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More than just a day in May…

While wandering through a bookstore (yes, a few still exist) yesterday, I came across a very cool display that featured best-sellers from the month of March over the last 50 years. The best seller in March 1962 was Seven Days in May (I didn’t know the terrific movie of the same name starring Kirk Douglas was based on the novel). Seeing the number “7” and the word “May” made me take note that JOIN HANDS DAY – the fraternal system’s national day of service – is scheduled for Saturday, May 7, 2011.

I’m coming up on my three-year anniversary with the American Fraternal Alliance, and during my tenure there hasn’t been a week when I haven’t thought about what JOIN HANDS DAY could be if every Alliance society made the effort to engage their members in a community service activity – ideally one that invoked the original intent of the event and facilitated volunteerism in partnership with young people and youth organizations. Right now, JOIN HANDS DAY is a sleeping giant; it’s got loads of potential community service, public affairs and political value, but we’re just not tapping in to that vast reservoir of good will and good works.

The Alliance Board of Directors believes that we need to take a hard look at the way JOIN HANDS DAY is structured so that we can take advantage of one of the cornerstone principals and unique characteristics of the fraternal system – volunteerism and community service activities that allow societies to fill the gaps in state and federal government safety nets in a wide variety of ways all around the country.  And who better to put in charge of this project than the leadership of the Fraternal and Communications Sections – the people that eat, breathe and sleep fraternalism in their societies every day?

The Section leaders held their first organizing call last week and plan to meet again in person at the Fraternal and Communications Sections meeting next month. This group is being assisted by Alliance staff and our retained public affairs consultants – the same folks that helped us with the development of the Alliance brand name, logo, and tagline. During our initial call, we talked about creating themes for service projects to be conducted on JOIN HANDS DAY that all societies could rally around – feeding the hungry, helping military families, supporting educational and athletic programs in public and private schools, assisting groups that serve the mentally and physically challenged. We also talked about expanding the event from a day of service to a week or more, and tying it in more closely with the new American Fraternal Alliance brand identity.

There are many other items and issues to consider. And we’d like to hear what you think the Fraternal and Communications Sections leaders should take into account at their next meeting. You can voice your opinions right here on the blog or email them to me directly at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org. Come on now, I know you’ve got some great ideas that we can use to maximize the value of JOIN HANDS DAY for your society and the fraternal system – or maybe you think we shouldn’t invest any more time, energy and effort into the event. Either way, we want to hear from you. This is your chance to influence the outcome of one of the most important initiatives your association will undertake this year.

Not exactly a day of service, but certainly a day to recognize the power of fraternalism…

I went to my first-ever Pulaski Day celebration at the Polish Heritage Museum located in the same building as the Polish Roman Catholic Union, an Alliance member society. Other Chicago-headquartered, Polish-based Alliance members – the Polish National Alliance and the Polish Women’s Alliance of America – played an instrumental role in the event, as well.

Not familiar with Pulaski Day? Casimir Pulaski was a Polish military officer who fought for the young American nation in the Revolutionary War. He is known as “the Father of the American Cavalry” and was mortally wounded while leading his troops against the British in the Battle of Savannah. Given Chicago’s enormous Polish population, the celebration marking Pulaski’s birthday is a very big deal. Most city and suburban schools are closed and every local, state, and federal politico gladly accepts their invitations to participate in the wreath-laying ceremony. The event also generates significant financial contributions from local businesses –banks, grocery stores, etc. – for the Polish museum, and a number of scholarships to local college students are awarded.

This year’s event featured remarks from U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, and a host of other state legislators and city aldermen. It was as impressive a lineup of dignitaries as I’ve ever seen and they were there for one reason – because Polish-Americans in Chicago are one of the most engaged constituencies in the region, i.e. THEY VOTE (and in Chicago, that means early and often).

It got me to thinking, what if our fraternal constituencies in other cities and states could mobilize as effectively as Chicago’s Polish community? We could become a much more respected political force – and ensure the long-term preservation of our tax-exempt status – in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Texas. All it would take is a commitment to enhance and expand the good works we do (as demonstrated on JOIN HANDS DAY and throughout the year, tell people (especially public policymakers) about those good works, and verify that members of fraternals show up on the first Tuesday in November (which, given the demographics of our members, is almost certainly the case).

I’d love to hear your ideas on how we can work together to harness our political clout.  Post your comments here…

Fraternals in prime time…

Just in case you didn’t catch it, this show on NBC featured Lionel Richie discovering his family history—including a great grandfather who headed an African American fraternal organization called the Knights of Wise Men. Here is the explanation of the role that fraternal played in history. Enjoy.

A Day on the Hill

I spent last week in Washington, D.C., doing my best to educate lawmakers, federal government officials, industry groups, think tanks, and charitable organizations about the good work that fraternals do in communities across the U.S.  But I didn’t go alone.  I was armed with brochures and fact sheets detailing the economic impact of our contributions; the anecdotes that you provided, through the new fraternal survey, highlighting the difference we make in the lives of members and the countless people we assist on a daily basis; and ably assisted by one or more of the professionals from our federal advocacy firm, McBee Strategic Consulting.

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Five Reasons the Fraternal Tax Exemption Should Be Repealed

Now that I’ve got your attention, I need your help.  I will be in Washington, D.C., next week for a series of meetings with public policymakers, congressional staffers, think-tank representatives, and insurance industry leaders.  No doubt the value and validity of the fraternal tax exemption will come up in those conversations – probably more than once. 

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When you’re playing a solo, your instrument better be in tune…

You may not know this, but right now NFCA is working to defeat five separate bills in two states that would modify or outright repeal the fraternal tax exemption.  Three bills are under consideration by the Hawaii legislature and two bills are in the hopper in Washington state.  NFCA has retained lobbyists in each state to be our eyes and ears in the state capitals.  Hiring these resources is critical to winning these battles and, at least in my opinion, is one of the best expenditures of your dues dollars.  Every member has a stake in these battles and every member – large and small – benefits from NFCA’s lobbying activities.

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Nothing Random About State Tax Exemption Debates

I’ve been in Colorado for a few days to recharge my batteries.  There’s something about the air at 11,000 feet (or maybe it’s the lack of it) that helps clear the mind.  But it’s time to get back to it, and there is no shortage of news to share and issues to tackle.  Here’s the latest on one of the most important…

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An Update on the Tax Issues – Federal and State

With the Senate getting close to a deal on a health care bill, it looks like a final piece of legislation could be sent to President Obama in early 2010.  That means the debate over tax reform will begin in earnest later in the session.  Check out the highlights from an article that appeared in a recent issue of The Hill to get a sneak peak at what may be on the table…

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This is not a drill…

It’s a common assumption that the greatest threat to fraternals’ tax-exempt status comes from Capitol Hill.  And indeed the most immediate challenge we face comes from Washington – not D.C., but the Evergreen State.

Washington’s tax revenues, like virtually every other state, have been hit hard by the recession.  The state is facing a budget shortfall of $2.6 billion and lawmakers are looking at narrowing the financial gap by raising taxes and questioning virtually every existing “tax preference.”  A report issued by the State of Washington Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) takes specific aim at fraternals’ premium tax exemption.  In fact, the report recommends that “The Legislature should clarify the public purpose being served by the tax preference for fraternal benefit societies, because it is unclear whether the objective or rationale for the exemption changed with the reenactments [of the state insurance code] in 1947 and 1987.”

Translation: the state’s coffers are empty and any organization with a tax exemption is fair game to help make up the deficit.

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Bringing it all back home…

It’s State Fraternal Congress (SFC) meeting season.  I’ve been to a number of SFC meetings over the past few weeks and have at least three more on my calendar before Thanksgiving.  I wish my travel schedule would allow me to attend more!  Attending these meetings gives me an opportunity to meet more members personally and get a better idea of how NFCA can deliver more value to you.  It’s heartening to hear your support for the association’s fraternal cooperative initiative, for our more ambitious communications efforts (like this blog, Weekly Headlines, and State Roundup), and for your willingness to transform SFCs into organizations that play a more active role in NFCA’s advocacy program.  This is a crucial role for SFCs and one that will help make these state congresses – and the entire fraternal system – more relevant and accessible to public policymakers.

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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. 

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Grassroots activism at its finest

When Senator Arlen Specter addressed the Commonwealth Club on December 13, 2008, he was not thinking about fraternal benefit societies.  His remarks included several inappropriate Polish jokes which immediately hit the blogosphere, newspapers, and television news in Specter’s home state of Pennsylvania and across the country.   

Polish Falcons CEO Tim Kuzma was offended by the jokes and spoke for the entire Polish-American community by commenting to the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette that he found the jokes “appalling” and offensive to Polish-Americans.

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