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    Raising Our Awareness on Capitol Hill

    The Alliance devotes a good bit of its resources to ensuring that its members’ voices are heard on issues important to fraternals on Capitol Hill and in state capitals from coast-to-coast.  The Alliance retains professional advocacy counsel in Washington, D.C., and as necessary at the state level.  In addition, Alliance staff members dedicate a significant percentage of their time to state and federal advocacy initiatives.

    But the cornerstone of our political advocacy program is YOU!  While your trade association’s full-time advocates can present lawmakers with a wide variety of facts, figures, logic, and reason that support our policy positions, the impact of those efforts are astronomically increased when they are backed up by messages from constituents “back home.”


    Beginning on Monday, March 9, the Alliance will kick-off “Fraternals GIVE Back,” the biggest grassroots political advocacy initiative we’ve ever attempted.  This web-based campaign is designed to make it easy for member societies to have their most important audiences – executives and board members, employees, field representatives, local chapter leaders, and rank-and-file members – send a clear and consistent message about the value of the fraternal business model to their Representatives and Senators.  With just a few clicks you will be able to send a personal message to your legislators and provide them information about the impact of fraternals in their home state and nationally.

    Our goal is 100% and 100,000 participants.  We want EVERY Alliance member society to participate in the program, and we want at least 100,000 separate messages sent to members of Congress.  Moreover, we want EVERY member of Congress to receive at least one email from a fraternal representative.  The six-week campaign will end on April 17 – right before Alliance member society executives come to Washington, D.C., for a series of Capitol Hill visits with legislators and their key tax staff.

    But the program will only succeed if every member gets engaged.  We’re counting on you to promote participation in the program through emails to your society’s key audiences, articles in your newsletters and magazines, and presentations at local chapter meetings and agent gatherings.  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.

    In addition to raising awareness of fraternals among Representatives and Senators, “Fraternals GIVE Back” has another goal: to generate as many co-sponsors as possible for the Alliance-sponsored House Congressional Resolution 19 in support of America’s fraternals.  The Resolution, whose lead sponsors are Rep. Ron Kind (R-Wis.) and Rep. Erik Paulsen (D-Minn.), was first introduced in 2012 and, thanks to the efforts of Alliance members, resulted in almost 60 Representatives on both sides of the aisle signing on as co-sponsors.  With the introduction of H. Con. Res. 19,  and our goal is to generate 100 co-sponsors.  The sample letter to House members on the “Fraternals GIVE Back” web page will include a specific request to become a co-sponsor of the Resolution.

    We hope you view participation in this initiative as NOT OPTIONAL – and that it is part of your responsibility as an Alliance member.  We’ll keep you posted on our progress throughout the campaign and highlight those societies that generate the greatest number of participants.  Get ready…get set…

    It’s Hard Living in the Stone Age

    When it comes to social media, I freely admit I’m a relic.  I don’t spend hours (or even minutes or seconds) on Facebook because a) I place an extremely high value on my privacy and b) I don’t really care what folks with whom I have a tangential relationship did on their last vacation.  The only thing I “tweet” are links to these blog posts because a) I just can’t fathom why people who barely know me would care about what I have to say about anything and b) I can’t figure out how to say anything in 140 characters or less.

    2 dinos

    But my being stuck in the “Land that Time Forgot” doesn’t mean I think that social media is irrelevant or a flash-in-the-pan trend.  On the contrary, I think the billions (that’s billions with a “b”) of people who rely almost exclusively on social media to obtain and share information with their friends and families pretty much guarantee that that this whole electronic communication thing is here to stay.  And considering that the primary users of social media (that would be folks 45 and younger who are making big decisions about how best to secure their financial futures) are the folks that readers of this blog want to communicate with, I’d say it’s time we brought in some talented young professionals to show us how these tools can help us group our societies.

    And at least one fraternal – Teachers Life in Toronto – is doing just that.

    Teachers Life launched a new social initiative at the end of 2014 to engage educators online. The purpose was to increase awareness and understanding of the Teachers Life brand, showcase advantages to being a member with Teachers Life and being an active participant in the online education community. Whenever appropriate, the society took the opportunity to articulate the benefits of having an insurer who understands the teaching community better than any other insurance provider.

    Teachers Life had been inactive on Facebook since 2011, so their page was revitalized with new content, imagery and ways to engage. The society’s Facebook page has grown from 503 likes to 1,787 in just a couple of months. twitter
    Twitter, however, was new territory for the brand. According to Teachers Life CEO Doug Baker, society executives quickly noticed that teachers were unlike any other tweeters – they were special. Supportive of Teachers Life Twitter feed, their followers were immediately active and engaged, and the society saw potential to reach a larger group of educators to begin a social ripple effect and grow their community.  Teachers Life decided to host its first ever Twitter Chat to gather teachers online and ask questions, tweet answers and ultimately get to know this new online audience. The tweets (and retweets!) were encouraging.  People wanted to know more about Teachers Life and they were impressed by the organization’s rich history.

    Throughout the chat, society executives were tracking real-time traffic to the Teachers Life website. During the few hours tracked, there were always 10-20 people on the site at any given time looking for more information. Driving traffic wasn’t the primary objective, so this was an added bonus and one that worked seamlessly without feeling pushy or “salesy.”  At the peak of the chat, Teachers Life was trending on Twitter in both Toronto and across Canada. The society awarded those who participated with a chance at winning a grand prize of a kobo, gift cards and a pizza party for their class.

    Here’s a breakdown of the success:

    • 4.3 million impressions
    • 144,694 reach
    • 1,245 tweets
    • 50+ contributors

    • Trending on Twitter topic in Toronto  (currently most popular)
    • Trending on Twitter topic in Canada  (currently most popular)

    • Followers 403 (pre party)
    • Followers 541 (post party)
    • Net Gain of 138 followers

    Want to learn more about the Teachers’ Life social medial program? Email Doug Baker at dbaker@teacherslife.com.

    Got your own social media success story?  Share it by posting a comment here or email it to me at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org so that I can feature it in a future posting.

    Twelve Questions from Jim Collins

    You remember Jim Collins’ inspiring presentation on what makes great organizations tick delivered at the Alliance’s 2012 Annual Meeting, right? I get as fired up as the next guy by a terrific motivational speaker, but Collins didn’t just deliver a rousing “Yes, You Can!” speech to fraternal executives, he followed it up with the all-important “and here’s how” component based on his lifelong research on successful – and not so successful – businesses.


    Last month, Jim sent a note to his business network with the latest tool to help them engage their teams and build a truly great enterprise. “I believe that disciplined engagement with the right questions yields the best insights, understanding, and results,” said Collins. And in that spirit, Jim’s team created a series of 12 questions that can serve as a catalyst for activating the greatness in each of our organizations.

    Before tackling the 12 questions, I think it’s worth refreshing our collective memories about how Collins characterizes “greatness” – including both great companies, great social enterprises, or (in the case of fraternals) the combination of both business and community service components. Collins defines these as the three tests:  Superior Results, Distinctive Impact, and Lasting Endurance, and adds a caution flag about achieving greatness.

    Superior Results

    In business, performance is defined by financial results – return on invested capital – and achievement of corporate purposes. In the social sector, performance is defined by results and efficiency in delivering on the social mission. But whether business or social (or the fraternal combination of both), you must achieve top-flight results.

    Distinctive Impact

    A truly great enterprise makes such a unique contribution to the communities it touches, and does it with such unadulterated excellence that, if it were to disappear, it would leave a gaping hole that could not be easily filled by any other institution. If your society went away, who would miss it, and why? This does not require being big; think of a small but fabulous local restaurant that would be terribly missed if it disappeared. Big does not equal great, and great does not equal big.

    Lasting Endurance

    A truly great organization prospers over a long period of time, beyond any great idea, marketing opportunity, technology cycle, or well-funded program. When clobbered by setbacks, it finds a way to bounce back stronger than before. A great enterprise transcends dependence on any single extraordinary leader; if your organization cannot be great without you, then it is not yet a truly great organization.

    Great Is Never Done

    To be built to last means embracing the idea that no matter how far we have gone, or how much we have achieved, we are merely good relative to what we can do next. Greatness is a dynamic process, not an end point. The moment you think of yourself as great, your slide toward mediocrity has already begun.

    The 12 Questions

    You can access the 12 questions and a variety of helpful study guides to help you use them with your executive management team and board on Jim’s web site – www.jimcollins.com. All of the material is free and I encourage you to take a look at it and see how you might employ the tools of one of the nation’s great business teachers – and a fan of fraternals – in your organization. I know we’ll be using the 12 Questions as a building block for the Alliance’s 2016 Strategic Plan.

    A Few More Thoughts on Disruptions and Collaboration

    Google: Testing the waters or preparing a takeover?

    I’m sure you’ve read more than a few articles about Google’s entry into the insurance market.  If not, here are two of the more interesting ones…

    • New Clues on Google’s Plans for Insurance
    • Will Google and Amazon offer one-click life insurance?

    Folks have been saying for years that the insurance industry is primed for “disruption” and could very well be the next Blockbuster.  You remember Blockbuster, right?  The national chain of retail stores that you went to religiously every week to rent your favorite videos (“Be kind and rewind”)?  Netflix and On-Demand, among others, changed the way we access entertainment.  And the Blockbuster business model went from relevance to a historical artifact in just a few years. I don’t know about the Blockbuster store in your town, but mine is now a walk-in medical clinic.


    Using a Jim Collins-term, Google appears to be firing a few strategic bullets at the insurance marketplace rather than one giant cannonball.  It’s really no surprise that Google is first testing its ability to effectively distribute auto insurance.  The marketplace is vast, the purchase of the product is mandated by every state, and after years of mass merchandising by the nation’s largest auto insurers, the product itself has become a price-driven commodity.  Google isn’t taking any major financial risks – remember, it’s just the seller, not the underwriter.

    But if Google’s bullets tell its executives that consumers are willing to purchase auto insurance from the search engine goliath, then it’s my guess that it won’t take them long to figure out a) how to underwrite products themselves, and b) how to sell other types of insurance policies – including life insurance and annuities – to consumers here at home and around the world.

    Collaboration:  The alternative to antiquation

    Of course, Google is not going to replace every insurance agent and company.  It’s a big market with many niches and one-size will never fit all.  I think that smaller organizations – like fraternals – can effectively compete for important sectors of that very large market if they are willing to…wait for it…cooperate and collaborate.

    I came across a fascinating article in a banking industry trade publication the other day expressing the support of the Comptroller of the Currency – a major federal bank regulator – for collaboration among community banks.  Community banks are the fraternals of the banking world – small and mid-size institutions serving the needs of individuals in a specific geographic area.

    The OCC said that it was supportive of collaborative efforts that generate economies of scale and cost efficiencies or leverage specialized expertise.  (Sound familiar?)  As examples, it cited banks sharing back-office functions such as data processing, internal audit, records management, human resources management, regulatory compliance and procurement.  (I swear I am not making this up…)  The OCC report concluded that “when conducted with appropriate strategic planning, strong risk management, and effective oversight, collaboration can help community banks thrive.”

    Tell me I’m not the only one worried about disruptions and thinking about how to compete in a marketplace that could be turned on its head in a matter of months, not years.  Better yet, tell me what your society is doing about it by sending me an email or posting a comment here.

    Bald is Beautiful

    On the day of my high school graduation – June 3, 1975 – after 12 long years of strict Catholic education and dress codes, I made a solemn vow to never cut my hair again.

    young Joe

    Next month – on Friday, March 13th – I am going to shave my head.  On purpose.  In public.  With a camera rolling.

    The thought alone is terrifying.  But posting this news here – even before discussing it with my wife (!?!?!?) – means there’s no turning back.

    Let’s hope the result doesn’t prove Samson-like and rob me of the diminishing mental and physical powers I still possess.  Even more, let’s hope that by being sheared like a sheep I can raise more than a few dollars for the most noble of causes – cancer research.

    I’ve been a long-time supporter of the event known as St. Baldrick’s Day – a fundraising campaign for cancer research where individuals collect pledges from folks for the promise to shave their heads as a way to honor the bravery of those battling the disease.  I’ve written checks in support of the head-shaving efforts of my friend and business colleague, Chuck Chamness, President and CEO of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.  Chuck’s son, Joey, was diagnosed with cancer years ago and just last week the now 18-year-old received a clean bill of health from his oncologist.

    Miracles happen. Every day.

    But sometimes those miracles require money.  And this year I decided to do more than write a check to support cancer research funding.  What’s that old joke about “involvement vs. commitment?”  When it comes to breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed…

    And the timing could not have been better.  For one thing, Chuck and I are no longer just colleagues, we’re partners in a new “shared services” agreement between the Alliance and NAMIC that promises to deliver more and better services to members of both organizations.  Secondly, Chuck’s “Team Joey” head-shaving event will be hosted this year by…wait for it…a Knights of Columbus Lodge in North Indianapolis.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  And finally, my mother-in-law is duking it out with cancer right now and has it down for the count.  She packs quite a punch for an 84-year-old.

    So this all adds up to the transition from being “involved” in St. Baldrick’s Day, to making a “commitment” to it.  And I hope you, dear readers and fellow fraternalists, will support my commitment so that together we can making a meaningful contribution to cancer research.

    Here’s how you can support me

    I’ll keep you posted on pledges and you can watch the head shaving right here…

    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.”


    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.


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