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    BOGO (or “What fraternals can learn from retailers”)

    My wife works for one of America’s largest retailers. And over the years I’ve learned a good bit from her about the retail industry and the challenges it faces. Think we’re in a tough business? Check out these daily obstacles to success:

    • Cut throat competition
    • High employee turnover
    • Significant losses due to internal and external theft and fraud
    • Razor thin profit margins
    • Cyber liability

    And the list goes on. Retailers have to constantly keep current customers coming back while bringing new ones in the door in order to survive. And there is one marketing tactic that many companies use to both retain and attract customers. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and it’s called BOGO – “buy one, get one.” Everyone can understand the concept. You purchase one item and you get another for “free.” And while most of us inherently understand that nothing is ever free, BOGOs still make us feel like we’re getting a great deal.


    That got me to thinking… Why can’t fraternals apply a twist on the same tactic to their marketing campaigns?  I’m not suggesting that when an individual purchases a fraternal insurance certificate the society provides them a second one at no charge. I’m quite certain that this would violate basic actuarial and anti-rebating principles and result in widespread bankruptcies. (Not to mention jail terms.)

    What I’m thinking is a “Buy One, Give One” campaign that highlights the community service aspect of our unique business model. That’s right, for every certificate purchased a fraternal could make a contribution to a specific charity. Better yet, the society could provide a list of organizations that it supports to the member and let the member direct where the contribution will be made.  This accomplishes several objectives (at least from my simplistic perspective):

    • It establishes a direct link between the financial and fraternal sectors of the organization – one that agents can effectively market and one in which members (both current and new) can feel good about.
    • It can give members a much more “hands-on” ability to direct where the fraternal’s financial contributions are made.
    • It can open the door to additional volunteerism by opening the eyes of members to the connection between the society’s financial services and community services activities.
    • It provides “immediate gratification” for new (and younger!) members, allowing them to make a difference in their community as soon as they join.

    I suspect that some of you must already be doing something like this. If so, I’d love to hear about it (and I suspect other readers would, too). So tell me if and how your society is borrowing a page from retailers’ playbook and implementing the “Buy One, Give One” concept in your society’s marketing campaign by posting a comment here…

    Effective Advocacy in the U.S. and Canada

    Just back from a week of vacation and a quick trip to Atlantic City for the New Jersey/New York State Fraternal Alliance meeting.  My brain is in one time zone and my body is in another.  Hopefully, the two will get synchronized soon because being hungry for dinner at 9:00 a.m. and falling asleep at 2:00 a.m. just doesn’t work as well as it used to back in the day.

    I wanted to pass on two excellent examples of Alliance member society advocacy efforts that came across my desk while I was away.  These initiatives demonstrate just how effective and important the involvement of one society can be when it comes to communicating the value and viability of fraternals to public policy makers in the U.S. and Canada.


    Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.)

    Several months ago, Kevin Marti, president and CEO of Gleaner Life Insurance Association and an incoming member of the Alliance Board of Directors, invited the U.S. Representative from Gleaner’s congressional district – Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) – to visit the Gleaner home office in Adrian, Michigan.  Rep. Walberg and his district office director took Kevin up on his offer last week and met with the society’s executives and management team.  Kevin took the opportunity to not only discuss the good work Gleaner does in both the financial services and community service arenas, he also made sure that Rep. Walberg understood that Gleaner was just one of 70 members of the American Fraternal Alliance, and that each of those societies fulfill similar missions in virtually every state and town in the U.S.  Kevin happily reported that Rep. Walberg reiterated his full support for the continuation of the fraternal tax exemption in any future tax reform debate.  Kevin also reminded Rep. Walberg that Alliance CEOs will be coming to Washington, D.C., in April 2015, and that he looks forward to leading a delegation of Michigan fraternal representatives in a meeting with the Congressman in his Capitol Hill office.

    Ever thought about inviting the Representative from your society’s congressional district to visit your office?  It’s not difficult, and the Alliance home office staff and our lobbying team at McBee Strategic can help you arrange such an event.  Interested?  Send me an email at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org and we’ll help you get started.

    Peter Braid

    Parliament Insurance Caucus Chair Peter Braid

    Not to be outdone, Doug Baker, president and CEO of Teacher’s Life, an Alliance member domiciled in Toronto, Ontario, met with officials from the Canadian Parliament’s Insurance Caucus last week in a significant first step in enhancing the awareness of fraternals’ impact on the Canadian economy.  Doug reported that Caucus Chair Peter Braid expressed his thanks for sharing the fraternal story and their contributions to Canadian society.  Mike Wallace, a Member of Parliament from Burlington, Ontario, told Doug that he didn’t know fraternals existed before the meeting, but that he was very impressed with the concept of a cooperative business model for life insurance.

    Ever thought about reaching out to the Insurance Committees of your state senate or assembly?  Even though the tax reform debate will take place almost exclusively on the federal level, members of Congress often seek input on issues from state legislators in their home districts before deciding on an issue.  Making sure state lawmakers are aware of who we are and what we do – either as an individual society or through your state fraternal alliance – is an excellent way to build a network of fraternal “champions” among policymakers at all levels.  Interested?  Send me an email at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org and we’ll help you get started. 

    Please join me in thanking Kevin and Doug for taking the lead on these two important advocacy projects, and for setting a shining example for other Alliance member societies to follow.

    The Coolest Business Model on the Planet

    I’ll be taking a bit of a blog break until the middle of next week. But before I disconnect, I wanted to leave you with a couple of recent examples of why fraternals represent the coolest business model on the planet. These items were sent to me on the same day by the CEOs of two member societies – one very small, and one very large – and I think they speak volumes about the similar values that these two very different executives hold dear. Enjoy…

    Small but mighty…


    The Catholic Ladies of Columbia (CLC) tried something different this past weekend and I wanted to share the results with you. I actually got the idea for this type of event at an Alliance Annual Meeting, and I’m happy to share the positive results with you. We tried a “regional” fraternal project. I contacted several councils and schools in our area of the most concentration of members and we painted the grandstands at the Putnam County fairgrounds in Ottawa, Ohio. We had about 30 people, ages 6 to 70+, come together last Saturday morning and we spent the day painting. It is amazing to see what 30 gallons of paint and 30 pairs of hands can do in such a short time. Someone said they thought it was nearly 30 years since the wood had seen a fresh coat of paint. It was great to see members, non-members, young and old work together. The project did exactly what I wanted it to do…bring more awareness to CLC and do something good to “Beautify the Community”. And it was outside the “meeting” setting, which we all know is the trend. Plus the best part is that after a couple of conversations the fair board realized what we were saving them in labor! Exactly what fraternalism is supposed to be! Thanks for letting me share my story and thanks to the Alliance for all it does for fraternals!


    Sharon Cavelage
    Catholic Ladies of Columbia

    Not too big to lose sight of what’s important…

    MWA Race
    I wanted to share with you the results of Modern Woodmen of America’s four-month “Knock Out Hunger” Campaign with our home office employees. I absolutely love the volunteer spirit of our employees and I am so proud of their accomplishment. Our intent is to give each one of our employees an opportunity to have a “hands-on volunteer experience.” The trick is finding the right project and a multitude of ways to serve. Clearly, the “Knock Out Hunger” program met that objective. Just look at a few of the things we were able to contribute to our home town community:

    • A ‘Pack the Truck’ event at Modern Woodmen Park.
    • Sponsorship and volunteering at three mobile food pantries.
    • Sponsorship and volunteering at 14 after-school backpack programs for local children.
    A massive meal-packing project, where Modern Woodmen employees packaged 50,000 meals for hungry families in just one day.

    MWA race photo

    Typically, most corporate organizations are only able to collect about 618 pounds of food for River Bend Foodbank, over the course of a month or two. During the Knock Out Hunger campaign Modern Woodmen collected 2,596 pounds of food. That’s FOUR times more than the average company. During the grand finale, the Race to Knock Out Hunger, Modern Woodmen presented River Bend Foodbank with a check for $15,609.49. This donation includes employee contributions, donations from the community, the famers’ market, 5K participant registration proceeds and a match by Modern Woodmen.

    MWA check Kenny Massey
    Modern Woodmen of America

    Thanks to Sharon and Kenny for their leadership on these projects and for sharing the results with us. You both exemplify all that’s good about the fraternal system – and demonstrate why our tax exempt status is so important to individuals and communities across the U.S.

    Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

    State fraternal alliances (SFAs) are a mixed bag. Some provide member societies real value in terms of access to educational programs and meaningful advocacy initiatives. Others…not so much.

    The Alliance Board is taking a hard look at the state fraternal alliance system – in exactly the same fashion that many of our member societies are examining their local chapter networks – to better understand what makes effective SFAs tick and what, if anything, can be done to help struggling state organizations improve their performance.

    Over the past two months, we’ve polled both SFA leaders and member society CEOs to gain additional insight on their views about the value and viability of SFAs. And in the coming weeks, I’ll be attending no less than five SFA annual meetings from coast to coast to solicit more direct feedback on the future of state alliances from the individuals who are most involved in these organizations.

    Last week, I participated in the Iowa Fraternal Alliance annual meeting and was pleasantly surprised at the vibrancy and effectiveness of this state trade group. Typically (although not always), states with many domiciled societies have the most effective SFAs. Iowa is home to only one domiciled society – Western Fraternal Life Association; but two Alliance member societies (Modern Woodmen of America and Royal Neighbors of America) are headquartered right across the Mississippi River in Rock Island, Illinois, and many other societies operate in the state.


    I spent most of the meeting quietly observing the Iowa Fraternal Alliance in action, and came away with the following list of ingredients for a successful SFA…

    • A dedicated and cohesive group of volunteer leaders composed of executives and managers from Alliance member fraternal benefit societies – SFAs that have member society CEOs’ commitment to the groups’ education and advocacy goals, and the dedicated resources of society executives and managers, have the best chance at success. This is not to say that SFAs led by local chapter leaders can’t be successful, but it’s incredibly difficult to manage these complex organizations using a Rolodex and a ball point pen. The Iowa Fraternal Alliance has the type of commitment from senior executives at about a half dozen societies, which provides them the fuel to consistently conduct quality education and advocacy programs.
    • A narrow focus on education and advocacy – The Iowa Fraternal Alliance focuses on two events each year: the spring “Day in the Statehouse,” and the fall annual meeting. The spring event brings society representatives to Des Moines for a day of meetings with state lawmakers. Over the years, the Iowa Fraternal Alliance has raised the profile of fraternals among policymakers and significantly contributed to the Alliance’s overall advocacy mission. In fact, two prominent state legislators attended the Iowa Fraternal Alliance annual meeting awards banquet. The annual meeting is an educational event designed to help member societies become better at both the financial and fraternal aspects of our operations. Equally important, the Iowa Fraternal Alliance does not act like a “mini-fraternal” in that it does not attempt to conduct community service projects or fundraisers that compete with the activities of its own members.Iowa capital
    • A partnership with the state Fraternal Insurance Counselor chapter – The Iowa Fraternal Alliance annual meeting and the Iowa FIC chapter meeting are conducted concurrently, and it’s a partnership that benefits members of both groups.  In many cases, state FIC chapters have decided to conduct their own meetings (focused on delivering educational programs that qualify for agents’ continuing education requirements) because SFA meetings were simply not valuable enough for them to attend. That’s not the case in Iowa, for the simple reason that the education programs conducted at the meeting are valuable for agents as well as fraternal executives and local chapter leaders.

    What is your recipe for a successful SFA? And what ingredients do you need from member societies and the Alliance to help finish your recipe? Let me know by posting a comment here or sending me a personal email at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org

    Mr. Garcia goes to Washington

    It did not take long for Tony Garcia, the new CEO of The Independent Order of Foresters, to embrace the fraternal “differentiator” – and to communicate the value of the important role fraternals play in the financial and community service arenas to the leader of the free world.

    Ralph Alswang Photographer www.ralphphoto.com 202-487-5025

    Foresters is a major supporter of KaBOOM! This national non-profit is dedicated to the goal of ensuring that all children, particularly the 16 million American children living in poverty, get the balanced and active play they need to thrive. Since 1966, KaBOOM!, working with community partners, has built, improved and opened more than 16,000 playgrounds, engaged more than 1,000,000 volunteers and served more than 7,400,000 children. Tony was invited to be one of the representatives of KaBoom! at this year’s national day of service in DC on 9/11.


    As you can see from these photos, Tony had the chance to work side by side with the President and First Lady and was impressed by their authenticity and understanding of the role community service volunteers play in improving the lives of Americans all across the country. And thanks to Tony, Mr. and Mrs. Obama know just a little more about how fraternals help fund and facilitate such good works.

    Thanks, Tony, for helping us spread the Alliance’s message all the way to the White House!

    When Does 1 Equal 76?

    The Building of the new Jackson Heights Park Playground in one day

    When that one is a single dollar invested in a fraternal.  That’s right, according to the results of a new study by Professor Phil Swagel of the Center for Financial Policy at the University of Maryland, America’s fraternal benefit societies produce $76 in value to society for each dollar the federal government “invests” in them by maintaining the fraternal tax exemption.

    The study demonstrates that fraternals deliver that value in two ways:  1) direct financial support for organizations that reflect their members’ shared values; and 2) facilitating millions of hours of volunteer service by their members on projects that enhance the quality of life in the communities across the country.

    And Professor Swagel points out that fraternals fill the gaps in the government safety net and play a vital role in helping build and maintain the economic and social infrastructure of the nation.  Moreover, according to Swagel, this is especially important during an economic downturn when federal, state, and local resources to serve such needs are stressed.

    Stop preaching to the choir…

    yrb photo 5

    OK, so we’ve got this great study done by a respected academic that demonstrates that the fraternal business model is one of the most effective ways to secure the financial future of millions of people AND bring those people together in a way that makes a meaningful and measurable impact on our society.  But you already knew that.  Let’s stop talking to ourselves about this and tell someone who really needs to know.  This might include:

    • Members of Congress who may have to vote on whether to maintain or repeal the fraternal tax exemption in 2015
    • Your neighbor who shares many of the same values as you but does not belong to your society
    • Your Facebook friends
    • The editor of your local newspaper and the producer of your local TV news program
    • Your friends in the blogosphere
    • The person that you smile and say hello to at church every Sunday
    • Your Millennial children who are craving the chance to make a contribution to something they can believe in
    • The people standing next to you on the elevator or sitting next to you on the plane

    Yrb photo 7

    Here’s our plan…

    The Alliance plans to use the Swagel Study in a number of specific ways in the coming months.  Here’s a preview of what’s coming.  Take a look and see where you fit in…

    •        Targeted Grassroots  Advocacy – The Alliance’s Advocacy Engagement Task Force has set a goal of making a personal contact with every member of the House Ways & Means and Senate Finance Committees before the end of 2014.  The Swagel Study gives us the perfect reason to request an in-district meeting with legislators and/or their key staff, and we’ve already met with nearly a dozen lawmakers over the past few weeks.  Take a look at the rosters of each committee and let me know if you or someone from your society knows any of the legislators on them.  We’re more than happy to have you deliver our message – and the Swagel Study – to those lawmakers with whom you have a relationship.

    •        Professional Lobbying – In conjunction with our grassroots advocacy effort, the Alliance’s professional lobbyists, along with the lobbying firms of our largest member societies (Thrivent Financial and Knights of Columbus), will be hand delivering the Swagel Study to those key members of Congress with whom our members are unable to meet, as well as to the many lawmakers that are long-standing supporters of fraternals.

    •        Broad-Based Grassroots Campaign – Once the dust has settled following the November 2014 elections and a new Congress is seated, the Alliance will begin a broad-based grassroots campaign (remember 2013’s “Blank Slate” effort?) involving all of our member societies.  You will be encouraged to have your societies’ employees, agents, local chapter leaders, and rank-and-file members send a personal email along with the executive summary of the Swagel Study to their Representatives and Senators using the Alliance’s on-line advocacy center.  The objective is to make as many members of Congress as possible aware of who fraternals are and what we do before any serious discussion about tax reform begins in 2015.

    •        Day on the Hill – All Alliance member society CEOs will be invited to participate in the Presidents Mid-Year Meeting in Washington, D.C., on April 19-21, 2015, and join us for our “Day on the Hill” event where we’ll meet with as many congressional offices as possible to discuss tax reform issues and drop off the Swagel Study to their key tax staff members.

    •        Media Tips – We’ve sent a news release to hundreds of broadcast and print journalists and will be following up with targeted reporters to generate positive media coverage of the fraternal system as a result of the Swagel Study.  Member societies are encouraged to customize this news release to fit their needs and send it along with a copy of the key findings of the study to local media in your area.

    •        More Information – We’ve got a variety of additional background information on the Swagel Study, including key messages and responses to frequently asked questions about fraternals.  They are yours for the asking.  Just contact me at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org and I’ll send them to you.

    Got a comment on the Swagel Study?  I’d love to hear from you.  Post your comments here…

    Couldn’t have said it better myself

    The Alliance staff is still digging out from last week’s Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas – an event that exceeded even our high standards for member satisfaction. The quality and diversity of the speakers and topics; the wildly popular addition of the “grow younger” program; the palpable “buzz” during the networking opportunities with sponsors and colleagues; the 101 “first timers” in attendance; the terrific on-site support of The Fraternal Alliance of Texas; and the mechanical bull were the highlights of the meeting for me. Here are a few choice comments from members:

    “I have to bring more of our board to these events! They are great. I feel the focus on marketing and governance is exactly what we need.”


    “I liked the focus on millennials; it helped me brainstorm ways to connect our field reps with ways to use fraternalism to reach out to the millennial market.”


    “It was excellent. I specifically enjoyed the guest speakers and the CEO roundtable. The focus on younger members/generations was very appropriate and well put-together. Perhaps a more enticing incentive can be devised to encourage societies to bring more younger employees to the event.”


    “Great to have the next generation of fraternal leaders present. Kind of shows them we aren’t out of touch and shows us that they are not scary. But since we’re their parents age, they – being Millennials – felt comfortable with us.”


    “We never used to ask/encourage board members to attend the annual meeting. For each of the past two meetings we brought half of our board and it has been extremely well-received. The content, networking opportunities, and time spent with the executives outside the confines of a board meeting have been very valuable. I don’t have a grasp on how many board members typically attend, so maybe there are already a healthy number. If not, I think it would be a good idea to work on a way to incentivize member societies to invite more board members to attend.”

    It’s not too early to start planning for next year’s event – and for expanding the number of staff and board members you bring to the meeting. Save the date…

    2015 Fraternal Alliance Annual Meeting
    JW Marriott Indianapolis
    Indianapolis, IN
    September 10-12, 2015


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