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    Night in the Museum…

    giving-in-america-1After months of meetings and teleconferences, and the transmission of dozens of photos of iconic fraternal society memorabilia and archival material, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History opened its Giving in America exhibition earlier this week and FRATERNALS WERE THERE!  The exhibition is part of the Smithsonian’s “Philanthropy Initiative” and is intended to run for 20 years or more.  The 2017 exhibit focuses on “Philanthropy and the Environment,” and highlights the incredible efforts that individual volunteers and global corporations are engaging in to protect the long-term health of our planet and its people.  The exhibits will be updated every year and will emphasize different aspects and impacts of Giving in America.  We’re hopeful that fraternals will be given their moment in the spotlight in the near future.

    The kick-off events included a reception to officially open the exhibit, and a variety of presentations from philanthropists, environmentalists, and thought leaders on the past, present and future of American giving.   The most touching moment for me was the presentation of the original bucket from the “ice bucket challenge” – the campaign that raised over $200 million for ALS research and that the Alliance and many of its members participated in – by the family who started it all.  The museum’s directors highlighted not only the tremendous success of this “viral” social media campaign but also the impact it has had on the way Americans give.


    Photo of Thrivent members conducting ‘Action Team’ activity.

    Following the presentations, Timothy Winkle, Deputy Chair of the Smithsonian’s Division of Home and Community Life, and the individual that has been instrumental in coordinating fraternals’ participation in the exhibition, displayed several items from the museum’s archives, including items donated by Thrivent Financial, Royal Neighbors of America, and Catholic Financial Life (see photos and captions below for more information on those items).  Some very special “tips-of-the-hat” go to Rita Toalson, Managing Editor of Royal Neighbors of America and Katie Knutson, Community Affairs Manager of Thrivent Financial, who have been working with Tim and others at the Smithsonian to collect items from their societies.  Katie was instrumental in connecting museum officials to the Alliance and broadening the scope of fraternal participation in the project.


    Smithsonian Curator Tim Winkle with the CFPA banner on display in the museum’s atrium.

    And Joe Gadbois of Catholic Financial Life deserves to be recognized as well.  He made a special trip to Chicago on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to deliver the historic Catholic Family Protective Association (one of the fraternals that eventually became Catholic Financial Life) banner to me so that I could bring it to the Smithsonian this week.  The banner, which would have been used for parish parades and displayed at society meetings, reflects the values, traditions, and rituals that are characteristic of the high water mark of the fraternal movement in the United States.


    The Royal Neighbors of America quilt highlights the important role of women in the fraternal movement.

    Over the next year, the Alliance will be collecting items from more than a dozen member societies who have expressed a desire to donate tokens of their organizations’ history to the Smithsonian.  We hope that fraternals’ contributions to Giving in America will be featured in the larger philanthropy exhibit in the near future.  I’ll keep you posted on the results of this effort; but I the meantime, please enjoy the photos from the opening of the exhibition.

    Three Dates to Remember in 2017…

    Whether you’re on Outlook or a Daytimer – or, like me, using a combination of both 16th century and 21st century calendar technology – here are three events you need to include on your schedule for next year…

    Alliance Executive Summit – April 3-5, 2017 – W – Chicago – City Center

    2017-es-logo-treatmentWe’re going to roll out an entirely new format for this meeting in response to demand from member society CEOs.  The 2017 Executive Summit will be an “invitation only” event.  Attendance will be limited to a maximum of two attendees from each society – the CEO and one other top executive who attends at the CEO’s discretion, should they want additional representation at the meeting. Corporate sponsorships will be reduced dramatically, as well.  This will make the meeting more intimate, and provide “C suite” executives with greater opportunities to discuss the issues important to them and their societies, while at the same time listening to and learning from subject matter experts (like nationally-known economist Diane Swonk) and each other.

    Alliance Spring Symposium – May 23-25, 2017 – Loews Chicago O’Hare – Rosemont, IL

    symposium-logo-croppedThe 2017 Spring Symposium, put simply, is five great Mid-Year meetings held concurrently at one terrific location.  You’ll be able to attend the full slate of sessions for your favorite Mid-Year Meeting – Investment, Actuaries, Community Engagement and Communications, Business Operations, or Compliance – or pick and choose sessions from any and all of these meetings to create your own one-of-a-kind educational experience.  The Loews Hotel is adjacent to O’Hare International Airport, making it easy for members from across the country to attend.  And the broad spectrum of topics covered makes the Symposium a worthwhile event for both senior executives and those up-and-coming employees in your society.

    Alliance Annual Meeting – September 6-8, 2017 – Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort – Phoenix

    wild-horse-passThe new Wednesday – Friday format means you won’t have to spend another weekend away from your family – unless you want to enjoy an extra night or two at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, a world class resort, for the unbelievably low rate of $129 per night.  Add a top tier program of keynote speakers, workshops, networking opportunities, and social events and the 2017 Annual Meeting is a “can’t miss” event for fraternal executives, managers, and board members of every member society.

    Registration for both the Executive Summit and the Spring Symposium will open in January 2017.  Annual Meeting registration will open in Mid-Spring 2017.  BUT THE TIME TO MARK YOUR CALENDARS IS TODAY!

    Got questions about our 2017 conference schedule, or perhaps a suggestion for a great speaker or workshop topic?  Send me an email at jannontti@fraternalalliance.org.


    Thank you, American Fraternal Alliance…

    There are so many things I have to be thankful for this year.  Family, friends, and good health certainly top that list, because without those nothing else really matters.  But this year I’ve been thinking about the many blessings that I’ve received during my nearly nine-year stint as president and CEO of the American Fraternal Alliance.  And I wanted to say a special “thank you” to all of you who have made my tenure exceptionally rewarding and our shared futures exceptionally bright…


    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the most kind-hearted group of financial services executives in the entire industry.

    Thank you for inviting me to your conventions, board meetings, and SFA meetings.

    Thank you for your willingness to listen to my sometimes radical notions (modernize governance? merge with THEM?) and not throw rocks at me.

    Thank you for actually implementing some of those suggestions!

    Thank you for reading my blog even though very few of you post comments of your own (except when the subject is music, books, or travel troubles).

    Thank you for attending Alliance meetings, conferences, and webinars – and for sharing your thoughts on how we can make them better for everyone.

    Thank you for allowing me to feel like I’m making the world a little bit better just by showing up to work.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Examining the impact of the election…


    The stunning results of last Tuesday’s election – a Trump presidency and GOP control of both the U.S. House and Senate – will have a significant impact on U.S. foreign and domestic policy, including several issues that could affect fraternals and their members. Late last week I met with representatives of Capitol Counsel, the Alliance’s federal legislative advocacy firm, and other financial services industry leaders to assess the potential ramifications of the election results and their impact on the Alliance’s advocacy strategy and initiatives.

    Cleary, the specific outcomes of the election results on major policy issues are still in the “too early to tell” category. While everyone is expecting major shifts in policy priorities and direction, no one is quite certain what to expect — or which issue(s) the Trump Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress will tee up first. There are many to choose from, including immigration, health care, terrorism, taxes, infrastructure, and Supreme Court vacancies. The public policy “to do” list in the wake of the heated rhetoric of the contentious campaign is overwhelming, which makes it critical for the President-Elect and Congressional leaders to prioritize their policy objectives during the transition process that will take place over the next nine weeks.

    The potential for significant tax reform – particularly focusing on repatriation of U.S. assets abroad and a reduction in the overall corporate tax rate – is almost certain to be a high priority under a Trump administration. What effect that may have on existing tax exemptions and tax preferences is yet to be determined. Alliance members can rest assured that staff and retained advocacy counsel are working diligently to develop a better understanding of tax reform proposals likely to be considered by the next Congress and to lay the groundwork for the Alliance’s efforts to shape public policy on this issue. Please review Capitol Counsel’s Post-Election Tax Update for more information on the tax issues that may arise during both the lame duck session that begins this week and the 2017 session.

    In addition to tax reform, financial services industry leaders are optimistic that the most onerous provisions of the Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule and the Dodd-Frank Act may be amended or repealed. We will work closely with our allies in the industry community to ensure that the fraternal voice is heard on these issues and will alert members to developments as they occur.

    Our proactive, pragmatic, and non-partisan advocacy efforts to promote awareness and affirm the value of the fraternal business model on the U.S. economy and on communities across the country will continue unabated. The financial services provided by fraternals and the community service projects initiated, funded, and facilitated by societies and their members benefit all Americans.

    We will be reaching out to returning and newly-elected legislators over the next few months to let them know about the important work fraternals do across the country and — more importantly — in their backyards. We’ll also be asking member society representatives — from CEOs to local chapter leaders — to deliver this message to the legislators from their home states and districts.

    It is because of those efforts that fraternals enjoy widespread support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The cumulative impact of these initiatives contributed significantly to our success in securing 106 co-sponsors for House Congressional Resolution 19 (the “Fraternal Resolution”) this year, and have raised the profile of the fraternal community among U.S. Representatives and Senators on both sides of the aisle. Ninety-four of those 106 co-sponsors will continue to serve as U.S. Representatives. Six co-sponsors retired; five lost re-election bids; and one — Todd Young (R-Indiana) — was elected to the Senate. We have a strong core of champions and supporters as we prepare for 2017, and we intend to expand that network next year.

    The Alliance will keep members updated on legislative proposals and our strategy for outreach to political leaders in future blog posts and bulletins. In the interim, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or need more information about the election results or our advocacy initiatives.

    For SFAs, it’s “just one thing”…

    One of my favorite scenes from the movie “City Slickers” is where Curly, the leather-skinned cowboy played by Jack Palance, is giving Mitch, the mid-life crisis ridden New Yorker played by Billy Crystal, a little unsolicited life advice.


    Curly: “Do you know what the secret of life is?”  (Holds up one finger.)  “This.”

    Mitch: “Your finger?”

    Curly: “One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that and the rest don’t mean nothing.”

    Mitch: “But what is the ‘one thing?’”

    Curly: “That’s what you have to find out.”

    After comparing notes with the Alliance staff and Board members who attended recent State Fraternal Alliance meetings, I think there are many folks in the fraternal community who are asking themselves that same question: When it comes to SFAs, what’s the “one thing” that can make them relevant and meaningful organizations for the fraternals that fund them?

    Here are some suggestions for that “one thing” that SFA member societies and SFA leaders may want to consider:

    • Meet with your state regulator every year – This does not mean invite them to the SFA’s Annual Meeting.  In many cases these meetings are attended by relatively small groups of local chapter leaders, with no connection to or interest in insurance regulatory matters.  I mean organize a meeting of executives from each member society domiciled and/or doing business in the state in the regulator’s state capitol offices with a well-planned agenda of issues that you – and the regulator – would like to discuss.  I guarantee you that there is no more important function for a State Fraternal Alliance.  Relationships with state regulators are crucial to ensuring that the fraternal perspective on regulatory issues from solvency to corporate governance to cybersecurity are heard by the people who are going to decide the future of these proposals in your state and nationally through the NAIC.  Need help in organizing this type of meeting?  The Alliance is more than willing to assist you in selecting your delegation, reaching out to the regulator, and participating in the meeting with you.  This is a “win-win” scenario – and the chance to form a perfect partnership – for SFAs and the Alliance.
    • Conduct education programs that enhance member societies’ ability to expand the impact of their financial services and community outreach – Too often we attend meetings where SFAs act like “mini-fraternals” by raising money for scholarship funds through raffles and auctions.  Remember, SFAs are trade associations, so some of these charitable activities may actually threaten their tax exempt status, especially if the SFA collects the money and then contributes some or all of it to a charitable organization or scholarship fund. Moreover, community outreach efforts are at the core of what fraternals do.  The Alliance can help SFAs build education programs to let member societies know how to make these programs more effective.  If SFAs want to conduct community service work, we suggest that they borrow a page from the Alliance book and “adopt” a local charity, and then have the individuals and societies that attend the SFA meeting make contributions directly to that charity.  This way, the SFA does not have to handle the funds and risk putting its tax exempt status in jeopardy.city-slickers-and-norman
    • Reach out to the state chapter of NAFIC to plan a joint meeting – Want to make your SFA meeting instantly more relevant?  Conduct a joint meeting with the state NAFIC chapter.  Conducting an SFA meeting without including field representatives – the face and voice of fraternals to the vast majority of members and prospects – is like trying to start a fire without a match.  Field representatives bring energy, enthusiasm, and (in many cases) youth to the table.  There’s the catch, though.  If the program is not applicable to what they do every day – sales, service, and volunteerism – they won’t bother showing up or coming back.  (And how can you blame them?)  Once again, the Alliance is more than willing to work with you on your outreach to NAFIC state chapters and help you develop programs that are valuable to this vitally important fraternal constituency.

    One thing.  Just one thing…


    Prime time for fraternals…

    I took some time off earlier this month and had a chance to catch up on some reading – fiction, non-fiction, and blogs (oh, my!).  Here’s a quick look at the highlights:


    According to a leading entertainment trade publication, the AMC network has given the greenlight to a new series titled Lodge 49, which will be executive produced by Paul Giamatti.  The drama tells the story of Dud, an “aimless but affable ex-surfer” from Long Beach who joins a fraternal order following the death of his father.  According to an AMC spokesperson, “Lodge 49 is, at once, a show about a lovable loser, the idea that life can be magical if you look at it from the right angle, what it means to be on the fringe, and the importance of community.”  The AMC statement goes on to say that, The members of Lodge 49 will learn something from Dud’s casual lifestyle, while Dud will steep himself in the camaraderie and peculiar milieu of men’s clubs – including terribly embroidered nylon bomber jackets, fez fashion trends, charity fundraising, trade union collusion, and renting out function halls for wedding receptions.”  I don’t know if they are looking for cast members, script writers, or production consultants, but those interested might want to contact AMC immediately.  I smell a hit!

    Recommended reading:

    OJ: The Run of His Life oj– This is the book by Jeffrey Toobin that formed the basis of the recent television series.  I’ve never read any of the books on the horrific double murder or the televised trial that forever changed American jurisprudence, but I found this one particularly insightful and tightly written.  If you’ve forgotten many of the detail of the OJ story, this will refresh your memory.

    altamontAltamont – It was intended to be the “West Coast Woodstock,” but the tragic events that unfurled in December 1969 on a dusty racetrack between San Francisco and the San Joaquin Valley was the beginning of the end of the 1960s.  A great little read.

    A Gentleman in Moscowgentleman – An incredible novel and one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a very long time.  I literally could not put it down and did not want the story to end.  The author’s use of alliteration should be taught in every writing class in every high school and college in the U.S.  READ THIS BOOK!

    To thine own self be true:

    All of us probably remember struggling with “Romeo and Juliet” in junior high and high school.  And quite honestly, I was not a huge fan of Shakespeare until I saw “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed in Stratford-Upon-Avon almost 40 years ago.  Since that time, I make it a point to go to a performance of one of the Bard’s plays at least once a year.  And every time I do, I realize what an impact old Bill has had on our everyday language.  But it wasn’t until I came across this list that I understood the almost daily encounters we have with Shakespeare.  Take a look and let me know if there’s a day that goes by without you quoting him – directly or inadvertently…

    What’s in a name:

    And in closing, a bit of humor.  Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words.  Fair warning, a couple of these are a bit bawdy – but goodness knows they are funny.  And in the end, it’s much ado about nothing…

    The winners are:

    1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

    2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

    3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

    4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

    5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

    6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

    7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

    8. Gargoyle (n), olive-flavored mouthwash.

    9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are
    run over by a steamroller.

    10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

    11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

    12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

    13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.

    14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

    15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

    16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

    The Washington Post’s Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

    Here are this year’s winners:

    1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

    2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

    3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

    4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

    5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

    6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

    7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

    8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

    9. Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

    10. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

    11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

    12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

    13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

    14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

    15. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you’re eating.

    16. Ignoranus (n): A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.


    Winning Is About Getting the Right Players in Your Line-Up (Go Cubs!)

    This week we hear from Guest Blogger and Alliance Executive Vice President Allison Koppel

    wrigleyOur fraternal benefit societies are a special group of life insurers, and we are stronger together than we are alone on many fronts. This uniquely applies to the power of the collective information and data that we all keep that, when shared, provide valuable insights into how we do business. Since the Alliance is one of very few trade associations serving fraternals, it makes sense that we use the close ties the Alliance staff has with home office employees to gather data that no one else could. We know you, and you know us – by face and by name – and that makes our information gathering success rate much higher than in other organizations.

    At the first ever Alliance Spring Symposium in May of 2017, the Business Operations track (one of five running concurrently) will devote one of their six sessions to share and digest information from a survey that will be sent out later this year which will collect data on your staff and board compensation and employee benefit practices. Sometimes comparing fraternals is tricky since your home offices are big and small in size, and located in rural, suburban and urban settings. Despite this, we feel strongly that providing you with results will help societies better plan for the future by understanding what it takes to recruit the right talent. The challenges facing fraternals are not getting less complicated. Just the opposite is true, and society executives need to ask themselves if they have the right people “in the house” to help prepare their society for the future. If not, how are you going to attract talented people to your society? Being wonderful individuals and community-service minded in both spirit and actions will only go so far.

    On a related note, our Grow Younger Task Force wants to create and send a survey to all of your younger (35 and younger) employees to determine what they want out of their work life experience. How will they rank salary, health insurance, vacation time, healthy snacks in the kitchen or a stand-up desk in terms of what is needed to keep them satisfied? This survey will ask all sorts of questions that will help members get at the core of attracting the type of person you need in your home office…the millennial. You cannot survive without understanding them and hiring them.

    michael-and-allisonAll this time-consuming survey work will be completed by the Alliance with the help of – get ready for it – an intern! We have been preaching to members the benefits of hiring an intern to help with a myriad of fraternal projects for years, and we have finally taken our own advice. Meet Michael McFerran, a recent college grad who is getting his masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology and lives in a nearby town. It didn’t take too much effort to find Michael; I sent out about 20 emails to my network of friends, neighbors and association colleagues asking if they knew of any recent college grads who might want to explore an open position. Michael heard about the opening and a few weeks later we have an extra set of eyes and ears for various projects. And we have the input of an eager person whose undergraduate and graduate studies focus on human resources. It was fortuitous that the Alliance has several projects on which Michael can provide his feedback, and we ask that our members give him a big fraternal welcome and answer his requests for survey data! Please feel free to reach out to Michael at mmcferran@fraternalalliance.org and say hello.

    If you have thoughts on meaningful surveys the Alliance can conduct, or if you’d like to share your experiences on hiring interns, please comment on this blog or send me an email to akoppel@fraternalalliance.org.