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CEOs and Secretaries join forces to hit one out of the park…

I’m still coming off the adrenaline buzz from last week’s Presidents and Secretaries/Human Resources Mid-Year Section meeting in Washington, D.C.  Thanks to all those executives from Alliance member societies who engaged in the meeting.  The dialogue between members and the interaction between fraternal leaders and the line-up of diverse speakers was the primary contributor to the meetings’ success.  And thanks also to our sponsors, whose support of the Alliance helps us bring such outstanding education programs to members at the most affordable price possible.  Here are a few highlights of last week’s meetings.  Members can access the various PowerPoint presentations by clicking here.

  • Attendees got their first glimpse of the sometimes surprising results of the Alliance’s survey of member societies’ governance practices and heard Berit Lakey of BoardSource provide detailed instructions for ways fraternal leaders can effectively address educating their organizations’ board and members to support governance modernization initiatives. The BoardSource-Alliance on site Bookstore was open and helped attendees find the right tools to improve governance.  (Click here to hear a snippet of the session.)
  • Mei Cobb of the United Way told fraternal leaders that “volunteerism just doesn’t  happen” and urged them to invest in organizing their members’ community service activities and partner with other groups to maximize their societies’ volunteer programs and enhance their appeal – and value – to  members. (Click here and here to hear snippets of the session.)
  • Secretaries Section participants engaged in a no-holds-barred roundtable discussion on a variety of issues affecting fraternals.  Executives’ willingness to share the ways – good and bad – they are attempting to address the operational, financial, and fraternal challenges facing them is what made this session worthwhile.
  • Gary Strohm and Heather Hafeman of Strohm-Ballweg gave attendees a preview of Alliance’s annual “state of the fraternal system solvency report.”  The bottom line is that while the overall fiscal health of the fraternal industry has improved over the last year, there are a few persistent trouble spots that could negatively affect all societies.
  • Following up on the fraternal solvency report, a regulatory panel featuring Steve Johnson of the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, Susan Real of the Ohio Department of Insurance, and Dave Brummond of the Treasury Department gave society executives their candid views of the future of fraternal regulation.  Real unveiled the key components of a legislative proposal – drafted in conjunction with the Alliance’s Ohio-domiciled members – that could serve as a model for fraternal solvency regulation across the country.  Johnson expressed a view that any society with less than $100 million in assets should seek merger partners to ensure that organizations have the financial strength to secure a healthy financial future for their members.  And Brummond, the former general counsel for the Alliance, expressed dismay over how long it has taken for many fraternals to adapt to a changing environment.
  • Representative Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio) delivered a stirring address praising the work that fraternals do in communities across the country on a daily basis and encouraging societies to take our message to members of Congress before the fraternal tax exemption is on the chopping block.  “If you don’t tell your story, no one will know what you do.”
  • Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, delivered a similar message and also urged societies to partner with his organization to expand the impact of their community service activities.  Alliance members interested in joining forces with DuBois and First Lady Michelle Obama to assist military families should plan on participating in a conference call on Wednesday, May 18, at 2:30 p.m. CDT (call in number: 866-615-1885; and passcode: 204772).  More information on the call will be posted soon on this blog: www.whitehouse.gov/partnerships/blog.

Joshua DuBois, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, (left) shakes hands with Kenny Massey, President and CEO, Modern Woodmen of America.

  • And Alliance members rose to the challenge by spending Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill meeting with more than 40 members of Congress and their staff to spread the good word about who we are and what we do.  The meeting was capped off with a reception in the Capitol building for attendees, members of Congress, and legislative staff in which a message from President Obama wishing fraternals the best on our efforts to provide members financial security and improve the quality of life for individuals and families was read to the group.
  • Next year… Be sure to save the dates for next year’s meetings in Charleston, South Carolina.  Secretaries/Human Resources Sections will take place on April 14-16, 2012, and Presidents Section will be held on April 15-17, 2012, at the Charleston Marriott.
  • Your comments… If you attended the recent Section Mid-Year Meetings in D.C., I’d love to hear from you.  Post your comments to this blog and let me know what you thought about the meetings.  Tell us about your experience!
  • Upcoming blogs – Next week I will share some incredible JOIN HANDS DAY success stories, and after that, we’ll revisit the “agitation” posting and your responses to the mini-survey.

The Alliance Network – No password needed to make face-to-face connections at Section meetings…

We have compiled the responses to our annual member satisfaction survey and, not surprisingly, you’ve identified “networking opportunities” as one of the most important benefits of membership in the Alliance.  It seems that communicating via email, social networks, and teleconferences just can’t replace the face-to-face connections you make at Alliance events.  We’re pleased to know how much you value these programs.  And this year’s Section meetings multiply the networking benefits by adding some of the best educational content we’ve ever assembled on topics and issues most important to you. 

No doubt you’ve already received promotional material on the various Section meetings, and judging from the huge number of early-bird registrants, the programs are resonating with you.  But I wanted to take a minute to personally encourage you to attend one or more of these outstanding educational events.  The Alliance is the only organization that offers programming specifically designed for all segments of fraternal operations, and we make these programs available to you at the most competitive prices possible.  So, put your membership to work for you and register for the Section meeting(s) that ring your bell.  You can register online by clicking on the links below.

And don’t forget that sending a member of your staff to one or more of these meetings is a great way to reward performance, get them networked with other fraternal professionals, and generate new ideas to enhance your society’s fraternal and financial programs.

• Fraternal & Communications Sections Mid-Year Meeting, April 13-15, Scottsdale, AZ – We’ll explore new ways to build momentum for your volunteer programs; how to recruit, organize and mobilize fraternal outreach opportunities; how to engage volunteer leaders (both online and offline); and how to foster touch points to connect and build cohesive brand ambassadors.  Join us in Scottsdale for strategic ideas, research findings and practical, actionable takeaways to implement at your society.  

• Secretaries & HR Sections Mid-Year Meeting, April 30-May 2, Washington, D.C. – Good governance will be addressed with presenters Todd Martin, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, and Berit Lakey, Ph.D., senior governance consultant for BoardSource, reviewing the results of our fraternal governance practices survey. Volunteer management is a science and experts from AARP and United Way will share how they recruit and engage volunteers.

• Presidents Section Mid-Year Meeting, May 1-3, Washington, D.C.  – From economic forecasts, to an examination of the regulatory challenges facing fraternals, to a session devoted to improving your personal leadership skills, the Presidents Section meeting is one that EVERY fraternal CEO should attend.  We’ll conclude the meeting by spending an afternoon on Capitol Hill communicating our message to key members of Congress and then enjoy a reception with legislators and their staff in the Capitol building.

And let’s not forget the importance of advocacy…

Yes, you told us that networking was an important membership benefit and we’re committed to delivering meaningful ways for you to connect.  But you also told us that the single most important membership benefit was political advocacy – specifically, preserving and protecting the fraternal tax exemption in a time of budget crises and great political challenges to all non-profit, tax-exempt groups.  We never lose sight of that objective and we’re fighting that battle on every member’s behalf 24/7/365.  Here’s the latest from the state and federal fronts:

STATE – For the third year in a row, the Hawaii legislature is considering bills to amend or repeal the tax-exempt status of dozens of non-profit groups, including fraternals.  The first of the two bills that would subject fraternals to state premium tax and general excise tax requirements in Hawaii is scheduled for a hearing on February 25.  The Alliance has retained a local lobbyist and is working with our member societies that operate in Hawaii to prepare testimony and other support material to once again convince state lawmakers that tampering with the fraternal exemption is bad public policy.  We’ve submitted testimony from the Alliance and the CEOs of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Knights of Columbus, and Woodmen of the World/Omaha (WOW).  In addition to the above testimony, we have secured testimony from the CEO of Drug Free Hawaii on its partnership with WOW.  We have also submitted a copy of the Georgetown University study on the social and economic impact of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Knights of Columbus fraternal activities, as well as our Hawaii-specific brochure outlining the positive contributions fraternals make to the quality of life in the state.  We are confident we will be able to defeat this bill early in the session, but are doing everything possible to ensure its demise.  I will keep you posted on developments in future blog postings.  The second bill that would repeal our tax-exempt status has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.  Bills must be heard by March 3 or they are dead for the session.

FEDERAL – The House of Representatives last week approved a bill to fund the government through the rest of fiscal year 2011, and the new majority made good on their promise to cut spending.  The bill cuts $60 billion in current year funding from last year’s levels, and contains deep cuts across the board.  The Senate, however, has dug in its heels, indicating that it will not cut funding in the current fiscal year.  This sets up a game of chicken, where one side has to blink and negotiate, or the government will shut down on March 4 when the current Continuing Resolution expires.  Though there is nothing in the budget that specifically impacts fraternals or our tax exemption, the trajectory of the debate is telling and should be a wake-up call.  Republicans in the House, specifically the 80-plus freshman, who were swept into office this year in an anti-Washington, anti-big government wave, are pulling the Republican party in Washington to the right and forcing leadership to move even further on its promises.  Cutting the deficit, decreasing spending and reining in big government are themes that will remain throughout this Congress (and likely longer).  Cuts to spending are just one part of the solution that policymakers will look to in meeting these three goals.  To reduce the deficit, Congress will be looking at the recommendations of the bipartisan deficit commission—including the eliminating all tax expenditures and reforming entitlement programs.  While neither of the recommendations will be enacted whole cloth, they will be seriously considered and we will likely see some changes in each area.  This means, our tax exemption could be on the chopping block.  However, we also should think about the third goal—reducing big government.  Fraternals play a vital role in communities that government cannot and should not attempt to replicate.  While we do receive a federal benefit, we also make it possible for communities to meet their own needs, and we leverage the federal benefit many times over.  As the budget and deficit debates heat up, as cuts grow bigger and tax reform looks like a reality, we will be making sure that all policymakers view us in this light.  YOU CAN HELP US COMMUNICATE THIS MESSAGE TO LAWMAKERS BY REGISTERING FOR THE PRESIDENTS SECTION MEETING AND PARTICIPATING IN OUR CAPITOL HILL VISITS ON TUESDAY, MAY 3!!!

The last word…

You may remember my previous posting in which I discussed the incredible power of social networks to organize people to take action (I referenced the role that Facebook played in the Egyptian revolution).  Well, here is an excerpt from a recent Chicago Tribune editorial on the same topic:

“You know that image of the antisocial computer nerd, hunched over a glowing screen, alone and isolated?  Turns out the typical Internet user is a joiner: connected, networked, and entrenched in group life.

The updated portrait emerges from a recent Pew Research Center study showing that Internet users were more active in volunteer groups and organizations.  They’re more likely to communicate with other group members, draw attention to issues and make an impact on society at large.

We’re only beginning to appreciate the social side of the Internet, particularly its role in getting people organized, and spreading the word about developments important to us.  Just a few years ago Americans were wringing their hands about the Internet contributing to social isolation.  Based on what we’ve seen in Egypt, the information-processing capabilities of engaged Internet users remains unimpaired.”

Discussion questions: What are you doing to foster social network communication between your current members (and their children and their individual networks)?  How can the social side of the Internet create a “revolution” in your society that will result in more communication, more participation, and more meaningful fraternal activities?

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.

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Why it’s better to be the sausage maker than the ingredients

You’ve all heard the old saying about legislation and sausage – you know, that you don’t want see either one being made.  But when you are an organization whose members are significantly impacted by the decisions of public policymakers – be it on tax laws or insurance rules – you just can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and ignore the sausage-making process.  If you do, you run the risk of being tossed into the grinder.

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Joe’s Special

Here are a few facts, figures, and notable quotes that I’ve come across recently.  I found them fascinating.  Hope you do, too…

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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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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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Bits of tid…

Section meetings are coming up and you need to be there…

Section Mid-Year Meeting season kicks off in March with the Fraternal & Communications Sections meeting in Charlotte, NC.  The Secretaries & Human Resources Sections and the Presidents Section follow right behind with April sessions in Hollywood, FL.  Later that month, the Investment Section meets in San Antonio, TX.  The Actuaries Section wraps up the schedule with a June meeting in Milwaukee.  Programs are set for many of these meetings and online registration is also available on the NFCA Web site.

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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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Shaking Things Up to Start the New Year

2010 is not going to be the “same old, same old” for NFCA.  For one thing, we’ve retained McBee Strategic Consulting as the association’s new federal public policy firm.  In this role, the folks at McBee are responsible for working with NFCA staff and member societies to develop and implement a more aggressive political action strategy that takes advantage of our greatest strength: a vast fraternal lodge grassroots network that delivers meaningful member benefits and community service activities to folks in the districts of almost every member of Congress.

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