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What in the World is “Data-Driven Advocacy?”

I know there are times when members may get a little annoyed by all the information their association asks them to provide.  We ask you to provide feedback on potential products and services, to evaluate meetings, to give your opinion on public policy positions under consideration by the Board, and to rate our performance and the value of association membership.  Most importantly, we ask for detailed information on your fraternal activities – everything from member benefits, to social events, to community service projects on which your society and its lodges are engaged.

Members will ask me why we need all this information.  The “never-said,” but often implied, message is: “For goodness sake, we pay our dues.  Just do your job, defend the tax exemption, and let us be.”

But there’s more to membership – in this association and in your society – than simply paying your annual dues (or insurance premium).  Or at least there should be.  Membership comes with the responsibility to participate, to give back (or give feedback, at least), and to contribute to the greater good of the organization. 

We survey members because we really want to know what you think about issues and what action you want your association leadership to take on them.  When it comes to advocacy – and the defense of our tax-exempt status is our highest priority in this arena – information is our most effective tool. 

Data-driven advocacy is the name of the game in today’s hyper-competitive public policy arena.  Whether you’re trying to enact a new law or keep an existing one in place, you better have the facts and figures to back up your talking points.  That’s why we ask for such detailed information on your fraternal activities.  We absolutely, positively have to know things like:

  • How much and to whom are members’ financial contributions going?
  • How many community service events are societies and local lodges engaged in, how many volunteer hours are being donated, and how are these events benefitting individuals and organizations in communities across the U.S.?
  • What type of membership benefits – scholarships top the list – are societies and their foundations providing?
  • What type of volunteer activities are your members engaged in?  Are they working with the elderly, in elementary schools, or with the homeless?
  • How does your society partner with local or national nonprofits?  How do fraternal volunteers and donations impact your partners?

The statistical and anecdotal information we gathered from our most recent survey provides some excellent examples of why fraternals are as relevant today as they were a century ago…

For years, Temple-based SPJST has responded to community needs in west-central Texas.  So it was no surprise when SPJST spearheaded the effort to honor soldiers injured and killed during the 2009 Ft. Hood massacre.  SPJST joined forces with the City of Killeen and other community groups to plan and build a Ft. Hood living memorial garden.  SPJST has also established an endowment fund to pay for maintenance and upkeep of the memorial for years to come.

First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association – OH
Headquartered in Beechwood, First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association (FCLSA) has a strong footing in the Buckeye State and their fingers on the pulse of community needs.  FCLSA members got to work when Mayle Home, a Minerva-based facility for mentally and physically challenged adults, lost state funding.  At a time when every dollar counted, lodges hosted a series of garage sales to raise funds to keep Mayle Home’s doors open.  

Catholic Financial Life – WI
Catholic Financial Life’s Branch 103-Hollandtown, WI, co-sponsored a fundraiser to benefit a husband and father of two, who was diagnosed with leukemia.  In addition to chemotherapy, his course of treatment also included a stem cell transplant from his brother.  The fundraiser included a golf outing organized by the Community Benefit Tree, along with food, games, entertainment, raffles and auctions organized by Branch 103.  Thirty-four branch members worked 460 hours to host an event for 454 people.  A total of $41,973 was raised to assist this family with living, travel and medical expenses.

Unless we can accurately document the ongoing validity of the fraternal tax exemption – and compare the value taxpayers derive from it versus what the Treasury would gain in new tax revenue if the exemption were repealed – then we unnecessarily put our exempt status at risk.  That’s what data-driven advocacy is all about…that’s why it’s so important that members keep track of their societies’ fraternal activities…that’s why we ask each of you to provide such detailed information on these activities…and that’s why the next time you receive a request for information from your association you should understand we’re asking not just because we’re interested, but because this data forms the cornerstone of our advocacy efforts.

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