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Fraternal Activities Resonate in D.C.

Last week a delegation of NFCA representatives met with officials from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Washington, D.C.  We scheduled these meetings to promote awareness of the fraternal system and seek opportunities for member societies to partner with the Administration to deliver meaningful community services to individuals who need it most. 

It was time well spent.  The possibilities for the fraternal system to play a more important role as a provider of much-needed social services – and validate our tax exempt status – are limited only by our willingness to get involved. 

NFCA was represented by Patrick Kelly, Knights of Columbus; Les Megyeri, Hungarian Reformed Federation of America; Judith Tshibangu, Royal Neighbors of America; Mark Theisen, Woodmen of the World; and Richard Kleven, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

The group met with John Kelly, Strategic Advisor, Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which is housed in the office of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNS); Fred Wong, Outreach Coordinator for CNS; and Mark Linton, Director, Center for Faith-based and Community Initiatives.  Mr. Linton is based in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

What’s the appeal of fraternals?  We’re ready to act now!

Both Linton and Kelly showed significant interest in what fraternals do and what we may be able to bring to the table in terms of being viable providers of community and social services.  The most valuable asset we have is our existing network of local lodges.  The fact that we have a network of dedicated volunteers in place right now is very appealing because it allows us to begin work immediately.  Moreover, out ability to access smaller and rural communities is seen as a real plus.

There’s a solid connection between the government’s needs and our capabilities.  However, these officials are no doubt meeting with dozens of other organizations, and there is a clear expectation that we will follow through on what we promise to deliver. 

We had the opportunity to explain how fraternals work and emphasized that community service and volunteerism are our hallmarks, making the potential benefits of this meeting huge.  Representatives of each of the member societies explained what they do, their unique fraternal programs, and their geographic/demographic spread.

Step One: Awareness

We agreed that one of the best ways to get started was for NFCA to promote awareness of the Administration’s Serve.gov Web site to our member societies.  (You may have already noticed that we added the "United We Serve" logo with a link to their site on the NFCA home page.)  At this stage of the game, CNS’s primary objective is making nonprofits aware of the Web site’s existence.


Even better, CNS is willing to brief member societies and/or local lodges on how to use the Serve.govWeb site via conference call.  We would love to help you arrange such a call for your society.  Please let me know if you are interested and we will put you in touch with the appropriate person from CNS.

9/11 Target Date

Another great way to demonstrate our commitment to this initiative and our ability to muster volunteers across the country is to encourage every lodge to conduct a fraternal activity to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11.  CNS is targeting September 11 as a day for all nonprofits to engage in a volunteer activity.  We’ve got just over two months to plan such projects.  They don’t have to revolve around a certain theme, but they should provide a vivid example of the effectiveness of our volunteer network to conduct such projects and involve entire communities in the effort.  Let us know if you’re willing to participate, and we can help you organize these efforts in conjunction with CNS.

Join the Blogosphere

Wong reported that a new blog feature will be added to the Serve.gov Web site very soon, and it will feature stories on the benefits and contributions of volunteerism submitted by the volunteers themselves.  Click here for information on how to share your fraternal stories on their site.

For Those Whose Bond is Patriotism…

On a longer term basis, we discussed a possible partnership involving assistance for National Guard families who do not live on military bases.  These families often need help while the National Guard member is on active duty overseas and in the transition when the individual returns home.  Kelly indicated that this is a key project for both Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and First Lady Michelle Obama.  For those societies whose bond is based on patriotism, this might be an ideal project for you.  Let me know if this rings your Liberty Bell.

Senior Corps Partnership

Other fertile ground for partnerships includes the Senior Corps, a component of CNS.  Because our demographic trends to more mature Americans, this might be the low-hanging fruit that we can use to kick off these cooperative fraternal efforts  Please let me know if your society is interested in organizing members and lodges in this arena.

Housing Counselors Needed

The housing crisis has created a need for housing counseling.  There is a real opportunity for fraternals to become involved in this by recruiting members to serve as HUD-trained housing counselors and placing them in local lodges.  This is where our access to individuals in smaller communities is a real plus.  Once again, please contact me if you’d be interested in this potential partnership.

A golden opportunity…

All the experts tell me that blog postings are supposed to be quick and dirty, with bite-sized chunks of information and lots of links to other Web sites.  Admittedly, this is a “super-sized” meal of information, but I’m so excited about the possibilities for individual societies and the fraternal system that I wanted to give it to you in one big serving.

Folks, we’ve struggled with relevance and awareness for decades.  I’ve heard every one of you say this to me in every meeting I’ve been at over the past 15 months.  Well, here is an opportunity to change that … to embrace a whole new kind of fraternalism that enhances the value of our community service activities, enhances the reputation of our system with public policymakers at the highest levels, and enhances our visibility and attractiveness with the next generation of members.

Enhancing and expanding the quality of our fraternal activities makes sense from a political perspective, too.  The fraternal tax exemption – like every other exemption – will be under the congressional microscope sooner or later.  Just yesterday, the Administration and three major hospital chains agreed that tax-exempt hospitals will be required to provide additional explanations of the community benefits they provide in support of staying exempt.  Fraternals are going to need to prove their value in the coming debate on tax reform.  We need to look at the hospital agreement as a model for the way we may be treated by public policymakers, and view outreach to the Administration through these fraternal partnership programs as an important way to demonstrate our relevance and value.

This opportunity may not come around again.  Carpe diem.  A short survey was sent to NFCA members yesterday via e-mail; if you haven't already, please let me know how you want to participate in any of the opportunities listed above by clicking here and giving us your feedback.  And as always, you also can post your comments below or contact me directly at jannotti@nfcanet.org.

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