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Random thoughts on marriage, civil unions, collaboration, and evangelizing

I’m sorting through a pile of news clips that, upon first glance, are on completely unrelated topics, but on closer inspection, all have a common thread that relates to the future of the fraternal system. Virtually every management book I’ve read insists that 80 percent of a CEO’s creative juices should be focused on the future. And I approach that mission – to help create a future in which the fraternals can prosper – with evangelical zeal.

Which brings me to my first news clip from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Archdiocese Turns to Evangelizing.” The gist of the piece focuses on how the Boston Archdiocese is responding to the declining number of Catholics attending Mass. The Archdiocese is consolidating its 290 parishes into groups of “pastoral collaboratives” to save money (by sharing resources), become more “mission-minded,” and creatively “evangelize” to increase church attendance, which is estimated to be at an all time low of 16%.

I couldn’t help but be struck at how the Archdiocese’s tactics mirrored those being discussed by many fraternals. It’s not surprising, really, considering the faith-based bonds (and virtually identical challenges) of the majority of Alliance member societies.

Focusing on our societies’ respective missions and “evangelizing” those missions is a sure-fire way to generate more brand loyalty with current members (helping to turn them into evangelists for your society) and to attract new members to the fold. The recent results of the Alliance’s consumer research study will tell you that prospective members view our social missions as one of the most appealing characteristics of the fraternal model – and a real reason to consider purchasing financial services products from a society.

Cost-saving collaborations are one of the best ways that small societies – and perhaps even mid-sized ones – can run their operations cost effectively. It’s important to remember that the same folks who told us that the community service aspect of the fraternal model appealed to them, also told us that when it comes to purchasing life insurance or annuities, product quality, price, and the financial strength of the provider were just as important to them. So while the social mission can help position us positively with consumers, it won’t push us over the finish line all by itself.

Fraternal marriages or civil unions?

You’ll notice that I did not utter the “M” word when discussing fraternal collaborations. There is little doubt that fraternal mergers will continue. More intense competitive pressure and more complex regulatory requirements may accelerate the pace of such transactions. But my hunch is that most mergers will still be of the “shotgun wedding” variety prompted by regulatory intervention rather than strategic positioning. Perhaps instead of this type of “marriage,” fraternals should consider “civil unions” – sort of like the Boston Archdiocese’s “pastoral collaboratives.”

In a recent issue of Jednota, the publication of the First Catholic Slovak Union, FCSU President Andrew Rajec recounted the remarks he has delivered to the conventions of many Slovak-based societies. Andy wrote of his hopes for a “marriage” that would combine the best of each society “for a greater whole.” He also stated that he has been told by others in the Slovak fraternal community that “such a marriage” would never happen. Ever the optimist, Andy concluded his remarks by saying despite the naysayers, “I still have the ‘marriage’ dream.”

I’ve got to believe that Andy isn’t the only one who can see the value of such a “marriage.” But I think that many of the same benefits can be achieved through a “civil union” that reduces expenses and streamlines operations of various societies by combining the “backrooms” and maintaining a variety of “front doors.” A common IT platform; pooled asset management strategies; consolidated actuarial, auditing, and accounting functions; shared fraternal benefits and community service programs – any or all of these could dramatically improve the partnering societies’ bottom lines AND preserve and protect their individual identities.

My evangelical mission is to expand cooperation and collaboration among Alliance members that results in a bright future for the fraternal system. What’s yours?

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