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    Fraternal branding initiative: Is this our “Billy Beane” moment?


    At last month’s Alliance Annual Meeting, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane challenged fraternal leaders to both think differently and act decisively if they were to successfully compete against their larger and better capitalized commercial competitors.

    During a presentation on the Alliance’s proposed fraternal branding initiative later that day, Alliance Board member and former Board Chair Harald Borrmann of Catholic United Financial, characterized the members’ decision to move forward on the project as “a Billy Beane moment” for the fraternal sector.

    I could not have described it better myself.

    test-2Over the past six months you’ve no doubt read and heard quite a bit about the branding initiative. The results of the Alliance’s initial consumer research clearly demonstrate three key findings: 1) the vast majority of consumers are completely unaware of fraternals; 2) there are characteristics of the fraternal model that have significant appeal to a broad cross-section of consumers; and 3) describing fraternals in a way that makes sense to consumers will increase awareness and create growth opportunities for Alliance member societies.

    Based on these initial results, the Alliance developed a proposal to provide members with specific branding tools — consumer-tested words and phrases, sample ads, and information on the type of consumers for whom the fraternal model has the most appeal. During the Branding Roundtable session at the Annual Meeting, member society executives discussed the proposal and voiced strong support for moving forward with it.

    The total cost of the project is $500,000 and the cost to each society is dependent on the number of Alliance members that agree to fund the project. Members were informed that the cost is estimated to be between $7,500 and $9,500 per society.

    Before confirming their willingness to fund the project, member society leaders wanted answers to a variety of specific questions about the branding initiative. This week, Alliance member society CEOs will receive those detailed responses along with a one-question survey asking them to confirm their commitment to project.

    Member responses are due by the end of October, and the Board will review the results and make the “go/no go” decision when it meets on December 7.

    So it all comes down to you. Are we going to think AND act differently about addressing one of the most profound problems — lack of consumer awareness — facing the fraternal sector? Or are we going to continue with business as usual? We’ll know in just a few short weeks.


    From small things (big things one day come)…

    I’ve made no secret about my affinity for Amazon.com. In presentations to Alliance member society conventions, board meetings, and State Fraternal Alliances, I’ve stated that I feel more like a “member” of the Amazon tribe than I do either of the fraternals to which I belong. I know that may seem like heresy to some, but it’s true.amazon

    The Amazon folks contact me several times a week in my preferred method of communication – email. And they always seems to have something interesting to share with me (based, of course, of their “big data” analysis of all the products I’ve previously purchased from them). I don’t read every email and I certainly don’t order something every time they contact me. But clearly they’ve done a terrific job of creating a “relationship” with me.

    While there is certainly not an “apples to apples” comparison of a retailer like Amazon to a financial services provider, I think fraternals have the best shot at creating similar relationships with their members – especially those societies with a meaningful and actionable common bond. American Mutual Life Association (AMLA), one of the Alliance’s smallest yet most innovative members headquartered in Cleveland, is attempting to just that with their electronic “AMLA – Food for Thought…” newsletter.

    After being impressed by the first several issues of the newsletter, I contacted Tim Percic, AMLA’s CEO, to learn more about why the society initiated the electronic outreach program and what the results have been so far. Here’s his response:

    “We started making periodic e-mail blasts to reach out to small swath of AMLA Members and friends to, more or less, dip our toe in these waters. There is a definite, measurable correlation between emails sent, and a bump in traffic to the site, www.AmericanMutual.org. Over time, we have noticed that the combination of periodic e-mails, social media posts (with links back to the site), and printed ads which show the web site, lead to measurable bumps in traffic at those times (printed references were the least successful).

    However, the audience is fickle. We need to find the sweet spot between “selling to” and “informing” our e-mail list. We have received negative feedback when blasts were more directly sales-oriented. Conversely, we have had dramatically better results (opens and clicks) when they are more informative as with a fraternal benefit—like the announcement of our scholarship recipients. The e-mail which caught your eye was what I would classify as a “general info” e-mail, which is a “new” angle (and for which I am awaiting results). It is more of an “implied sales” tactic.

    By year end, my goal for these blasts is to develop an understanding of what works and what doesn’t, and to continue to grow the list. So far, the effort has been small in scale. Nonetheless, there have been measurable results.”

    Congratulations, Tim and AMLA. To borrow a song title from Bruce Springsteen, “From small things, big things one day come.”

    Experimenting with new ways to reach your members? Share them with me and the fraternal community by posting a comment HERE. Or send me an email with details and I’ll be happy to include in a future post.

    2017 Spring Symposium…A World of New Ideas Within Easy Reach

    I am sure that disruption and innovation are words and ideas that we’ve all heard much too often. If it were possible to have a show of hands on this blog, I am certain that there would be more than a couple of us who, at times, have wanted to remove those words from the dictionary. But, here’s the thing…trade associations, by their very nature, are “idea incubators.” Groups like the Alliance are the places where our member societies come together to develop the ideas, products, programs and solutions that will point them toward a brighter, more robust and exciting future. So, for us, innovation must always be a top-of-mind concept. Like dusting or paying bills, in this business, we are never really done trying to innovate.

    symposium-cardBilly Beane, General Manager for the Oakland A’s and keynote speaker at the 2016 Alliance Annual Meeting in Nashville, encouraged us to continually “challenge accepted norms by being willing to look at everything differently.” So, in that spirit, we are excited to share the news that, this spring, the Alliance is looking at the way we have always held our Mid-Year Meetings in a very different light.

    assembleOver the years, we have heard that many of our attendees may be interested in learning about a specific topic, only to find that the session is offered only at a Mid-Year Meeting other than the one they usually attend. This can be a problem when the budget only allows a limited number of educational experiences per year. In addition, our members tell us that their favorite part of these meetings is networking and learning from their colleagues. So we wondered, what if we brought all these great topics and visionary speakers and all of these smart and creative people and put them all under one roof at the same time? From that idea…the 2017 Spring Symposium was born.

    trackThe Spring Symposium, being held May 23-25 at the Loews Chicago O’Hare, will offer five Mid-Year Meetings concurrently at the same venue at an affordable registration fee. (The 2017 Executive Summit designed for CEOs will be held separately.) This exciting new format will provide attendees with unparalleled access to even more great new ideas and creative fraternal leaders in an event designed to serve many purposes for the attendees – especially those whose duties cross over functions. Attendees will have the opportunity to assemble their own meeting by choosing educational opportunities from any of the five tracks which will include:

    • Community Engagement and Communications (Fraternal & Communications)
    • Business Operations
    • Compliance
    • Investment
    • Actuaries

    Sound interesting? Check out two of the speakers in this year’s line-up:


    Ann K. Emery – Data Visualization

    Ann K. Emery equips organizations to visualize data more effectively. She presented at last spring’s Fraternal and Communications Mid-Year Meeting and wowed us. Attendees asked for more…so here she is! Within the past year, she has led more than 60 trainings for more than 2,800 participants around the globe.

    Her design consultancy also overhauls graphs, publications, and slideshows with the goal of making data-heavy reports easier to digest for non-technical audiences. Recent clients include the United Nations, Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, and dozens of professional societies, associations, foundations, and nonprofits. Connect with Emery through her blog (www.annkemery.com/blog) and through Twitter (@annkemery).

    Scott Steen – Becoming Your Society’s Storyteller in Chief

    scott-steen-150x150Scott Steen joined American Forests in December 2010. During his tenure, American Forests has planted more than 20 million trees in more than 250 different restoration projects, launched multiple programs and initiatives, and tripled membership. Previously, Scott served as executive director of the American Ceramic Society and as chief strategy officer for the American Society of Association Executives and chief operating officer for the Center for Association Leadership.

    Steen often speaks to crowds, but how he approaches audiences has evolved throughout the years. Today, instead of looking to inform his audience solely with facts and figures, his goal is to inspire. He said by connecting on an emotional level, his audience is more engaged.

    The lesson for fraternal leaders is that by making your audience care, it moves them to action – whether that’s renewing a membership, volunteering or donating to your foundation.

    It is your meeting — build your own agenda by attending any session that appeals to you. It is your chance to “get into the weeds” and learn from your peers. Stick to the sessions in your discipline or jump to another track to broaden your horizons. With the Loews Chicago O’Hare hotel, we have selected a perfect venue for this event. Loews is adjacent to a thriving entertainment complex (MB Financial Park) that features countless restaurants and bars, a comedy club, a bowling alley “nightclub”, The Fashion Outlets of Chicago, a Big Ten museum and much more.  The hotel room rate is $189 per night and Loews is conveniently located next to O’Hare Airport and a train stop makes taking a trip into the city easy.

    Plan now to join us next May 23-25, at the 2017 Spring Symposium, an event specially designed for you to generate your own knowledge and meaning and expand your network from an experience that you create for yourself.

    Watch for more information in the weeks to come. Registration will open in January of 2017.

    reserved-for-youSee you all there!

    We get by with a little help from our friends…

    Success in the advocacy arena is rarely a one-person show. Having a respected lobbyist, a dynamic spokesperson, or a well-connected CEO is no guarantee of success. For an organization to effectively influence public policy – and by that I mean ensuring that legislators and regulators have a solid understanding and appreciation of who you are and what you do – generally requires a combination of ingredients that can be boiled down to two primary factors: the relevance of your message and your ability to communicate it effectively to policymakers.
    make-your-voice-heardWhen it comes to advocating on our key U.S. federal issue – the fraternal tax exemption – the Alliance’s advocacy efforts are a work in progress. Fortunately, on this issue, we have the time for “incremental improvement.” After all, we’ve secured over 100 co-sponsors for HCR 19 (the “Fraternal Resolution”) and there are no imminent threats to our exempt status. But, let’s be honest, most of those co-sponsors were generated by staff and retained counsel of the Alliance and two of its largest members rather than overwhelming member society participation in the “Race to 100” grassroots campaign. That won’t be enough if a real effort to amend or eliminate the exemption is on the table. Bottom line: We’ve all got to sharpen our grassroots skills.

    But what about advocacy on state issues – particularly regulatory matters – where proposals can move much more quickly than in Congress and their impact on the operations of life insurers – can be much more significant? Regulatory matters are far less likely to be influenced by grassroots advocacy initiatives, and much more likely to be decided by negotiations between regulators and legal counsel of insurers and their trade groups. Among the issues on the table in individual states and at the NAIC that would dramatically impact fraternals are:

    • Regulations requiring insurers to create and maintain cybersecurity policies and programs to secure the security of their databases and policyholder information
    • Changes to guaranty fund regulations involving Long Term Care insurance
    • Revisions to current disclosure notices for consumer privacy information
    • Regulations on diversity requirements for insurance company boards of directors
    • Regulations impacting how insurers’ investments are evaluated, including potential disclosure requirements on fossil-fuel investments

    Because of the Alliance’s limited resources, we focus our energy on issues that have a direct or disparate impact on fraternals. None of the above issues have meet that criteria, yet all of them have the potential to negatively affect Alliance members. So how can we make sure our voices are heard in these debates?

    We get by with a little help from our friends. Through cooperative and collaborative joe-cockerrelationships with organizations like the American Council of Life Insurers, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, and the National Alliance of Life Companies, the Alliance is able to not only monitor and provide information on these issues to our member societies, we’re also able to ensure that the fraternal/small insurer perspective is heard during the internal policy position discussions of these organizations. Relationships like these will only become more important as consolidation with the financial services sector – including fraternal insurers, commercial insurers, and the field representatives that distribute our products to consumers – continues. It is the only way the Alliance can “punch above its weight” and effectively influence the outcome of public policy debates on major national issues that affect our member societies in a very direct way.

    Wait, does this sound familiar? Can this cooperative and collaborative concept be utilized by members so that small societies can compete more effectively in targeted or overlooked market niches? You tell me…

    15 things I learned at the Alliance’s 2016 Annual Meeting…

    1. Jill Regester of WoodmenLife is a terrific guest blogger who managed to get more comments posted in three days than I have in six months!                                                                                     afa16-3922

    2. Billy Beane’s message of “challenge accepted norms by being willing to look at everything differently” hit a home run with fraternal leaders.

    3. Guy Messick, of Messick & Lauer, spelled out the pros and cons of the fraternal shared services concept being explored by several society leaders in as clear a way as I’ve ever heard it.

    4. I’m sure Ken Frino of A.M Best at times felt like he was on the witness stand during the Spanish Inquisition when explaining the new BCAR rating formula, but members appreciated his willingness to answer every question – even if they did not like some of the answers.

    5. If you think your society is exempt from the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule seriously, you might want to disabuse yourself of that notion – quickly.

    6. Fraternal conventions don’t have to be stuck in the 1950s! Get rid of the two-tiered head tables and fire up the educational programs that will infuse your members with enthusiasm about what your society can do!

    7. Fraternal branding campaign – lots of excitement, many questions to be answered, unlimited potential for building an image that will resonate with consumers.

    8. I’d go back to Nashville for a long weekend in a heartbeat. Food, music, and wonderful people – what a combination!

    9.  There is no better community service partner than the Music Health Alliance!  afa16-0121They raised $7,000 on site for their amazing cause, gave attendees the scoop on Nashville hot spots, helped us find local musicians to play the sweetest rendition of the anthems I have ever heard, secured the best Chair’s gift ever – a signed tour jacket from George Strait, and sent our staff cookies last week from a company that uses the founder’s grandmother’s recipe. We are considering making them our permanent partner!

    10. Technology IS going to change the way your members and prospects interact with your society. Time to get off the platform and board that train.

    11. The Innovation Forum was not only one of the most popular sessions at this afa16-1370year’s meeting, it proved that the fraternal system has a bright future if we provide the young professionals in our societies with the opportunities to change the way to “look at everything differently.”

    12. Folks had strong – and mixed – views about Linda Wertheimer’s remarks. But the message I took away was that a disturbingly small percentage of voters decide who gets on the ballot and who gets elected, and perhaps we need to re-think the whole process.

    14. The “Diversity” Workshop (Embracing Diversity Among Your Employees and Board Members) should be mandatory for every fraternal C-suite executive and board member. Diversity is not just a moral issue, it’s a business ussue. Look for this program to be on the agenda of the 2017 Executive Summit, April 3-5, in Chicago.

    15. If you loved Nashville and the Omni Hotel (how about that for a venue!), you are going to be crazy about the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, the site of our 2017 Annual Meeting. Mark the dates on your calendar RIGHT NOW – September 6-8, 2017 – and, for goodness sake, plan to register early. We’ve lined up two terrific keynote speakers: Shabnam Mogharabi, CEO and Executive Producer at SoulPancake, an award-winning media and entertainment company that explores ‘Life’s Big Questions’; and Dr. Robert Cialdini whose book Influence: Science & Practice is a New York Times best seller. Also, next year’s meeting will end at noon on Friday, September 8. We know it may be difficult for many of you to get home from Arizona that afternoon, so we’re planning an event or two to entice you to stay over another day and enjoy the desert sun. And at $139 per night for a resort like this, how can you afford not to! In fact, why not do what several societies did this year: bring your whole Board of Directors to the Annual Meeting and conduct a Board meeting on the Friday afternoon or Saturday morning following the event?

    Mix It Up!

    Hello again. Jill Regester, Director of Marketing Communications with WoodmenLife guest blogging from the second and final day of the American Fraternal Alliance 2016 Annual Meeting.

    This final day did not disappoint and kept with the theme of change. A changing perspective and a changing of the guard.

    Banner 750 x 200My day began with the session Embracing Diversity Among Your Employees and Board Members. What I liked about this session was that the information registered with me as almost commonsensical, and it didn’t feel trite or condescending, like some diversity education can. Rather it was like, “well yeah, duh. I need to think about that, or keep that in mind. That makes sense.” And the discussions centered a lot around the impact a diversified workforce can have on an organization’s bottom line… those with more diversity have 35% higher net assets – not just that it’s the right thing to do.

    My biggest take-away nuggets were these –

    1. Don’t forget as you are adding to and diversifying your workforce…bringing in new ideas, thoughts, beliefs and experiences to your existing culture…that you consider your current teams and make sure they are staying as engaged as these fresh perspectives are being added to the mix.
    2. Make sure you are looking for the voice who is not in the room, who might see opportunities you’re faced with differently and who might have solutions.
    3. And finally (I like this one most) close your eyes and think of a situation when you believed you were not being treated appropriately… how did you react in the moment or afterward? Did you act like yourself? Did you bring your A game? Were you your best self? Probably not – you were REACTING to the situation, and to how you were being treated. Your behavior didn’t define who you were as a person, or what kind of employee you would be…just something to think about.

    Next I headed to the Alliance’s Grow Younger Task Force Innovation Forum. I found this cool definition of innovation – Innovation is significant positive change. There’s that word again – I called it right? The theme this week? Anyway…I really liked the format of this session – each Task Force Member who had something to share came on stage and gave a preview of their innovative concept, and then dispersed throughout the room, after which attendees had the opportunity to roam around learn more about those concepts that interested them.

    Change was the theme in that these concepts all focused on being more member-centric via innovative positive change through such things as – the use of data and better meeting member needs, measuring their engagement to identify opportunities to expand our footprint, better articulating the benefits available to members, expanding our communication channels to fulfill changing preferences, engaging more diverse generations etc.

    My biggest take-away from this session – our industry is RIPE for disruption … and anyone who knows me well knows I like to disrupt, so…

    The last session I attended was the keynote speaker Linda Wertheimer.

    wertheimerWertheimer is a senior national correspondent for National Public Radio. I was really looking forward to Linda – for three reasons –

    1. Because the situation was mixing politics with business (see last paragraph about disruption.)
    2. I wanted to hear her perspective on these crazy political times.
    3. I was curious about what types of questions people would ask her – they didn’t disappoint.

    Linda summed up the times well – we are headed into a very serious final lap of a very serious political race, she said. She called our two presidential candidates “remarkable and unique” – and said in her opinion both would lose to a regular Joe or Jill, but Joe and Jill are not running (Get it Joe J). In her opinion, people like Clinton because she is the most qualified and people like Trump because he is not.

    My biggest take-away from her talk was this – how did we get to these two choices for candidates? How can we prevent an election where we feel like we are voting for the lesser of two bad candidates?… Everyone should participate in the political process any time you have an opportunity to do so…vote in your primary or caucus. Those early on votes are heavily weighted and count A LOT!!

    BTW – I live in Iowa (native Nebraskan, Go Big Red) and caucuses = AWKWARD. Hated it, and I don’t use or like that word, but I did!! However, now because I am sick about this election, I will take the bullet and participate next time around.

    She did the math – 9% of Americans made the choice for us to have these two as our choice for president in the upcoming election. WTHeck!?! I don’t like the idea of that.

    Linda said that change is the biggest issue of this election. Sounds like a familiar theme – hey now!

    On a final note – Linda gave our group, what I felt was a fabulous compliment – she said that we were “one of the most interesting groups she will talk to this year.”

    I think I will end on that note. Along with a thank you shout out to Joe and the Alliance Team for all of their hard work and hospitality. Also to WoodmenLife for their focus and investment in ongoing education.

    I am blessed –


    PS> I didn’t share the questions people asked Linda. That was a tease on purpose. You should have attended the event – then you would have gotten to hear the questions yourself. Also, (American political changing of the guard discussion aside) I had to miss the Alliance changing of the guard presentation as I had to catch a flight, but I want to congratulate my boss Pat Dees on his year as Chair of the Board and wish the new Chair, Bill O’Toole, President & CEO of Catholic Financial Life, best of luck!

    How the Game Has Changed

    More from our Annual Meeting guest blogger, Jill Regester, Director of Marketing Communications, WoodmenLife:

    I’m back y’all! Your blogger on the scene … reporting in from day one of the American Fraternal Alliance 2016 Annual Meeting.

    The theme today was CHANGE. And not the customary, “be the change you want to see in the world” (thanks, Gandhi) topic of change you’d expect from our group of dedicated fraternalists. Rather the … We’ve got to think differently people and disrupt the status quo kind of change.

    It started with Joe Annotti, American Fraternal Alliance President & CEO, who opened the meeting on the topic of change and carried it through during the general session including changing our approach to how we advocate, and expanding our footprint with legislators. He played a clip from the “What is a Fraternal Benefit Society?” video, and reminded us how vital it is that we all stay engaged and continue to move the awareness needle about who we are and the importance of what we do – not just with millennials but with all generations.

    Pat Dees, Executive Vice President, Fraternal for WoodmenLife, and the current Chair of the Board of the American Fraternal Alliance, continued the topic of change. Pat recognized the noticeable increase in a younger attendee demographic at this year’s annual meeting, and encouraged member organizations to continue encouraging their younger associates to get involved. Pat echoed Joe’s sentiment that every one of us must share in the responsibility of spreading the word about all of the good work fraternals are doing and the dramatic impact that work is having in our communities.

    Pat introduced us to Tatum Allsep, founder of the Music Health Alliance (MHA), this year’s Community Partner. Music Health Alliance’s mission is to Heal the Music by providing access to healthcare through services that PROTECT, DIRECT & CONNECT music professionals with medical and financial solutions. Similar to WoodmenLife’s RedBasket.org, 100% of all donations to MHA go to those in need. And something Tatum shared that I thought was pretty amazing – they’ll turn every $1 you donate into $30 of healthcare resources. Follow them on Twitter @musichealthall and facebook.com/MusicHealthAlliance. They’re selling a really cool T-shirt, go check it out – and hey, on a side note… if you’re visiting Nashville, they’ll hook you up with some cool non-touristy tips on places to go and things to do.


    The keynote today was Billy Beane (@billybeanball), the Oakland A’s Vice President & General Manager. For those who are not aware, besides being the A’s head guy, Billy is the inspiration behind the movie Moneyball. What I took away from Billy’s talk was that we’ve got to think differently and disrupt the status quo – rise above those who are bigger and better funded – and realize that we’re not going to do it by playing their game. We also have to eliminate the noise, and in this instance I am not talking about our competition – I am talking about the naysayers, the “but that’s how we’ve always done it”ers or the “we couldn’t possibly do it that way”ers. The noise within our own organizations and industry that is holding us back, preventing us from thinking differently, from making the changes we need to make to grow.

    We also have to surround ourselves by really smart people and get good at seeing talent where others don’t. Then we have to allow that talent to do the work that needs done … not stand in their way … let them get on base.

    More tomorrow y’all!

    PS: Mr. Beane – The University of Nebraska is a real football school, too. Go Big Red!