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Making Sure Folks Hear the Sound of the Falling Tree…

We’ve all heard the rhetorical question…”If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” 

The fraternal version of that colloquialism is: “If we do good things in the community and don’t tell anyone about them, do they matter?”

I’m not disputing the value of the contributions we make to the lives of individuals and communities every day.  Even if we never tell a soul about them, they still matter to the folks that unselfishly volunteer and the folks who gratefully accept a helping hand from their neighbors when they need it most. 

But the hard, cold reality is that in 2010, the fraternal system – like every other tax-exempt organization and institution – will almost certainly be called on to defend the validity of its tax-exemption.  And the best way to do that is to demonstrate the unequivocal value that we deliver to our members through innovative social and membership benefits programs, and to the underserved segments of the population through the financial and volunteer support we bring to meaningful community and social service programs.

In short, we need to do two things: 1) toot our own horn; and 2) accurately track all of our fraternal activities and the impact they have on people’s lives.

Why?  So that when Congress puts the fraternal tax exemption in its cross-hairs it becomes much easier for lawmakers to move on to another target.  We need to make sure members of Congress know that tax equation for fraternals is wildly out of balance in that the minuscule number of additional tax dollars generated would pale in comparison to the loss of financial support and volunteerism that would result.  The fact is our volunteer network delivers benefits and services to members and communities more effectively or efficiently than any government program could.  And by taking care of our own and others who need our help, fraternals are actually saving the government millions – if not billions – of dollars.

Here are a few examples of how we’re accomplishing objective 1):

  • This week, the Texas Fraternal Congress met with Governor Rick Perry as part of their ongoing relationship-building efforts with Texas policymakers. These kinds of State Fraternal Congress (SFC) activities are the best way to deliver the “who we are, what we do” message to state lawmakers and we hope that every SFC will incorporate a “Day on the Hill” into their regular schedule of events.  For more information on how NFCA can help you with this, please contact Elizabeth Snyder, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, at esnyder@nfcanet.org.

    Pictured below are (from left to right): John McDermott, KJZT; Leroy Muehlstein, Hermann Sons; Lucille Ulcak, KJZT; Chris Urban, The KJT; Sarah Martin, WFLA; Doug Wessels, Woodmen of the World/Omaha; Governor Rick Perry; Steve Prewitt, Hermann Sons (back); Barbara Cheaney, Catholic Life Insurance (front); Brian Vanicek, SPJST; Cy Firgens, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans; and David Wagner, The KJT.


  • Modern Woodmen of America’s youth camp in South Dakota hosted U.S. Senator John Thune at an event to assemble care packages for critically ill children.  The event was covered by the local media – check out this article. Is there any doubt about how Senator Thune views the value of fraternals after participating in this event?

  • The Independent Order of Foresters has joined forces with KaBoom! and a variety of community partners to build playgrounds across the U.S. and Canada.  At a time when most schools and municipalities are cutting back on physical education, Foresters is making it possible for kids to stay healthy and fit through play.  In LaHabra, California, Foresters built its first of six playgrounds in the U.S. that they are funding and organizing with KaBOOM! this year.  And Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee will be attending Foresters' next playground build in Houston, Texas, on Saturday, September 19. 

  • NFCA members have embraced the United We Serve website by posting more than five stories on their Stories of Service blog about the positive impact of volunteerism and by listing more than 600 fraternal events for which they are seeking volunteers (and prospective members!).  Western Fraternal Life Association (WFLA) has been particularly adept at getting their stories posted to the Serve.gov blog. Check out WFLA’s posts here and here.  And hats off to Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Catholic Knights, and the Sons of Norway for their successful blog submissions.  If I left your society off the list, please let me know! 

We’ll talk about objective 2) – accurately tracking what we’re doing – after the NFCA Annual Meeting.  We’ve got some exciting things planned to help us all in this effort.  In the interim, let me know what you’re doing to make sure folks hear the sound of falling trees, so I can post it in a future blog…

3 Responses

  1. Joe:
    Just heard that the Census Bureau has dropped ACORN from helping with the next census.
    Maybe fraternals can volunteer a fraternal hand?????????
    Just a thought!
    Paul M. Payerchin, Jr.
    NSS Life

  2. And an interesting one, Paul. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. I’m looking for ways to get the word out to Young adults and teens, and I think we can make a connection to financial education on how to budget, save, earn and spend $money.
    What should be my first step in this direction ?
    Thanks, Ken J Dolezal FICF

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