 24/7 access to all of the captured sessions from the 2014 Annual meeting AND the 2014 Mid-Year Meetings!

    A variety of subjects are addressed including:

    • Branding Our Business Model for the Next Generation of Members
    • Headwinds and Tailwinds for Fraternal Insurers
    • Innovating in the Field: The Agent Perspective

    Check out all the offerings by clicking here.

    At the Alliance, we take professional education seriously and hope that these offerings will provide a great low-cost way to provide development for you and your staff. Make sure your society takes advantage of this limited offer. In addition, please let us know how we are doing and what topics and types of courses you would like to see in the future.

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