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My name is Joe and I am not a fraternalist …

Seems a bit odd, don’t you think, for the president and CEO of the National Fraternal Congress of America – the leading advocate for the nation’s fraternal benefit societies – to not be a member of a fraternal.

It’s not that I’m not engaged in community-service activities.  I coached our parish school 8th-grade basketball team for years (my travel schedule precludes me from coaching these days; otherwise, I’d still be prowling the sidelines doing my best Jim Valvano imitation and believing that I could be a great college coach if only given the chance…). 

These days I run the scoreboard for Saturday morning freshman games at the Jesuit high school and work the chains for football games in the fall.  I deal cards at our parish’s annual casino night, contribute to our food bank and parish sharing program, and pitch in on Men’s Club community-service projects when time allows. 

I wouldn’t characterize myself as a pillar of the volunteer community, but I’m right with our new president when he talks about government not being able to solve all our problems and the need for individuals to get involved in volunteerism.

It’s not that I don’t purchase life insurance or other financial services products, either.  (I’m a “buy term and invest the rest” guy, by the way.) 

No, the reason why I’m not a fraternalist is pretty simple, really:  I’ve never been asked to join a fraternal benefit society.

That’s right.  In my 52 years walking around the planet, attending Mass (on a fairly regular basis, anyway) at the various parishes to which we’ve belonged in California, Colorado, and Illinois, and participating in a variety of community service activities, not once have I been asked to join a fraternal or participate in a fraternal activity.  Moreover, I’ve never been pitched on purchasing a fraternal insurance product. 

Now that I know something about who we are and what we do, I understand the value we bring to protecting individuals’ financial security and enhancing the quality of life in our communities.  I also understand one of the reasons why so few people know of or understand the “fraternal option” is that, consciously or unconsciously, many societies don’t tell their story very well and, even more disturbing, don’t seek out new, younger members.

Here is a snippet from an extensive article in this past Sunday’s (Jan. 18) Chicago Tribune Magazine on a phenomenon known as “reverse immigration.”  Due to improving economies in the “old country” many Central European immigrants are deciding to leave the U.S. and return home.  In addition to the enhanced opportunities in their native countries, many younger immigrants feel shut out of life in the ethnic communities in the U.S.  Here’s a statement from the Tribune story:

“[Ethnic] community groups are abundant, but lack clout.  Old-line organizations like [fraternal benefit societies] (basically insurance companies) seem increasingly out of touch, relics of an earlier generation.”

And here’s a quote from a 46-year-old that appeared in the story:

“I feel like I’m the only one from my generation – the generation whose parents came after World War II – who is still involved.  When you try to get involved, they tell you you’re too young.  We don’t have leaders in the community anymore.  We have old guys who like to go to banquets, eat big dinners and give awards to each other.”

Does this attitude characterize your society or its lodges?  Is your society perceived as “basically an insurance company”?  Are you unwittingly turning away potential members and certificate holders by putting up barriers to participation?  Do your community outreach activities “fill the gaps” in government programs and deliver meaningful services to those who need help the most – or are they merely big dinners with lots of awards?

These are tough questions, I know.  But by taking a hard look at them, maybe we can figure out why a person like me – and millions more folks exactly like me – are not fraternalists.  Share your thoughts with me by responding to this blog.  Just use the “Post a Comment” box below.

8 Responses

  1. Here you go, Joe…although I would much rather do it in person: would you please consider joining the Knights of Columbus? I can make all the arrangements with someone who lives out there…all you have to do is tell me when you are available to meet with our local representative. We don’t “pitch” fraternal insutrance products, but we will explain to you the many fraternal benefits you can access by joining.
    (Now you can never say that you haven’t been asked!)

  2. Joe:
    You want to join SNPJ?

  3. I asked him first!

  4. We’d love to have you Joe, but you do not appear to qualify under our commond bond!
    Rick from Thrivent

  5. Joe,
    We would be honored to have you as a member of Woodmen Of The World/ Omaha Woodmen.I will be happy to share our Fraternal story with you in Sarasota,Florida after the Board meeting.See you then.
    Bill Arden

  6. My name is Joe and I AM a fraternalist!
    What that means to me is that enjoying a sense of belonging to a cause I believe in comes first. Helping neighbors in need comes first. Providing assistance to parishes comes first. And yes – helping families remain financially secure comes first.
    It might seem contradictory that every aspect of fraternalism comes first. But then that is the greatest difficulty in spreading our message to the general public. We are many things to many people and our story is almost too good to be true. It is certainly too upbeat to hit the front page or to kick off the six o’clock news.
    Fraternals are many things to many segments of the marketplace. Overall we do a decent job of doing our fraternal work. We don’t do a good job in telling a convincing story after it’s done. This is where we need to improve so that we can be more pro-active in articles such as the one that appeared in the Tribune.
    Another confusing factor with fraternalism is that we are multi-dimensional and can:
    Raise funds for neighbors in need;
    Support an ethnic heritage;
    Promote faith-based initiatives;
    Keep families financially strong through insurance.
    We are not-for-profit and still provide a financial product to members. To many on the “outside” this is a contradiction. It’s not an easy concept to wrap one’s thoughts around.
    Finally, fraternalism cannot be explained in a quick one-line definition. It has to be experienced. Our elected officials need to experience it. Our media outlets need to experience it. And sadly more of our own members need to experience it.
    As I said above – my name is also Joe and I am a fraternalist. I would welcome NFCA CEO Joe to come and experience fraternalism as a member of Catholic Family. It’s the least a fellow Jesuit-educated guy can do!
    Joe Gadbois, Catholic Family Life Insurance

  7. Joe,
    Not only has no one asked you to join a fraternal, clearly no one has ever taken the time to explain permanent insurance to you. For most “investors” the only product that they have that made any money last year was their permanent insurance policy.
    A agree as an industry that we “hide our light under a bushel”.
    Thrivent Financial for Lutherans

  8. Joe,
    I agree with Steve from Thrivent. We need to spend some time discussing the need for and value of permanent life insurance!
    Our members have permanent needs that require permanent solutions. Too many families end up financially devastated by listening to the “Buy term and invest the difference” proponents. Too often the reality is buy term and spend the difference and to have the temporary coverage not in place when it is needed.
    We must be the voice to combat the Suzie Ormans of the world who tell people the only type of insurance to own is term. That is terrible advice. I wonder how many death claims Suzie has delivered?
    I look forward to seeing you at the Board meeting in Florida next week. Hopefully we will have a chance to talk, then I would be happy to assist you in becoming a member and purchasing some permanent life insurance to protect your family!
    George R. Worley, FIC, CLU, ChFC, CLF
    Chief Agency Officer
    Modern Woodmen of America

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