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The fraternal “wow” factor…

I spent last Thursday in Washington, D.C., meeting with the tax counsels of Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee members. This was my third trip to Capitol Hill in the last month.

Our objective is to meet with every member of both congressional tax writing committees before the debate on tax reform begins in earnest. And based on news reports coming out late last week, that debate could begin as early as this week.

The sole purpose of these meetings is to make sure that policymakers and tax counsel know who fraternals are and what we do. So, that when tax-exempt organizations are discussed, they’ll know that repealing or amending the fraternal exemption would undermine our ability to provide billions of dollars in direct financial support and grassroots community service work every year, while generating a miniscule amount of revenue for the Treasury. The bottom line is that fraternals punch well above their weight when it comes to securing the financial futures of their members and improving the communities in which their members live and work. In fact, the 100+ year-old exemption that allows us to fulfill our unique mission should be not just preserved and protected, but promoted.

Last week’s meetings were particularly gratifying because we met with lawmakers’ staff from states with a relatively small fraternal footprint – Washington, Utah, Nevada. Yet, despite the fact that there are no fraternals domiciled in those states, the universal reaction from staffers to the one-page handouts on the value and impact of fraternals’ community service activities in those states was “WOW!”

We like “WOW!” It means that before our meeting these offices had no idea what a fraternal was, but that after we left they not only knew us, they had a newfound respect for our contributions to their communities. “WOW!” helps us accomplish our mission of preserving, protecting, and promoting the fraternal value proposition to people that will likely be discussing whether our tax exemption is still providing dividends to taxpayers. “Wow!” means that the answer to that question is a resounding “YES!”

Want to help me – and your society – deliver the best possible messages to lawmakers? Send me examples of the “Wow Factors” that your organization is leading. Let me know how your products are securing the financial futures of your members, how that financial security is fostering greater member engagement in community service, and how that volunteerism is enhancing the quality of life in the communities you serve.

Post your stories here or send them to me in an email.

A “Must Read” on the DOL Fiduciary Rule…

One of the most compelling and well-received presentations at the Alliance’s Executive Summit held in Chicago earlier this month was one we added to the program at the last minute.  Brad Campbell of the DrinkerBiddle law firm (an Alliance associate member) delivered an insightful 30-minute address on the Department of Labor’s controversial Fiduciary Rule – most of which had been officially been placed on a 60-day delay only the day before.  Brad then took another 30-minutes of questions (which could have easily been extended to 60-minutes) about the rule’s applicability to fraternal organizations and their field representatives.

Brad and his colleague, Joshua Waldbeser, followed up that presentation by preparing this Client Alert about what fraternals need to know – and do – to get ready for the potential implementation of the rule on June 9.  This is a “must read” for every society executive and field manager.  Despite what you may have heard, the Fiduciary Rule does apply to fraternals and it is likely that significant provisions of the original rule – specifically the “Best Interest Contract Exemption” – will be enacted later this year.  That means you’ll be required to comply with those provisions, and that you should begin to prepare for that requirement right now.

The DrinkerBiddle Client Alert is an excellent way to begin that process.  Want more information?  Joshua Waldbeser will be a featured speaker at the Alliance’s Spring Symposium next month and registrants will have the chance to hear the latest news on the rule’s implementation and ask him questions about fraternal compliance with the measure.  That alone may be worth the price of admission. Click here to register.


Members’ comments on the Alliance’s Executive Summit…

The Alliance held its Executive Summit – the annual gathering of member society CEOs and their selected top executive  – in Chicago last week.  This year, we revised the format for the meeting based on member feedback. We made it an “invitation-only” event and included more member-to-member networking and roundtable sessions, facilitated more conversation between members and featured speakers, and limited the number of sponsorships.

Fifty-six executives, including 32 CEOS, from 39 of the Alliance’s 63 member societies participated in the event. Attendees represented a broad cross section of the membership, with large-, medium-, and small-sized societies represented. And based on the meeting evaluations, it looks like we hit on a winning formula.

Here are a few comments we’d like to share with you…

  • Networking opportunities. (Attendees valued these opportunities the most.)
  • Keynote speakers addressing industry transformation needs. (Specifically mentioned most often.)
  • Great choice of speakers and topics.
  • Invitation-only format allows you to really engage with people.
  • Roundtable discussion was excellent – do more of those!
  • The roundtables allowed you to discuss strategic topics with colleagues from similar-sized societies.
  • Fabulous music!
  • Speaker topics were relevant and diverse.
  • Good mix of time in sessions and time to network.
  • Highly informative – “C” suite level topics and speakers.
  • Really enjoyed the keynote speakers, but the roundtables were the most helpful feature of the meeting.
  • The Alliance does a great job of maximizing the short amount of time we are together. Even the post-classroom time at this meeting provides an opportunity to learn.

Thanks for attending and sharing your thoughts with us. That’s how we make future meetings better for everyone.

CEOs – Don’t forget to mark your calendar for next year’s Executive Summit – April 23-25, 2018, in Washington, DC. We will be conducting a “Day on the Hill” event in conjunction with this meeting, and so will want to have the CEOs and Board Chairs from as many member societies as possible there to deliver the fraternal message to Members of Congress.

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.