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    Bald is Beautiful!

    Here’s a photo proving that I did it – shaved my head bald in front of dozens of fraternal executives gathered for the Alliance’s Executive Summit in Chicago.

    With Lino Amaral of Luso-American Financial, my brother from another mother.

    My 2017 fundraising goal was $5,000 and thanks to the generosity of friends, family, and fraternalists, I generated more than $6,000 in contributions – all of which go to one of the worthiest causes I can think of: the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to fund children’s cancer research.

    If you want to learn more about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation – what a terrific organization for your local chapters to rally around! – check out their web site.

    And if you’re inspired by my chrome dome you can make a contribution while you’re there. It’s never to late to help cure children’s cancer.

    Thank you all for your support!  Let’s do it again next year!

    Branding initiative takes flight…

    Driven by the support of 40 member societies, the first-of-its-kind fraternal branding initiative was approved by the Alliance’s Board of Directors last week. Maddock-Douglas, the branding consultant retained by the Alliance to complete this project, will begin work on the first of the three components of the program will begin this week. The final work products will be delivered to Alliance members by the end of the year.

    To refresh your memory, the branding initiative began in 2015 when the Alliance funded initial research and creative design work that demonstrated:

    1. The vast majority of consumers had virtually no awareness of fraternals and their role in the financial services and community services arenas;
    2. With only a small amount of information, consumers – from millennials to boomers – were intrigued, impressed, and interested enough in the fraternal model to consider purchasing financial services products from a society; and
    3. Fraterals shared enough common characteristics to make it possible to create one set of materials that each society could use to create a relevant brand for its organization.

    Armed with that information, Maddock-Douglas developed a three-part branding initiative that was presented to member society CEOs at the 2016 Executive Summit and to a broad cross-section of members at the 2016 Annual Meeting. The three segments of the program are:

    • Brand Strategy is the guide that provides instructions to best convey the fraternal benefit society message to the public. It will cover all aspects of messaging that must be considered for the greatest impact, including specific words, phrases, and tone of the message, and will be based on new research that will demonstrate which message configurations resonate most and why.
    • Campaign Creative is applying the language and messaging from above to create communications that can be used for real advertisements. That means adding visuals and creating copy to deliver the intended message within an overall idea that is used consistently across all communications. It will be applied in a variety of forms including print ads, radio script, web banners, and social media.

    Type of communication vehicle to be created.

    • Target Market Identification is about describing and finding the people that are the most likely to respond favorably to the fraternal message. Knowing who those people are is critical for the development of an efficient marketing program. The target will be described in terms of the attitudes and behaviors that contribute to their positive response, with any common demographics between them identified.

    Based on the support expressed for the program by member societies, in December 2016, the Alliance Board of Directors agreed to move forward with the program if it was fully funded by the membership. The Board stipulated that no Alliance dues dollars or surplus funds – which are used primarily to provide the state and federal advocacy services members value most – be used for this project.

    Forty Alliance member societies backed up their commitment with a check for $9,500 and on March 20 the Board approved the project.

    This project demonstrates the power of collective action by fraternals. Only a handful of Alliance members could have afforded the nearly $400,000 price tag of this branding initiative. But by pooling resources and sharing the cost, even the Alliance’s smallest societies can afford to purchase this incredibly valuable marketing data. Makes you wonder what else member societies could accomplish if the joined forces to tackle tough problems like compliance, reinsurance, IT platforms, and product development. Hmmm…

    Nonetheless, it is important to realize that accessing the branding initiative materials and actually being able to use them are two different things. As one member told me, “it doesn’t do much good to paint the house if the foundation is crumbling.”

    Amen. The branding initiative is not a panacea. It won’t magically increase sales, enhance your community service activities, or give your society the brand recognition of Coke. If you don’t have the financial resources, the governance structure, and the management skills to put this information to use, then it’s just another electronic file taking up space on your hard drive.

    But if you do have the ability and desire to put these tools to use – or to join hands with other societies and use them collectively (there’s that word again…) well, the sky’s the limit.

    So, hats off to those 40 societies who invested in this program. They’ll reap the rewards of that investment later this year – and, hopefully, for many more years to come.

    And for those of you who did not initially participate, there is still time to send us your check for $9,500 and ensure that your society doesn’t get left behind.

    More on technology and the future of your society…

    I received a fair number of responses to a recent post on technology issues (“Climbing the Ladder, drinking the Lemonade, and looking for a safe Haven…”).  A few brave souls posted their comments on the web site, others emailed them to me privately, and still others shared their thoughts through third parties (“Please let Joe know that I think he’s crazy”).

    Fair enough.

    But I received one response from an associate member of the Alliance, Intellect SEEC (not surprisingly, a technology firm) that I’d like to share with you. This post is not an “infomercial” or an “advertorial.” This blog is, was, and always well be endorsement-free. But when smart people make intelligent observations about an issue on which I am not an expert, I tend to want to pass those comments on to my readers.

    The ideas laid out in this response made sense to me – a person whose understanding of technology is dangerously shallow – and seemed applicable to virtually any size society in any stage of evaluating its technology needs. So I’m sharing it with you on that basis. Take it for what’s it worth and use it as you see fit, no matter what your current system’s capabilities or what consultant or vendor your society happens to be working with.

    Seed money…

    Last week, I had one of those experiences that reminds me why I love being the president and CEO of the American Fraternal Alliance. I led a group of fraternal members on a series of visits with members of Congress and watched them secure the future of the fraternal tax exemption by telling their stories of the good works that they and their colleagues do in the backyards of the lawmakers with whom we met.

    My job was simply to provide the “elevator speech” – the 2-minute synopsis of who the American Fraternal Alliance and its members are and what we do from a 30,000-foot perspective. I then turned it over to the most effective and capable lobbyists on Capitol Hill: the local chapter leaders of Alliance member societies. They added the real-life color commentary about the impact of their societies’ community service activities for lawmakers and their tax counsel. I watched as legislators and their staff – many of whom did not have a firm understanding of what a fraternal was – absorbed the incredible value these individuals and their organizations had on their constituents.

    If there was a theme for the comments that each of these fraternalists delivered it was “seed money.” They demonstrated that the added value of well-organized and well-funded volunteerism can pay dividends not just for a day or a week, but for a lifetime. They also showed the incredible flexibility of fraternal volunteerism by being able to meet the needs of the local community on an almost immediate basis. And they drove home the point that fraternal volunteerism “fills the gaps” that the government’s social safety net was never intended to address.

    Check out our Facebook page for a few photos of these incredible ambassadors’ congressional visits. A special “thank you” goes out to the Thrivent Financial government affairs team for organizing the visits and for bringing such outstanding representatives of their society to Washington, DC. The Thrivent members were joined by representatives from Catholic Order of Foresters, Catholic United Financial, Gleaner Life, KSKJ Life, Modern Woodmen of America, Sons of Norway and Royal Neighbors of America, which made this event a truly fraternal-wide experience. A tremendous “thank you” to all these selfless individuals who traveled to Capitol Hill to tell their stories, and to the CEOs of these societies who generously funded this initiative.

    Like the “seed money” provided by fraternals that results in beautiful blossoms of volunteerism in communities across the country, the investment these societies made in having their members tell their stories to public policymakers will help the Alliance and all its members maintain the tax exemption that allows fraternals to fulfill their unique and critically important financial and community service missions.

    The final appeal…

    I promise this will be the last time I ask you – at least this year, anyway – but there is less than a month to go before I “brave the shave” to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for children’s cancer research and I’m still just a little short of my $5,000 fundraising goal.

    St. Baldricks

    I hope you will join with dozens of other fraternal colleagues – and a smattering of my family members – and help me reach the $5,000 threshold by making a personal or corporate contribution to this year’s campaign.

    My sister sent me a check with a note last week accusing me of doing this “because you get a free haircut that lasts a long time!”  And while my sister knows that I can make a dollar go a very long way, the real reason I’m shaving my head for the third consecutive year is because I believe deeply in the work of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and because Alliance members inspire me to give back. My schedule sometimes precludes me from participating in community service activities, but this is one way that I can fulfill the fraternal mission without simply writing a check.

    IMG_0104 (3)

    Joe’s inaugural shave – 2015

    So, I’m asking you one last time for your generous support of my soon-to-be-bald head. You can give directly HERE or by phone at 888-899-BALD. Credit cards are the easiest way to give, or you can send a check payable to “St. Baldrick’s Foundation” to me at the Alliance home office. This year I’ll be shaving it all off at the American Fraternal Alliance’s Executive Summit at the W Hotel in downtown Chicago. If you are feeling REALLY generous, you can join me and “brave the shave” yourself. I guarantee that it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

    Please help give other families’ stories a happy ending. Whether you are a first-time contributor or one who has been with us in supporting this cause for years, I truly appreciate your support. Thank you!

    Tax reform: It won’t come easy…

    capitolOn February 15, I spent the day on Capitol Hill meeting with the tax counsel for a variety of Republican and Democratic members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees.  Conducting this type of in-person outreach to legislators and their staff is one of my most important responsibilities as the president of the Alliance.  And with tax reform – the Alliance’s signature and single most important issue – squarely on the congressional priority list in 2017, this role takes on even more significance.

    Meeting with policymakers, particularly specialists like tax counsel, can sometimes be intimidating.  After all, these folks have forgotten more about the Tax Code than I will ever know.  They’re bright, committed, and curious about how organizations with a tax preference or exemption provide real value for individual Americans and the nation’s economy.

    Fortunately, I come to the table armed not only with a firm belief in the value of the fraternal model, but with statistical and anecdotal evidence to demonstrate how Alliance members secure the financial futures of millions of families, and create and coordinate the philanthropic effort of their members in communities across the country every day of the year.

    Here is the “Readers Digest” version of the takeaways from these meetings:

     I’ve got more congressional visits scheduled for March 8-9, and April 20-21.  And I’ll spend as much time in Washington as needed to make sure policymakers know who fraternals are and what we do.  In addition, the Alliance will conduct targeted outreach to members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees, previous co-sponsors of the Fraternal Resolution, members of congressional delegations from the states in which most fraternals are domiciled, and freshman Representatives and Senators in the coming months.  These outreach efforts will involve members of the Alliance’s Federal Advocacy Task Force, as well as targeted CEOs from other member societies in key legislative districts.  At this point, we do not anticipate conducting a significant grassroots campaign involving a broad cross section of member companies unless a well-defined threat to the fraternal exemption emerges during debate over the tax reform measure in either the House or Senate.

    Alliance members tell us again and again that advocacy is the most important benefit the association provides.  I wanted you to know that we are doing everything possible to make sure that federal lawmakers are aware of the fraternal community and the tremendous value that our tax exempt status delivers to the American public and economy.  We want to make sure that this century-old provision remains in place so that fraternals can continue to fulfill their unique financial and community service missions for decades to come.

    Follow-up to “Ladder, Lemonade and Haven post…

    blog-graphI’ve received more than a few comments and emails from members who thought last week’s post may have over-emphasized the need for fraternals to develop new distribution channels – specifically on-line platforms that allow consumers to purchase simple products quickly.  As I noted in my post, I am not predicting the demise of professional financial advisors, but I am acknowledging the likelihood that the life insurance industry will not be exempt from the sweeping changes affecting other businesses around the world – including financial services providers.  Want proof? Consider this:

    • The world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles – Uber
    • The world’s most valuable retailer owns no inventory – Ali Baba
    • The world’s largest accommodation provider owns no hotels – Airbnb

    Still not convinced?  Think about home mortgages for a minute.  A hugely important and considerably complex financial product that bankers once felt they owned.  In order to get one, you had to come into the bank, sit down with the banker, disclosure our entire financial history, and sign copious amounts of paperwork.

    But today, the fastest growing consumer lenders ARE NOT BANKS.  They are Lending Club, Prosper, and Quicken.

    It’s not a stretch to go from “Push Button, Get Mortgage” to PUSH BUTTON, GET INSURANCE!!!

    Just sayin…

    Climbing the Ladder, drinking the Lemonade, and looking for a safe Haven…

    Over the last few weeks, I’ve read articles in The Wall Street Journal, insurance industry trade magazines, and futurist publications about the impact of technology on the insurance industry – the life insurance sector, in particular. Recent start-ups like Ladder, Lemonade, and Haven are all trying not just to tweak the way life insurance products are purchased, they are attempting to turn the traditional model of what insurers sell and how they sell it on its head.

    Smart, simple, affordable, and fast are the characteristics of these technology-driven insurers. And their objective is transforming the sale of a complex product that took place over a kitchen table and required days or weeks to conclude into the purchase of a commodity without blood tests or physical exams done online in a matter of minutes.

    Whether these three new entries will ultimately prove successful has yet to be seen. After all, Napster changed the way that we listen to music, but Apple made the online purchasing and downloading concept viable and profitable. The company that is first to discover a new product or delivery mechanism need isn’t always the one that reaps the most benefit.

    But the underlying message of Ladder, Lemonade, and Haven is clear: fundamental, transformational, and technology-driven change is coming to our business.


    And those organizations that can’t or won’t invest in and adapt to those changes will face a future with a very predictable outcome: a slow and steady fade into obsolescence.

    There are hundreds of examples of how technology has transformed businesses and changed the way we purchase goods and services. When was the last time you went to a travel agent, a record store, a bookstore? Have you walked into a bank branch lately? Do you still get a daily newspaper or do you access multiple papers online? What about your children and grandchildren? It’s not just nostalgic but downright dangerous to think that the financial services business is going to be exempt from these forces of change.

    I am not predicting the demise of agents or financial advisors. A certain (but most likely a shrinking) segment of the population is always going to want to help from a competent and trustworthy professional. And the fraternal life insurance model, with its often undersold virtue of community service activism and financial support for causes that reflect the values of members, may be the ideal niche for field representatives that truly embody the society’s financial and fraternal missions.

    That said, fraternals will still need an online door through which new (and primarily younger) members can enter. These individuals may very well be attracted to a particular society – or the fraternal business model, in general – because of our unique “giving back” features. But smart, simple, affordable, and fast are still going to be extremely important to these consumers. And if we can’t offer that option, then they’ll climb the Ladder, drink them Lemonade, and seek a safe Haven somewhere else.