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President's Blog

21 Oct 2019

Blog Break…

Folks, I’m up to my eyeballs in state legislative activities in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Colorado, while at the same time trying to assemble the Alliance’s 2020...
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14 Oct 2019

Happy Columbus Day

I thought you might enjoy reading the 2019 A.M. Best Fraternal Sector Report published last week. The Best’s analysts interviewed me and...
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7 Oct 2019

Is there any value to measuring our impact?

The short answer to that question is a resounding “YES!” Accurately measuring the impact of our community service activities accomplishes three critical objectives:
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30 Sep 2019

Every picture tells a story, doesn’t it?

We came, we saw, we communicated. Alliance member executives took over Capitol Hill last week as part of our Executive Summit.
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23 Sep 2019

Why does every company try to act like a fraternal?

I try to hit the gym every morning to get 45 minutes of calorie-burning aerobics and a dose of “Morning Joe.” I can’t tell you how many folks come in the wearing t-shirts with slogans like: XYZ Corporation Gives Back!
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16 Sep 2019

Fraternals: Financial Security, Community Service and…Civility

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I recently had the honor of attending an event hosted by a new local chapter of Gleaner Life to honor several members for their unselfish service to the community. The featured speaker that evening was Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio).
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9 Sep 2019

The power of local chapters…

Last week, I had the honor of addressing attendees of a Gleaner Life Insurance Society local chapter meeting in Westfield, Ohio. The event – whose purpose was to recognize several members for their outstanding volunteer efforts...
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3 Sep 2019

Fraternal Resolution co-sponsor recruitment tops our advocacy efforts for fourth quarter…

From now through the end of the year, the Alliance’s federal advocacy initiatives will be laser-focused on efforts to recruit co-sponsors for the House and Senate versions of the “Fraternal Resolution” – HCR 27 and SCR 9.
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26 Aug 2019

Conventus is momentous…

Think back on the number of times you’ve participated in discussions about “shared services” at American Fraternal Alliance meetings. We have brought in more outside experts on the topic and arranged more roundtable discussions among fraternal CEOs than I can remember.
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12 Aug 2019

NAIC Annuity Standard of Care Model Act on the way…

State regulators from across the country gathered in midtown Manhattan earlier this month for the NAIC Summer Meeting. While no earth-shattering developments took place during the meeting, the Annuity Suitability Working Group took steps to fast track the "Standard of Care" Model Act that, while not "fraternal specific," will certainly have an impact on your operations and those of your field force.
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5 Aug 2019

Key Issues for Fraternals at Summer NAIC Meeting: Annuity Sales Standard and Big Data

As I write this post, I am preparing to depart for the NAIC summer meeting in New York City. I’ll be joined at the meeting by attorneys from several Alliance member societies and literally hundreds of representatives from...
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29 Jul 2019

Fraternal Pop Quiz Answers…

I received quite a few emails from members eager to learn the answers to last week's Fraternal Pop Quiz, but no one out there attempted to provide their own responses. So here they are, courtesy of...
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22 Jul 2019

Fraternal Pop Quiz…

Last month I attended the Annual Conference of the Association of Fraternal Benefit Counsel (AFBC). The members of this group are the staff counsel from many of the Alliance's larger members, as well as...
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15 Jul 2019

Have you practiced your “Elevator Speech” lately?

Thanks for all your great feedback on last week’s “summer reading” post. Thanks to your suggestions, I have dozens of books downloaded and ready for fall and winter...
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8 Jul 2019

Book recommendations for your upcoming vacation…

For the past few months these posts have focused on the critical advocacy and operational issues the fraternal community faces. But summer is here so it’s time to relax and re-charge before heading back to fight the battles of Q3 and 4. Here are a few suggestions for your vacation reading pleasure. Enjoy…
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1 Jul 2019

Alliance Executive Summit combines practicality with political advocacy...

The 2019 Alliance Executive Summit, scheduled for September 23-25 at the Liaison Hotel on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, combines six compelling workshops designed by and for fraternal CEOs and senior executives with...
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24 Jun 2019

Alliance executives meet with new Illinois Insurance Director…

Last week I had the privilege of leading a group of executives from the Alliance’s Illinois-domiciled societies in a meeting with Robert Muriel, the state’s newly-appointed Insurance Director. The purpose of the meeting was...
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17 Jun 2019

Texas Governor signs Alliance-sponsored fraternal solvency legislation...

On Monday, June 10, 2019, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 1251, the Alliance-sponsored fraternal solvency bill, into law. This is a significant victory for the American Fraternal Alliance, as enactment of enhanced fraternal solvency legislation is...
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10 Jun 2019

Members Evaluate the Spring Symposium...

The Alliance held its first Spring Symposium operating under our new business model and the feedback from members attending the event was overwhelmingly positive and incredibly valuable as we begin work to make next year's conference even better...
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3 Jun 2019

It’s all about the &…

While at the Alliance’s Spring Symposium last week (a huge success, BTW), I conducted some informal and unscientific research with attendees. I simply asked...
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27 May 2019

We Remember.

We remember and honor those who served and sacrificed for our freedom.
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20 May 2019

Just Get One…

You remember the “Race to 100” campaign of several years back? That was the grassroots advocacy initiative with a goal of recruiting 100 co-sponsors for our House Congressional Resolution in support of the fraternal model. A focal point of...
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13 May 2019

Three things to ponder in the early days of spring…

Attending the annual meeting of the National Association of Fraternal Insurance Counselors (NAFIC) last week only reinforced my long-held belief that the greatest advocates for the fraternal system are the...
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6 May 2019

PFA Legislative Luncheon demonstrates the potential of state fraternal groups…

The Pennsylvania Fraternal Alliance (PFA) held its annual “Legislative Luncheon” on April 30 and, as usual, it was a smashing success. More than 40 executives, primarily from Pennsylvania-domiciled fraternals, hosted lunch for...
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29 Apr 2019

Suitability, Best Interest, Fiduciary…Oh my!

The seemingly endless debate over “standard of care” regulations for annuity sales will come to a head this fall when the Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to issue its proposed “Best Interest” standard and the NAIC is likely to...
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22 Apr 2019

Momentum building for “Fraternal Resolution” co-sponsor recruitment…

The co–sponsor recruitment effort for the 2019 versions of the House (H.Con.Res. 27) and Senate (S.Con.Res. 9) versions of the “Fraternal Resolution” is officially on, and thanks to the work of the Alliance's largest...
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15 Apr 2019

From the sublime to the ridiculous...

It seems I've spent the last two weeks on airplanes, in hearing rooms, and in meetings with state and federal legislators. It's all part of – and what I love about...
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8 Apr 2019

The Fraternal Resolution is Back and Better than Ever!

This week we celebrate the reintroduction of the “Promoting American Fraternalism Resolution” in Congress! Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) are our lead sponsors...
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1 Apr 2019

It’s April Fools’ Day but this is no joke…

Last week’s post listed six takeaways from the A.M. Best “Review and Preview” conference. Here are six more bell-ringers that hit the target for fraternal life insurers…
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25 Mar 2019

Six takeaways from the A.M. Best conference…

Last week I attended the A.M. Best “Review and Preview” conference, an annual gathering of leading executives from the life, health, and property/casualty industries (including a few fraternals). I’ve attended hundreds of industry events over the course of my...
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18 Mar 2019

What’s your “innovation” rating?

How would you assess your society’s innovation skills – your ability to “transform ideas into new or significantly improved products, processes, or services that enable the organization to remain relevant and successful?”
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11 Mar 2019

Whatever happened to St. Baldrick’s Day?

I’ve had more than a few members ask me why I haven’t asked them to contribute to my St. Baldrick’s fundraising campaign. I’m sure most just want to see me part ways with my rapidly graying hair, while others sincerely wanted to continue...
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4 Mar 2019

Meet & Eat – And Repeat!

The Alliance’s first regional “Meet and Eat” was a huge success. More than 30 member society executives and associate members gathered at the Catholic Life Insurance home office to get the latest information on Alliance advocacy...
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25 Feb 2019

Book Report…

February brought the return of a robust business travel schedule – and plenty of time for reading. Here are a few suggestions when you get tired of balance sheets and Best Review articles…
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18 Feb 2019

Skies are clear… so let’s start preparing for the next storm…

I spent several productive days in Washington, DC, last week meeting with Susan Neely, the new CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI); introducing the Alliance to the Legislative Directors of three new members of the House Ways and Means Committee; and leading the...
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11 Feb 2019

The power of networking...

I spent the early part of last week in Pierre, South Dakota at the joint state fraternal alliance and fraternal insurance counselor meeting, which in South Dakota are one-in-the-same. The field representatives gathered there did a great job of taking the fraternal message to...
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4 Feb 2019

Caution: Road Work Ahead

January is a long, dark, and frigid month in Chicago. Alliance COO Allison Koppel and I have devoted much of it to making sure the transition to our new association management company operating model goes smoothly for you.
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28 Jan 2019

Short, sweet, and powerful…

This may be the shortest post in the history of the CEO blog, but also among the most powerful. It’s one that I hope will generate responses from you that can be shared with other societies.
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21 Jan 2019

State advocacy is where the rubber meets the road…

In previous posts this month I’ve outlined the Alliance’s key 2019 strategic goals for federal advocacy and member education and networking. But it’s state legislative and regulatory issues that can have the most significant impact on your society’s financial and fraternal operations, and the Alliance is actively...
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14 Jan 2019

Connections that count…

Last week’s post – the first of the New Year – outlined some of the specific steps we have planned to accomplish one of our primary advocacy goals: Promoting awareness of the Alliance and the individual contributions of the fraternal community to...
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6 Jan 2019

Big advocacy goals for 2019 can only be achieved TOGETHER...

2019 is here and with it the unveiling of the new, improved, streamlined and focused American Fraternal Alliance. I am excited about the opportunities the New Year and the new operating model present. For my first few posts of the year, I am going to focus on the Alliance’s 2019 “Strategic Initiatives” – 11 objectives that...
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20 Dec 2018

Coming attractions...

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I was able to spend some time with our grandchildren which reminded me of what’s really important in our short time on this planet. This week, I'm in Texas meeting...
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19 Dec 2018

An early fraternal Christmas gift – unwrap immediately!

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the politics and policies related to fraternal tax exemptions and solvency issues that we forget what sets us...
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19 Nov 2018

Will millennials disrupt Thanksgiving?

Due to my heavy travel schedule, another writer has "volunteered" to create this week's blog. All opinions are expressly those of the author... Thanksgiving was a big deal in our house. Dad was in charge of “the bird,” one of the few times we ever saw him in the kitchen. But really, we all thought he was just roasting it so he could move on to the turkey soup, where he really shined. At least, he thought he did. After he put the used carcass in the largest pot we had and filled it to the
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12 Nov 2018

The future belongs to fraternals…

My friend Ken Smith, of Ken Smith Sales, forwarded THIS ARTICLE to me and I thought it contained a message that would resonate in the fraternal community: The Future Belongs to Us! It’s one that we don’t hear often in these times of increasing competition, regulatory complexity, and consumer apathy about the products we sell. Of course, the author doesn’t reference fraternals specifically, but his view that the “mutual model” is much better suited to the life insurance business is just as re
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5 Nov 2018

Why the mid-terms – and your vote – matters…

Tomorrow we go to the polls in what is arguably one of the most important mid-term elections in recent memory. Americans will elect 435 Members of the House of Representatives and 35 Senators. And the balance of power in each chamber of Congress is up for grabs. In addition, there are several key gubernatorial elections – Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania come to mind – that will not only affect the political environment in these states, but will have a direct impact on the fratern
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31 Oct 2018

A change will do you good…

Blue wave or red tide, the November 6 midterm elections are certain to shake-up the power structure on Capitol Hill and in state capitals. Should Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, we will see new chairs across all committees – including the critical Ways and Means Committee. Even if the GOP maintains control of the House, the retirement of key Republican leaders will result in sweeping changes to Committee memberships.  And governors’ races in key fraternal states
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29 Oct 2018
22 Oct 2018

What's Happening!!

While I am out participating in state fraternal alliance meetings and member events, the Alliance staff is in the midst of transitioning to our new Advocacy Plus model and budgeting for next year’s activities. While this encompasses the work of several departments, I’d like to call out a few exciting developments that Alliance members can...
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15 Oct 2018

Just one thing…

You remember the movie City Slickers, right? One of the great lines from that film was when Curly (Jack Palance) told Mitch (Billy Crystal) that “the secret to life is just one thing.” When Mitch asked what that one thing was, Curly replied, “That’s what you’ve got to find out.” Here’s a link to the clip… Having attended a few State Fraternal Alliance meetings so far this fall, with a couple more coming up next week, I’d like to take Curly’s philosophy one step further by suggesting that the
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9 Oct 2018

Just click here…

It was Columbus Day yesterday (although from what I hear, it wasn't the case in Columbus, Ohio). The Alliance office was officially closed, but I came in to catch up on a few things between road trips to state capitals and state fraternal alliance meetings. And, of course, to write this blog because I knew you just couldn’t live without it! I hate to disappoint you, but I’m temporarily out of fresh and original material. So, you’ll have to be content with a few choice links to some stories t
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1 Oct 2018

Working the halls in Salem, Oregon…

Last week, I had the privilege of leading a delegation of representatives from five Alliance member societies through a series of meetings with state senators from Oregon. Our group consisted of government affairs professionals from the corporate offices of Thrivent Financial and Knights of Columbus; a home office fraternal executive from WoodmenLife; a member of the Sons of Norway International Board of Directors; and a field representative from Modern Woodmen of America. The Sons of Norwa
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24 Sep 2018

Spreading the fraternal message in Oregon…

As you read this, a delegation of Alliance members will be starting a series of meetings with Oregon legislators intended to increase lawmakers’ awareness of the fraternal community’s impact in the state. Our group includes two home office government affairs professionals; a home office fraternal executive; a fraternal field representative who lives in Salem, Oregon; a board member from a mid-sized fraternal who lives in Eugene, Oregon; the Alliance’s retained lobbyist in the state; and yours t
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4 Sep 2018

Blog break for the Alliance Annual Meeting and a little R&R…

I’m hoping to see many of you this week at the Alliance Annual Meeting in Minneapolis. As I write this, the staff is all working at about 150% of capacity finalizing all the details for what promises to be an excellent educational and networking event – while at the same time preparing for the transition to our new operating model, which will be implemented in January 2019. You will learn much more about how the “new Alliance” will impact your society and the fraternal community at the Annua
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27 Aug 2018

Days like this...

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit it Then I must remember there'll be days like this” Van Morrison I had one of those days earlier this month while attending the Sons of Norway (SON) “Leadership Conference” in Bloomington, Minnesota, a day of education and inspiration held in advance of the society’s International Convention. The title of the conference was “MOTIVATE – MAXIMIZE – MOBILIZE – To Benefit Your Community and Your Lodge.” And the speakers, panel present
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20 Aug 2018

For fraternals, a teachable moment…

If you didn’t read the following guest editorial in The Wall Street Journal by an official from a state banking trade group calling for the repeal of the credit unions’ tax exemption, you really should. I’ve included the full text of the piece here and underlined those sentences that made my ears perk up. I’m not re-printing this editorial to trigger a panic in the fraternal community. I fully understand that the justification for the tax exemptions for fraternals and credit unions are funda
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13 Aug 2018

A realistic assessment on confronting reality…

Trade associations produce four kinds of content: created, contributed, curated, and custom. Created content is unique to the organization and created by association staff or freelancers who are subject matter experts. Contributed content comes from the minds of members. Curated content comes from third-party sources filtered by an association’s content experts. And custom content is provided by an association’s industry partners, typically for a fee. Detailed responses to my blog post wo
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6 Aug 2018

New, notable, and quotable…

“We’re just two funerals away from having a very good governance structure.” CEO of an Alliance member society Despite this darkly humorous take on the struggles of fraternals to modernize their operations, progress CAN be made without relying on the undertaker. Here are a few recent examples: The National Catholic Society of Foresters, who just four years ago were given a stern warning by regulators to “shape up or ship out,” have enacted sweeping changes to the society’s governance str
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30 Jul 2018

Alliance Keynote Mark Bonchek VLOGS Fraternal Attendees a Greeting

We are thrilled to have Alliance keynote speaker Mark Bonchek motivate and encourage fraternals to start thinking about their organization in a new way at our Annual Meeting this September 5-7 in Minneapolis.  And he is excited to see us!  Check out his VLOG (video blog) greeting and be sure to finalize your plans to attend this incredible...
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20 Jul 2018

A little light summer reading…

You’re going to need something to read during August vacation season, not to mention on your flights to and from Minneapolis for the Alliance’s Annual Meeting in early September, so here are a few suggestions… Fare Thee Well (Joel Selvin) – A well-researched, if a bit tawdry, look at the four original members of the post-Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead and their struggle to come to terms with the loss of their musical and spiritual leader, and the enormous legacy of the band and its followers. 
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16 Jul 2018

The “Secret Sauce” of Partnering…

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of fraternals looking for ways to form partnerships, alliances, or shared services arrangements in order to create the scale and scope needed to be a relevant player in the financial services market. Successfully fulfilling our social mission – the characteristic that separates us from all other financial services providers – is heavily dependent on our ability to generate the revenue that allows us to directly fund causes and programs that reflect our members’ sha
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9 Jul 2018

Alliance Update: FAQs on where the organization is headed and how we’re going to get there…

At its June 5, 2018, meeting, the Alliance Board of Directors took several important steps to facilitate the transition to the organization’s new association management company operating model.  This CEO FORUM was sent to all Alliance member society CEOs and key contacts on June 26.  The feedback we’ve received has been very positive.  While members acknowledge that such a significant change is difficult, CEOs expressed both an understanding of the underlying reasons driving the Board’s actions
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2 Jul 2018

Happy Independence Day…

Last week, the 100th member of the U.S. House of Representatives signed-on as a co-sponsor of House Congressional Resolution 10 – the Alliance’s “Fraternal Resolution.”  The 100 co-sponsors of HCR 10 include Democrats and Republicans. They represent districts across the U.S., some of which have a significant population of fraternal members and others with only a smattering of local chapters.  The “fraternal caucus” of HCR 10 supporters is composed of lawmakers with diametrically opposite views
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25 Jun 2018

Alliance’s Pennsylvania-domiciled members meet with Commissioner…

I had the pleasure of leading a group of executives and board members from ten Alliance member societies domiciled in Pennsylvania to a meeting with Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman and Deputy Commissioner Joe DiMemmo last week in Harrisburg, PA. Commissioner Altman had been serving on an interim basis until just two months ago when she was formally confirmed by the State Senate. Deputy Commissioner DiMemmo is the individual within the Insurance Department with primary responsibility for o
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18 Jun 2018

Alliance Annual Meeting: The Last Waltz and the Doorway to a Bright Future

As you know, the Alliance is in the process of transitioning to a new operating model in 2019, and the 2018 Annual Meeting is the best way for you and your staff to learn more about how that change will better serve your society and the fraternal community. No doubt there will be some melancholy moments as we say farewell to the “old-school” style Annual Meeting. But you will also get a sneak preview of what the “new” Alliance has in store for you in the areas of advocacy, education, informatio
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11 Jun 2018

Nine Bay area bands and albums that rocked my world then – and still keep doing so today…

I grew up in a dusty little farm town in northern California.  By the time I was in 4th grade I knew I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life there.  The town’s greatest asset for a kid like me was that it was less than a two-hour drive from San Francisco – the hub of the counterculture and a fertile breeding ground for some of the best music ever created. My initial exposure to rock music came from the Beatles, Stones, and Bob Dylan albums of my older sisters.  I got my driver’s license
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1 Jun 2018

Spring Symposium: In a word, “networking…”

Last week, more than 160 fraternal professionals – from CEOs to asset managers, and community service directors to actuaries – met in Chicago for the Alliance’s second “Spring Symposium.” The Symposium was created to consolidate the Alliance’s vast array of former “Section” meetings under one roof, in an effort to make it easier and more cost-effective to members to attend, and to generate some synergy among practitioners of the various disciplines within a fraternal. By all accounts, the pr
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21 May 2018

Minnesota becomes first state to enact Alliance-sponsored fraternal solvency legislation

With the signature of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton over the weekend, Minnesota became the first state to enact Alliance-sponsored legislation that dramatically improves fraternal solvency regulation. The bill (HB 3799) had passed the state House of Representatives by a 122-0 vote and the state Senate by a vote of 67-0 – a demonstration of the overwhelming and unprecedented support for the measure by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The reasons for the Alliance proactively advocating f
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14 May 2018

Eight takeaways from the Alliance’s Small Society Forum…

Last month, executives from more than a dozen small societies – defined as organizations with assets of $200 million or less – met at the Alliance’s first-ever Small Society Forum. The event was held in conjunction with the Executive Summit in Washington, DC, and was created at the request of small society executives who wanted the opportunity to discuss common issues with each other and Alliance leadership. I thought the meeting was productive and useful, and based on the enthusiastic feedback
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7 May 2018

Two events that show the power and passion of fraternals…

It seems I’ve been on the road constantly over the past few weeks, traveling from coast-to-coast to participate in the Alliance’s Executive Summit, the National Association of Fraternal Insurance Counselors (NAFIC) Annual Meeting, and the Pennsylvania Fraternal Alliance (PFA) Legislative Day, among other events. I blogged last week about the impact of the Executive Summit, both in terms of the quality of the education sessions and networking opportunities it offered members, and the incredib
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30 Apr 2018

Alliance Executive Summit a hit with members and Members of Congress…

More than 60 Alliance member CEOs, senior executives, and board chairs came to Washington, DC, last week to learn from public policy experts, opinion leaders, and each other at the Executive Summit. Members appreciated the diversity of the topics covered and the quality of the speakers who addressed them.  They gave particularly high marks to the fraternal executives who led the “CEO-to-CEO Learning Sessions” (Cynthia Tidwell of Royal Neighbors; Harald Borrmann of Catholic United Financial;
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23 Apr 2018

What does a former college football coach have to do with the fraternal tax exemption?

More than 60 Alliance member CEOs and COOs will head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, April 24, to thank U.S. Representatives and Senators for preserving the fraternal tax exemption during the 2017 tax reform debate, and to make sure they understand the intrinsic value and irreplaceable contributions fraternals make to the quality of life in their home states and districts. And while all my energy will be focused on maximizing the impact of these visits for both Alliance members and Members of Co
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16 Apr 2018

10 things I learned at the LIMRA Life Insurance Conference…

I had the chance to attend the LIMRA Life Insurance Conference in Chicago last week. I picked up lots of information on consumer attitudes toward financial services, automation and robotics, genetic underwriting regulation, and a host of other topics. I also had the chance to see and speak with a few fraternal folks in the audience. And I met with LIMRA executives to discuss a potential educational partnership with the Alliance to get more fraternals to this dynamic event. Here are 10 things th
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9 Apr 2018

The power of “connection”…

In 2017, the Alliance “reinvented” its Section Meetings by combining them into the Spring Symposium – separate education tracks for separate disciplines conducted concurrently in one location. To say it was a hit is an understatement. In the conference evaluations, members told us that they LOVED: The Chicago location, which was drivable for many members and a non-stop flight away for everyone else; The meeting schedule that packed six separate educational sessions into one-and-a-half-d
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3 Apr 2018

Board takes next major step toward implementation of the Alliance’s new business model…

In case you missed yesterday’s Board Bulletin, the Alliance’s Board of Directors took a major step in the process of implementing the organization’s new business model by voting unanimously to retain NAMIC Services Corporation (NSC) as the Alliance’s association management company effective January 1, 2019. The Board’s decision comes after a two-year strategic planning process in which the Board took a hard look at the future of the Alliance and the fraternal movement. This involved examinin
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26 Mar 2018

Hair today, gone tomorrow…

St. Baldrick’s Day has come and gone, and so has my hair. I joined more than 50 other “brave the shave” volunteers at the Northside Knights of Columbus Hall in Indianapolis last Friday for an evening of fun and fundraising. Thanks to the generous support of individuals and organizations within the  fraternal community, I raised more than $6,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation this year, and the team on which I participated raised more than $200,000! Thanks so much to all of you out the
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21 Mar 2018

All items, big and small…

You’ve probably seen this, but it’s worth sending again. The Department of Labor fiduciary rule has been officially vacated. Here’s the Alliance Bulletin on the issue. The question that remains is who will fill the regulatory void for the most important provision of the DOL rule – the so-called “best interest” standard. We’ve heard positive predictions that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will issue a national standard that will be fair and understandable. But we’re concerned t
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12 Mar 2018

Grazing in the grass...roots

Last Wednesday was one of my favorite days of the year. It was the day I spent with representatives from six Alliance members – Thrivent, Modern Woodmen of America, WoodmenLife, KJZT, Sons of Norway, and Woman’s Life – before sending them out to spread the fraternal message to their Representatives and Senators on Capitol Hill. Thrivent has sponsored this event for more than five years and the Alliance has been partnering with our largest member on it for the past three years. For me persona
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5 Mar 2018

More than halfway home – and one last appeal for your support…

Thanks to the generosity of dozens of Alliance members and my friends and family, I’m more than halfway to reaching my 2018 St. Baldrick’s fundraising goal of $7,500. And with a little over two weeks left before my March 23rd head shaving, I’m using this space to make one last appeal for your help in putting me over the top. As you know, I’m dedicating this year’s fundraising to Maddie Coyle, the 14-year-old daughter of my dear friend Bill, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy and rad
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26 Feb 2018

New tax law produces more questions than answers...

The sweeping tax reform act signed into law late last year may produce a flurry of new tax legislation to correct glitches, oversights, and unanswered questions that are the inevitable result of a hasty and single-party effort to pass major reforms without taking the time to read the bill or hold hearings on its potential impact. The GOP is holding the bag on this one, but the Democrats did exactly the same thing with the Affordable Care Act. If nothing else, this highlights the negative effect
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19 Feb 2018

Oregon fraternals bill derailed -- at least for now...

After two hearings on proposed amendments to an Oregon bill that would have, among other things, shortened the contestability period under life insurance policies, a combined industry effort defeated those amendments last week. However, there is another bill in the Oregon legislature which affects the fraternal tax exemption and presents some interesting challenges for the Alliance. On the bright side, the bill affects all insurers by imposing a new excise tax on commercial, fraternal, life,
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12 Feb 2018

It's St. Baldrick's time again!

Folks: This is my dear friend Bill Coyle and his wonderful daughter, Maddie. There are three things I love about Bill: he hits a golf ball further than any 63-year-old has a right to; he has a cat-that-caught-the-canary twinkle in his eye that’s infectious; and he always - ALWAYS - manages to find the silver lining in every dark cloud. That last characteristic is largely due to his wife, Sue. Like me, Bill managed to marry a woman who defines what “better half” means. As you can tell f
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5 Feb 2018

Six ways we can improve our response to state tax reform measures…

The most striking difference between the state and federal legislative processes is…speed. Bills rarely move quickly through the U.S. Congress, and are often carried over from session to session. State legislative sessions, on the other hand, are typically far shorter – 30, 60, 90 days – which means a bill can move from introduction, to committee hearing, to a floor vote, to the governor’s desk at what seems like warp speed. That’s exactly what happened on a measure to repeal the fraternal t
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30 Jan 2018

Fraternals showed up today and the tax repeal bill died in committee...

Thanks to compelling testimony provided by local reps of Thrivent Financial, Modern Woodmen of America and Catholic Order of Foresters, the South Dakota Taxation Committee soundly defeated SENATE BILL 1181, a bill that would have repealed the tax exemption for fraternals and county farm bureau mutuals today. The committee’s action effectively kills the bill for the 2018 session. While the Alliance briefed each member of the committee on the value of the fraternal exemption prior to the heari
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29 Jan 2018

The tax reform debate is over, right? Well, not quite…

Thanks to years of painstaking work educating Members of Congress about the value and viability of the fraternal business model and the tax exemption on which that model is built, the Alliance and its members came out of the most extensive debate over federal tax reform in decades without a scratch. Hail to the victors, right? Not so fast. State legislative sessions are just now getting underway and in at least two of them – South Dakota and Oregon – lawmakers will be considering measu
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23 Jan 2018

Four great articles on one important topic: strategic planning

Having recently completed an extensive strategic planning project with the Alliance Board of Directors – one that resulted in the adoption of an entirely new operating model for the organization – I’ve become a much more avid student of the process. I’ve got my own core beliefs about the common characteristics needed to make any strategic planning exercise a success. These include: a) start with “Why?”; and b) bring in an objective and experienced consultant as a facilitator. But you'll need mo
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15 Jan 2018

Welcome to 2018. Who’s Your New Partner?

Sometime last year, I came across an executive survey – I think it may have been done by Forbes magazine, but don’t quote me on that – that found that nearly two-thirds of CEOs said that they were likely to form an alliance with a “non-traditional” partner in the next three years. And just this week, I came across a couple of news stories that back up those findings. The first was a story from the January 11, 2018, Wall Street Journal about two car companies – Toyota and Mazda – announcing p
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8 Jan 2018

The Year Ahead: 2018 Will be a Pivotal Year for the Alliance and the Fraternal Movement

2017 is behind us. By any standard, the year was a success for the Alliance and its members. In the congressional arena, the Alliance kept the fraternal tax exemption off the table during the most significant tax reform debate in 30 years. At the NAIC, the Alliance secured an exemption from PBR requirements for small insurers that would have imposed expensive and unnecessary regulatory requirements on small life insurers, including many fraternals. Representatives from virtually every member so
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18 Dec 2017

Stocking stuffers for the readers on your Christmas list…

A few dedicated readers of this post have mentioned that I have not listed any favorite books in a while, so here’s a few that would make great gifts for the readers on your “nice” list… Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow) – I knew about as much about Alexander Hamilton as the average American before this summer, and that was that he was the first Secretary of the Treasury and was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. But before seeing the Chicago version of the hit Broadway musical (which if you h
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11 Dec 2017

Give your society the gift of good governance for Christmas…

The fact that I haven’t written about governance issues in a while does not diminish their importance for individual societies or the future of the fraternal system.  That point has been driven home in recent weeks as I’ve heard governance nightmares – as well as one beacon of hope – from one fraternal CEO after another.  And underscoring all these developments within the fraternal community is the action taken last week by the NAIC’s Financial Standards and Accreditation Committee to approve t
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4 Dec 2017

Senate passage of tax bill brings reform one step closer…

Despite some last-minute hand-wringing and because of some last-minute horse-trading, the Senate did what most pundits thought they would do – and what most GOP leaders felt they had to do – and passed a bill enacting sweeping reforms to the U.S. Tax Code on a 51-49 party line vote. The House passed its version of tax reform several weeks earlier. The differences between the two measures will be reconciled by a joint House and Senate Conference Committee. The final version will then be approved
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27 Nov 2017

An abundance of blessings…

It’s been quite a year for our household. We welcomed Olivia Anne Annotti to the clan on November 13 and she is living proof that little girls ARE sugar and spice and everything nice! Olivia is a Texan, which means that we will soon be Southwest Airlines' #1 customers on flights from Chicago to San Antonio. I hope your Thanksgiving was full of friends and family and that your holiday season will be a joyous one.   JJA
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20 Nov 2017


At the end of the day, giving is what distinguishes fraternals from our commercial insurance colleagues. The impact of our giving spreads in concentric circles: first to our members; then to the communities in which they live and work; and finally, to the nation and world. Fraternals give of themselves to help those who need it every day. But in times of crisis, the need – and the fraternal response – is greater than ever. Over the past few months, the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Mexico have b
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13 Nov 2017

Senate Enters Tax Reform Debate...

As expected, late last week the U.S. Senate jumped into the tax reform debate with the introduction of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch's "Chairman's Mark" measure.  The Senate version of the tax reform proposal has the same basic goals as the House bill (H.R. 1), which was passed on a party line vote last week by the Ways and Means Committee: simplification of the Tax Code with modest reductions in individual tax levels for many Americans combined with significant reductions in th
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6 Nov 2017

High noon for tax reform…

Last Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee released its tax reform bill to reduce corporate tax rates and compress individual rates. We are happy to report that all exemptions in the 501 section of the Tax Code, including our 501(c)(8) exemption, are retained. The Alliance is still working our way through the provisions that may have a specific impact on life insurers but in our initial review there do not appear to be provisions directly impacting the taxation of life insurance products
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30 Oct 2017

Six links that will make all your dreams come true…

OK, so maybe I’m overstating the potential impact of the information I’m going to share with you in this week’s post, but nonetheless, the links below will help make you a lively conversationalist at upcoming holiday parties. And keep your eyes open for a special blog posting later this week when we have had a chance to examine the GOP’s tax reform bill to determine its impact on the fraternal community. Enjoy…jja Your Board’s culture can be a blessing or a curse. (But you already knew
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24 Oct 2017

Tax Reform: Watch This Space…

Last week, the Senate adopted a budget for the next fiscal year. Once House and Senate leaders work out their differences, and a final budget is passed by the House (which they appear to be voting on this Thursday) this would clear the way for prompt movement on the GOP-backed tax reform measure. This is because the budget resolution will include reconciliation instructions that will allow a tax bill to pass with only 51 votes in the Senate instead of the usual 60. Needless to say, the White Ho
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16 Oct 2017

The prognosis for a full recovery is good…

My wife and I got back from New York City late last night. We were there to babysit our two-month old twin grandchildren for four days while our son and daughter-in-law attended a wedding in Washington, D.C. I learned many lessons during that time, the most important of which is that the Creator designed things so that you have children when you’re young. The doctor said the comatose-like symptoms would pass in a week or so, but during that time we are not to operate heavy machinery, and
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10 Oct 2017

Teach your children well…

Retailers, as this story in the Wall Street Journal points out, are going back to basics when it comes to teaching millennials – that vast pool of potential “uber-consumers” – how to use their products.  Yes, it seems like individuals between the ages of 24-27 spent so much time being chauffeured around to sporting events and concert recitals (which their parents undoubtedly – and probably mistakenly – believed would end up in a college scholarship) and playing video games, that they never lear
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4 Oct 2017

Think advocacy is overrated? Read this…

It’s a quandary faced by almost every trade association.  Members – either corporations or individuals – come together under a common banner to do collectively what they could not do (or could not do as well) individually.  Most often, the collective effort focuses on political advocacy and comprises efforts to ensure that the group’s voice is heard by state and/or federal policymakers. But how do you quantify the value of political advocacy?  Unless a specific measure that the group support
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2 Oct 2017

Thoughts on the Las Vegas massacre…

When will we as a people – and the individuals we elect to represent us – say enough is enough?  The answer can be found in the book that so many in this nation and around the world use as a spiritual guidepost: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” Isaiah 2:4 Peace…jja
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26 Sep 2017

Mutual life lessons…

September and October are the peak of fall meeting season for the life insurance industry and the fraternal community. And as a result, I have not had much time this week to pull my thoughts together for a cohesive blog post. But last week, I did manage to catch Mass Mutual CEO Roger Crandall on “Squawk Box”, the early morning business news program on CNBC. Here’s a link to it if you haven’t seen it. Pay careful attention to his description on the benefits of the mutual model – sounds almost
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19 Sep 2017

The loss of a lion…

The Alliance and the fraternal community lost an iconic leader this week with the passing of Jim Stoker, the long-time CEO of GBU Financial in Pittsburgh. His innovative and courageous leadership resulted in the incredible growth of GBU into one of the nation’s largest fraternals.  He pioneered expansion strategies through both organic growth and acquisitions.  He was instrumental in acquiring several smaller fraternals of various ethnic origins and bringing them seamlessly into the GBU fami
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18 Sep 2017

Bright spots on the fraternal horizon…

Some very positive developments have occurred over the past few weeks. Here’s a quick summary of some bright spots on the fraternal horizon… Alliance Annual Meeting – Well, that was a doozy! One-of-a-kind keynoters; thought-provoking workshops; a panel of young professionals from member societies sharing their insights on how to shake-up (wake up?) the system. The 2017 Annual Meeting was one of the highest rated educational programs ever conducted by the Alliance. Much more on the event –
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8 Sep 2017

The Power of "Connection"...

This guest blog is  submitted by members of the Alliance's Grow Younger Task Force, Nate Lamusga, Director of Member Engagement for Catholic United Financial and Kelsey Logan, Member Programs Manager for Western Fraternal Life Association. Thanks for bringing in Shabnam Mogharabi and for a perpetual lump in my throat throughout her presentation about her work at Soul Pancake (LOVE Kid President!).  I was thinking about her mission to connect people and about a presentation on storytellin
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7 Sep 2017

And They Gathered in the Desert...

Yesterday more than 325 folks from across the country gathered in the beautiful Arizona desert for the start of the 2017 American Fraternal Alliance Annual Meeting. Once a year we come together to learn from experts and more importantly, from each other about ways to make our organizations better and even more appealing to a new generation of members. We also make some time to celebrate our very special fraternal missions...it's what sets us apart from every other financial organization on the
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5 Sep 2017

Fraternals Rising…

Before the flood waters even started to recede, the Alliance’s five Texas-domiciled societies and dozens more with member networks in the Lone Star State were marshalling resources to provide help first to their members who were affected by Hurricane Harvey’s devastation and then to individuals in communities devastated by the flood waters. One Alliance member – the Catholic Union of Texas (KJT), in LaGrange, Texas – was directly impacted by the flood.  LaGrange is located halfway between Au
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28 Aug 2017

So, we can stop worrying about the DOL fiduciary rule, right?

Not so fast… While it appears that federal regulators may put the brakes on implementation of the rule for as long as 18 months, there is still plenty of confusion about compliance issues that fraternals need to be aware of. This helpful alert published by Stinson Leonard provides some fraternal-specific advice to society executives and compliance professionals. And we’ll do a deep dive on DOL issues during two workshops at the Alliance’s Annual Meeting next month in Arizona. Bottom line: don't
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21 Aug 2017

It’s a matter of perspective…

I’m doing my best to keep my eyes on the road and my hands on the wheel as the Alliance prepares for next month’s Annual Meeting and gears up for the coming tax reform debate. But my heart belongs to these two – Joseph IV and Arabella (and their cousin, Olivia, who will be arriving in November). They arrived on Saturday, August 12, and reminded my wife and me of what is really important in life.  So please forgive me if I’m just a little distracted, a little less focused, or not quite fully eng
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14 Aug 2017

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning…"

"Smells like…victory" The Alliance achieved a significant victory last week, and it did not require an attack fueled by jellied gasoline. After over two years of prudent, thoughtful, and effective advocacy, the NAIC Executive and Plenary Committee approved an amendment to the Principles-Based Reserving Small Company Exemption (PBR SCE). The amendment allows insurers – commercial and fraternal – with less than $50 million in annual life insurance premium to apply for an exemption to PBR rules
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7 Aug 2017

10 reasons I can’t wait for the Alliance Annual Meeting next month in Phoenix…

Bob Cialdini’s keynote address – I’ve read several of his books, Influence being the most recent. And his research-tested tactics have improved almost every facet of my business and personal life (including a couple I use successfully at home). Can’t wait to hear him in-person – as long as I can figure out a way to keep my spouse out of this session so my negotiation tricks are not exposed… Branding campaign update – Wait till you learn what the latest research says about the power of th
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31 Jul 2017

Three Items You Need to Know About Before Your Commute Tonight…

Did I get your attention?  Good.  Read on… The opening salvo of tax reform has been fired – The Senate’s failure to pass “repeal and replace” legislation for the Affordable Care Act may trigger a quick pivot to an all-out effort to enact tax reform legislation by the end of the year.  Last week, the so-called “Big Six” -- House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Senate Financ
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24 Jul 2017

The Week Where Your Dues Investment Paid For Itself…

There’s a lot going on out here in public policy land.  Here’s a recap of the week that was and why a strong, independent, and effective trade association is so important to fraternals… On Monday, July 17, the Alliance-sponsored amendment to the existing Principle-Based Reserving Small Company Exemption (PBR SCE) took another huge step toward final enactment when the NAIC Life Insurance (A) Committee approved the measure by a 12-1 vote. As you know, the current PBR rule contains an exe
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17 Jul 2017

These days, it's not the why, but the how...

I always catch some flak from members when I compare fraternals to credit unions. Rest assured, I fully understand the difference between the arguments justifying the fraternal tax exemption versus those used by credit unions. But from a purely operational and historical perspective, fraternals and credit unions share many characteristics. That's why I thought this article by Credit Union National Association President Jim Nussle was so interesting. His comments about credit unions building awa
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10 Jul 2017

Think the “fraternal difference” doesn’t matter? Think again…

It’s hard being a fraternal. You have to operate a well-run financial services company that offers consumers the life insurance and retirement income products they need and want. You have to provide those products at the price consumers are willing to pay in a fiercely competitive marketplace. You have to offer members an array of additional benefits such as scholarships, affinity program discounts, and cultural events. And, on top of all that, you have to fund programs and facilitate volunt
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26 Jun 2017

In a whirl…

When I was born back in the dark ages, my dad – who was very excited to have a son after four daughters – went into the recovery room, kissed my mom, grabbed the doctor and…headed to the track!  When he arrived, the woman at the betting window said, “Mr. Annotti, you look like you’re in a whirl.”  He explained the reason for his exuberance, looked down at the program, and noticed that there was a horse in the next race named “In a Whirl.”  Of course it was a longshot, of course he bet the house
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21 Jun 2017

7 Lessons in Leadership: Top Female Insurance Execs Share Their Advice

This column by the Alliance's Allison Koppel features a look at the Diversity: Two Top Female Leaders and the Road to the Corner Office that was presented at the 2017 Spring Symposium last month.
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19 Jun 2017

Spring Symposium Hits the Mark...

Guest Blog - Joe is traveling quite a bit this week so here with a guest blog is Andrea Litewski, Alliance Director of Education. Last month, the Alliance held its first ever Spring Symposium, a reimagining of our traditional Mid-Year Section Meetings. Over the course of a day and a half, the Symposium had thirty sessions in five different tracks – Business Operations, Communications and Community Engagement, Compliance, Investment, and Actuaries – and close to 200 attendees participated in
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13 Jun 2017

Board of Directors opens a new chapter for the Alliance…

After nearly a year of work, the Alliance Board of Directors has announced plans to overhaul the organizational structure of the association in order to focus greater resources on advocacy initiatives and utilize technological advances to more cost effectively deliver education, information, and networking services to members. Here is a link to the Board Bulletin that was sent to members yesterday. The transition to the new organizational model will take place over the next 18 months, with f
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5 Jun 2017

Summer Reading List…

A few books to pack before heading to the beach, lake, mountains, or your backyard patio: Novels As most of you know, I’m not a huge fiction fan, but I really enjoyed these three… Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – Wildly creative; deeply touching; the most inventive ghost story I’ve read in a long while. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – Wonderful story in an F. Scott Fitzgerald setting.  No one has greater command of the English language than Towles. I Am Pilgrim by T
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30 May 2017

Right in the Old Gazoo…

I’ve always admired Alan Simpson, the former GOP senator from Wyoming, whose book – “Right in the Old Gazoo” – is one of my all-time favorite political memoirs. I’m not saying I always agreed with Simpson’s policy positions, but I always appreciated the fact that I knew where he stood and, more importantly, why he stood there. While he had strong opinions – and wasn’t afraid to share them – he was willing to listen to other views and wise enough to know when it made sense to compromise and w
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22 May 2017

And so it begins…

The great tax reform debate of 2017 got underway last week with a House Ways and Means Committee hearing entitled, “How Tax Reform Will Grow Our Economy and Create Jobs.” This was the first of what we expect to be a series of tax reform-related hearings expected to be held by the panel this year. And the discussions will not likely be restricted to the House of Representatives, as it is almost certain that the Senate Finance Committee will also conduct hearings on tax reform this year. O
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15 May 2017

Outsourcing innovation…

Last week, I attended a conference of trade association executives that focused on how “digital transformation” is fundamentally changing the way we provide services – advocacy, education, information – to our members. The crowd was composed of a mix of trade group leaders and included the head of corporate trade associations (like the Alliance) and professional societies (such as health care professionals, attorneys and actuaries). But the challenges we faced were eerily similar: flat or decli
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8 May 2017

A simple idea, elegantly executed...

Last week's post discussed the importance of measuring the impact of your society's "social good" and offered a methodology for doing so developed by Cynthia Tidwell and her team at Royal Neighbors of America (RNA). I've received several inquiries from fraternal leaders about the RNA formula and have connected them to the folks at that society who are more than willing to discuss how they apply it to their outreach efforts. But before you measure what you do, you actually have to do it. That
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8 May 2017

A simple idea, elegantly executed...

Last week's post discussed the importance of measuring the impact of your society's "social good" and offered a methodology for doing so developed by Cynthia Tidwell and her team at Royal Neighbors of America (RNA). I've received several inquiries from fraternal leaders about the RNA formula and have connected them to the folks at that society who are more than willing to discuss how they apply it to their outreach efforts. But before you measure what you do, you actually have to do it. That m
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1 May 2017

Assessing the Impact of Your Community Service…

I’m certain that every Alliance member society has a laundry list of quantifiable metrics to assess the performance of the financial components of their operations.  This would include items such as sales results, premium written, contributions to surplus, claims payments, investment return, expense ratios, and dozens of others.  The fact is, you couldn’t effectively manage your operations – and demonstrate to your members that you are a capable steward of the society’s assets – without such me
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1 May 2017

Assessing the Impact of Your Community Service…

I’m certain that every Alliance member society has a laundry list of quantifiable metrics to assess the performance of the financial components of their operations.  This would include items such as sales results, premium written, contributions to surplus, claims payments, investment return, expense ratios, and dozens of others.  The fact is, you couldn’t effectively manage your operations – and demonstrate to your members that you are a capable steward of the society’s assets – without such me
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24 Apr 2017

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 th
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17 Apr 2017

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
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10 Apr 2017

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 All
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4 Apr 2017

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. [caption id="attachment_3488" align="aligncenter" width="300"] With Lino Amaral of Luso-American Financial, my brother from another mother.[/caption] 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 worthi
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27 Mar 2017

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 th
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20 Mar 2017

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)
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13 Mar 2017

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 A
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6 Mar 2017

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. 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 cam
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27 Feb 2017

Tax reform: It won’t come easy…

On 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
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20 Feb 2017

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,
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6 Feb 2017

The greatest shows on earth…

I know there are many more pressing issues to write about – increasing regulatory cost and complexity; competition from Lemonade and Ladder; economic volatility and interest rate uncertainty, to name a few. And I promise to get to all of those in the coming weeks. But I saw “The Last Waltz” on an obscure cable channel last week, and it got me thinking about all the incredible concerts I’ve witnessed over the years. I don’t get to many live shows these days. So many tours seemed programed and le
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30 Jan 2017

A Change Would Do You Good…

Spring meeting season is just around the corner, and the Alliance has overhauled its signature education programs based on feedback from members to provide you with more value and more choices.  Here is a quick look at our two major spring conferences and all the information you need to get registered for the meeting(s) that will help you build the collaborative relationships and subject matter expertise that you need to increase your professional skills and enhance the performance of your soci
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23 Jan 2017

Alliance-backed Congressional Resolution re-introduced in House of Representatives

With tax reform topping the congressional “to-do” list in 2017, it’s more important than ever for the Alliance and its members to make sure that U.S. Representatives and Senators understand and appreciate the value of the fraternal business model and the more than century-old tax exemption that allows societies to fulfill their unique financial and community service missions. That’s why the Alliance is once again backing the Fraternal Resolution – this year known as HCR 10 – which was reintr
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16 Jan 2017

Universal Questions for the Fraternal Sector…

  In my last two posts I’ve discussed some of the factors – both the hard, cold data points and the emotional connections to a business model that we cherish – that are driving the Alliance Board’s effort to develop a strategic vision and plan that will set the direction for the organization’s future.  Today I’ll outline the key questions that need to be addressed if this initiative is to be successful. The questions themselves are tough, and the answers may cause more than a bit of disc
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9 Jan 2017

The Drivers of “Transformational Change”…

Some would argue that transformational change is driven by desperation; something akin to the mood struck by Bob Dylan when he sings, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” The transformational change initiative being undertaken by the Alliance Board is being driven not by despair, but by courage and foresight.  Today the Alliance is a strong and financially healthy organization.  Every year nearly 100% of members renew their membership.  And those that don’t renew typically
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3 Jan 2017

Transformational change is the right thing for the Alliance…

There were lots of new faces – and plenty of never-been-used sneakers – at the gym this morning.  It’s the annual ritual of people trying to make good on their New Year’s resolutions to live a little healthier.  Ninety-eight percent of them will be gone by Valentine’s Day.  Which will make it easier for those who are truly committed to transforming themselves to find a free elliptical, stationary bike, or treadmill. I make the same resolution every year.  It’s one I was taught by a very wise p
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19 Dec 2016

Leaving 2016 on a High Note…

In my final post for 2016, I want to highlight the incredible value fraternals bring to communities in the United States and Canada every single day.  It’s this value – and these values – that make the Alliance’s advocacy, education, information, and networking efforts to foster a bright future for the fraternal model all worthwhile.  On behalf of the Alliance staff, thank you for allowing us to lead and serve you for another year. Recent posts have promoted Alliance member contributions t
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13 Dec 2016

Two December Developments Point to a Bright 2017 for Fraternals…

I received two early Christmas presents this year, both of which signal a very positive future for the Alliance and its member societies.  Here’s a look at each: Board takes next steps on fraternal branding campaign On December 7, 2016, after a thorough discussion, the Alliance Board of Directors authorized staff to take the “next step” in the fraternal branding campaign by invoicing the 40 member societies who voted to support the project.  Invoices for $9,500 will be sent to the CEOs of t
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5 Dec 2016

Night in the Museum…

After months of meetings and teleconferences, and the transmission of dozens of photos of iconic fraternal society memorabilia and archival material, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History opened its Giving in America exhibition earlier this week and FRATERNALS WERE THERE!  The exhibition is part of the Smithsonian’s “Philanthropy Initiative” and is intended to run for 20 years or more.  The 2017 exhibit focuses on “Philanthropy and the Environment,” and highlights the incredible
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28 Nov 2016

Three Dates to Remember in 2017…

Whether you’re on Outlook or a Daytimer – or, like me, using a combination of both 16th century and 21st century calendar technology – here are three events you need to include on your schedule for next year… Alliance Executive Summit – April 3-5, 2017 – W – Chicago - City Center We’re going to roll out an entirely new format for this meeting in response to demand from member society CEOs.  The 2017 Executive Summit will be an “invitation only” event.  Attendance will be limited to a maximum
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21 Nov 2016

Thank you, American Fraternal Alliance…

There are so many things I have to be thankful for this year.  Family, friends, and good health certainly top that list, because without those nothing else really matters.  But this year I’ve been thinking about the many blessings that I’ve received during my nearly nine-year stint as president and CEO of the American Fraternal Alliance.  And I wanted to say a special “thank you” to all of...
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14 Nov 2016

Examining the impact of the election...

The stunning results of last Tuesday’s election – a Trump presidency and GOP control of both the U.S. House and Senate – will have a significant impact on U.S. foreign and domestic policy, including several issues that could affect fraternals and their members. Late last week I met with representatives of Capitol Counsel, the Alliance’s federal legislative advocacy firm, and other financial services industry leaders to assess the potential ramifications of the election results and their impac
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7 Nov 2016

For SFAs, it’s “just one thing”…

One of my favorite scenes from the movie “City Slickers” is where Curly, the leather-skinned cowboy played by Jack Palance, is giving Mitch, the mid-life crisis ridden New Yorker played by Billy Crystal, a little unsolicited life advice. Curly: “Do you know what the secret of life is?”  (Holds up one finger.)  “This.” Mitch: “Your finger?” Curly: “One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that and the rest don’t mean nothing.” Mitch: “But what is the ‘one thing?’” Curly: “That’s what you
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31 Oct 2016

Prime time for fraternals…

I took some time off earlier this month and had a chance to catch up on some reading – fiction, non-fiction, and blogs (oh, my!).  Here’s a quick look at the highlights: According to a leading entertainment trade publication, the AMC network has given the greenlight to a new series titled Lodge 49, which will be executive produced by Paul Giamatti.  The drama tells the story of Dud, an “aimless but affable ex-surfer” from Long Beach who joins a fraternal order following the death of his fath
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25 Oct 2016

Winning Is About Getting the Right Players in Your Line-Up (Go Cubs!)

This week we hear from Guest Blogger and Alliance Executive Vice President Allison Koppel Our fraternal benefit societies are a special group of life insurers, and we are stronger together than we are alone on many fronts. This uniquely applies to the power of the collective information and data that we all keep that, when shared, provide valuable insights into how we do business. Since the Alliance is one of very few trade associations serving fraternals, it makes sense that we use the close
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17 Oct 2016

Fraternal branding initiative: Is this our "Billy Beane" moment?

At last month's Alliance Annual Meeting, Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane challenged fraternal leaders to both think differently and act decisively if they were to successfully compete against their larger and better capitalized commercial competitors. During a presentation on the Alliance's proposed fraternal branding initiative later that day, Alliance Board member and former Board Chair Harald Borrmann of Catholic United Financial, characterized the members' decision to move forwar
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11 Oct 2016

From small things (big things one day come)…

I’ve made no secret about my affinity for Amazon.com. In presentations to Alliance member society conventions, board meetings, and State Fraternal Alliances, I’ve stated that I feel more like a “member” of the Amazon tribe than I do either of the fraternals to which I belong. I know that may seem like heresy to some, but it’s true. The Amazon folks contact me several times a week in my preferred method of communication – email. And they always seems to have something interesting to share with
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3 Oct 2016

2017 Spring Symposium…A World of New Ideas Within Easy Reach

I am sure that disruption and innovation are words and ideas that we’ve all heard much too often. If it were possible to have a show of hands on this blog, I am certain that there would be more than a couple of us who, at times, have wanted to remove those words from the dictionary. But, here's the thing…trade associations, by their very nature, are “idea incubators.” Groups like the Alliance are the places where our member societies come together to develop the ideas, products, programs and so
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26 Sep 2016

We get by with a little help from our friends…

Success in the advocacy arena is rarely a one-person show. Having a respected lobbyist, a dynamic spokesperson, or a well-connected CEO is no guarantee of success. For an organization to effectively influence public policy – and by that I mean ensuring that legislators and regulators have a solid understanding and appreciation of who you are and what you do – generally requires a combination of ingredients that can be boiled down to two primary factors: the relevance of your message and your ab
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19 Sep 2016

15 things I learned at the Alliance’s 2016 Annual Meeting…

1. Jill Regester of WoodmenLife is a terrific guest blogger who managed to get more comments posted in three days than I have in six months!                                                                                      2. Billy Beane’s message of “challenge accepted norms by being willing to look at everything differently" hit a home run with fraternal leaders. 3. Guy Messick, of Messick & Lauer, spelled out the pros and cons of the fraternal shared services concept being explored
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12 Sep 2016

Mix It Up!

Hello again. Jill Regester, Director of Marketing Communications with WoodmenLife guest blogging from the second and final day of the American Fraternal Alliance 2016 Annual Meeting. This final day did not disappoint and kept with the theme of change. A changing perspective and a changing of the guard. My day began with the session Embracing Diversity Among Your Employees and Board Members. What I liked about this session was that the information registered with me as almost commonsensical, a
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10 Sep 2016

How the Game Has Changed

More from our Annual Meeting guest blogger, Jill Regester, Director of Marketing Communications, WoodmenLife: I’m back y’all! Your blogger on the scene … reporting in from day one of the American Fraternal Alliance 2016 Annual Meeting. The theme today was CHANGE. And not the customary, “be the change you want to see in the world” (thanks, Gandhi) topic of change you’d expect from our group of dedicated fraternalists. Rather the … We’ve got to think differently people and disrupt the status qu
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9 Sep 2016

Meet Our Annual Meeting Guest Blogger...

Hello, fellow Fraternalists! Jill Regester here, Director of Marketing Communications for WoodmenLife. I have the honor and privilege of being this year’s guest blogger during the American Fraternal Alliance’s Annual Meeting. Today, I had the pleasure of flying in to Nashville from our corporate headquarters in Omaha, Neb., with my friend and teammate, Mary Katherine Smith, President and Manager of RedBasket.org. It’s always fun coming to the south with a southerner (Mary Katherine grew up in
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6 Sep 2016
29 Aug 2016

A Match Made in Music Heaven

One of the staff’s favorite tasks to do for the Alliance Annual Meeting is to work with societies headquartered in the meeting city to find a worthy charity for our attendees to financially support while we are visiting. Well, for Nashville, we were on our own. So, we all put our research hats on… And hats off to a nameless staffer (thank you, Linda!) who thought it would be appropriate to help the local musician community. We found the Music Health Alliance whose mission is to provide access
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22 Aug 2016

Two articles you have to read…

With the NAIC Summer Meeting coming up this weekend and the Alliance Annual Meeting following quickly on its heels, there is just not much time for writing creative blog posts. Fortunately, I came across two terrific articles this past week that addressed two important topics better than I could have on my own. I wanted to share them with you because they provide such profound insights into our business. The first is a blog post written by my colleague Faye Lageu of the International Cooperati
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15 Aug 2016

Ten books and songs for summer…

As you can imagine, things are just a little hectic around the Alliance as we prepare for the Annual Meeting next month in Nashville. But I’ve still made time to update my itunes file and squeeze in a few good books on those flights to member society conventions and regulator meetings. Here are the top ten additions to my playlist and reading list. Share your comments and suggestions by posting a comment at the end… Playlist I’m a California kid who loves the beach but is not crazy about the
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11 Aug 2016

Eight random thoughts on the Olympics…

I’m not a huge fan of the Olympics. For the most part, I think the purity of competition between amateur athletes – which I’ve always felt was the cornerstone of the Games – has been transformed into a jingoistic commercial behemoth comprised of professional athletes whose job it is to win medals. Nonetheless, I can’t escape watching some of the competition, some of which I love (track and field) and some of which I love to hate (see below). Here are some random thoughts on the first few days o
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8 Aug 2016

Joe knows Nashville…

In less than a month, hundreds of fraternal leaders will head to Nashville for the Alliance’s Annual Meeting. It’s shaping up to be one of the largest meetings in recent history. Representatives from nearly 50 of the Alliance’s 63 member societies have registered and the room block at the Omni Hotel is on the cusp of selling out. (But don’t worry, there are several hotels within walking distance that can accommodate our overflow easily!) In addition to the terrific lineup of keynote speakers
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1 Aug 2016

From the mouths of babes…

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to characterize fraternals as being old-fashioned, archaic, unimaginative, or a combination of all three. But dig just a little deeper and you’ll find an incredible pool of talented young professionals who understand the magical business model on which fraternals are based and who are helping their societies shape the future for the next generation of members. At the Alliance’s 2016 Annual Meeting, we’ll provide these movers and shakers the opportunity t
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25 Jul 2016

What do PBR and Leif Erikson have in common?

In last week’s blog, I highlighted the Alliance’s major political advocacy victory as we recruited the 100th co-sponsor for House Congressional Resolution 19 – the “Fraternal Resolution.” This week, I’d like to showcase another successful policy initiative that may have an even greater impact on fraternals and other small life insurers. As many of you are aware, enough states have enacted Principles-Based Reserving (PBR) enabling legislation to permit PBR to become effective nationally on Janu
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18 Jul 2016

“Smells like…victory”

Alliance members overwhelmingly cite political advocacy as the primary benefit of association membership. And last week, after months of effort, the Alliance experienced two major wins in the advocacy arena, one on Capitol Hill and one at the NAIC. The initiatives that resulted in these victories and the tactics employed to achieve them were as different as the issues themselves. The first involved the long-standing fraternal tax exemption and the second, a much more recent debate about the ap
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11 Jul 2016

3 big developments that rocked my world – and may rock yours…

1) HCR 19 now has 100 co-sponsors – That’s right, last Friday we received the news that Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) became the 100th co-sponsor of HCR 19 (the “Fraternal Resolution”). And this morning we learned that Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) became co-sponsor 101. That means that we exceeded a goal that some (including yours truly) thought might be just beyond our reach. What I’ve learned from this is to never underestimate the power of the fraternal message when it’s delivered by credible messe
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5 Jul 2016

Brexit, yield curves, and you…

The Brexit vote last Thursday was a real stunner.  Financial markets don’t handle surprises very well – especially bad ones. I don’t know what impact it had on your 401(k), but mine took a wild ride south before returning to somewhere near its pre-Brexit levels by Independence Day (the U.S. version of Brexit).  Yet with analysts predicting weeks – and potentially months – of uncertainty, the only sure bet is that the consumption of antacids will skyrocket among both professional investors (tha
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27 Jun 2016

Real People, Real Stories, Real Results...

The American Fraternal Alliance does not have a Political Action Committee (PAC) that makes contributions to legislators. But I would argue that what we have is more effective than any PAC. [caption id="attachment_3002" align="alignright" width="291"] Group shot of Lobby Day participants[/caption] Our secret weapon? The real people that share the real stories about what their societies do every day in communities across the U.S. and Canada. They are able to communicate the "But for..." messag
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20 Jun 2016

"Last Week Tonight" for DOL Fiduciary Rule

Great satire makes you howl with laughter while at the same time raising doubts about the individual or institution being skewered.  John Oliver – a wonderfully talented satirist and host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” – did just that when he confronted some of the questionable practices of the financial services industry that contributed to the Department of Labor's new... Here's the video below, but let me give you fair warning: A) It's not a very flattering portrayal of the fina
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13 Jun 2016
6 Jun 2016

Fraternals and the Smithsonian: A Powerful Way to Tell Our Story

I don’t know if you’ve all had a chance to read this recent bulletin, but I wanted to make sure that everyone in the fraternal community is aware of the exciting news about an upcoming exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and our chance to play a part in it.  Later this year, the Smithsonian will open Giving in America, an exhibition exploring philanthropy’s connection to American ideas and ideals.  The 20-year changing exhibition will explore central questions about
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31 May 2016

"Race to 100" Final Push

It's time for a final big push to reach our goal in this spring's "Race to 100!" We're almost there!  It's important and easy to do. View this post to get up-to-date on our progress! https://youtu.be/wGqQQY9PtoM You can find the Alliance outreach video under Advocacy Tools on our website or click here. Click here to participate in the "Race to 100."  
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24 May 2016

Play “Moneyball” at the Alliance’s 2016 Annual Meeting…

“What pearls of wisdom could the general manager of a Major League Baseball team impart to fraternal executives, board members, and management staff?” I get that question a lot these days because one of the Alliance’s 2016 Annual Meeting keynote speakers is Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland A’s and the inspiration for “Moneyball,” the best-selling book and wildly popular movie. There are plenty of folks intrigued by this choice of speakers for a conference of fraternal life insurers – and ju
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16 May 2016

Alliance Executive Summit inspires and irritates – just like we hoped it would…

This year’s Executive Summit, held last week in Toronto, broke new ground with an emphasis on much more interactive sessions that opened eyes to unforeseen opportunities while forcing fraternal leaders to acknowledge the very real hurdles they have to overcome in order to ensure their organizations’ sustainability. The topics, speakers, and format of the conference (this wasn’t your usual lineup of talking head lectures) inspired many and irked a few. Here are some comments from members and a f
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9 May 2016

How do we go from 9 million to 30 million members?

Following up on last week’s post, I’ve been talking to Alliance member society leaders about what it would take to grow the fraternal movement from its current 9 million members to 30 million over the next decade. In “Jim Collins Speak” that’s a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) but one that I honestly believe is attainable. For some, the answer is simple: merge with one or more societies. If you take three-30,000 member fraternals with similar common bonds (the Sons of Uzbekistan, the Uzbek F
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3 May 2016

How many fraternals should there be?

Last week, I gave a presentation to a group of life insurance industry executives – many of them Alliance members – at an educational symposium conducted by an asset management firm that happens to be an associate member of the Alliance. The topic of my remarks was the increasing importance of corporate governance to any insurer’s (fraternal or commercial) sustainability. You can get the gist of my comments to this group from reading some blog posts on the topics here, here, here and here. F
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25 Apr 2016

10 new additions to my road trip play list…

Big road trip this week. Driving from Chicago to San Antonio with an SUV full of our younger son’s and daughter-in-law’s “stuff.” Boxes of who-knows-what that have been taking up space in our basement for years that will soon be transferred to the garage of their first home. It will be like Christmas in April for them, because I’m quite sure they have no idea what they left behind when they moved to Texas. And, trust me, just the thought of getting it all out of my house and into theirs makes a
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18 Apr 2016

7 tips for communicating with #millennials (Hint: that magazine you mailed out last week isn’t doing it…)

Once again, the Fraternal Communications Advisory Council staged a terrific Mid-Year Meeting that featured insightful speakers, loads of networking opportunities, and just enough time for fun. But the session that really caught my attention was “Recruiting the Right Volunteers,” a two-hour workshop filled with mini-breakouts that required meeting attendees to come up with potential solutions to many of the most vexing member engagement problems that their societies face every day – and then sh
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11 Apr 2016

The Searchers…

In addition to being the title of my all-time favorite John Ford/John Wayne western, “The Searchers” could have easily been the theme for last week’s Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association (LIMRA) conference. Hundreds of life insurance industry executives (including a handful of Alliance members) from a variety of disciplines – senior management, marketing and communications, underwriting, actuarial – gathered in Las Vegas to answer one overarching question: how can we grow our busin
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1 Apr 2016

Alliance unveils Canadian asylum program for disgruntled American voters

Does the thought of voting for either political party’s “presumptive favorite” for President of the United States turn your stomach? Are you worried that no matter who gets elected this November, he or she will put the nation on a fast track to nowhere? Are you wondering how out of a population of 350 million people these are the best candidates we can come up with to lead the most powerful nation in the world? Would you prefer to sit out this election and return to the U.S. when some degree
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29 Mar 2016

“Race to 100” – Six Week Report Card…

We’re six weeks into the “Race to 100” – the Alliance-sponsored grassroots campaign to secure 100 co-sponsors for HCR 19, the congressional resolution in support of fraternals – and the results are…mixed. The good news is that even with less-than-hoped-for-participation by Alliance member societies, the “Race to 100” is generating new co-sponsors for the Resolution. Thanks to hundreds of emails – almost 600 in the past two weeks – sent by members, local chapter leaders, employees, and field
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21 Mar 2016

An evening of joy and humility…

Friday, March 18 was St. Baldrick’s Day, a celebration that is rapidly becoming my favorite holiday.  My wife and I made the trek to Indianapolis to participate in an “official” head shaving event to raise money for children’s cancer research.  This is the second year I’ve “braved the shave.”  Due to schedule conflicts last year, I headed to a local Sports Clips and went bald in relative privacy.  But this year I went the distance and joined forces with my friend and trade association colleague
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14 Mar 2016

What is hip?

Podcasts are hip.  And the Alliance is hip.  So what do you get when you combine podcasts and the Alliance? Something very hip. Podcasts are the latest way for the Alliance to get important information to members in an easily accessible way.  They are recorded conversations – some informal, roundtable discussions and others more formal interviews – with member society representatives (CEOs, fraternal directors, investment professionals, etc.), consultants, and subject matter experts on topics
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7 Mar 2016

What’s holding you back?

One of the most common topics at any gathering of fraternal leaders is “member engagement.” Getting more members to actively participate in the society’s community service programs or social activities seems to be a “top of mind” issue for every Alliance member. Most executives will acknowledge that on the best day, only about five percent of members take advantage of the society’s fraternal outreach projects. While we’d all love to say that in a given year 75 percent of our members participat
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29 Feb 2016

We get by with a little help from our friends…

Everyone reading this knows what sets their society and the fraternal system apart from other types of financial services providers.  If I were to ask you to list the reasons, they would probably look something like this: We help our members secure their financial futures and, through contributions and volunteer activities that reflect our members shared values, improve the communities in which our members live and work. We invest the earnings from our financial services operations in commun
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22 Feb 2016

Six really cool things happening in the fraternal community…

Just in case you’ve been hibernating or vacationing, here’s a link to the COVER STORY (!!!) of the February 2016 issue of National Underwriter Life & Health entitled “Fraternal Insurers: Doing Well By Doing Good.” You can’t read this and not be proud of the work we do in communities across the U.S. and Canada every day. Very cool… Member response to the Alliance’s “Race to 100” grassroots campaign to secure 100 co-sponsors for House Congressional Resolution 19 has been stupendous. I’ve
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16 Feb 2016

The "Race to 100" Is Officially Underway - Video Blog

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mAJRFDJHmE?rel=0&w=560&h=315] Here's the link to get started.
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8 Feb 2016

The importance of regulatory outreach…

In surveys and anecdotal discussions, fraternal leaders cite “political advocacy” as the most important benefit of Alliance membership. And most often those leaders will point to the Alliance’s work to promote, protect, and preserve fraternals’ federal tax-exempt status as the most important public policy issue for which we advocate. I don’t want to diminish for a moment the effort the Alliance puts into or the results we achieve on the tax exemption issue. Whether through meetings between key
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1 Feb 2016

Is it Ground Hog’s Day…again?

Does this photo look familiar?  I’m posting it again for two reasons: It seemed to inspire many of you to support my 2015 effort to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Children’s Cancer Research Foundation by shaving my head bald last March. To give those of you with 20-something children or grandchildren who look like this the hope that they may one day grow up to be responsible human beings despite their current appearance or behavior. Yes, that’s right, this March 18th I'm shaving my he
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26 Jan 2016

12 Principles of Governance that Power Exceptional Boards...

It seems governance issues are on everyone's mind these days. The issue is evergreen, and it has been given even more importance as more and more states enact their version of the NAIC Corporate Governance Disclosure Model Act. I've devoted several of these posts to governance issues, and I'm almost certain to keep this issue on the front burner in 2016. Because for both the Alliance as a trade group, and its member fraternal life insurers good governance is critical to our mutual sustainabili
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19 Jan 2016

“Race to 100” about to begin…

We’re only days away from the start of the “Race to 100” – the Alliance’s 2016 grassroots campaign to secure 100 co-sponsors for House Congressional Resolution 19 (H.Con.Res. 19), the “Fraternal Resolution” that gives U.S. Representatives the chance to publically acknowledge the important contributions that fraternals make to the nation’s financial and social well-being. The Resolution was introduced in early 2015 and, thanks to the efforts of dozens of fraternal leaders who have asked their
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11 Jan 2016

Alliance Governance Survey Results Show Signs of Progress…

The results of the 2015 Alliance Governance Survey are in and show that many member societies have made significant improvements in their corporate governance structure over the past three years.  Fifty-five Alliance member societies completed the extensive survey questionnaire (all of the responses are anonymous and confidential) and the composite results and corresponding analysis by our panel of governance experts make the finished report one of the most valuable management tools available t
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4 Jan 2016

2016 is off and running…

The holiday season – and those five extra pounds – are both behind us, and I can’t think of a better way to burn off those Christmas calories than by hitting the ground running in 2016.  Here are a few highlights of the Alliance’s 2016 Strategic Plan to give you a glimpse of what you can expect from your trade association this year.  As Robbie Robertson said on “Rock of Ages,” The Band’s landmark live album, “We’re going to try something that we’ve never done before.”  This year, the Alliance’s
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14 Dec 2015


This is my final 2015 posting.  I look forward to working with you to promote the values and value of the fraternal system in 2016. I grew up on a horse ranch a few miles outside of the small town of Hollister, California.  The hard pan soil in the field that fronted the road made it impossible to grow anything, but it did afford an incredible view of the Gabilan Mountains that separated our little valley from the coast.  From the house you could see the sun set over Fremont Peak and watch the
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7 Dec 2015

I may never have to write another original blog post if this keeps up…

Last week’s post celebrated the compassion and courage of Hermann Sons President and CEO Buddy Preuss sharing his own family story about the importance of the financial services component of the fraternal business model. Given the comments from Alliance members – both public and private – Buddy and his daughter Katie managed to touch our hearts. This week’s post highlights another fraternalist: Teachers Life President and CEO Doug Baker, who also happens to be a blogger at the Huffington Post.
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30 Nov 2015

The best posts come straight from the heart…

I receive many positive comments on my blog posts from members.  Some folks like the “right between the eyes” nature of my opinions on the value and vulnerability of the fraternal model.  Others tend to appreciate my book recommendations or random thoughts on the best Grateful Dead songs every recorded.  I love to hear from you because at least that means you’re reading my posts!  And I find it particularly heartwarming to learn that more and more societies are creating blogs to share informati
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23 Nov 2015

Off to the races!

The flag has dropped for the “Race to 100” – the Alliance’s national grassroots advocacy initiative to secure 100 co-sponsors for our “Fraternal Resolution” (officially known as H.Con.Res. 19). Late last week the Alliance sent this bulletin to the leaders of each of its U.S.-domiciled member societies briefing them on the program and encouraging them to engage their societies key audiences – employees, local chapter leaders, field representatives, and individual members – in this important a
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16 Nov 2015


  Liberté, égalité, fraternité Vive la France!
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9 Nov 2015

A fall cornucopia of ideas and information…

I’ve been meaning to share these items with you for a while now, so here’s a bundle of little gifts to kick off the holiday season… Insurance Disrupted – Insurance industry leaders will hear from dozens of executives from Silicon Valley “start-ups, venture firms, and innovation labs” at the Disruptive Leadership Summit on November 19-20. Alliance staff will participate in this event – electronically, of course – as we try our best to learn more about everything from “engaging digitally empowe
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2 Nov 2015

It came upon a midnight clear…

Don’t worry, this isn’t a “Christmas” post (despite the fact that retailers will blow right past Thanksgiving and be totally decked out in their holiday finery by the time the doors open this morning). The headline is inspired by the fact that it takes me a week to adjust to that ridiculous one-hour time change we go through twice a year (can someone please tell me why we need these semi-annual interruptions to our circadian rhythms?) and for the last couple of days I’ve been wide awake at 3:00
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27 Oct 2015

On speakers and chairs and prime ministers…

After much contemplation and debate, it appears that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) – the current Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee – will soon be elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Ever the optimist, I’m hopeful that his election will be one step toward more bi-partisanship and less polarization in the GOP, the House of Representatives, and the Congress. Perhaps it will even signal a return to legislators seeking ways to work together for the good of the nation rather than
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19 Oct 2015

Five Management Imperatives

Last week, I attended the biennial meeting of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF) just up the road in Minneapolis.  This was one of the first large scale ICMIF meetings held in the U.S. in the recent memory and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience a virtual “United Nations of Insurance” event (right down to the real time remote translation devices on each table!). While there are a handful of U.S. and Canadian insurers – including one fraternal – t
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13 Oct 2015

What’s all the fuss about corporate governance? – Part 2

Last week’s post about the primary reasons for increased scrutiny of corporate governance practices by insurance regulators generated quite a few emails from member society executives, most of which fell into the “Thanks, this needed to be said” category. This week, we’ll explore the potential for regulators to move beyond the parameters of the NAIC’s new Corporate Governance Model Act – regulations that require all insurers (not just fraternals) to disclose the details about their organizatio
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6 Oct 2015

So what’s all the fuss about corporate governance?

I’ve delivered presentations on the future of the fraternal business model to more than a few member society conventions and State Fraternal Alliance annual meetings over the past several months.  And I devote a significant segment of each address to the topic of corporate governance – one of the most important yet misunderstood functions of any healthy organization. To me, corporate governance is the process by which societies make decisions and the process by which they select the individual
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28 Sep 2015

Top 10 Most Annoying Things About Airline Travel...

It's fall meeting season and I've been on the road quite a bit the last few weeks, with another solid month of back-to-back-to-back trips on the schedule. Don't get me wrong, I love to attend Alliance member meetings and industry conferences. But the getting there can sometimes be...difficult. So for what it's worth, here is my Top 10 list of annoyances when it comes to airline travel: No matter how many million miles I fly, I still can't seem to qualify for the #1 boarding category on United
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23 Sep 2015

Alliance Annual Meeting Takeaways...

Most people are satisfied if they walk away from a conference or convention with one good idea that they can put to use in their own organization. Based on your comments to me, this year's Alliance Annual Meeting delivered results well beyond those expectations. Here are just a few of my personal "takeaways" from the event in no particular order: - You don't have to be on social media to be successful. But if you're going to be there, make a commitment to it. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, In
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15 Sep 2015

The Quest for 100 is About to Begin…

Thanks to the hundreds of fraternal executives, employees, and board members who attended the Alliance’s Annual Meeting last week in Indianapolis.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing you and – based on your evaluations – you thoroughly enjoyed the program.  In my quick scan of the top line results of the evaluations, I noticed quite a few “best program ever” comments.  We appreciate your feedback and are already working hard to improve the format and content of the program for the 2016 Annual Meeting
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12 Sep 2015

Meet Some Great Fraternalists

Nate Lamusga of Catholic United Financial here again, guest blogging from the Alliance Annual Meeting in Indy. One of the great components of the Annual Meeting is the networking and sheer quality of the people you meet.  This is a fantastic group of super-smart people who genuinely care about others.  It's ingrained in the culture of the industry and, frankly, it's what attracted me to the fraternal business in the first place.  This concept is never more evident than in the awards ceremony f
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11 Sep 2015

"In order to be great, you really only have to be mediocre because everyone else is terrible."

Guest blogger Nate Lamusga of Catholic United Financial here again from Indianapolis, IN.  Those are sage words of wisdom from un-marketing guru, Scott Stratten at the Alliance Annual Meeting. Here are my top 5 takeaways from...
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11 Sep 2015

A couple of reasons I'm excited about the Alliance Annual Meeting in Indianapolis

Hi everyone - this is guest blogger Nate Lamusga, Director of Member Engagement at Catholic United Financial based in St. Paul, MN. I'm honored to have been asked to write a few blogs live from Indianapolis during the Alliance Annual Meeting. As we are all getting settled, I thought I'd take a few moments to talk about the reasons I'm excited to be here! 1.) OK, so this one is totally selfish. I have three little girls at home, a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-year-old. Don't get me
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8 Sep 2015

All Roads Lead to Indianapolis…

I hope you’ll be heading to Indianapolis tomorrow to join with nearly 400 member society executives, employees, and board members, as well as dozens of representatives from our associate members, for the premier fraternal conference in North America – the American Fraternal Alliance Annual Meeting.  With an education program that is as enlightening as it is eclectic, an all-new “Innovation Forum” feature that will showcase the financial and fraternal activities of our young professionals, and c
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1 Sep 2015

Set Your DVR Today

Another Alliance member society is complementing its traditional marketing philosophy with an experiment in niche marketing on a national television program whose viewers are right in the society’s sweet spot. Two Woman's Life Insurance Society representatives will be featured in an upcoming episode of The Balancing Act, a morning talk show that airs on Lifetime Television.  Lifetime brands itself as the “network for women” and The Balancing Act is a show dedicated to addressing a wide range o
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25 Aug 2015

A Whole New Resource for SFA Leaders

This week, the Alliance rolled out an all new package of resources designed to make life just a little easier for the volunteer leaders of State Fraternal Alliances. The wide ranging array of information is posted on the Alliance’s web site’s State Fraternal Alliance Community making it more convenient for SFA leaders to both access the data and documents posted to the resource center, and to share ideas and anecdotes about effective SFA organization and management. (Your email is your ID for t
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17 Aug 2015

Alliance social networks: a place to share information – and stir the pot…

Every day more fraternal executives are using the Alliance’s social networks to share ideas and information on topics from corporate governance best practices to community service activities and everything in between.  In case you didn’t know, the Alliance hosts 23 social networks on its web site.  They are shared interest groups composed of CEOs, actuaries, fraternal directors, compliance staff and others.  They are a cool, modern, dare I say, a “millennial” way for members to communicate wi
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13 Aug 2015

Special Bonus Guest Blog – Alliance Workshop Speaker Spotlight

Today, we are taking another opportunity to give you a brief preview of one of the exciting and important workshops that will be presented at the upcoming 2015 Alliance Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. This session will cover a topic that we all need to know more about in order to remain relevant in the insurance industry: Are Online Sales in Your Future? (Hint: They’d Better Be). Our speakers for this session will be Doug Baker, President & CEO for Teacher’s Life, and Kevin Pledge, CEO of
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10 Aug 2015

The Days of Miracles and Wonder

There are times in the dog days of August where just getting out of bed and getting to work seem like a challenge. The surges of excitement and energy that the Alliance’s Annual Meeting provides me are just a few weeks away, but getting from here to there can harsh my buzz. And then, just when it seems like I can’t find one more idea for a blog posting, Alliance member societies come through with innovative and inspiring activities that lift my spirit and remind me why I love what I do for a li
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3 Aug 2015

Living in the Future

Don’t know if you read the article on “the 20 most creative people in insurance” in the July 30 edition of LifeHealthPro.com, but I thought it was fascinating.  It contained interviews with 20 creative thinkers from all aspects of the industry, including some you probably know and some you definitely don’t.  I focused my attention on the final question asked to each of them: “How do you anticipate the industry will evolve in the next ten years?”  Here are my favorite responses: • “The modes of
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27 Jul 2015

Is your society a house divided?

One of the most appealing characteristics of the fraternal model to the younger consumers is our commitment to securing their members’ financial futures while at the same time helping them to improve the quality of life in their communities. The notion of a not-for-profit financial services organization that is built to do good things – rather than doing them to be seen as a “good corporate citizen” or to secure a generous tax deduction – is a real bell ringer for Millennials, Gen X’ers, and e
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22 Jul 2015

Special Video Guest Blog – If Millennials are the “Golden Ticket” Annual Meeting Speaker Cam Marston Can Show You How to Grab It

Millennials are well known for using the latest and greatest tools for managing their lives – whether it’s paying and organizing their finances with Venmo, or tracking their daily fitness routines with Fitbit. It’s all about staying innovative, finding easy ways to multitask and seeing immediate benefits. Unfortunately, according to Money Magazine, when it comes to thinking about the long term, millennials are the most underinsured generation alive today. Now this should come as a surprise to
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17 Jul 2015

Special Bonus Guest Blog – What You Should Know About NAIC’s Corporate Governance Disclosure Regulation Mandate

[caption id="attachment_2326" align="alignleft" width="125"] Andrea Litewski Manager, Education American Fraternal Alliance[/caption] Good morning and happy Friday! I am taking this opportunity to grab the blogging reins from Joe to give you a brief preview of one of the exciting and important workshops that will be presented at the upcoming 2015 Alliance Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. This session will cover a topic that should be of interest to you all; the NAIC’s Corporate Governance Annua
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14 Jul 2015

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

The Grateful Dead played their final three shows in Chicago over the July 4 weekend.  The “Fare Thee Well” concerts were the last ones the four remaining founding members of the band – Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzman – will play under the Grateful Dead name. What do the Dead and fraternals have in common?  Nothing.  I just happen to love the Dead’s music and am tired of writing and worrying about relevance, regulation, and interest rates in the middle of a glorious summe
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7 Jul 2015

Finding The Silver Lining Sometimes Takes Some Gold Reserves

Based on the title (“U.S. Fraternal Industry Facing Challenging Demographics,”) you might think the recent A.M. Best Special Report paints a gloomy picture of the future of the fraternal business model.  But dig a little deeper and you can see some very positive rays of light for fraternals with the courage and resources to address the challenges facing them – and virtually every life insurer – as outlined by Best’s analysts. While the Special Report focuses on the small handful of societies
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29 Jun 2015

Grab Bag…

This week’s posting is a smorgasbord of tasty treats culled from a variety of news sources.  I wanted to share them with you before they got stale. Enjoy… Think fraternals aren’t innovative?  Think again.  Royal Neighbors’ “Promise Plus” was named Most Innovative Product by National Underwriter Life & Health.  Click here to learn more about the product and how it ties in perfectly with Royal Neighbors’ mission of empowering women… By 2025 – just 10 short years from now – millennials (the ge
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22 Jun 2015

Words That (Just Might) Work

I spend a good bit of time trying to come up with ways to explain “who we are and what we do” to folks who have never heard of a fraternal (which is just about everyone on the planet).  After reading The Language of Trust, a terrific book on “effectively communicating to a nation of skeptics,” and listening to a group of Alliance member society executives describe the attributes that differentiate their societies from other financial services organizations, I was inspired to brush up my “elevat
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15 Jun 2015

The Best of Joe

Joe Annotti is out of the office and blogging this week will be light. In his absence, we’re running a variation of one of his past blogs that has a message that is always appropriate at this time of year! (Note…we updated it a little.) The Alliance Annual Meeting: You Know You’re Going to Register, So Why Pay More by Waiting? In planning the 2015 Alliance Annual Meeting, we decided to really raise the bar on the educational program. It’s not that we don’t think that we’ve done a good job in
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10 Jun 2015

More Than Millennials

Almost every fraternal has devoted more than a little time, energy, and effort discussing how to attract more Millennials (the generation born after 1980) to the cooperative financial services model.  And that’s important because Millennials represent the largest group of consumers in the U.S. and Canada – large enough to fundamentally change long entrenched concepts of hiring, work/life balance, marketing strategies, product development, and customer service. But they’re not the only group
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1 Jun 2015

In the Spirit of the Season

It’s graduation season and that means that every ceremony – high school, college, trade school, or reform school – has a commencement speaker. I’ve listened to a few memorable commencement addresses over the years.  Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush added more than a little inspiration to the Tulane University graduation ceremony just months after Hurricane Katrina nearly washed away New Orleans.  And I’ve endured more than my fair share of clunkers – like the speaker at my
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27 May 2015

Thanks, Captain Obvious!

First, let me say that Captain Obvious – the spokesperson on those subtly funny Hotels.com commercials – is one of my heroes.  Upon viewing a particularly filthy, vermin-infested hotel room, he casually points out to the family that has booked the room that “I would not stay here tonight.” Doug French, a managing principal of Ernst & Young, did his best Captain Obvious impersonation at the Canadian Fraternal Alliance Section Meeting earlier this month in Ottawa.  Doug went through a vari
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18 May 2015

Taking Parliament Hill By Storm

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Alliance’s Canadian Section Annual Meeting in Ottawa, Ontario.  This year, for the first time ever, the CFA incorporated a “Day on the Hill” component into their meeting.  And the results were nothing short of spectacular. Thirty-six CFA members, organized into delegations of 3-4 members each, swarmed Parliament Hill on Thursday afternoon.  The groups met with more than 20 Members of Parliament (MPs), many of whom held key positions on the Insuranc
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12 May 2015

What’s an Idea Worth?

Ever attend a meeting where you just can’t wait to get home and put what you learned to use IMMEDIATELY? That’s the experience I had at last week’s Alliance Fraternal & Communications Mid-Year Meeting in San Antonio.  There were so many excellent ideas shared – both from the podium and in casual conversations with members during breaks and social events – that I resorted to jotting notes down on the back of receipts just to make sure I didn’t forget them. As I’ve said frequently, the “Fr
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5 May 2015

Meeting Season Reading List

In the spring, a young (poetic license, please) man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…business travel and reading.  My Kindle and I have been logging quite a few miles this spring, traveling to industry conferences, member board meetings, and Alliance Mid-Year Meetings (most of which still lie ahead).  And that means many hours in airport lounges and airplane seats.  When I grow weary of sending or responding to emails, here are the books that have been keeping me occupied.  Not exactly ligh
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27 Apr 2015

6 things I learned at the Alliance’s Executive Summit

1) Effective innovation does not rely solely on “lightning bolt” ideas that strike the CEO, said innovation guru Robert Tucker.  The most innovative companies – including organizations that have been around for over a century – make innovation everyone’s job and incorporate processes to foster innovation at every level, from the mail room to the board room. 2) Innovation is not limited to organizations with deep pockets.  As the members of the Monday afternoon “innovation panel” demonstrated,
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23 Apr 2015

Alliance Members Are Advocacy Rock Stars

More than any other product, service, or benefit, Alliance members count on their trade association to provide them with state-of-the-art political advocacy to make certain that public policymakers at the state and federal level know who fraternals are and what fraternals do as financial services providers and community volunteer facilitators.  The Alliance’s professional staff devotes much of its time, energy and effort to advocacy initiatives.  And those efforts are supplemented by retained a
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13 Apr 2015

Final Push for Fraternals GIVE Back Grassroots Campaign

Did you know that credit union members who are called on to participate in grassroots campaigns: • Become more aware of the importance of their organization’s tax-exempt status and the need to protect and promote it; • Become more effective advocates for their organization not just with members of Congress but within their own communities; • Purchase more products from the organization that asked them to participate in the campaign? It’s true.  And Ryan Donovan, chief advocacy officer for the
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6 Apr 2015

Random Acts of Chaos

My blog file is filled to overflowing, so I thought I’d share some of the items that I’ve been collecting that I thought were most interesting, profound, humorous, or entertaining.  Here goes… • Royal Neighbors CEO featured on national cable network program – Check out this link to Cynthia Tidwell’s recent appearance on “The Balancing Act” on Lifetime Television.  Lifetime bills itself as “the network for women” and what better individual and organization to address financial planning issues
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31 Mar 2015

Grassroots Activism: Getting Beyond the Numbers

Here are the raw numbers from the first three weeks of the Alliance’s “Fraternals GIVE Back” grassroots campaign: 3,967 – Number of individuals (employees, agents, local chapter leaders, and members of Alliance societies) that have sent emails to Members of Congress 46 – Number of U.S.-domiciled Alliance member societies that have had at least one individual participate in the grassroots campaign 325 – Number of U.S. Representatives that have received at least one email from an Alliance m
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23 Mar 2015

We've Come a Long Way, Baby

Last week was "file purge" week at the Alliance.  Cabinets full of paper were either sent to the shredder or preserved for legal or historical purposes.  In the process, we discovered some interesting artifacts from the not-so-distant past that evoked a chuckle or two from the longer-tenured members of the Alliance staff.  Among the relics was a promotional flyer for an Alliance (nee NFCA) Annual Meeting that contained a David Letterman-like "Top 10" list of reasons that that year's event would
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16 Mar 2015

Hair Today, Gone…Today

Here’s the proof that I actually did it – shaved my head as a part of the St. Baldrick’s Day Foundation’s fundraising campaign for children’s cancer research.  Click on this link to view the shearing, and make sure to check out the incredible work done by the Foundation. Every one of us has been touched by cancer in one way or another.  But it’s particularly heartbreaking when children are afflicted with the disease.  As I mentioned when I announced my participation in this effort right here
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9 Mar 2015

If You Can Read This, You Can Be an Advocate for America’s Fraternals

If you can read this post, then you have access to a computer. And if you have access to a computer, you can be a grassroots advocate for America’s fraternals. Today is the opening day of "Fraternals GIVE Back," the biggest grassroots political advocacy initiative we've ever attempted. This web-based campaign makes it easy for you – and anyone who supports the fraternal system – to send a clear and consistent message about the value of the fraternal business model to their U.S. Representativ
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2 Mar 2015

Raising Our Awareness on Capitol Hill

The Alliance devotes a good bit of its resources to ensuring that its members’ voices are heard on issues important to fraternals on Capitol Hill and in state capitals from coast-to-coast.  The Alliance retains professional advocacy counsel in Washington, D.C., and as necessary at the state level.  In addition, Alliance staff members dedicate a significant percentage of their time to state and federal advocacy initiatives. But the cornerstone of our political advocacy program is YOU!  While yo
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23 Feb 2015

It’s Hard Living in the Stone Age

When it comes to social media, I freely admit I’m a relic.  I don’t spend hours (or even minutes or seconds) on Facebook because a) I place an extremely high value on my privacy and b) I don’t really care what folks with whom I have a tangential relationship did on their last vacation.  The only thing I “tweet” are links to these blog posts because a) I just can’t fathom why people who barely know me would care about what I have to say about anything and b) I can’t figure out how to say anythin
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16 Feb 2015

Twelve Questions from Jim Collins

You remember Jim Collins’ inspiring presentation on what makes great organizations tick delivered at the Alliance’s 2012 Annual Meeting, right? I get as fired up as the next guy by a terrific motivational speaker, but Collins didn’t just deliver a rousing “Yes, You Can!” speech to fraternal executives, he followed it up with the all-important “and here’s how” component based on his lifelong research on successful – and not so successful – businesses. Last month, Jim sent a note to his busine
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9 Feb 2015

A Few More Thoughts on Disruptions and Collaboration

Google: Testing the waters or preparing a takeover? I’m sure you’ve read more than a few articles about Google’s entry into the insurance market.  If not, here are two of the more interesting ones… • New Clues on Google’s Plans for Insurance • Will Google and Amazon offer one-click life insurance? Folks have been saying for years that the insurance industry is primed for “disruption” and could very well be the next Blockbuster.  You remember Blockbuster, right?  The national chain of retail
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3 Feb 2015

Bald is Beautiful

On the day of my high school graduation – June 3, 1975 – after 12 long years of strict Catholic education and dress codes, I made a solemn vow to never cut my hair again. Next month – on Friday, March 13th – I am going to shave my head.  On purpose.  In public.  With a camera rolling. The thought alone is terrifying.  But posting this news here – even before discussing it with my wife (!?!?!?) – means there’s no turning back. Let’s hope the result doesn’t prove Samson-like and rob me of th
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26 Jan 2015


House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R- Wis.) has said that “everything is on the table” when it comes to tax reform.  Senate Finance Committee Chair Oren Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) have created five bi-partisan “study groups” to analyze all facets of the Tax Code.  And President Obama outlined his tax reform proposals during last week’s State of the Union address. While none of these developments guarantee that Congress will enact meaningful tax legisla
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19 Jan 2015

Giving Till It Helps

The fraternal business model is built on taking care of one another in a cooperative and collaborative way.  It’s an organizational marvel, if you ask me. A society’s first duty is to take care of its members.  We accomplish this in large part by providing a variety of financial services products to families to help them secure their fiscal futures with minimal reliance on government safety nets. But, the miracle of the fraternal model is what happens next.  When individuals and families fe
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12 Jan 2015

Game Changer

Every so often there will be an occurrence – in business, in politics, in athletics – that may not only affect the outcome of an individual contest, but actually fundamentally re-structure the way the game is played.  Think about the impact of the Internet on retailing, the emergence of the Tea Party on political races, the three-point shot in basketball.  I consider all of these to be “game changers.” This week, the Alliance and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC)
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5 Jan 2015

Life Is What Happens While You’re Busy Making Plans

My wife and I spent Christmas in New York City with our older son and daughter-in-law.  Our daily walking excursions in the Big Apple took us from our children’s apartment on the Upper West Side all the way down to Little Italy (of course!), SoHo, and Greenwich Village.  We saw a host of historic sights on our meanderings through Manhattan, including The Dakota, the apartment building where John Lennon (the ultimate “disruptive learner” – see my previous blog posting) lived and was tragically k
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30 Dec 2014

Therefore, be it firmly resolved…

I’m not a big “New Year’s Resolutions” guy.  I find most of the things people “resolve” to do silly, short-lived, and inconvenient. For instance, I really don’t like competing for space at the gym in January with the dozens of yahoos who have resolved to “get in shape” in the New Year.  (Although I do take a sort of perverse comfort in knowing that 90% of them will be gone by the time Valentine’s Day comes along, leaving the workout room wide open for the small group of idiots like me trying to
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22 Dec 2014

The Yin and the Yang of Christmas

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For some reason, this old chestnut popped into my head when contemplating writing about Christmas. Why? Because, ask anyone what they love about the season; then ask someone else what bugs them most about this time of year and chances are, you’ll often find the same answer given for both questions. LOVE:  The Christmas music! Its beauty just gets to me every year. HATE:  The endless Christmas
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15 Dec 2014

Guest Blog – Give Your Staff the Gift of a Great Education!

Alliance Education Manager Andrea Litewski takes over the blogging chair to let you know about a great new learning opportunity that is now available for you and your staff. [caption id="attachment_2345" align="alignleft" width="100"] Andrea Litewski, Manager, Education[/caption] Well, the holidays are officially here and there are only a few precious shopping days left. In addition to the holiday rush, how many of you are slammed at work finalizing planning and budgets for 2015? Why not “th
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9 Dec 2014

Data be the day

Last week’s posting touched on the need for fraternals to use the information in their existing databases to help them become more effective, efficient, responsive and anticipatory organizations – making the hyper leap from serving members to actually knowing what financial service products and community service engagement opportunities will appeal to them before they do. If you are an Amazon customer – “If you liked this [book, toy, tool, gadget] you’ll LOVE this one!” – you know what I mean.
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1 Dec 2014

Measuring “Engagement”

One of the characteristics of the fraternal model in which we take great pride is the “engagement” of the individuals that comprise our societies. Our commercial insurance company colleagues have “policyholders.” That’s a rather sterile word that implies a transactional relationship between a business and an individual. I pay you a fee (in this case, a premium) and you provide me a product or service (in this case, a promise to pay a claim or benefit). It’s all very clear and, for the most part
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21 Nov 2014

Thanksgiving Choices

Many people consider Thanksgiving to be their favorite holiday: no presents to buy, no outdoor decorations to hang in the frigid weather, no indoor greenery shedding needles that will continue to be vacuumed out of the carpet eight months later, no mandatory staying up late, and no noisy fireworks that drive the dog crazy. Truth be told, these probably aren’t the same people who are expecting 17 at their 12 person-maximum dining table, complete with Aunt Gertrude who always has an opinion and i
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18 Nov 2014

An Early Thanksgiving Gift

Last week, I spent an afternoon with the Sons of Norway Board of Directors as part of a two-day orientation session for the organization's incoming board members. My segment of the program covered two of the four modules in the Alliance's Board Boot Camp – "The Role and Responsibilities of Fraternal Board Members" and "Hands On, Fingers Off." Other components of the orientation session included presentations on legal, actuarial, and operational issues, as well as remarks from Harald Borrmann, P
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10 Nov 2014

Spotlight on Member Societies

I’ve spent the last few weeks writing about politics, legislation, and regulation – everyone’s favorite subjects. This week I’d like to turn it over to the members and share a few stories with you about how they are affecting their environment, serving their members, and enhancing the quality of life in communities across the country… Sons of Norway – This society is embracing the Alliance’s “Adopt-a-Member-of-Congress” program like no other. Check out the link to President Eivind Heiberg’s b
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3 Nov 2014

Risk-focused exams – and their corresponding costs – are the “new normal” for all insurers

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but if there is a model for how the relationship between insurers and regulators should work, it exists in Pennsylvania. It’s not always a love-fest – nor should it be – but insurers know exactly where they stand and what to expect from regulators in the Keystone State. This is particularly true – and important – for fraternals, because Pennsylvania has more domiciled societies than any other state. And the primary reason why the relationship works so well there
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29 Oct 2014

Nov. 4 Elections: More at Stake for Fraternals than "Balance of Power"

Most of the national media coverage surrounding the upcoming elections has been focused on U.S. Senate races and the possibility of a power shift in that chamber from Democrat to Republican. And while balance of power in the Senate is a significant issue – not least because should the GOP take over the chamber, the leadership and composition of the Senate Finance Committee (where the bulk of any tax reform debate will take place in 2015) will change dramatically – it’s not the only potentia
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21 Oct 2014

BOGO (or “What fraternals can learn from retailers")

My wife works for one of America’s largest retailers. And over the years I’ve learned a good bit from her about the retail industry and the challenges it faces. Think we’re in a tough business? Check out these daily obstacles to success: Cut throat competition High employee turnover Significant losses due to internal and external theft and fraud Razor thin profit margins Cyber liability And the list goes on. Retailers have to constantly keep current customers coming back while br
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16 Oct 2014

Effective Advocacy in the U.S. and Canada

Just back from a week of vacation and a quick trip to Atlantic City for the New Jersey/New York State Fraternal Alliance meeting.  My brain is in one time zone and my body is in another.  Hopefully, the two will get synchronized soon because being hungry for dinner at 9:00 a.m. and falling asleep at 2:00 a.m. just doesn’t work as well as it used to back in the day. I wanted to pass on two excellent examples of Alliance member society advocacy efforts that came across my desk while I was away
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6 Oct 2014

The Coolest Business Model on the Planet

I’ll be taking a bit of a blog break until the middle of next week. But before I disconnect, I wanted to leave you with a couple of recent examples of why fraternals represent the coolest business model on the planet. These items were sent to me on the same day by the CEOs of two member societies – one very small, and one very large – and I think they speak volumes about the similar values that these two very different executives hold dear. Enjoy… Small but mighty… The Catholic Ladies of Co
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29 Sep 2014

Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

State fraternal alliances (SFAs) are a mixed bag. Some provide member societies real value in terms of access to educational programs and meaningful advocacy initiatives. Others…not so much. The Alliance Board is taking a hard look at the state fraternal alliance system – in exactly the same fashion that many of our member societies are examining their local chapter networks – to better understand what makes effective SFAs tick and what, if anything, can be done to help struggling state organi
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22 Sep 2014

Mr. Garcia goes to Washington

It did not take long for Tony Garcia, the new CEO of The Independent Order of Foresters, to embrace the fraternal "differentiator" - and to communicate the value of the important role fraternals play in the financial and community service arenas to the leader of the free world. Foresters is a major supporter of KaBOOM! This national non-profit is dedicated to the goal of ensuring that all children, particularly the 16 million American children living in poverty, get the balanced and active p
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15 Sep 2014

When Does 1 Equal 76?

When that one is a single dollar invested in a fraternal.  That’s right, according to the results of a new study by Professor Phil Swagel of the Center for Financial Policy at the University of Maryland, America’s fraternal benefit societies produce $76 in value to society for each dollar the federal government “invests” in them by maintaining the fraternal tax exemption. The study demonstrates that fraternals deliver that value in two ways:  1) direct financial support for organizations tha
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10 Sep 2014

Couldn’t have said it better myself

The Alliance staff is still digging out from last week’s Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas – an event that exceeded even our high standards for member satisfaction. The quality and diversity of the speakers and topics; the wildly popular addition of the “grow younger” program; the palpable “buzz” during the networking opportunities with sponsors and colleagues; the 101 “first timers” in attendance; the terrific on-site support of The Fraternal Alliance of Texas; and the mechanical bull were the h
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2 Sep 2014

Austin City Limits…

  We’re only two days away from the Alliance’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.  Here are a few last minute suggestions for your packing list. Make sure to bring: An open mind – You’ll likely hear some ideas from our speakers that may run counter to your way of thinking or that you believe may not apply to fraternals.  Do your best to set aside your pre-conceived notions and come to each session with a blank slate.  There’s going to be at least one good idea in every general sess
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25 Aug 2014

Random and inconsequential

I've been exploring some serious issues in the last few posts, so I thought I'd use this week's blog to address the random and inconsequential. Here goes... Summer reading -- I know you're supposed to list your favorite summer books in May so you can take them on vacation with you, but here are a few that I'd recommend for the Dog Days and cool fall evenings: Escape from Camp 14 - A harrowing, if not exactly beautifully written true story about one young man's attempt to escape a North Korea
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19 Aug 2014

The Summer of Governance Modernization

OK, so it doesn’t have quite the same ring as 1967’s “Summer of Love,” but the corporate governance enhancements made by many Alliance societies over the past few months have been as progressive as any developments in the fraternal sector in the past 50 years. I’ve participated in three conventions in the last six weeks– the National Slovak Society (NSS), the National Catholic Society of Foresters (NCSF), and the Slovene National Benefit Society (SNPJ) – where governance overhauls were enacte
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12 Aug 2014

Updated academic study verifies value of fraternal contributions to U.S. economy

One of the Alliance’s most important missions – perhaps its most important – is to promote, protect, and preserve the tax exempt status of fraternals in the U.S.  The fraternal tax exemption has been on the books for more than 100 years, but the Alliance never lets its guard down when it comes to advocating on behalf of member societies on the issue.  Tax reform is one item that never strays too far from the top of the policymakers’ agendas, at the state or federal levels.  That’s why we don’t
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4 Aug 2014

Weigh-In on State Fraternal Alliance Survey…

State Fraternal Alliances (SFAs) have long been a part of the American Fraternal Alliance, so much so that there is a specific reference to these state-based organizations in the Alliance’s Constitution.  SFAs have traditionally held annual meetings which feature social networking opportunities and educational programs for attendees and fundraising efforts for local charities.  More recently, a few SFAs have been engaged in political advocacy activities, including “Day on the Hill” events in st
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28 Jul 2014

Two Fraternal CEOs Top National Underwriter’s “Industry Heroes” List

  The CEOs of two fraternal benefit societies – Cynthia Tidwell of Royal Neighbors of America, and Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus – topped National Underwriter’s list of “13 insurance industry heroes you need to know.”  We can’t think of a better way to acknowledge the incredible contributions fraternals make to the lives of their members or the quality of life in the communities in which those members live.  We also can’t think of two more deserving – or divergent – individuals
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21 Jul 2014

Caring = Caritas

The Alliance works hard to continually reinvent itself. We are always looking for new ways to more effectively deliver the highest quality advocacy, education, information, and networking opportunities to our member societies; to provide the greatest possible value for the investment members make in the Alliance; and to promote the incredible financial and social impact that fraternals have had and can have on individuals and communities across the U.S. and Canada. For several years, we have c
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14 Jul 2014

“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…”

As many of you know, I’m a big Bob Dylan fan and the title of this posting is a lyric from “My Back Pages,” one of my favorite Dylan songs.  It’s a perfect fit for the overarching theme of the Alliance’s 2014 Annual Meeting program – finding ways for fraternals to grow younger.  We developed a program that is focused on helping you accept Jim Collins’ challenge for fraternals to have as many members under 35 years old as they do over 35. And in the spirit of “growing younger,” I am adding a
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7 Jul 2014

Some Thoughts on Fraternal Affinities

I often wonder if fraternals really take advantage of the affinity – the common bond – that exists among their members to effectively provide them with products and services, beyond life insurance and annuities, that those members are likely to want and need. I am a member of a number of fraternals, but the organization that seems to know me best is a “non-fraternal” fraternal – Amazon.  As an avowed despiser of shopping, I welcomed the opportunity to buy books without ever having to leave my
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30 Jun 2014

You Can Grow Younger! – Guest Blog

Wait! Don’t hit delete. This is not spam for a miracle facial cream from Eastern Europe that will help rid you of wrinkles forever. This is really an important blog post about the newest component of this year’s Alliance Annual Meeting, coming up September 4-6, in Austin, Texas – “Grow Younger Day.” [caption id="attachment_2039" align="alignleft" width="103"] Andrea Litewski Manager, Education[/caption] I asked Joe to turn over the reins of the blog to me this week so that I could let you know
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23 Jun 2014

The Best of Joe…

As he mentioned last week, Joe Annotti is out of the office and blogging will be unusually light. In his absence, we’re running one of his past blogs that has a message that is always appropriate at this time of year! (Note…we updated it a little.) The Alliance Annual Meeting: You know you’re going to register, so why pay more by waiting?  The 2014 Alliance Annual Meeting is going to knock your socks off. That’s a promise. You’ll walk away from this event a better leader thanks to the insights
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9 Jun 2014

Have you ever considered adoption?

I'll be traveling on business most of this week and will be squiring a houseful of relatives around Chicago next week, so this will be my last post until at least June 23. While I'm taking a blog break, here's something I'd like you to consider: adoption. The Alliance relies heavily on volunteers to fulfill its mission of providing advocacy, education, and information.  We know that not every society has the resources to participate on the Alliance board and on committees, task forces, or work
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2 Jun 2014

"And now, here's something we hope you'll really like..."

My last few posts have been about some pretty serious issues – solvency, sustainability, regulation. And I’ve received exactly zero comments from readers on them. So I think it’s time to check and see if anyone is out there and willing to go on record about something that really matters:  favorite fictional characters. After all, it’s summer and time to start thinking about beach reading. Here’s my list from literature, stage, screen – and cartoons. It’s purely personal and influenced entirely
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27 May 2014

An Unsung Membership Benefit Is On Its Way to You

One of the most important and frequently overlooked membership benefits is on its way to Alliance members this week. Our Annual Financial Analysis provides society executives with an incredibly valuable management tool to evaluate your society’s financial performance and overall health based on eleven critical ratios – measuring factors from RBC to assets to premium growth. More importantly, the report allows you to compare your ratios to benchmarks of other fraternals of comparable size and a
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20 May 2014

Clearly Canadian: Federal Regulator Tells It Like It Is

One of the highlights of last week’s Canadian Section Annual General Meeting – and there were many – was the presentation by Jim Doherty, Senior Director of the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), Canada’s federal insurance regulator.  Over the past few years, Jim has become a staple of the CFA meeting program and has developed a reputation for delivering clear messages on what he and OSFI see when it comes to the future of insurance regulation and fraternals.  This y
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13 May 2014

Regulation: Riding the Wave or Getting Swept Out to Sea?

Prior to last month’s Presidents Section Mid-Year Meeting, we sent a brief survey to all registrants to gauge their views on several of the key topics – regulation, interest rates, growth strategies, etc. – that were on the agenda for the conference.  We sent a similar survey to the registrants of this week’s Canadian Section Meeting.  The responses from executives on both sides of the border was virtually identical. I wanted to highlight a few of the most interesting results of those survey
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5 May 2014

Presidents and Fraternal Operations Mid-Year Meeting Topics Hit Home

Sorry for the long break between posts.  It’s not that there’s a shortage of topics to discuss – my “blog idea” file keeps growing every day.  But we’re in the thick of Section Mid-Year Meeting season here at the Alliance and things have been a little…busy. We’ve wrapped up the first three Mid-Year meetings of the season – Fraternal/Communications, Fraternal Operations, and Presidents – and your ratings and comments on the evaluation forms have exceeded our highest expectations.  That means the
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21 Apr 2014

The Power of a Red Basket

We all know, love, and celebrate the fraternal “differentiator” – our unique organizational structure that allows us to help secure the financial futures of our members AND improve the communities in which they live and work through volunteerism and by providing funding for projects and programs that reflect our common bonds. And nothing makes me happier than using this blog to report on innovative ways member societies are fulfilling their financial and fraternal missions. Woodmen of the Worl
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14 Apr 2014

The glass is half full – of beer!

I’ve been to more than my fair share of industry conferences over the past six weeks – some sponsored by the Alliance and some sponsored by other industry groups (A.M. Best, LIMRA, the NAIC) – and I’ve come away with some pretty interesting (and overwhelmingly positive) information. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the key lessons I’ve learned… We are not alone – Not even the biggest and best-capitalized insurers have the solutions to making their organizations, their products, and their delivery
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7 Apr 2014

The Fraternal & Communications Mid-Year Meeting: A Restoration of Faith

This may not ever happen to you, but I occasionally have moments of professional doubt. I wonder if the Alliance’s advocacy, education and information initiatives can really have a positive impact on the future of the fraternal system. I wonder if fraternals can transform the beauty of the cooperative business model to attract the next generation of members. I wonder if doing things “the way we’ve always done them” is leading the entire life insurance industry (not just the fraternal sector) to
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1 Apr 2014

NAIC Makes Model Corporate Governance Regulation Applicable to Fraternals

Earlier this week, at the  National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) Spring National  Meeting, the Corporate Governance (E) Working Group amended a proposed corporate governance model act to ensure that it applied to fraternal life insurers.  The model act is expected to be adopted at the NAIC's August 2014 meeting.  From there, it will be up to each state to enact the model. The Alliance strongly supported this amendment.  The fact that regulators made a specific revision to the
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27 Mar 2014

Using Technology to Connect with Your Chapters…And Grow Younger - By Guest Blogger Allison Koppel, American Fraternal Alliance Executive Vice President

This week Joe is on the road on Alliance business with stops in Pittsburgh and Springfield, Illinois, among other places. While he is away, I am going to throw my hat into the blogging ring and take a few moments to talk about an exciting new Alliance member benefit designed to modernize how you connect with...
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17 Mar 2014

No one’s got this figured out yet…

Earlier this month, I attended the A.M. Best Review and Preview Conference, an annual gathering of hundreds of top executives from some of the world’s largest life, health, and property/casualty insurers and reinsurers. It was the first time I had been invited to attend the event, and I was pleased to see that executives from a couple of Alliance member societies were there, too. It looked and felt like most insurance industry conferences – the audience was overwhelmingly white, overwhelming ma
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10 Mar 2014

Video Guest Blog - Presidents and Fraternal Operations Mid-Year Meeting Speaker On Fraternal Trends

It's been a busy winter here on the blog. I've covered topics ranging from the serious issues of tax reform and unclaimed property regulations to the Alliance's advocacy efforts in Michigan to the world of pop culture with my well-received post on Bob Dylan.  I guess I've had a lot to say. (What else is new?) With this post, however,  I am going to take a break and turn the reins over to a member of the Alliance staff. Just recently, we were thrilled to announce that Alliance Executive Adminis
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4 Mar 2014

The Only Certainties of Life

Benjamin Franklin is given credit for coining the phrase that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. While for most of us, (hopefully) death is a long way off, taxes are ever present and last week the U.S. Tax Code once again took center stage. On February 21, 2014, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee issued draft legislation that would provide the first major overhaul of the U.S. Tax Code since 1986. The proposed "Tax Reform Act of 2014" would modify a wide range of tax provisio
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24 Feb 2014

Royal Neighbors named a finalist for national community service award

Royal Neighbors of America’s (RNA) “Baskets of Hope” project is one of five finalists for USA WEEKEND magazine’s Make A Difference Day All-Star Award – and each of us can help RNA secure this honor by voting for them today and everyday (just like Chicago elections!) from now until March 4. RNA’s “Baskets of Hope” program earned the spot in the finals thanks to the efforts of its chapters across the country.  As their 2013 Make A Difference Day project, RNA chapters distributed nearly 1,500 ba
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19 Feb 2014

Unclaimed property the latest issue in a crazy quilt of regulatory compliance

If you’re a subscriber to the Alliance’s “Legislative and Regulatory Alerts” (formerly “Compliance Alerts”), then you have noted that over the past month there have been no fewer than 12 editions that dealt with unclaimed property regulations being debated in state legislatures across the country.(If you’re not a subscriber, you should be. Just click HERE to view past Alerts and sign up to receive future ones. It’s one of the most important information services the Alliance provides, particular
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11 Feb 2014

Taking Our Message to Michigan

Last week, an American Fraternal Alliance delegation met with newly appointed Michigan Insurance Commissioner Ann Flood and Deputy Director Judy Weaver in Lansing, Michigan. The Alliance delegation was composed of Kevin Marti, President and CEO of Gleaner Life (domiciled in Adrian, MI); Dan Nickodemus, Managing Partner of Thrivent  Financial for Lutherans (and located in the society’s Plymouth, MI, office); and Thomas Wegener, Supreme Director of the Knights of Columbus (and a resident of Lansi
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4 Feb 2014

An Open Letter to Bob Dylan

Please allow me a break from my posts on millennials and mutuality to share this letter to one of my heroes. Dear Bob: Saw you during the Super Bowl on Sunday. Shilling for Chrysler. [youtube=http://youtu.be/KlSn8Isv-3M] Had I had any inkling you would one day serve as a corporate spokesperson – a sure sign that the apocalypse is upon us – I never would have bought all that life insurance. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years. I had heard your name mentioned in my home growing up in the
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28 Jan 2014

Millennials are the Future of Your Society – Whether You Like it or Not…

We all spend a good bit of time – and rightly so – thinking about the future of our individual societies and the fraternal system.  It all boils down to this: we’ve got to attract more new (and ideally younger) consumers to become fraternal members – people that purchase insurance, utilize member benefits, and support community service activities – than the current members that are passing away (or whose policies are fully paid).  And that means appealing to millennials – one of the most soug
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20 Jan 2014

Partnering with “Me to We” Not Just for the Big Societies…

For those of you who had the chance to hear Craig Kielberger’s presentation at the Alliance’s 2013 Annual Meeting, you have a good idea of what “Me to We” is all about – and how much energy and enthusiasm Craig and his team bring to their mission of enabling young people to help improve the lives of others through volunteerism.  If you didn’t experience Craig’s performance, then I suggest you check out this link and learn more about this organization. Inspired by Craig’s comments, a handful
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14 Jan 2014

Recently Read and Recommended

It’s been too cold to do anything outside (even going to the store for milk feels like an adventure out of a Jack London novel) and there are only so many bowl games you can watch between Christmas and the Epiphany, so I’ve done quite a bit of reading over the last few weeks and thought I’d share some of my favorites with you… Case Closed (Gerald Posner) – There were so many television specials on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination that I realized I had never really read more than
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8 Jan 2014

Strategic Goals for 2014

Developing an effective Strategic Plan for the Alliance – one that personifies our mission statement, challenges the abilities of staff and volunteer leaders, and delivers meaningful results to members – is one of the most important tasks of the organization’s Board of Directors. The Strategic Plan is both a roadmap to accomplishing the Alliance’s most important goals, and a report card on which the Board and the members will measure our effectiveness. For 2014, your Board of Directors has d
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19 Dec 2013

Joy to the World…

Here’s hoping that the waning days of 2013 will allow us to set aside our daily worries and cherish our blessings with family and friends.  Our sons and daughters-in-law will be home this weekend, so Christmas will come early for us this year.  Our family will celebrate by decorating Christmas cookies (our sons will be in a pitched battle to see just how much frosting a single sugar cookie can hold), eating at our favorite Chicago steak house (Gene & Georgetti), and bringing bags of burgers
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9 Dec 2013

Drones, the ACA, and You

Remember when you rented your movies from Blockbuster and bought your books from Barnes & Noble? It seems like only yesterday – because it was. Today movies are still being made and books are still being written. But the delivery system for those products changed – seemingly overnight – turning companies that were once household names into vague memories and vacant storefronts. (Do you think UPS is just a little concerned about Amazon’s desire to deliver goods to its customers by drone?)
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2 Dec 2013

The Papal Litmus Test for Fraternals

My bona fides for commenting on theological doctrine are, at best, limited. But I could not help reading the statements dealing with economic issues contained in Pope Francis’s recent “apostolic exhortation” without connecting them to the fraternal business model. Pope Francis denounced “trickle-down economics” as a system that “expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” The benefits of the trickle-down theory, Francis contends, have “never been conf
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26 Nov 2013

Thanksgiving - A Time to Slow Down and Reflect...Then Eat a Little...All Right a Lot

Yet another year has begun to wind down to its close with the start of the holidays. But before we get all wrapped-up in holiday preparations, (Hint: Don’t fear the bird…just put it in the oven) let’s take a moment to stop and reflect. Let’s put off mentally steeling ourselves for the arguments over dinner that come with the extended family we only see once a year or mapping our plan of attack for Black Friday Sales (Now Thursday…sad…but I digress), to take a minute to just be still and reflect
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20 Nov 2013

Relationship Building 101

We've all heard and used (probably over-used) the cliché "it's a relationship business." But every cliché has at least a grain of truth to it, and when it comes to the fraternal business model, relationships are what drive both the financial services and community services components of our organizations. It's the affinity between a society and its members, and the connection between the members and their communities that sets us apart from other financial services providers. Relationships c
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12 Nov 2013

When it comes to tax reform, let’s act but not overreact

I spent a day in Washington, D.C., last week speaking with a variety of political experts about the possibility of major tax reform legislation being introduced and enacted in 2014. The only realistic answer to all my questions was “maybe.” There is widespread agreement that the Tax Code needs to be overhauled and that tax reform legislation will be introduced – possibly as early as next week. Proposals could come from both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
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6 Nov 2013

A Shot Across the Bow…

As the primary regulator of fraternals in the state with the largest number of domiciled societies, Steve Johnson, Pennsylvania’s Deputy Insurance Commissioner embodies the tag line from those old E.F. Hutton commercials – when he talks, people listen. And one of the characteristics I like most about Steve – and the entire Pennsylvania Insurance Department – is that while he understands, respects, and appreciates the unique organizational structure and mission of fraternals, he’s not going t
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1 Nov 2013

Pictures from a trip…

Finally back in the office after a series of road trips – both personal and business – that have taken me to some interesting places.  Before I get back to writing about serious topics like solvency, sustainability, tax reform, and relevance, I thought I’d give you a quick glimpse of some of the stops along the way.  Here goes…Dallas, TX – Lovely city for a wedding.  Here’s a photo of the happy couple; our son, Ben, and his new wife, Erica.  What a joyous celebration it was!Nash, TX – After the
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23 Oct 2013

Engaging Through Education: Not a One Size Fits All Proposition - by Jeff Mitchell

While Joe is away I am going to take a shot at filling his (admittedly rather large) blogging shoes by taking a look at an exciting offering that contributes to one of the Alliance’s mission critical areas. Our Mission Statement and Shared Values mandate that we provide members meaningful education, information, networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities. Whether the medium is a webinar, a Mid-Year Meeting presented by one of our sections or an Annual Meeting workshop on a cutting edge topi
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9 Oct 2013

Blog Break

This will be my last posting for a couple of weeks. Not that I've run out of items to write about. You'll be hearing a lot from me in the near future about the "We Day" event I attended yesterday and the potential ways that fraternals can partner with this unique organization to actually "grow younger."    But before that, my wife and I will be driving to Dallas for the wedding of our younger son. Should be quite an event and it will be nice to have an official "Texan" in the family. Followin
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3 Oct 2013

Joe’s Special

Some thoughts and observations on the meetings I’ve attended and the items that have come across my tablet over the past week. Add a dash of this, a smidgen of that, season to taste and stir vigorously… Members of NAIFA (the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors) are one politically potent group. The association met in San Antonio this week and the highlight of the conference, in my view, was the “Government Affairs at Work” segment on Monday morning. As NAIFA President and
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26 Sep 2013

Bankers Declare War on Credit Unions’ Tax Exemption

If you’ve been reading the Alliance’s Weekly Headlines over the past few months, you’ve noticed that, in almost every issue of our Thursday summary of news and editorial coverage, there is at least one article about commercial banks’ efforts to repeal credit unions’ long standing tax exemption. Most of these stories are from various banking industry and financial services trade publications, but thanks to the persistent efforts of the banks, coverage of the issue is creeping into the general bu
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18 Sep 2013

A Dodge Caravan, the Big Apple and Me...

My wife and I took some time off this week to help our older son and daughter-in-law move from Washington, D.C.,  to New York City.  The primary purpose of the trip was to bring back to our home in Chicago all the stuff that would not fit in their Manhattan apartment.  So, supportive parents that we are, we rented a Dodge Caravan (with Florida plates), folded up all the seats, and headed east. My wife and I love New York.  The food, the theatre, the energy -- it all works for us.  But despit
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11 Sep 2013

Got Minga?

The Alliance’s 2013 Annual Meeting had many highlights – too numerous to mention in a single blog posting. But one word keeps popping up as I look back at the meeting:  minga. Not familiar with minga? You should be. The final speaker of the meeting – Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Me-to-We, one of the most incredible “change agent” organizations I’ve ever encountered – explained that the word is part of the Andean culture and translates to “a time when everyone joins forces to accomplish a si
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10 Sep 2013

Going Out with a Bang! - by Jonathan Gadbois

After the hustle and bustle of the meetings was over, it was time for attendees to relax poolside for the evening’s beach party. The Alliance listened to meeting evaluations from previous years and decided to ditch the pomp and circumstance of a formal banquet, instead opting for a more casual beach party. I, for one, am glad they made this decision! The event was laid back and relaxed and everyone I talked to was grateful for the Alliance’s decision to forego the formalities of past years. Ev
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9 Sep 2013

Last, but Certainly Not Least - by Jonathan Gadbois

With the workshops behind us and the 2013 Annual Meeting coming to a close, Assistant Vice President, Member Relations of LIMRA Sean O'Donnell addressed the audience to outline some of the challenges and opportunities that face fraternal organizations and the life insurance industry in general.  Among one of the most interesting statistics he shared was that, although more U.S. households than ever acknowledge their need for additional life insurance, people seem less willing to actually make t
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9 Sep 2013

The Importance of Being Involved - by Jonathan Gadbois

After Saturday morning's workshops concluded, Alliance President and CEO Joe Annotti took the stage and addressed the group.  He recapped highlights and developments over the past year, as well as reminded all of us that although we have done great things, there is always the need to do more to further fraternal advocacy.  Tax reform is here to stay, so we must always be vigilant in reporting our volunteer activities to both the public and legislators alike. President Annotti then outlined s
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7 Sep 2013

Meaningful Meetings - by Jonathan Gadbois

Even though it was pouring buckets outside this morning, it didn't matter because all of the excitement was inside the Conference Center. Although the nice hotel and weather are added bonuses, the real value at the 2013 Annual Meeting has been the chance to network with other fraternalists and learn both from them and the interesting workshops the Alliance has provided. .    Workshops were held Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, and covered topics such as involving youth, reinvigorating fr
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7 Sep 2013

A Tree Grows in Hollywood - by Jonathan Gadbois

Keeping with the fraternal tradition of helping those in need, meeting attendees and their organizations have already generously contributed more than $6,000 for Camillus House, a local full-service center offering a continuum of care for persons who are poor and homeless.  Fraternalists are helping to further the organization's mission of ensuring every human being the chance to live a dignified life by making monetary donations or by donating gift cards, which are distributed to participants
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7 Sep 2013

The True Meaning of Fraternalism - Guest Blog

While all fraternals have a unique common bond, the one bond that we all share is the desire to help others.  Today, two individuals who perfectly embody the fraternal spirit were honored for their dedication to going above and beyond in their service to their communities.    Lisa Mick, a 21-year member of Catholic Financial Life and president of Chapter 19 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was named Fraternalist of the Year, an annual award presented to the fraternal member who exhibits uncommon le
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6 Sep 2013

We're Off to a Great Start

They sure know the meaning of hospitality here at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa!  After beginning the morning with a bountiful breakfast spread, meeting attendees entered the Conference Center's impressive Great Hall to the jazz stylings of the Ben Pernick Trio from the University of Miami.  I had the honor of introducing my father, Joe Gadbois, Alliance Chair of the Board, who kicked things off.  Following his report, we had the privilege to hear leadership expert John Maxwell, who has
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6 Sep 2013

Greetings from Hollywood!

Greetings from Hollywood...Florida that is!  We are here at the 2013 American Fraternal Alliance Annual Meeting at the fabulous Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa. This place is so spectacular, you'd think we were on the set of the latest James Bond flick.   My name is Jon Gadbois and I am the marketing specialist for National Mutual Benefit, a fraternal benefit society headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, and your guest blogger covering all of the details of this wonderful event.    Fraternalis
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30 Aug 2013

What are you wearing to the ball, Cinderella?

The buzz is building for the Alliance Annual Meeting next week in Hollywood, Florida. The member society executives I’ve spoken with over the past few weeks are genuinely excited about hearing from keynote speakers John Maxwell, Sean O’Donnell, and Craig Kielburger. Folks are busy mapping out what Workshops they plan to attend and really like the concept of having “encore” presentations of three sessions to maximize the educational value of the meeting. But of all the questions and comments I
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26 Aug 2013

A Tale of Two Driveways

I live in an old community, with houses dating back to the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Up until a few years ago, it seemed like most of my neighbors were the original owners of those homes. But death, downsizing, and the siren song of the gulf coast means that we have many new families on the block, most of whom are well under 40 years old. One of those new families lives right next door to me. Couldn’t be nicer people. Moved in about a month ago after 10+ years of condo living in downtown Chicago.
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21 Aug 2013

Transforming Member Feedback into Meaningful Benefits

The results of the Alliance’s 2013 membership satisfaction survey are in and based on your responses, member society executives feel pretty darn good about the value they are getting for their dues dollar. And while that certainly makes the Alliance Board and staff very happy, it’s what we do with your feedback that will ultimately determine the value of the survey. Forty-three out of the Alliance’s 70 U.S. and Canadian member societies responded to the survey, and societies of all sizes and ty
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13 Aug 2013

Lessons Learned from the Senate “Blank Slate” Grassroots Campaign

Now that the dust has settled on round one of the tax reform battle – a fight we can expect to last the full 15 rounds, by the way – it’s time to take a look back and evaluate our performance. Our goal was for Alliance members to generate both high-quality and high-quantity contacts with U.S. Senators and convince at least a few of them to include support for continuation of the fraternal 501(c)(8) tax exemption in their responses to the Senate Finance Committee’s “blank slate” proposal. The “b
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7 Aug 2013

Lessons Learned from the American Society of Association Executives Annual Meeting

I spent the past two days attending the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting in Atlanta. ASAE is the trade association for people like me who manage trade groups (yes, there is an association for associations) and it’s a tremendous source of ideas and information about everything from effective political advocacy techniques to the latest in convention and meeting management tools. The meeting attracts nearly 5,000 association executives from every kind of group you c
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30 Jul 2013

What’s your society’s policy on immigration?

There is a heated political debate going on in Washington, D.C., about the nation’s immigration laws. Issues like path to citizenship, border security, and deportation are in the news on an almost daily basis. What on earth do these topics have to do with fraternal benefit societies? Everything… In the late 19th and early 20th Century, immigrants flocked to the U.S. seeking opportunities that didn’t exist in their homelands. Fraternals played an integral role in helping these new citizens adju
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25 Jul 2013

2 Blogs for 1: A “Blank Slate” Update and a Guest Blogger Too!

We’ve been working hard here at the Alliance and this week's post will give you a rare “twofer.”  I will provide you with an update on a mission-critical program that we have put into action during the past few weeks and then, you'll get another peek at our upcoming 2013 Annual Meeting (truly another mission-critical program) via guest blogger, John Camillo, Group Counsel, Kemper Home Service Companies, who will be one of the presenters for the workshop, Unclaimed Property Regulation: Taming th
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16 Jul 2013

Alliance Member Society CEOs Step Up – Now It’s Your Turn…

In last week’s posting, I alerted you to the Senate Finance Committee’s “blank slate” tax reform proposal that “operates from an assumption that all special [tax] provisions are out unless there is clear evidence that they: 1) help grow the economy, 2) make the tax code fairer, or 3) effectively promote other important policy objectives.”  The leaders of the Finance Committee – Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah) – asked their colleagues in the Senate to provide them fe
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10 Jul 2013

This is not a drill…

Member society executives consistently rank political advocacy as an “essential” benefit of Alliance membership. And members tell us that of all the public policy issues on which the Alliance advocates, the promotion, protection, and preservation of the fraternal tax exemption is by far the most important.The success of the Alliance’s advocacy efforts relies on two key ingredients:1)  Dedicated professional staff and retained lobbyists who track issues important to fraternals at the state and f
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1 Jul 2013

Guest Blog: Come to the Alliance Annual Meeting to Find Out How What You Don’t Know about the Affordable Care Act Can Hurt You!

Summer is here and when you have survived another Chicago winter, it’s time for fun in the sun, golf, cookouts, vacations and all of things that make this season so special. Here in the Alliance office, however, summer also means that we are working harder than ever to bring you a world-class Annual Meeting this September 5-7, at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood, Florida. In order to give you a sample of the high quality information and education that we will be featuring at this
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24 Jun 2013

The Alliance Annual Meeting: You know you’re going to register, so why pay more by waiting?

The 2013 Alliance Annual Meeting is going to knock your socks off. That’s a promise. You’ll walk away from this event a better leader thanks to the insights provided by keynote speaker John Maxwell. Your board members and executive team will come back home better informed and better equipped to deal with issues from energizing your local chapter system to dealing with unclaimed property audits thanks to the best lineup of workshop topics and presenters we’ve ever assembled. You’ll leave Florida
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18 Jun 2013

Vital links to data you should know or brain cramp? You decide…

I carry around an accordion file folder with me and stuff it with all kinds of random information I think might be of interest to fraternal leaders.  It comes in handy on a day like today when – despite massive infusions of caffeine – my brain refuses to come up with an original thought worthy of posting in this space.  All the blogging “experts” (and, by the why, who certifies this “expertise?”) tell me that you’ve got to post at least once a week to be relevant to readers.  So in lieu of a th
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10 Jun 2013


The best way to tell your story – to prospective members, opinion leaders in the media, and public policymakers – is to show it. And with a little help from the Alliance, that’s exactly what the Independent Order of Foresters is doing with its KaBoom playground building projects – one of the cornerstone community service activities of the organization. Several weeks ago at the Fraternal Communications Section Mid-Year Meeting, I heard a presentation on the KaBoom program by Kaylie McCann, Mana
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28 May 2013

Random Thoughts

I’m all out of profoundness.  So while I’m waiting on that next brainstorm, here are a few things that intrigue, annoy, mystify, and entertain me.  Feel free to add your own items by posting a comment below… Intriguing… Canadians can vacation in Cuba.  Wasn’t the Bay of Pigs an awful long time ago?  Isn’t it time we both got over that?  At least lift the ban on cigar imports! Annoying… People who use non-words.  Topping the list would be “irregardless,” followed closely by “supposeably.”  F
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21 May 2013

“Golden Age” of Opportunity

Fraternal executives spend quite a bit of time, energy, and effort trying to figure out how to “grow younger.”  And rightly so.  Without a steady stream of new, younger (under 40 years old) members coming in to our societies, the risk of extinction becomes a real threat. But while we’re busy trying to crack the code of making the fraternal model relevant to a generation whose common bond might not be as common or as binding as it was to their parents and grandparents, we may have a “golden age
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14 May 2013

Re-born Fraternals

In the last couple of months, the Alliance has been approached by several groups interested in creating a new fraternal benefit society – something that hasn’t been done (at least in the U.S.) in nearly 50 years. A few of these groups are simply tire-kicking – they don’t have the commitment, common bond, or capital to even consider forming a new society. But at least a couple of them combine those “three Cs” characteristics into what could be the spark that ignites a new golden age of fraternal
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8 May 2013

“Son, you have a firm grasp of the obvious.”

I won’t lie; more than a few folks – college professors, bosses, relatives – have uttered those words to me over the years. But I’ve found that it’s sometimes important to come to grips with the realities that stare you in the face – realities for which neither hope nor denial is an effective strategy. Over the last few weeks...
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30 Apr 2013

Bits of Tid...

Take what you need and pass the rest on to others who may enjoy them…  Governance Graduate School – I believe the following to be true: 1) education is a life-long process; 2) good governance is essential to excellent decision-making and a common characteristic of every successful organization.  If you agree, then I would strongly encourage you to register for the Alliance’s Board Institute Master Class.  It’s the follow-up program to our Board Institute program, in which hundreds of fraterna
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22 Apr 2013

Mutual Aid in West, Texas

The tragedy that struck the community of West, Texas, (population 2,819) has been somewhat lost in the media flurry and public fury surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings. The entire nation has embraced the “Boston Strong” theme – and rightly so. While the senseless terrorist attack occurred in Boston, every American city and citizen was the target. To paraphrase the words of Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz, “This is our nation and no one is going to take away the freedoms and values w
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16 Apr 2013

Surrounded by a galaxy of fraternal stars

Last week, in conjunction with the Presidents Section Mid-Year Meeting in Washington, D.C., more than 50 CEOs and senior executives from all sizes and types of Alliance member societies took to Capitol Hill to deliver a message on the value and viability of the fraternal business model. We took this message directly to the members of Congress who will decide whether the century-old fraternal tax exemption will remain on the books. Armed with talking points, one-page flyers detailing the impact
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8 Apr 2013

Blog Break

I’ll be attending the Alliance’s Fraternal Operations and Presidents Mid-Year Meetings in Washington, D.C., through April 9 (where I’m looking forward to seeing many Alliance member society executives), and will then be traveling to Georgia to participate in the National Alliance of Life Companies Spring Meeting (the Alliance has joined forces with the NALC to mount legal and political challenges to the unclaimed property issue), so this is the only post you’ll see this week. Don’t look so ha
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4 Apr 2013

Why your membership in the Alliance matters

I wanted to update you on the status of tax legislation in the state of Washington that the Alliance has been following for several weeks. Lawmakers in the Evergreen State have been struggling to reduce the state’s budget deficit and, not surprisingly, closing “loopholes” is viewed as a lucrative source of new revenues. While the fraternal exemption had not been mentioned in budget negotiations through last week, that all changed with the publication of this editorial in the Saturday, March 20,
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1 Apr 2013

Alliance Moving Home Office to Canada…

The Alliance’s 2011 consolidation with the Canadian Fraternal Association is proving to be fortuitous as the home office of the association will be relocating to Canada by June 1.  The primary reason for the sudden move is not the staff’s abiding love of longer, colder winters or a lingering desire to learn to speak French.  The driving factor is the nearly 50 percent increase in the premium for group medical program the Alliance offers its employees. After carefully reviewing the options, we d
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26 Mar 2013

Let’s get back to that “vision thing”

It’s been a while since we touched on the 2002 “Fraternal Vision” report, but I don’t want this groundbreaking study to fade into the woodwork again. So let’s get back to the findings and recommendations uncovered by the report’s authors over a decade ago… • Finding #6 – There is a strong and increasingly unmet need for individuals to connect with others with shared values. Fraternals have a great opportunity to become a “connector” by offering these people an attractive “value proposition”
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21 Mar 2013

How secure is your cyber space?

Fraternals are in the business of risk transfer. We transfer an individual’s risk of lost income as a result of death or disability through the purchase of a life or disability income insurance certificate, helping to secure the financial future of an entire family. We transfer an individual’s risk of not having a steady stream of retirement income through the purchase of an annuity certificate, lessening the burden on government programs and enhancing the quality of life for the family. It’s
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19 Mar 2013

Never underestimate the power of community

[caption id="attachment_1585" align="alignright" width="140"] Steven G. ReindlVP Operations & Corporate SecretaryNational Mutual Benefit[/caption] Last month, in a guest blog, we heard from Jackie Felling about the reasons why she tries to never miss a Presidents Mid-Year Meeting. This week, Steve Reindl, Vice President of Operations and Corporate Secretary of National Mutual Benefit, provides us his take on the benefits of attending the Fraternal Operations Mid-Year Meeting, sponsored by
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11 Mar 2013

Get Your "Masters" in Fraternal Education

Education is one of the Alliance’s core missions. And whether it is a webinar alerting members of their increasing exposure to cyber-liability or an Annual Meeting Workshop providing practical tips to attract younger consumers, we take the job of providing members the finest quality professional education programs very seriously. Hundreds of member society executives have already registered for the 2013 Mid-Year Meetings. If you haven’t signed up for one or more of these programs you can learn
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5 Mar 2013

Fraternals and the GOP

This is a very short post. Read this article and substitute the word “fraternals” for references to the Republican party and the word “obsolescence” for references to the Democratic party. The bottom line is that neither the GOP not fraternals can reinvent themselves if the current powers that be are in charge of the design. Based on our recent consumer research, the fraternal business model has characteristics that are tremendously appealing to the next generation of members; but the core pr
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26 Feb 2013

Sequestration, A Broken Congress and What It Has to Do with Fraternals

Once again we’ve allowed our elected leaders to drive the nation to the financial brink. If there is anything good about the most recent version of this debate, it’s that our politicos and the opinion leaders in the media who serve as their mouthpieces seem to have tired of the “fiscal cliff” language and the “Thelma and Louise” references. Nonetheless, the threats of airport shutdowns, Head Start closings, and other dire predictions of fiscal calamity make it quite clear that in Washington, D.
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19 Feb 2013

Revisiting the “Vision”

Thanks to Jackie Felling from Degree of Honor for her terrific guest blog last week. She spoke in ways I couldn’t about the value of attending the Presidents Mid-Year Meeting and, in the process, helped boost registration for the event. We’re looking to pack the halls of the Capitol with fraternal executives in April. And the only way that’s going to happen is if YOU and other members of your society’s leadership – your #2 executive, your Board chair – join us for this top notch educational pro
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11 Feb 2013

It Doesn’t Have to be Lonely at the Top

After a lot of great feedback resulting from last week’s blog post, I am going to give you all a little break from the serious decisions that lay ahead for the fraternal community and turn things over to a guest blogger. [caption id="attachment_1550" align="alignright" width="188"] Jackie FellingCEO, National PresidentDegree of Honor Protective Association[/caption] For this week’s post, I am pleased to put the reins in the very able hands of Presidents Section Chair, Jackie Felling, CEO of D
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5 Feb 2013

Fraternal Vision Report – Back to the Future…

Eleven years after its unveiling, the “Fraternal Vision” report still evokes some strong responses. While only a couple of individuals posted comments here on the blog, I received a number of emails from members who wholeheartedly supported bringing some of the report’s long-forgotten findings and recommendations to light. But that support was combined with warnings to proceed cautiously. Here are some excerpts from member responses to last week’s posting: “I think you will find two sides: on
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30 Jan 2013

"Fraternal Vision Report” Contains Some Inconvenient Truths

In 2001, the Board of the American Fraternal Alliance (then known as the National Fraternal Congress of America) appointed a group of staff members, consultants, and member society representatives known as the Fraternal Vision Subcommittee to “determine whether structural changes are necessary to preserve the uniqueness of fraternal benefit societies while making them more relevant and responsive to member needs in the 21st Century.” On November 8, 2002 – just over a decade ago – the subcommit
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21 Jan 2013

Make Mid-Year Meetings Part of Your “20 Mile March” to Greatness

One of the most interesting takeaways from Jim Collins’ presentation at the Alliance’s 2012 Annual Meeting was the notion that great companies aren’t always those on the “bleeding edge” of innovation, but more often follow closely behind the innovators – learning from their missteps and improving on their processes. The message to me was “you don’t have to be there first; but you better be there second or third.” How do business leaders give their organizations the best chance of long lasting,
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16 Jan 2013

New Year, New Faces, New Services

We’re still early enough into 2013 for it to feel “new,” and before the days slip away from me, I want to introduce you to a new member of the Alliance staff and a new service that makes membership in the organization even more valuable to member societies – particularly small and mid-sized organizations. Jeff Mitchell is the Alliance’s new Director of Public Affairs and he’s hit the ground running. Jeff is spearheading the overhaul of the Alliance’s website (we’re going to spruce up the overa
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14 Jan 2013

Expanding the Fraternal Community

Perhaps the most important among the many positive findings from our 2011 consumer research projects was the power of both the word and the concept of “community.” Folks who didn’t have the slightest idea what a fraternal benefit society was (or whose notion of one was based on reruns of “The Honeymooners” or the toga party from “Animal House”) immediately warmed to the “community” aspect of the fraternal business model. After only the most basic description of who fraternals are and what they
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2 Jan 2013

It’s All About Executing the Plan

The Alliance Board of Directors and staff have spent much of the past couple of months fine-tuning the organization’s 2013 Strategic Plan and Budget. As we all know, making plans is the easy part. Successfully accomplishing the important goals contained in those plans? Well, that’s a bit more difficult to accomplish. I want to share some of the highest priority goals in the Alliance’s Strategic Plan with you, so you’ll have a better idea of the Board’s priorities and what you can expect from
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18 Dec 2012

Thoughts on Christmas 2012...

Christmas – the holiday season – is a moody time. Experts attribute this to the ever-shrinking amount of daylight as we approach the winter solstice (the “winter blues”); the tension surrounding gatherings of extended family (“If Uncle Mike’s going to be there, then I won’t be”); the financial pressure of gift giving and receiving (“I’ve created my own personal fiscal cliff when those credit cards come due in January”). Whatever the reason, those six weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year
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12 Dec 2012

Give the Gift of Separation – from the Herd

We talk frequently about the “fraternal difference” – the characteristics that separate our unique business model from other financial institutions and charitable organizations. Traits like: We’re there to deliver long-term, lifetime values to members; not quarterly results to Wall Street investors; Our community service activities represent “accountable altruism” because the funds that drive our charitable contributions and fuel members’ volunteerism are a result of our ability to manage ou
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5 Dec 2012

Woman’s Life TAKES ACTION!

Last month we asked you to get involved in our grassroots campaign to convince Members of Congress to become co-sponsors of Congressional House Resolution 116. Well, one society has done just that. Let me tell you about it… [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqbLbLJ-Hv8&w=560&h=315] Share with us what your society has done below...
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28 Nov 2012

2013 - The Year of Inspirational Leadership

There's still one month left in 2012, but I'm already excited about the coming year. The Alliance staff and Board are committed to making 2013 a year of inspirational leadership for fraternals. We're going to start by offering a new member benefit - Compliance PLUS - to help fraternals manage the increasingly complex regulatory environment in a cost effective way. You can learn more about this by participating in a free Webinar on 12/6/12. We're also going to reintroduce CR #116 and secure 10
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19 Nov 2012

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving will be a small affair at our house this year.  Our two children have grown up, live far from Chicago, and won’t be able to make it home for the holiday (although we get both sons, a daughter-in-law, and a fiancé for Christmas!!!).  And my wife, who works for a major retailer, has to be at work at 11:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.  (There is one consumer-driven tradition I’d like to see put out to pasture.)  But nonetheless, we will gather over a traditional meal and give thanks to
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12 Nov 2012

Four things you really need to know today

1) Political Post-Mortem: What the Elections Means to You After a record-setting amount of money was spent by candidates and Super PACs the result was…not much changed on the political landscape. Or did it? You can find out tomorrow on a free teleconference hosted by the Alliance and featuring our two key federal advocates – Jenn Fogel-Bublick and Charles Cooper of McBee Strategic Consulting. While the overall balance of power in the executive and legislative branches of government remained vi
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7 Nov 2012

An Engagement Announcement

I cry at weddings, funerals, and on Election Day. I have an aversion to labels and have never felt compelled to wear an American flag pin on my lapel. But I do consider myself a patriot. And that’s why I get a little choked up when I actually get to participate in choosing the leaders of our democratic republic by casting a ballot. What’s even more emotional – at least to me – is watching Americans of all socio-economic backgrounds take great pride in doing the same thing. The election is over
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1 Nov 2012

The 7 biggest risks facing the Alliance and its member societies

The Alliance Board of Directors meets on November 9 to review and approve the organization’s Strategic Plan and Budget for the coming year. The Alliance Board relies on a variety of sources in the planning process: member society responses to the organization’s annual Membership Satisfaction Survey; insight and opinions from Board members; reports from experts in the fields of life insurance and annuities, asset management, governance, politics, and community service/volunteerism; and the staff
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23 Oct 2012

Consuming the Consumer Research

As you know, the Alliance has made a significant investment in research to test the awareness and relevance of the fraternal business model among consumers in our "sweet spot" – 30-55 years old, middle income, children living at home, active members in church or civic groups. We discovered that most consumers have virtually no awareness of fraternals; and that their perceptions of them were often wildly off the mark ("kind of like a college fraternity with more money and less beer"). However, w
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19 Oct 2012

Knowledge, baby, it’s just a click away

More than 400 individuals from Alliance member societies and associate member organizations attended the 2012 Annual Meeting. And I’m guessing that there are several thousand folks who would have liked to benefit from the outstanding educational program offered at this year’s meeting, but just couldn’t get there. Well, now you can. We can’t provide the face-to-face networking opportunities that members tell us is such an important part of the Annual Meeting. But we can offer you and your whole
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9 Oct 2012

What's Your First Step?

One more thought about Jim Collins’ presentation at the Alliance's 2012 Annual Meeting before I move on to other topics... Collins was clearly fascinated by the fraternal business model and believes that the timing may be right for a fraternal resurgence - provided we face the "cold brutal facts" confronting us in a straightforward and realistic manner. One of those facts is that almost every society is dealing with a rapidly aging number of members and isn't coming close to replacing them wi
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2 Oct 2012

A little light reading

In my last post, I provided you with a list of “pleasure reading” suggestions; this week I have a host of articles that I think might help your business operations. Take a look and let me know what you think – or if you have an article or two that you’d like to recommend to readers. Royal Neighbors cooking up growth ideas – Check out this article from the August issue of Best’s Review for some recipes on how your society might find creative ways to stir up interest in the value of life insura
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25 Sep 2012

Five things I LOVED about the Alliance’s Annual Meeting

Jim Collins – I knew his message would be on point, but I had no idea how much effort he would make to understand the specifics of the fraternal business model (and the unique financial structure of life insurers, in general) and tailor his comments to the needs of Alliance members. He gave an inspiring and brutally honest assessment of what it takes for a fraternal to succeed, and earned rave reviews from executives of both large and small societies. My favorite quote from a CEO: “I received
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17 Sep 2012

Six Books Worth Reading (or “What I did while waiting for all those delayed flights over the past month”)

I’m back from a brief blog break during which I saw many of you at the Alliance’s Annual Meeting, saw a few of you at the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) Annual Meeting, and didn’t see any of you atop Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park (see photo below). Considering that the government prohibits people in New York City from purchasing “supersize” soft drinks because of the threat to their health, the fact that they actually let people climb on this trail i
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8 Sep 2012

New Leaders, New Vitality

In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of any fraternal organization’s annual meeting/convention is the election of new board members. It’s the best way for delegates to point in a strategic direction and say, “That’s where I want my organization to go in the future.” The election of new leaders is also the way an organization stays relevant. Bringing new blood onto the board means bringing in new ideas and fresh perspectives on all the issues being faced today, as well as in the futu
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8 Sep 2012

Annual Meeting Day 2 (Part 2): The Jim Collins Effect

Today was an amazing day at the 2012 American Fraternal Alliance Annual Meeting! I’ve been up and moving since 7 o’clock this morning and I’m still charged up! This is mostly due to something I heard during the morning session, which I am now dubbing “The Jim Collins Effect.” If you’re unfamiliar with Jim Collins, he’s an author of a series of books dedicated to teaching leaders and organizations how to succeed by moving them from good to great. Jim was our keynote speaker at this morning’s se
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7 Sep 2012

Day 2 (Part 1): Shining Examples

I’m a big believer in recognizing the efforts of fraternal members and leaders who have made a significant contribution to the success of their organizations and a positive impact on the communities in which they reside. As I learned today so, too, does the American Fraternal Alliance. Today at the annual meeting, the Alliance held an awards ceremony that recognized four individuals who stand as shining examples of the fraternal industry.Nominations for this annual award program came from throu
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7 Sep 2012

Annual Meeting Day 1: Giving Back to the Community

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or have ever had the pleasure of hearing Joe Annotti speak in person, then you’ve no doubt heard him refer to things like volunteerism and community service being engrained in the DNA of fraternal organizations. The positive impact we make on the communities in which we reside is not only the most important element of the fraternal DNA, it’s also the most meaningful. It’s what defines us and differentiates us others in the insurance industry. Today was
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31 Aug 2012

Delivering Value for Your Dues Dollar – Part II

One of the best ways to determine how well an organization is performing is to compare its financial results against other similar groups.  The Alliance’s Annual Financial Analysis helps member societies accomplish this. And thanks to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) – a trade group for trade association executives – we’re able to compare the Alliance’s performance in a number of key areas versus those of similarly organized trade groups.  Here’s a look at how the Alliance
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28 Aug 2012

Delivering Value for Your Dues Dollar – Part I

Alliance members will get a full report on the organization’s overall financial condition, including results for the 2011 fiscal year and for the first six months of 2012, at the Annual Meeting next week in New Orleans.  The bottom line is that the Alliance is heading into what could be a tumultuous 2013 – both in terms of political challenges to the fraternal system and operational challenges to the life insurance industry – in excellent financial shape.  We have the fiscal resources to effect
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22 Aug 2012

Making a difference for 225 students in New Orleans

Four years ago, the Alliance revived an almost forgotten tradition by inviting Annual Meeting attendees to participate in a community service project.  In San Antonio, we painted and landscaped a family services center; in Chicago, we renovated two St. Vincent de Paul retail stores; in Denver, we prepared two Salvation Army homeless shelters for the winter season.  In each case, executives from Alliance member societies had the chance to personify the characteristic that distinguishes fraternal
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20 Aug 2012

Countdown to Ecstasy

OK, my “ecstasy” is a little over the top (and a blatant rip-off of a heckuva Steely Dan album), but the educational program at this year’s Annual Meeting makes me, well… ecstatic. Take a look at these links to learn more about three of the speakers featured at this year’s meeting: Jim Collins will challenge you to be great at Friday's general session. Collins will spend the entire morning with us, discussing the characteristics of great companies and sharing his insight as to how each of us
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16 Aug 2012

And then there were 34

With just a little effort, 8 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives – 34 members from districts across the country – have signed on as co-sponsors of Alliance-supported Congressional Resolution #116, the measure that reaffirms the value of the fraternal business model. That leads me to believe that with a little more elbow grease – including participation from Alliance member society CEOs, fraternal field managers and agents, local chapter leaders, and rank-and-file members – we can add m
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13 Aug 2012

Meet Your Alliance Annual Meeting Blogger

The countdown has begun and we’re only a few weeks away from the 2012 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. I’m thrilled to announce that we’ve enlisted the help of one of our members to report “live” on the meeting via social media… so whether or not you’re attending the meeting in person, you’ll be able to stay informed on what’s taking place during the conference. Let me introduce to you, Erik Evans from the Sons of Norway… take it away, Erik… [caption id="attachment_1275" align="aligncenter" wid
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6 Aug 2012

The Chicken or the Egg?

What happens to a financial services provider that invests significant amounts of capital into developing a suite of products that meet the needs and budgets of its target market, but that invests nothing in developing a professional field force that is equipped to effectively market these products to consumers? It goes broke. I absolutely believe that “nothing happens until a sale is made.” And even though I’ve only been on the life insurance side of the business for a little over four years
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1 Aug 2012

Meat and Potatoes

I'm so excited about the upcoming Annual Meeting and, apparently so are you! But let me tell you about the "meat and potatoes" of the meeting. We have been increasing the educational content of this meeting every year, and this year it's terrific. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kRQSK5ZPsE&w=560&h=315] We welcome your comments here.
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25 Jul 2012

Acknowledge, Assess, Address

It’s virtually impossible to pick up a life insurance trade publication or attend a financial services conference without seeing something about “enterprise risk management” (ERM) in the table of contents or on the program. (Not surprisingly, ERM is addressed in one of the nine featured Workshops at the Alliance’s 2012 Annual Meeting coming up in New Orleans this September.) I’ve been trying to come to an understanding in my own mind about exactly what ERM means and the best I can do is this:
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16 Jul 2012

Tender, bite-sized morsels

It’s easy to get carried away with your own thoughts on these pages, serving up an entire banquet of information in one blog post.  But sometimes it’s better to let others do the talking and convey information in tender, bite-sized morsels.  Hope you enjoy these snacks… Death and taxes – Are there any more important issues for fraternal life insurers?  I haven’t figured out how to address the death issue, but if you had any doubt about the significance of the upcoming debate on the overhaul o
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10 Jul 2012

Buying Indulgences from Casino Jack

I watched “60 Minutes” last Sunday. Like most shows that air in the summer, it was a re-run. But it was one I hadn’t seen before and it featured a profile of Jack Abramoff, the notorious lobbyist who spent time in prison (and rightly so) for his part illegally influencing public policy through what can only be described as bribery. He claimed to “own” nearly one-third of members of Congress and the tactics he described to acquire that ownership stake were nothing short of disgusting. Long-stor
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2 Jul 2012

New Orleans Favorites – From Someone Who’s Lived There

Registrations keep pouring in for the Alliance’s 2012 Annual Meeting.  And with the event only eight weeks away, I know many of you are making plans to get a little lagniappe out of your trip.  My son and daughter-in-law, who both lived in New Orleans for nearly seven years (no, that’s not how long it took them to graduate from Tulane University; they lived and worked there quite a while after matriculating), put together this helpful list of their favorite things to do while in the “Big Easy.”
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28 Jun 2012

Sneak Preview of Supreme Court Ruling on Health Care Law

Research on the implications associated with the Supreme Court ruling on the health care law has been prepared by our federal advocacy firm, McBee Strategic.  This is a highly important piece that takes a comprehensive look at how the Court might act and the sector risks associated with that decision.  It also looks more broadly at how non-sustainable trend lines for domestic health care spending are likely to be treated in the post-election collision that will occur around deficits, spending,
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26 Jun 2012

Walking Our Talk

For several years, the Alliance has been emphasizing the need for its member societies to modernize their governance – the process by which the organization makes decisions.  The antiquated model of requiring members to vote on every issue facing the organization – from the selection of its CEO, to the salaries paid to its staff, to changes in its insurance products and benefits – no longer works in the increasingly complex regulatory environment and rapidly changing marketplace in which modern
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18 Jun 2012

“You can observe a lot just by watching.”

That, of course, is one of the many memorable quotes from Yogi Berra – and one of the concepts I try to employ on a daily basis. Here are a few items and observations I’ve been watching (and reading) over the past couple weeks. Hope you find them as interesting as I do. Siri-ously creepy – Am I the only one who is completely “creeped out” by the ads for the iPhone that doubles as a friend? You know, the one with Zooey Deschanel who looks out the window, sees that it’s raining, then asks her ph
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13 Jun 2012

The Members Speak

For the past five years, the Alliance has conducted a membership satisfaction survey. The survey is sent to the CEO of each member society.  Senior executives from about half of the Alliance member societies have responded to our recent membership satisfaction survey and a summary of their feedback follows. And while a 50% response rate makes the results "statistically accurate," we won't be satisfied until we hear from every member. So thanks to those of you who have completed the questionnair
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5 Jun 2012

Top 10 Tunes of All Time

I’m tired of writing (and worrying about) fraternal solvency, relevance, and governance – and you’re probably tired of reading about those topics. So I thought I’d take a shot at a “Letterman-like” Top 10 list of my favorite recordings of all time – you know, the tunes you listen to at ear-splitting volume…that you remember where you were the first time you heard them…that make you FEEL. So here’s my list of singles and artists – we can argue about best overall albums in a later post. I forced
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30 May 2012

Membership has its benefits: 3 just for you

Membership in any organization – including your own society – has both responsibilities and benefits. I’ll talk about responsibilities of membership in the Alliance (serving as a member of the Board, a Committee, or a Task Force; recruiting co-sponsors for our Congressional Resolution, etc.) in a future post. But today, let’s focus on the benefits – the programs, products, and services you can only get from one source: the American Fraternal Alliance. Here are three that are ringing members’ be
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22 May 2012

Five Must-Reads of the Week

Here's a smattering of items and articles I've come across during the last week or so that I thought you'd find interesting. Feel free to add your own comments or post an article you think people just have to read... Quote of the week– "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less." What have you done for me lately? – Businesses (especially publicly-traded companies) seem to focus exclusively on quarterly results. But a paper from a new group of "supporters of capitali
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14 May 2012

11 Reasons to Love the Canadian Section Meeting (especially when it's in Montreal)

I had the privilege of attending the Canadian Section meeting last week in Montreal, Quebec. Not only was the meeting one of the best attended sessions in recent memory, the program was outstanding, the fellowship inspirational, and the city – which I'd never previously visited – was one-of-a-kind. Here's my "Eleven Great" list from last week's festivities: 1) Top Notch Program:  With sessions on everything from marketing our fraternal difference, to modernizing governance, to addressing regul
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8 May 2012

The (Financial) Results Are In

The Alliance’s financial reports for each member society are on their way to you.  These individual and confidential reports, prepared by Strohm-Ballweg and based on data provided by fraternals to the NAIC, provide society executives with a “fiscal snapshot” of their societies for eleven key ratios – from solvency to RBC to liquidity.  More importantly, the reports compare the individual society’s performance to those of comparable fraternal and commercial life insurers, so you can determine ho
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1 May 2012

Taking it to The Hill

As participants of the recent series of Section Mid-Year Meetings know, the Alliance took another big, bold step in the public policy arena with the introduction of “The Promoting American Fraternalism Resolution” in Congress in late April.  The Resolution reaffirms the value and validity of the fraternal business model by recognizing the important contributions fraternals have made to “the private sector economic and societal support system” over the past century. The Resolution has an impres
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24 Apr 2012

7 Section Meeting Takeaways

1)   Overlapping the meetings really worked – This year we combined the Secretaries/HR, Presidents, and Investment Section meetings in an overlapping schedule at the same location. The cross-pollination really worked as member society executives took advantage of the deep discounts on registration fees to attend multiple Section meetings, compare notes with colleagues from other disciplines, and discuss a wide variety of issues with experts in communications skills to asset management, and ever
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11 Apr 2012

We live in a post-authentic world…

I wish I could take credit for coming up with that observation, but it was Bruce Springsteen who said it in a recent speech to the “South By Southwest” (SXSW) convocation in Austin, Texas. The Boss followed that up by saying “Today, authenticity is a house of mirrors.” Think about that for a minute. In a world where so much of everything – conversations, meetings, music – is “virtual,” people are struggling to find something authentic; something that they can trust, rely upon, believe in. Was
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3 Apr 2012

Let’s go to the videotape!

A picture IS worth a thousand words and I’d like to share three videos that really drive home the message of what fraternals and cooperatives – our kissin’ cousins in the financial services sector outside North America – can be to their members, their agents, and the communities they serve.  I hope you enjoy these as much as I did… The first video comes from Stan Hustad, the developer of “Belief Based Marketing” as the wave of the future and an idea perfectly suited to our fraternal mission an
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28 Mar 2012

200 posts, 7 Lessons Learned, and Many More Topics to Discuss with You

That’s right, folks. You’re reading my 200th blog post. And they said it wouldn’t last… So what have I learned over the first 200 posts? Let me count the lessons: 1)   Be careful what you wish for – Writing these posts is harder than I thought it would be. 2)   An expert blogger told me early on in the process that the secret to a successful blog is “E-I-E-I-O” – Entertaining, Informative, Enlightening, Inspiring, and Outrageous. He was right. Accomplishing that, however, is easier said th
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21 Mar 2012

Sell an annuity, go to prison

That’s what happened to an insurance agent in California recently.  There have been dozens of articles about this case recently, including THIS ONE from the March 18 Wall Street Journal.  The agent was convicted of selling a complex annuity to an 83-year-old woman who had shown signs of dementia.  And the shockwaves are reverberating through the agent and insurer community.  The bottom line for fraternals is that you – and your field force – need to make sure your products match members’ needs.
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13 Mar 2012

The Difference Is Values

The number of skeptics and cynics in the U.S. and around the world seems to be increasing. This is especially true when it comes to consumer attitudes toward financial institutions. It’s hard for folks to believe that their [fill in the blank with your choice of bank, insurance company, or investment bank] really gives a hoot about their well-being when their television ads promise to treat you like family and then they get slapped with a $7 per month fee for the privilege of depositing their m
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5 Mar 2012

Tan Suee Chieh is a very wise man, and a very wise man is he

Every now and then, you come across an individual whose vision is stunningly profound. Tan Suee Chieh is just such an individual. Tan is the CEO of NTUC Income, a cooperative life insurance company headquartered in Singapore. Cooperative insurers are organized much like fraternals in that they are owned by their members and driven by a social mission rather than one based purely on profitability. Coop insurers are being created all over the world and provide vivid proof that the cornerstones
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28 Feb 2012

The #1 reason to belong to the Alliance

Take a look at the THIS ARTICLE that appeared in the February 27, 2012, issue of the Wall Street Journal. The headline – “Tangled Tax Code Primed for Pruning” – says all that needs to be said about the value of your society’s membership in the Alliance. Just in case you don’t want to read the entire article, let me highlight the first three sentences of the story for you here: President Barack Obama's business-tax-overhaul plan underscores the growing likelihood of a serious effort to revamp th
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21 Feb 2012

Assessing Board Performance is Critical to Maximizing Performance

Remember Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City from the late 70s to mid-80s (who then went on to achieve real fame as the host of one of those TV courtroom shows)?  No matter where he went in the city during his tenure as mayor, he would always ask residents the same question: “How am I doing?”  He said it so frequently it almost became a caricature, but I believe it was a very sincere attempt by the mayor to get an unvarnished assessment of his performance from the people that mattered most – hi
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14 Feb 2012

Jim Collins to Speak at the Alliance’s 2012 Annual Meeting

I spent 15 minutes trying to come up with a catchy headline for this posting, but in the end I decided that “simple and straightforward” works best in this situation. Jim Collins – one of the world’s most recognizable business gurus and perhaps the most sought-after business speaker on the planet – will deliver the keynote address at the American Fraternal Alliance’s Annual Meeting on Friday, September 7. If that’s not enough to get you to “save the date” for this year’s meeting – and re-sched
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10 Feb 2012

Goodbye, Elizabeth

Joe Annotti says goodbye to Elizabeth Snyder, Director, Advocacy and Public Policy, whose last day at the Alliance headquarters is today.   [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT9C1pvOzNA&w=640&h=360]
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8 Feb 2012

Grab Bag -- Solvency Concerns, Member Kudos, Capitol Insights

Regulators Raise Solvency Concerns Over Increasing Annuity Exposure Last week, Alliance members licensed to do business in New York received a Bulletin alerting them to some concerns expressed by New York regulators about the potential negative on an organization’s financial health as a result of rapid growth in annuity sales. I thought some of these regulators’ comments were worth passing on to a broader audience of Alliance members, because these concerns are no doubt shared by others in the
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1 Feb 2012

Section Connections More Important Than Ever

Mid-Year Section Meeting season is upon us, and the need for fraternal leaders with shared interests and shared goals to make personal connections with one another has never been greater. This was vividly demonstrated when within just a few days of opening registration for the 2012 Presidents Mid-Year Section Meeting, nearly one-third of all member society CEOs signed up for the event! Here’s a quick overview of the dates and locations for each Section Mid-Year Meeting: Secretaries/Human Res
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26 Jan 2012

Breaking New Regulatory Ground in Ohio

On Tuesday, January 24, I testified on behalf of the American Fraternal Alliance before the Ohio House Insurance Committee in support of HB 341. This bill is sponsored by the Ohio Department of Insurance (ODI) and was developed by ODI in conjunction with a Task Force of representatives from a cross-section of Ohio-domiciled Alliance member societies. The bill would establish a variety of new solvency regulations for fraternal life insurers, including requirements that fraternals meet the same R
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20 Jan 2012

World’s Foremost Authority: My Forecast of Tax Issues in 2012

When I was a kid, one of my favorite comedians was Professor Irwin Corey, the self-proclaimed “World’s Foremost Authority.” The professor was not exactly a spring chicken when I used to watch him on the Ed Sullivan Show, and I’m sure he must have passed away years ago, but – like everything these days – he lives eternally on the Internet with a Web site devoted to his some of his funniest bits. At the risk of sounding a bit like Professor Corey, I’m going go out on a limb and give my authorita
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16 Jan 2012

O Canada!

It's official. As of January 1, 2012, the Canadian Fraternal Association (CFA) has been consolidated under the Alliance's umbrella. Please join me in welcoming our newest members from the north! The consolidation has been in the works for over a year. The CFA will continue to exist as a legal entity in Canada and advocate on behalf of fraternals doing business there with provincial and federal public policymakers. But the day-to-day administration of the organization will be handled by the All
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11 Jan 2012

Hoops vs. YouTube…And a Variety of Tasty Links

Last Sunday I took advantage of a balmy 45-degree January day in Chicago (a once rare occurrence that this year is becoming freakishly frequent) and took a walk through our neighborhood park. Rounding the corner but still out of sight of the playground, I heard a familiar and comforting sound – a basketball being dribbled and the muffled voices of several boys who I imagined were engaged in a spirited game of two-on-two. What I discovered when I came closer was something quite different. There
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4 Jan 2012

Lagniappe – a very fraternal word

New Orleans – the host city for the 2012 Alliance Annual Meeting – has a wonderful custom known as “lagniappe,” which roughly translates as “a little something extra.” In almost every restaurant, you’ll be served a small appetizer or a dessert – something you didn’t order and that wasn’t even on the menu – as an expression of this city’s passion for life and love of good times. Lagniappe is a very fraternal word. Ideally, we offer our members “a little something extra” that represents the diff
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20 Dec 2011

Put on your heavenly pants this holiday season

I wish I could take credit for the following bit of wisdom, but I am unashamedly borrowing it from an old family friend – Joe Cotchett. Joe is a trial attorney, and a very well-known one at that. What I most love about him is his willingness to stand up for what he believes is right and just. Check out his bio and I think you will understand better why I admire him so much. Joe was profiled in a recent issue of Serra High School’s alumni magazine (he is a generous supporter of the school). It
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12 Dec 2011

Meet me (a week earlier) in The Big Easy

[caption id="attachment_918" align="aligncenter" width="468" caption="Mercier Courtyard at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans"][/caption] By now you’ve probably heard that due to the pending renovation of the Sheraton New Orleans, the Alliance is moving its 2012 Annual Meeting up one week (to our traditional Labor Day week schedule) and relocating the event to the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. The new dates for the 2012 meeting are September 6-8. Please mark your calendar today and look for online regis
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6 Dec 2011

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
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2 Dec 2011

Bits of tid

Here are a variety of items from “above the fold” headlines to member society news releases to a chapter for academia that I thought might interest to you… Alliance’s branding effort featured in Association Forum – The story behind the transformation of the National Fraternal Congress of America to the American Fraternal Alliance is featured in the latest issue of Association FORUM, the magazine for trade association professionals in the Midwest. You may all be familiar with the results of th
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30 Nov 2011

What’s in your wallet?

Affinity – the connection between an individual and an organization that generates a feeling of “belonging” or, even more important, motivates individuals to act collectively on behalf of the institution – is the characteristic that, if it really exists, has the potential to differentiate fraternals from commercial insurers. I’ve been giving the notion of “affinity” considerable thought over the past few weeks, asking myself what organizations I feel connected to and questioning my friends and
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21 Nov 2011

The season of giving

Our gift to you… The Alliance is kicking off the season of giving by sending each of its members an early Christmas present.  This week each member society will be receiving the complete results of our recent consumer research project – from a hard copy of the PowerPoint presentation with a synopsis of the findings to a DVD containing the footage of all four focus groups, so you can hear real consumers share their views on the fraternal concept firsthand. We think this is one of the most valu
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15 Nov 2011

Life Insurer to Sell Groceries to Policyholders

OK, not really, but I hope I got your attention. You might remember a few postings back, I wrote about Whole Foods stores creating “wellness clubs” that customers could join (for an annual fee, of course) to learn how to live healthier – and presumably happier – lives. My take on it was that Whole Foods was beating fraternals at their own game by transforming their “customers” to “members” and organizing them into local groups who shared a “common bond” of living a healthy lifestyle. The bene
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9 Nov 2011

Dash of Pepper and a Pinch of Salt

Lots of items in the news and on the periphery that affect fraternals. Here are updates on a few of the most important items… NAIC adopts revisions to Life RBC Model – After a year of debate, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has adopted revisions to its long-standing Life RBC Model Act that would make fraternal life insurers subject to the same RBC standards that commercial insurers must meet.  The Alliance supported this initiative because it provides consumers, and the ag
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2 Nov 2011

Carpe Turkey Diem

I make no apologies for the following rant. It has nothing to do with life insurance or annuities; tax-exemptions or community service activities; solvency, relevance, or governance. It has to do with values – values that appear to be withering under the relentless attack of American retailers. Almost everyone I know agrees that Thanksgiving is the best of all holidays. It combines the three most unifying “f” words – family, food, and football – without the requirement of (or financial pressur
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31 Oct 2011

Grab this Opportunity to Shine

“If people only knew who fraternals are and what we do, they’d beat a path to our door.” How many times have you said that to yourself or shared those feelings with your colleagues in the fraternal community? That’s part of the problem many societies face – we’re too modest about the valuable financial services we provide and the important community service contributions we make. And we tend to preach (and, frankly, complain) to the choir. Well, here is your chance to shine. Bill Coffin, ed
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27 Oct 2011

The Seven-Second Solution…

Those of you familiar with the results of the Alliance’s recent consumer research project* were probably not surprised to learn that when people understand who we are and what we do, they embrace the concept we know as “fraternalism.” The only problems are:  a) it takes waaaaaaay too long (3-5 minutes on average, according to our focus group results) to explain the fraternal model to non-members and, b) the words we use to describe ourselves (fraternal, lodge, member) are often perceived negat
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25 Oct 2011

SPJST continues its Fort Hood Memorial fundraising…

In my last post, I talked about the “fraternal alternative”… how fraternals offer consumers an alternative way to invest in their families’ financial security, deliver benefits to their fellow members of their societies, and – most importantly – improve the lives of people in their local communities. It’s a terrific concept and one whose time has come – again. Check out this example of improving local communities from SPJST… "Urban Cowboy" Johnny Lee Concert to Benefit Fort Hood Memorial On S
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21 Oct 2011

“Occupy Wall Street” Protests Leave Me Dazed and Confused…

I have mixed feelings about the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protests that have been taking place in New York and other cities around the country over the past few weeks.  I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, and I support the protestors' right to express their opinions.  It just seems to me that the views being espoused by the protestors sound dangerously naïve – if not outright dangerous.  From what I can gather, they’re angry because the gap between what Wall Street investment bankers (the
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17 Oct 2011

Back from Gilligan’s Island…

I’m back from a few days of R&R on Gilligan’s Island (actually, Lanai, one of the least developed Hawaiian Islands) and feeling better than ever. Only one comment on Lanai: go there at least once in your life. And if you’re planning an incentive trip for your agents, give this island (and the only two resort hotels on it) serious consideration. Let me know if you’d like the contact information for the resort sales manager, and I would be happy to put you in touch with him. You can be as ac
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3 Oct 2011

Eleven things I loved about the Alliance’s Annual Meeting…

Getting put on the spot – along with a few member society executives – as Frank Luntz challenged us to explain (in seven seconds!) who we are and what we do in a way that’s relevant to consumers… The incredibly positive demographic information presented by Joe Coughlin that verified fraternals have a very large sweet spot with millions of potential members who want what we have to offer… The fact that almost one-fifth of the audience were “first-time” attendees – a great indicator that the
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27 Sep 2011

The Alliance’s Annual Meeting is here – and I hope you’ll be there…

The Alliance’s Annual Meeting begins on Thursday in Denver and, based on the large number of registrants – 50 out of the Alliance’s 72 member societies have at least one executive attending the meeting and nearly 400 member society representatives, associate members, and guests are registered – if you’re reading this post, I’m likely to see you in person in the Mile High City later this week. There’s not much more to say about the meeting, except that since almost the entire Alliance staff wil
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22 Sep 2011

Things to do in Denver…

The Alliance’s Annual Meeting begins next Thursday in Denver, so I thought I’d prepare a list of some of my favorite things to do in the Mile High City. My wife and I lived there for two years, right after we were married in 1981, and on a recent visit we found…that almost all of our favorite places have been bulldozed and rebuilt as something new! The city has undergone a transformation in the past decade, from its incredibly large airport (which I’m pretty sure is located in Kansas), to spark
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20 Sep 2011

The distaff difference…

I attended the annual meeting of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) last week in D.C. and sat in on an educational session on selling financial services to women. The speaker reeled off a number of staggering statistics, two of which caught my attention: More than 90% of widows switch financial advisors within a year of their husbands' deaths. Why? Because the advisor did not take the time to build a relationship with the woman and include her in the decision
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16 Sep 2011

Lies, damn lies, and statistics…

We’ve all heard the phrase that “figures can lie and liars can figure.” But sometimes statistics can be so compelling that you just have to take them seriously. For instance, take a look at these compiled by LIMRA and the LIFE Foundation: 64% -- Consumers in 2011 who prefer to buy life insurance from a professional 80% -- Consumers in 1996 who preferred to buy life insurance from a professional 31% -- Consumers aged 25-44 that prefer to buy direct (Internet, other means) 63% -- Adults who
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13 Sep 2011

Barbarians at the gates…

“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” Thomas Jefferson A full-blown debate – and a likely overhaul – of the nation’s tax policy is coming. Whether it is triggered by the recommendations of the “Deficit Super Committee” that are due by Thanksgiving, or whether it is postponed until after the November 2012 elections, the state of the nation’s economy and realization that major changes are needed to secure the viability of our
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9 Sep 2011

Whole Foods to Become a Fraternal Benefit Society…

That’s not exactly true. You won’t be able to pick up an annuity or whole life certificate along with your organic kale or free-range chicken anytime soon. But in a handful of Whole Foods stores, you will be able to become a member of “Wellness Clubs” where you can get lifestyle evaluations and access to classes in...
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6 Sep 2011

Doing good…because they have to?

If there was a glaring example of the difference between fraternal life insurers and our commercial cousins, it’s featured in this article from National Underwriter (“California: Insurers Show Off Their Good Works”). Nothing says commitment to the community like “we do this because we have to.” It reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s telephone operator character who – in the days before deregulation – said: “We don’t care; we don’t have to. We’re the phone company!” While the insurers mentioned in the a
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30 Aug 2011

If you build it, they will come…

Ray, people will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afte
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25 Aug 2011

Community Involvement is Good Business

Click here to listen to “part two” of Joe Annotti’s recap of his experience attending the Public Affairs Council “Corporate Community Involvement” Conference.
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22 Aug 2011

Why are corporations trying to emulate fraternals?

I belong to a number of professional associations and societies, but the one I find most valuable is the Public Affairs Council (PAC), a trade group for public affairs professionals of both for-profit and non-profit corporations. I spent 25 years in the public affairs arena, doing work for a university, a national insurance broker, and trade associations representing independent insurance agents and property/casualty insurance companies. The educational programs and resource material provided b
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16 Aug 2011

We have what they want…

If you haven’t read the article, “The Power of the Post-Recession Consumer”, you really should.  It will restore your faith in the fraternal system and convince you that we have what modern consumers want.  Simply reading it won’t change your society’s performance; but it may give you the fodder you need to reinvent your society and capture the market share fraternals have lost over the past century.  Here are a few key findings… Consumer spending patterns are changing as a part of a trend th
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8 Aug 2011

Shout outs…

In the wake of credit rating downgrades, a stalled economic recovery, and a free-falling stock market, here are a few items that will give you a smile and reinforce your faith in the fraternal system… Turnaround Tip-of-the-Hat… Check out this article from the August 5 Milwaukee Business Journal on Catholic Financial Life’s remarkable progress since the “merger made in heaven” took place last year. Congratulations to Bill O’Toole, his management team, and the society’s forward-thinking Board fo
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4 Aug 2011

On Pledges and Politics – How the Debt Ceiling Debate Affects the Fraternal Tax-Exemption…

Whew! Congress and the President worked out an 11th-hour compromise that preserved the nation’s credit rating and prevented August Social Security checks from bouncing like a rubber ball. We can all breathe a big sigh of relief, right? I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little “dis” about the events of the past month – disgusted, dismayed, disappointed, disenfranchised… This was no grand bargain; it was partisan politics at its worst. The pledges many lawmakers signed when they took off
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2 Aug 2011

The Alliance is on Facebook!

You probably saw the announcement that was sent out yesterday regarding the Alliance’s new Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FraternalAlliance So why have we joined the millions of others on Facebook? Well, because everyone else has… and it’s growing every day. That’s not to say that if everyone else jumped off a bridge, we would, too. But social media… love it or hate it… use it every day to update your “friends” on the exciting details of your day… or ignore it altogether… either way, we know
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28 Jul 2011

Alone, We Could Not Have Achieved the Same Success

I’m on the road again, so today we have a special guest blogger. Lisa Renner is Co-founder and Principal of The Renner Group, dedicated to building and implementing collaborative business solutions. Lisa is an expert in collaboration with a unique perspective, leveraging science and technology to turn thought into action with a high degree of accuracy, and at an accelerated rate of speed. We are fortunate to have Lisa leading a workshop at the Annual Meeting on Friday, September 30, at 2:00 pm.
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26 Jul 2011

What do consumers really think about fraternals?

Recently, I met with Keith Frederick of Frederick Polls, LLC, the consultant who will be moderating the Alliance’s series of four consumer focus groups to be held next month in Madison, WI, and Addison, TX.  It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited about a particular project.  This is the Alliance’s initial foray into consumer research, and this project has the potential to provide member societies with the tools they need to make themselves more relevant in the eyes of their current and,
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22 Jul 2011

I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill…

I spent the better part of last week in Washington, D.C., meeting with our federal lobbying team, staff members of Representatives and Senators who serve on key committees with oversight of tax issues, and the Alliance’s consumer research consultant.  No matter how frequently I visit Washington, I always come away enlightened – or absolutely befuddled.  Last week’s excursion resulted in a little of both. On the enlightenment side of the ledger, I continue to be impressed with the Alliance’s fe
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15 Jul 2011

The Lost Generation

I want to treat this blog as a forum for discussion. That’s why your comments are always encouraged, especially if you post them here for all to read and spark further conversations. I also envision others using this blog to have their say. Today, while I’m in Washington, D.C., I have turned the blog over to Elizabeth Snyder, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for the American Fraternal Alliance, for a young(er) perspective. Take it away, Elizabeth… _______________________________________
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11 Jul 2011

The Face-to-Face Social Network…

There’s a lot to be said about the instant (and seemingly constant) exchange of information that electronic communication affords us.  Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, texts, or even “old-fashioned” email, the ability to stay in touch with friends, co-workers, colleagues and competitors allows us to get more done in less time (even though it seems that this technology allows us to work more and relax less).  But all the gadgets in the world can’t substitute for a handshake, a hug, a look-you-in
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6 Jul 2011

Shrinking the “Vicarious Liability” Gap…

Does your society sell its products the same way it did in 1950…1970…or even 1990?  The answer is almost certainly “no.”  Many societies have abandoned member-to-member marketing strategies in favor of one that utilizes a network of independent agents offering products and services to both existing and prospective members.  Other societies that have relied on a captive agent force have transitioned to independent agents or have augmented those captives with independents in areas where the socie
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28 Jun 2011

Did you think the IRS was joking???

Over the past few months, we’ve sent out numerous reminders to member societies and State Fraternal Alliances encouraging them to make sure that they and all their lodges submitted a 990 form to the IRS to ensure their tax-exempt status. Some folks evidently didn’t get the message or didn’t take it seriously because over the past few weeks, the IRS has sent over 11,000 notices to non-profit organizations – including dozens of fraternal lodges – advising them that “your organization’s tax-exempt
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21 Jun 2011

In Your Own Words…

I’m back from a brief blog break – a long weekend in Las Vegas (the silliest place on the planet and a perfect way to escape reality) – and wanted to share with you some of your responses to the questions I posed in my June 7 posting: “What would be lost if we woke up tomorrow and the fraternal system did not exist? What real needs in your members’ communities would go unfilled if you weren’t there to fill them?” Many of these were posted to the blog and some were emailed to me directly. But al
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10 Jun 2011

Random thoughts on email and economics…

I honestly can’t imagine life without email.  When I take a few days off and disconnect my BlackBerry, it takes me at least 24 hours to get over the withdrawal of not being able to instantly communicate with folks – my staff, member society executives, public policymakers, family.  Amazingly, when I stabilize and decompress, I find that the world won’t end because the things I so desperately needed to communicate have to wait for a bit.  But just as amazingly, when I turn that beast back on, I
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7 Jun 2011

Imagine a world without your society…

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Mark Twain uttered those famous words over a century ago.  And thanks to the recent predictions of the world’s demise, journalists all over the country were able to insert them into today’s headlines.  I’m sure you saw or read reports about the misguided Christian broadcaster from California (my home, sweet, home state) who boldly predicted the end of the world.  Yep, according to this Christian broadcaster, Armageddon was upon us…the Raptur
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1 Jun 2011

Agitation Redux…Survey Responses…

OK, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve revisited the “Agitation can be fun” posting but it’s time to review your responses to my informal and unscientific survey about cooperative and collaborative efforts within the fraternal system.  Here goes…  Respectable showings for all the options provided.  Most encouraging is the interest in a cooperative compliance program – BECAUSE THE ALLIANCE ALREADY HAS ONE!  Interested in learning more about how you can enhance your organization’s ability to co
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25 May 2011

Cooperation, Collaboration, Consolidation – It’s Happening All Around Us…

I’ve only been around fraternals for three years and the topic of reinventing the system has been the focal point of every individual conversation and Alliance-sponsored conference in which I’ve been involved.  And looking back at themes from past Annual and Mid-Year Section meetings, we’ve been talking about this for decades. But the time for talk may be giving way to the time for action, due to a laundry list of changes in the external and internal environment in which we operate.  An aging
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17 May 2011

Moments of Inspiration…

For the first time in what seems like forever, I spent more than a few hours in the office this week. Between participating in Section meetings, facilitating Board Institute training programs for member societies, and attending the Annual Meetings of the Canadian Fraternal Association and the National Association of Fraternal Insurance Counselors, my BlackBerry, cell phone, and airport lounges have served as my de facto office. I returned to find an inbox full of files, news clips, and reports
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10 May 2011

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
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29 Apr 2011

Agitation Can Be Fun!

Thanks for your comments (both public and private) and your responses to the mini-survey at the end of my most recent blog posting.  Lots of food for thought in there.  I’ll be on the road this week at the President/Secretaries Section meeting and then moderating a Board Institute session for a member society in St. Paul, MN, where I’ll be discussing your feedback with society leaders and board members.  Look for a future blog posting with some thoughts on how we want to take all these great id
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27 Apr 2011


If you read Monday’s blog posting, you might think that my confidence in the fraternal system’s ability to survive in a radically different environment from the one in which it was created was … shaken. Let me assure you that I absolutely believe that the concept of fraternal societies – people joining together to secure their financial futures and, in the process, to support causes and organizations that they collectively believe in – can be restored, rejuvenated, and made relevant to today’s
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25 Apr 2011

Renew, Restore, Revitalize, Reinvent

I think of the fraternal system as a neighborhood filled with aging homes.  At one time these homes may have been the most desirable addresses in the community.  And while their former charm can still be imagined, the years have taken their toll.  There are a few slats missing in the picket fences.  The paint around the windows is peeling.  The roofs sag in spots. At this point, the homeowners have three choices:  1) Continue to ignore the ravages of time, reflect on the memory of their former
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19 Apr 2011

Reinventing ourselves from the inside out

NEW!  Inspired by the energy of the Fraternal and Communications Sections meeting, I'm trying my hand at a new way of blogging...  Take a listen and let me know what you think. Click here for this week's post.
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7 Apr 2011

Easily digestible bite-sized chunks…

I’ve got lots of good information to share with you, so rather than cluttering things up with a long narrative, let’s cut to the chase – and the links… Shameless self-promotion… The Alliance received another nice public affairs boost with the publication of THIS ARTICLE, entitled “Fraternals: a valuable partner for producers” in Life Insurance Selling magazine.  The editor of the magazine is quite interested in learning – and writing – more about fraternals for a special September issue on “Th
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30 Mar 2011

Insure Thyself!

Fraternals provide protection, but how well protected are your society, your board, and your agents? Protecting our members’ financial futures through safe and secure insurance and annuity products is a big part of what we do.  But operating a fraternal – that unique hybrid of financial services provider, membership organization, and community service activist - carries significant risk, as well. Are your society executives and board members secure in the knowledge that they are protected aga
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25 Mar 2011

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
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17 Mar 2011

Action Creates Clarity

That's the mantra of one of the Alliance's most popular Annual Meeting, speakers, Peter Sheahan.  And if you loved his presentation last September, and his best-selling book, Flip, chances are you'll want to be among the first to buy his latest tome, Making It Happen: Turning Good Ideas Into Great Results.  Have you put one or more of Peter's ideas to work in your society or your life?  Share those ideas by posting a comment here... And we've got another great speaker line up for 2011... Frank
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11 Mar 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story…Don’t It?

I could write a lovely soliloquy about the value of attending a Mid-Year Section Meeting, telling you all about the terrific educational programs, the world class speakers, the networking opportunities, and – in the case of the Presidents Section – the chance to tell the fraternal story to members of Congress on Capitol Hill. But it may be more effective to demonstrate the benefits of participating in these meetings through these incredible “before and after” photos of actual Section meeting at
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4 Mar 2011

Alliance Members Speak Out

The results of our annual Membership Satisfaction Survey are in and more than half of our member societies let us know what they thought the Alliance was doing well, where they thought the organization could improve, and what they’d like to see from their association in the future. The complete survey results will be posted to the Alliance Web site next week, but here is a quick overview of the key findings: Overview of Respondents…As usual, we organized respondents into five groups based on a
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25 Feb 2011

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 s
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17 Feb 2011

Bits of Tid

The Facebook Revolution… Any doubts about the organizational capabilities of social media should be erased in the wake of the peaceful overthrow of the government of Egypt over the past three weeks. Thirty years of oppression and corruption fueled the revolution, but the Facebook postings of a Google executive played an enormous role in organizing the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and, ultimately, opening the door to what will hopefully be free and fair elections later this year. I know that
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7 Feb 2011

The Season of Political Insanity is Upon Us…

Congress and most state legislatures will be back in session this month and hundreds of bills will be introduced that will impact just about every individual and business in the United States.  Yes, it’s the start of the political insanity season when lawmakers toss everything against the wall and see what sticks.  The vast majority of these bills will die because a) they were introduced by a legislator whose party was not in power or who doesn’t have the political juice to get the measure hear
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28 Jan 2011

Half of life is just showing up...

Those immortal words, repeated incessantly by my high-school basketball coach, still ring in my ears.  Because I tended to dismiss anything that anyone in a position of authority said during my teenage years, it took me a long time to figure out just how important "showing up" is. A recent report, "Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill," released by the Public Affairs Counsel, demonstrates the value of that message.  The report, based on a survey of 260 c
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19 Jan 2011

If we can make it there, we’ll make it anywhere…

Bet you never thought you’d see your association’s name up in lights in the Big Apple.  But check out this photo to see the American Fraternal Alliance's name and logo shining brightly in Times Square. We distributed the news release on the new name to the national news media through PR Newswire.  As part of that arrangement, we received a banner placement on the famed news ticker in the heart of Manhattan.  Just one more small step in our effort to spread the good word about fraternals to f
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11 Jan 2011

So much information, so little space…

As I’m sure you’re aware, we’re doing our best to establish the new American Fraternal Alliance brand with our key audiences.  The past week has been devoted to making sure our most important audience – you, the members – has all the information you need to let your employees, agents and brokers, and individual members know about the new name, logo, and tagline.  Thanks to all those who’ve let us know how much the like the new look.  And thanks again to the six members of the Branding Task Forc
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5 Jan 2011

Now, therefore, be it resolved…

I try my best not to make promises I can’t keep.  That’s why New Year’s “resolutions” are at the top of my “greatest waste of time” list.  Besides, those of you that knew me more than 20 years ago (or heard others recount some of the legendary stories from that period) are fully aware that my life over the past two decades could be considered a resolution.   And for the blessings given to me during that time I am truly grateful. My spouse, of course, is a big fan of resolutions.  (They say opp
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4 Jan 2011

Looking Back on 2010 and Ahead to 2011

It’s the time of year for reflections and resolutions – and maybe a few predictions.  So here goes… 2010 was a very good year… While an avid student of history, I make it a point not to live there.  Let’s celebrate our successes, learn from our failures, and put the knowledge from both to use today without any regrets.  Here’s a quick look at the major developments that affected the fraternal industry last year: The American Fraternal Alliance was born – By a unanimous vote of the membership
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4 Jan 2011

Taking a Mini Blog Break…

I’ll be taking a short blog vacation next week… so you’ll have a little quiet time to yourselves.  To be honest, I always write this blog, but I’m a bit technically challenged… and a certain staff person (ahem), who posts and sends this out for me, is going to be out of the country getting married next week.  I guess there isn’t Internet access in Jamaica, huh Rose?  Just kidding… In the spirit of the NFCA changing its name to the American Fraternal Alliance, our Director of Public Affairs Ros
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4 Jan 2011

Rose is Back and It’s Time to Blog…

Rose Riccetti (now Rose Riccetti-Andrikos) is back from her wedding in Jamaica and all that pent up blogging inside me can now be released once again on you poor, unsuspecting readers.  During this mini-blog break I’ve come across several articles that I thought you might find interesting.  Take a look at the quick summaries provided below and click on the links that suit your fancy… Mid-term elections intensify the deficit theme – This REPORT from our federal lobbying firm, McBee Strategic
Read more
4 Jan 2011

10 Reasons Why Supporting Military Families Makes Sense For Fraternals…

As you know, earlier this year NFCA’s Board of Directors adopted a resolution encouraging its member societies to support the National Military Family Association’s (NMFA) “Operation Purple” program.  “Operation Purple” is NMFA’s summer camp program for children of military families.  NMFA designs the camp curriculum specifically for children with one or both parents actively serving in the military and provides scholarships to every camp participant.  The cost of sending one child to camp is $
Read more
4 Jan 2011

Keystone State Sets Example for Regulatory Relationships

Fraternal leaders in the Keystone State – led by the Pennsylvania Fraternal Congress (soon to become the Pennsylvania Fraternal Alliance!) – set the standard for developing positive relationships with state insurance regulators.  I had the privilege of attending my third PFC meeting this week and the highlight of the session was the three-hour presentation by four representatives from the state Department of Insurance (DOI), including Deputy Insurance Commissioner Steve Johnson and Director of
Read more
4 Jan 2011

Radio Free Fraternalism…

Fraternals take to the airwaves!  That’s right, folks.  I’ll be a guest on the nationally syndicated radio program, the “Jason Lewis Show” tomorrow (Tuesday, December 21) at 7:35 p.m. Central Time.  My objective is to spread the news about all the good works you and your colleagues do across the country every day of the year.  This page provides you information on the stations that will broadcast the show, and you can also tune-in via the Internet by clicking here or by clicking on the "Listen
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4 Jan 2011

Countdown to the American Fraternal Alliance

On January 3, 2011 – less than one month from now – your trade association will officially become the American Fraternal Alliance.  The Fraternal Alliance’s staff is working hard on the million and one details that go in to ensuring that the transition to a new brand is seamless for all our member societies.  The Board has approved a new logo for the Fraternal Alliance, and we are in the process of transforming everything – our Web site, promotional materials, business cards – to reflect the or
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4 Jan 2011

A Little Something for Eveyone

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a blog, and I’ve been collecting items that I just know you’ll love.  I’ll save the big thought pieces on the future of fraternalism and the procedure for rolling out the association’s new name for later in the month.  In the meantime, I hope these interesting bits of tid will whet your holiday appetite for making a difference in your society, in your community, and in the nation… Give a gift to the children of America’s military families – It’s the season
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4 Jan 2011

Selling the fraternal difference – I’ve got questions; you’ve got answers…

We talk a lot about the “fraternal difference” – the unique factors that distinguish us from any other entity, be it a commercial life insurer or a charitable organization.  Fraternals are a breed apart – from our common bonds, to our governance structure, to our incredible ability to enhance the quality of life for our members, our communities, and our nation’s social fabric and economic health.  This blog posting highlights the impact of those activities by a handful of fraternals.  I’ve l
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4 Jan 2011

Sending A Message…

For Republicans it was vindication.  For Democrats, a bloodbath.  And for independents – a group that increasingly is the determining factor in American elections – it was an opportunity to send a message.  Exactly what that message was is still uncertain, but here are a few possibilities: “We knew we were voting for ‘change’ in 2008; but we didn’t realize it would be that extensive.” “Slow down!  Let’s think these things through before we act.” “Business creates jobs, not government.” “
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27 Dec 2010

Looking back on 2010… and ahead to 2011

It’s the time of year for reflections and resolutions – and maybe even a few predictions.  So here goes… 2010 was a very good year… While an avid student of history, I make it a point to not to live there.  Let’s celebrate our successes, learn from our failures, and put the knowledge from both to use today without any regrets.  Here’s a quick look at the major developments that affected the fraternal industry last year: The American Fraternal Alliance was born – By a unanimous
Read more
19 Dec 2010

Radio Free Fraternalism…

Fraternals take to the airwaves!  That’s right, folks.  I’ll be a guest on the nationally syndicated radio program, the “Jason Lewis Show” tomorrow (Tuesday, December 21) at 7:35 p.m. Central Time.  My objective is to spread the news about all the good works you and your colleagues do across the country every day of the year.  This page provides you information on the stations that will broadcast the show, and you can also tune-in via the Internet by clicking here
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17 Dec 2010

Thank you to our sponsors!

  Presidents/Secretaries/Human Resources Sections Mid-Year Meeting  Gold Sponsors:   Miller & Newberg, Inc.      RSM McGladrey, Inc.  
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14 Dec 2010

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
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14 Dec 2010

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, t
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7 Dec 2010

Countdown to the American Fraternal Alliance

On January 3, 2011 – less than one month from now – your trade association will officially become the American Fraternal Alliance.  The Fraternal Alliance’s staff is working hard on the million and one details that go in to ensuring that the transition to a new brand is seamless for all our member societies.  The Board has approved a new logo for the Fraternal Alliance, and we are in the process of transforming everything – our Web site, promotional materials, business cards – to refl
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29 Nov 2010

A little something for everyone…

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a blog, and I’ve been collecting items that I just know you’ll love.  I’ll save the big thought pieces on the future of fraternalism and the procedure for rolling out the association’s new name for later in the month.  In the meantime, I hope these interesting bits of tid will whet your holiday appetite for making a difference in your society, in your community, and in the nation… Give a gift to the children of America’s military families – It’s t
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19 Nov 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

There's a lot that I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving... my family, the fact that it hasn't snowed yet in Chicago, and the Bulls are 6 and 4 (not too bad considering Carlos Boozer hasn't played yet). Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving week.  I will have a lot of information to share with you after the holiday.  Until then, let me know what you're thankful for by posting your comments below.    
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9 Nov 2010

Selling the fraternal difference – I’ve got questions; you’ve got answers…

We talk a lot about the “fraternal difference” – the unique factors that distinguish us from any other entity, be it a commercial life insurer or a charitable organization.  Fraternals are a breed apart – from our common bonds, to our governance structure, to our incredible ability to enhance the quality of life for our members, our communities, and our nation’s social fabric and economic health.  This blog posting highlights the impact of those activities by a handful of fraternals
Read more
3 Nov 2010

Sending a message…

For Republicans it was vindication.  For Democrats, a bloodbath.  And for independents – a group that increasingly is the determining factor in American elections – it was an opportunity to send a message.  Exactly what that message was is still uncertain, but here are a few possibilities: “We knew we were voting for ‘change’ in 2008; but we didn’t realize it would be that extensive.” “Slow down!  Let’s think these things through before we act.” “Business creates jobs, no
Read more
28 Oct 2010

Keystone State Sets Example for Regulatory Relationships

Fraternal leaders in the Keystone State – led by the Pennsylvania Fraternal Congress (soon to become the Pennsylvania Fraternal Alliance!) – set the standard for developing positive relationships with state insurance regulators.  I had the privilege of attending my third PFC meeting this week and the highlight of the session was the three-hour presentation by four representatives from the state Department of Insurance (DOI), including Deputy Insurance Commissioner Steve Johnson and Directo
Read more
21 Oct 2010

10 reasons why supporting military families makes sense for fraternals…

As you know, earlier this year NFCA’s Board of Directors adopted a resolution encouraging its member societies to support the National Military Family Association’s (NMFA) “Operation Purple” program.  “Operation Purple” is NMFA’s summer camp program for children of military families.  NMFA designs the camp curriculum specifically for children with one or both parents actively serving in the military and provides scholarships to every camp participant.  The cost of sending one chi
Read more
14 Oct 2010

Rose is back and it’s time to blog…

Rose Riccetti (now Rose Riccetti-Andrikos) is back from her wedding in Jamaica and all that pent up blogging inside me can now be released once again on you poor, unsuspecting readers.  During this mini-blog break I’ve come across several articles that I thought you might find interesting.  Take a look at the quick summaries provided below and click on the links that suit your fancy… Mid-term elections intensify the deficit theme – This REPORT from our federal lobbying firm, McBee
Read more
1 Oct 2010

Taking a mini blog break…

I’ll be taking a short blog vacation next week… so you’ll have a little quiet time to yourselves.  To be honest, I always write this blog, but I’m a bit technically challenged… and a certain staff person (ahem), who posts and sends this out for me, is going to be out of the country getting married next week.  I guess there isn’t Internet access in Jamaica, huh Rose?  Just kidding… In the spirit of the NFCA changing its name to the American Fraternal Alliance, our Director of P
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29 Sep 2010

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. When it comes to public policy issues, fraternals have a hist
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22 Sep 2010

Bits of Tid...

We’re all still recovering from the Annual Meeting, so the long-winded epistles that sometimes populate this space will have to wait a week or two.  (Don’t look so happy…)  In the interim, here are a few items I thought you might find interesting.  And don’t forget, this is as much your space as it is mine, so if you have any comments, suggestions, concerns, book recommendations, or favorite movie quotes (see below for more information on this item), please SPEAK OUT!!! Annual
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13 Sep 2010

The American Fraternal Alliance is Born!

After 125 years, your association has a new name: The American Fraternal Alliance. Members voted unanimously to adopt the new name at the association’s Annual Meeting held in Chicago last week.  After months of work by the six-member Branding Task Force, thorough consideration by the association’s Board of Directors, and detailed communications with members on the rationale, process, and parameters that framed the debate, the case for a new name was clearly made. The name change won’t oc
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7 Sep 2010

All We Need is You…

The keynote speakers are briefed, the workshop leaders prepared, the Section meeting agendas confirmed, the community service project organized, the special events nailed down.  All we need to make the 2010 NFCA Annual Meeting a success is you.  The NFCA staff is particularly excited about this year’s meeting because it’s being held right here in Chicago, our home town.  We’re looking forward to welcoming you to “the city that works” and will do everything we can to make this yea
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30 Aug 2010

Joe’s Special

Brand Camp… As you know, NFCA has been doing extensive work on its own brand – the membership will consider a proposal to adopt American Fraternal Alliance as the new name of the association at next month’s Annual Meeting in Chicago – and in the process, we’ve discovered that a number of member societies are also seriously considering overhauling their organization’s brand identity.  In fact, we conducted a complimentary NFCA Webinar on this very topic - Does Your Society Need to Over
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23 Aug 2010

Report from the NAIC Meeting

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) met in Seattle from August 13-17.  I was on hand for most of this meeting, and here’s a quick look at some of the key developments: Health Care Insurance – This was the dominant theme of the meeting since President Obama is looking to the NAIC and state regulators to develop loss ratio information that will be used under the new federal health insurance reform legislation. Protesters carrying signs saying “Stop the lobbyist pand
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12 Aug 2010

With Dignity and Respect for All...

I had the opportunity to spend a little time at three member society conventions over the past week: KSKJ Life in Pueblo, CO; Luso-American Life in Burlingame, CA; and CSA Fraternal Life in Lisle, IL.  As always, it was wonderful to renew acquaintances with society executives and to witness the debates among delegates about ways to improve their organizations’ financial and fraternal activities.  The leadership of all three of these societies not only recognizes the need for the r
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9 Aug 2010

My Kind of Town...

We’re only a month away from the NFCA Annual Meeting in Chicago… so the question on everyone’s minds is “what do I need to pack?”  Other than the Community Service Activity and the Closing Reception/Dinner, the dress code for the entire meeting will be business casual—so feel free to pack those slacks, open-collared shirts, and sport coats, or the female equivalent of skirts, pants, sweater sets, and informal dresses. Rat Pack ReduxLast year, fraternalists dug out their spurs and hats a
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3 Aug 2010

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… Eleven fraternal benefit societies are included in the most recent issue of “A.M. Best’s Review of the Top 200 US Life-Health Insurers” – I would never have guessed this to be the case, but numbers don’t lie.  The Best’s report points out a few things: 1) Fraternals can compete with our commercial peers and be relevant providers of financial services
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26 Jul 2010

A Day on the Hill – Part 2

In my last post, I talked about the results of my recent series of meetings with congressional staff.  In that report, I mentioned how effective NFCA’s “Fraternals Serve” brochure was in setting the table for a discussion of the value and validity of the fraternal tax exemption with public policymakers.  Evidently, quite a few folks took note of that item because the brochures – which are available to members at no charge – are flying off the shelves.  Thanks to all of you for be
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21 Jul 2010

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
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13 Jul 2010

Enhance Your Society’s Board Performance with New NFCA Tool

I’ve been invited to address a number of NFCA member-society conventions this year, and in virtually every case, the CEO has asked me to focus my remarks on the need for fraternals to modernize their governance structure and enhance the performance of their boards.  That’s a good sign, because of the three major challenges we face as a system – governance, solvency, and relevance – it’s governance over which we have the most control.  In fact, you can make a good case that we can’t ef
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6 Jul 2010

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.  When the Board hired me, they made it clear that the most important of the many priorities that come with the job of NFCA p
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28 Jun 2010

What’s your “elevator speech”?

You’re riding in an elevator with a member of Congress, the editor of the local newspaper, or a prospective member, and they ask you a simple question: “Tell me about your organization?” You’ve got between 30-60 seconds to convey who you are and what you do in a clear, concise, and compelling way.  How do you respond? Here’s how the fraternal marketing executive I had lunch with last week handled that question: “We are a membership organization that brings Catholic values to life by sup
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22 Jun 2010

Won’t you please come to Chicago…

Believe it or not, the opening session of the 2010 NFCA Annual Meeting is just 11 weeks away.  And this year’s conference is in the association’s back yard – sweet home, Chicago.  (Test your knowledge of the Windy City by taking the Chicago trivia test below.) Have you registered yet?  Here are just a few reasons...
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15 Jun 2010

Financial Exams, Ft. Hood Memorial, and a Father’s Wisdom…

NAIC Plans Review of RBC System – Don’t know if you’ve seen the article in today’s National Underwriter, but the NAIC is planning to conduct the first thorough review of the risk-based capital (RBC) system in nearly two decades.  Regulators use the RBC ratio to adjust the value of an insurer’s holding to reflect the estimated level of risk and, after the adjustments are made, to determine whether the insurer has enough capital to meet its obligations.  Regulators may step in when an i
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8 Jun 2010

Time to Walk Our Talk… Especially this Summer

We all know what tremendous contributions fraternals make to individuals and organizations in communities across the country every day.  We improve our society by building homes, feeding the hungry, supporting the military, offering scholarships, helping the less fortunate.  And the impact of our efforts goes well beyond the people and charities we support directly.  By organizing and implementing a variety of seemingly small fraternal initiatives, our combined efforts result in
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28 May 2010

Corporate Governance: Maybe the Most Important Change Agent in Your Organization

We talk a lot about the need for change in our system.  Much of that talk revolves around the issues of solvency and relevance.  When fraternal executives discuss these issues, I find that they frequently equate the concept of change with the process of merger.  Consolidation is certainly one method of implementing change in an organization, but it is not the solution for every society, and it is not the only change a society can implement in order to reinvent itself.  T
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24 May 2010

Lessons from Lions...

We've all heard of the Lions Club.  Many of us know them as the group that collects used eyeglasses for those who can't afford them.  I'll bet more than a few of you are active members of the club in your home town.  The Lions are a service club, not a fraternal benefit society.  But like almost every membership organization in the U.S., they are struggling to adjust to societal changes that have resulted in a declining membership and a struggle to remain rel
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18 May 2010

Imagining a New Fraternal Vision, Eh?

Last week I participated in the Canadian Fraternal Association (CFA) Annual Meeting in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  I had my picture taken with the leadership of the Sons of Scotland (hide the women and children…), who also proudly unveiled their new logo.  A creative actuary… The quality of the participants was only surpassed by the program topics and presenters.  The most memorable session for me was led by Sharon Giffen of the Independent Order of Foresters (IOF).  Shar
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10 May 2010

Joe’s Special

Here is a grab bag of items I’ve been meaning to share with you – some monumental, others less so.  Hope you find them interesting… Minnesota becomes the second state to enact a fraternal RBC law – You may have read about this in the Special Bulletin sent last week, but I thought it important enough to also include here.  On April 27, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty signed into law a bill that, among other things, requires fraternals doing business in the state to meet Risk-Based C
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4 May 2010

6 Fl!pping Lessons Every CEO Should Learn

I just finished reading Fl!p: How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings.*  The author, Peter Sheahan, is one of the featured speakers at the 2010 NFCA Annual Meeting, September 9-11, in Chicago.  I thought the book was terrific and encourage you to a) pick up a copy and b) register for the Annual Meeting so that you can experience Mr. Sheahan in person.  Here are six of the most important lessons I learned that I intend to implement at
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27 Apr 2010

Joe’s Special – 5 Things You Probably Missed But Shouldn’t Have…

Prospects for serious debate of tax reform in Congress are slim… Acting House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin (D-MI) recently said, "Clearly, tax reform is an issue for next year, not this year. I've heard almost no one in our ranks talk about it." That gives us a little time to build a more effective network of grassroots contacts and spread the good word about fraternals to folks on Capitol Hill (and, more importantly, in their districts back home). This is no t
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22 Apr 2010

Back to the blogosphere…

The hardest part of blogging isn’t finding topics to write about – Lord knows I’ve got enough topics in the “blog file” I carry around with me to last several months – it’s finding the time to collect my thoughts in a coherent enough way to make sense of them all.  The last 10 days have been a whirlwind of Section meetings, committee meetings, site inspections and special events – all of which conspired to keep me away from posting a blog for quite a while now.  Did you miss me? 
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7 Apr 2010

Let’s try this again…

I first posted the following item on Thursday, April 1.  And frankly, I thought I’d get at least a few responses.  I’ll chalk it up to the fact that I didn’t count on people being out of the office for Easter break.  But now that we’re all back to work, let’s try this again… Food for thought…  Here’s an idea that was discussed at the recently concluded Fraternal and Communications Sections Mid-Year Meeting, and I want to get your feedback on it.  It’s no secret
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1 Apr 2010

Joe’s Special… Random Bits of Positivity from an April Fool

WFLA turns sales trip into community service event… Almost every fraternal life insurer provides their top producers with an incentive trip as a way to acknowledge their outstanding sales, service, and community service performance.  Western Fraternal Life Association (WFLA) has established a tradition of incorporating a fraternal activity into this annual event.  When the site for the sales trip is selected – in 2010, it was St. Thomas – society leaders select a needy school in the a
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29 Mar 2010

10 Things I Learned at the Fraternal/Communications Sections Meeting…

The just-concluded Fraternal and Communications Sections Mid-Year Meeting was an eye-opener.  Most, if not all, of the speakers focused heavily on communicating with and selling products to the next generation of fraternal members – Gen X-ers (born between 1965-1979) and Millennials (born between 1980-2000).  If your society is planning on sticking around and staying relevant, the information presented during the Section meeting was absolutely invaluable.  Here’s a quick review o
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23 Mar 2010

Treating “Like Like Like”

Any time a group of businesses or its trade association takes the lead on working with public policymakers to enact stricter regulatory guidelines on how those organizations are run, it’s bound to spur controversy.  Some members of the trade group may bristle at being subjected to rules they think are unfair or discriminatory.  Others may think the proposed standards don’t go far enough.  Such has been the case with state efforts to apply Risk-Based Capital (RBC) standards to
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16 Mar 2010

You like us! You really, really like us!

The results of the NFCA member-satisfaction survey are in and, while there is always room for improvement, members of all sizes are satisfied with the association’s performance over the past year.  Here’s a LINK to the full survey results and a few highlights from this year’s survey: The overall response was very positive, with the association earning “top two” (either very satisfied or completely satisfied) marks on the majority of questions. Most importantly, ratings in many areas im
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12 Mar 2010

50 Ways to Demonstrate the Relevance of Fraternalism

This is a quick posting, but one that may be more important than any of those long soliloquies you’re used to receiving from me.  Special Olympics is one of the most recognized and respected charitable organizations in the United States.  Their good work manufactures an important and priceless commodity – hope. Many NFCA member societies contribute funds to Special Olympics and provide volunteers to run local events in their communities.  Some societies partner with the organi
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9 Mar 2010

Want new members? Leave the lodge and look online...

In case you missed it, here’s a link to an article in last Sunday’s Parade magazine about a recent survey on the boom in volunteerism in the U.S.  My question to you, dear readers, is:  How is your society capitalizing on all this "latent fraternalism"? Just a few highlights from the piece: 94% of Americans think it’s “important to be personally involved in supporting a cause we believe in.” 78% think that the actions of one person can improve the world and an equal num
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4 Mar 2010

Pop Quiz: Two Questions Every Fraternal Should Answer

Here are a couple questions for you… What challenges keep you awake at night? How do you define success for your society – in terms of product sales, increased revenue, lodge formation, member growth, fraternal activities, volunteer hours contributed, direct financial contributions made, member satisfaction, or other factors? This isn’t a test.  There are no right or wrong answers.  It’s a forum to share your thoughts.  The discussion could lay the groundwork for enhancing
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23 Feb 2010

Fraternal Activity Breathes New Life into Texas-Based Society

I know I’ve talked about the SPJST-led effort to create a living memorial to 13 American soldiers who were so senselessly killed at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 5, 2009.  But because the project seems to have rejuvenated the entire organization – as well as inspired a host of other businesses and individuals to get involved – I thought it was worth mentioning again.  The press coverage of SPJST’s initiative has helped generate a real fervor for the project in the region.  SP
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17 Feb 2010

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 e
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12 Feb 2010

Simplicity is the best recipe…

My sisters and I all learned to cook from watching our mother.  The kitchen was the most popular room in our house.  It was, after all, where the food was.  Our mom had no written recipes, so the only way you learned what went into the marinara, meatballs, and chicken cacciatore was to observe.  Her measurements were precisely calculated in increments like “a handful,” “some,” and “what you think you need.”  Her recipes didn’t come from a book, they came from the heart.
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8 Feb 2010

In Defense of Small Fraternals

Membership renewal notices and dues billings were sent to all NFCA members in early December, and today we are on the threshold of something truly remarkable: a 100% renewal rate. That's an accomplishment that's rare in any business, as all of you know well.  For a trade association executive like me, it's absolutely heartwarming because it means that the organization is providing advocacy and information services that offer real value to your society. It also makes
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2 Feb 2010

January Road Trips Set the Stage for 2010 Initiatives

I spent the last few days in Louisiana meeting with NFCA’s newest member society, checking out the location for the association’s 2012 Annual Meeting, and speaking to an enthusiastic group of fraternalists and FICs at the Louisiana Fraternal Congress meeting.  Here’s a thumbnail sketch of how things went… Knights of Peter Claver – This society has been around since 1909, but just became a member of NFCA this year, and we are thrilled to have them in the fold.  The society’s common
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25 Jan 2010

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 se
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18 Jan 2010

Joe’s Special…

A mish-mosh of information, intelligence, and innuendo… SPJST takes the lead on creating a monument to the victims of the Fort Hood shooting – NFCA member SPJST’s home office in Temple, Texas, is almost in the shadow of Fort Hood, one of the nation’s largest military installations and the site of one of our greatest tragedies—the senseless shooting of more than a dozen soldiers on November 5, 2009. The members of SPJST, many of whom live and work in the communities surrounding Fort Hood, ar
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12 Jan 2010

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… States Playing Bigger Role in Tax Exemption Debate As you know, NFCA is keeping a close eye on developments in the state of Washington after the Joint Legislat
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4 Jan 2010

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
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22 Dec 2009

2009 Top 10 List

It’s not Letterman, but here’s a shot at my Top Ten list for 2009: Victory in Hawaii – When your primary advocacy mission is defending the tax-exempt status of fraternals and you score a resounding victory in the face of a direct threat to that exemption, well, that just has to be the number one highlight of the year. After a rocky start, members rose to the challenge and demonstrated that not only can we tell our story effectively, but when we do, it provides some very compelling reasons t
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17 Dec 2009

Why do we question success?

In my travels over the past 18 months I’ve picked up on a recurring theme.  It goes something like this: societies that run the financial services segment of their operations well are somehow less “fraternal” than those that don’t.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned the name of a society that’s running the business end of their organization profitably – and there are quite of few of them out there, large and small – and the reaction I get is “Well, they are not really a f
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9 Dec 2009

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…     Rangel Planning Major Push for Tax Reform, Says Final Shape of Health Care Bill Uncle
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1 Dec 2009

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
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18 Nov 2009

A little of this, and a little of that…

Here are a few tidbits I thought you might like… The Independent Order of Foresters playground build in Raleigh, NC, was posted on the United We Serve blog. Congratulations to the IOF team for its commitment to this tremendously valuable project and to having it earn the recognition it deserves. Make sure to submit stories and photos of your society’s fraternal activity to United We Serve. It’s easy, just click here to fill out their online form. Here’s a story from a small town in Texas that
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9 Nov 2009

What’s the latest on the “fraternal cooperative?”

If you attended the 2009 Presidents or Secretaries Section meeting or the NFCA Annual Meeting, then you know that one of your association’s most important initiatives is to develop a “fraternal cooperative” – a shared services program that can help member societies combine resources to generate economies of scale, take advantage of the expertise on certain key issues within the fraternal system, and join forces to market innovative new financial services products to the next generation of membe
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2 Nov 2009

Joe’s Special

A little of this and a little of that with hopefully something that you might find interesting, enlightening, or outrageous.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.  Let’s keep the conversation going… Preaching and Tweeting Check out this article from the October 30, 2009, Chicago Tribune on churches and social media.  The two most compelling statements for me are: …more large Chicago-area churches are creating interactive ministries to connect with new members, eve
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28 Oct 2009

Don’t Blame the Messenger…

Dave DelBiondo, director of the Bureau of Financial Exams for the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, closed his presentation to attendees at this week’s Pennsylvania Fraternal Congress (PFC) with a frank discussion of fraternal solvency issues that should resonate well beyond the borders of the Keystone State.  Dave has always been known as a “friend of fraternals” and one of the regulators with the greatest degree of understanding of the fraternal system in the U.S.  His tone was
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22 Oct 2009

Another State Fraternal Congress Gem…

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been spending a good bit of my time participating in as many State Fraternal Congress meetings as I can.  And while the travel can sometimes get a bit grueling, I always seem to find at least one gem at every meeting that either reinforces the value of our contributions to the health of American society and the well-being of our members, or that sparks an idea for how we can better promote the fraternal advantage. In my last blog posting, I told you about t
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13 Oct 2009

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,
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5 Oct 2009

The Patient is Not Responsive…

A friend of mine passed away recently after a long illness.  In the final hours of his life, my friend was slipping in and out of consciousness.  As the family gathered to say their final goodbyes, the siblings were concerned that one son would not get home in time for my friend to be cognizant and recognize him.  Hours before the son arrived at the hospital, my friend slipped into what the doctors thought was a final coma.  His family tried to speak with him, but the doctor
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25 Sep 2009

Taking a Blog Break…

Folks, I’m taking a few days off next week, so you won’t see a new blog posting until the week of October 5.  My wife and I will be heading to the West Coast to visit our families there and get in a little R&R by kayaking on Monterey Bay, hiking the trails of Point Lobos and Big Sur, and eating enough fresh-caught calamari and sand dabs to sink a ship.  I’m limiting myself to one hour of BlackBerry and cell phone use per day in the hopes of coming back with my personal batteries f
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22 Sep 2009

Thanks for the memories

This year's Annual Meeting was a great success, and I just want to thank all of the members who attended.  Many delegates told me that it was the best meeting they had been to in years. I’m still on the road, attending the NAIC meeting in Washington, D.C., but I wanted to give you a brief overview of the meeting.  Click on the play button below to hear my comments. http://www.utterli.com/fp/slimline.swf?1228230666Mobile post sent by nfca using Utterli.  Replies.&
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15 Sep 2009

Grab Your Bag … It’s On

The programs are printed, the speakers are booked, the special events are planned, and the boots are packed.  Grab your bag, NFCA members, because the Annual Meeting is on.   I’m looking forward to seeing the nearly 350 members and guests registered for this year’s meeting in San Antonio later this week.  I’ve met so many of you over the past 12 months that I suspect the event will feel a little like a family reunion.  And that’s what makes our industry so unique.
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11 Sep 2009

Making Sure Folks Hear the Sound of the Falling Tree…

We’ve all heard the rhetorical question…”If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”  The fraternal version of that colloquialism is: “If we do good things in the community and don’t tell anyone about them, do they matter?” I’m not disputing the value of the contributions we make to the lives of individuals and communities every day.  Even if we never tell a soul about them, they still matter to the folks that unselfishly volunteer an
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3 Sep 2009

Showing the fraternal colors…

For the first time in several years, the NFCA Annual Meeting will include a community service activity that will allow members to demonstrate to the local community exactly “who we are and what we do.”  At about noon on Thursday, September 17, the more than 125 volunteers that have signed up to participate will board buses at the Grand Hyatt for the short drive to the Family Service Association (FSA) for an afternoon of interior painting and exterior landscaping work.  If you haven’t
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28 Aug 2009

Random thoughts on a rainy Friday…

If my visits to NFCA members have taught me anything, it’s that diversity of the fraternal system is our greatest attribute – and a compelling reason to ensure the survival of as many societies as possible in an age of consolidation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a big advocate of fraternal mergers; especially ones done for strategic rather than survival reasons.  But if we merge ourselves down to a system of only a dozen players, then we risk losing some of those unique niches that distin
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26 Aug 2009

Seven Reasons Why Your Society Should Participate in the Heritage Labs Group Buying Discount Program

By now you’ve read the electronic announcement and may have even received the hard copy letter and marketing materials providing details about the NFCA’s new group-buying discount on lab services through Heritage Labs.  This program is just a small indication of the benefits that a cooperative shared-services approach can deliver to all NFCA members – large and small.  By combining the purchasing power of the fraternal system, we can command more respect – and lower prices – in the ma
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20 Aug 2009

What are you going to wear to the ball, Cinderella?

You know, I talk to executives from member societies every day and one question keeps coming up in every one of those conversations: What are we supposed to wear to the Saturday night banquet at the Annual Meeting?!?!?!? You’ll note in the registration material it says that dress for the closing dinner is “Western wear – jeans, boots, and cowboy hats.”  We also could have added “shirts with pearl snaps and belts with really big buckles.”  Now that doesn’t mean that the men HA
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18 Aug 2009

If people knew they had a choice…

I’m convinced that if more people knew they had a choice about where they purchase their financial service products, they would select the fraternal option.  Think about it.  If average consumers – folks who didn’t know a thing about who we are and what we do – knew that they could buy life insurance from an organization that funded social service projects in their community and encouraged members (not policyholders) to participate in volunteer efforts, my gut tells me that a much lar
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14 Aug 2009

Now That Makes Sense...

Every now and then I'll read about a business development - a new product, a strategic alliance, an innovative distribution method - and say to myself, "now THAT makes sense." That was exactly my reaction to this week's announcement that Catholic Knights and Catholic Family Life Insurance were joining forces through a merger that was seemingly made in heaven. These two organizations have long and storied histories as separate entitles and now have the opportunity to creat
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11 Aug 2009

Eight Is Enough

The concept of a “fraternal cooperative” – an organization that would allow participating societies to reduce operating expenses and improve business operations by working on a “shared services” basis – took shape during the Presidents Section meeting earlier this year.  Since that time, two working groups of member societies have made real progress – not just talk but tangible action – toward creating pilot programs on compliance and retail banking services.  Updates on these develop
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3 Aug 2009

Growing Younger

Let’s face it.  The crowd at your typical fraternal meeting—from local lodges to quadrennial conventions—tends to be a bit, how shall I say this, more “mature” than most gatherings.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Seniors are an incredibly vibrant part of American culture, make up a large percentage of community service volunteers, and have an enormous impact on public policy decisions made by state and federal legislators, simply because the vast majority of them vo
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29 Jul 2009

Blogs and Java

Remember when the day began with a cup of coffee and the morning paper?  Now it’s a $4.00 latte and blogs on your lap top.  While sifting through some recent postings, this one caught my eye: From Politico: THE TAX CODE QUOTE – WEST WING MUST-READ – The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler has a front-page profile of White House budget director Peter, Orszag, 'Obama's Health Expert Gets Political': 'Last Saturday he went to Camp David. While his two children pl
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21 Jul 2009

What Can We Learn from the GOP?

Take a look at this article written by Bill Greener – a die-hard Republican and close friend of mine – that is currently posted on Salon.com.  It provides an objective and analytical look at the changes in the American electorate and their impact on the GOP’s chances to win future national elections.  The fact that it’s written by a “true believer” makes it even more credible, in my opinion.  I’ve known and worked with Bill for years.  He’s pragmatic, tough, and insightful.&
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14 Jul 2009

Joe’s Special…

When I was a kid growing up in Northern California there was a popular chain of local restaurants called “Original Joe’s.”  The most popular dish they served was, of course, “Joe’s Special” – a concoction of ground beef, spinach, eggs, onion, Parmesan cheese, and oregano (Joe was a paisan, in case you were wondering), plus a few other items that added character.  Undoubtedly the initial version of the recipe was created from all the leftover items Joe (or Joe’s mother) had in the kitc
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9 Jul 2009

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 rol
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2 Jul 2009

15 Things to Do Besides Visiting the Alamo at the NFCA Annual Meeting

More than 275 of your peers have registered for the 2009 NFCA Annual Meeting—the largest number of advance registrations in the past five years.  What’s keeping you from joining them?  Click here to register online at the “early-bird rate,” which has been extended through Friday, July 17. And here are a few suggestions for things to do while you’re there... For nearby entertainment—The River Walk.  Come on down and see for yourself why the River Walk in San Antonio is the #
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24 Jun 2009

Independent Order of Foresters International Assembly Sets Positive Tone for Future

The Independent Order of Foresters (IOF) International Assembly (the organization’s quadrennial meeting of delegates from the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain) had its share of fraternal pomp and ceremony (the parade of nation’s with it’s Mardi Gras atmosphere was worth the price of admission), but the underlying tone of the meeting was focused on the business – both financial and fraternal – of the organization. IOF, like virtually every fraternal, has had its share of difficulties. The down
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19 Jun 2009

A Batting Practice Fastball

Folks, whether you support his policies or not, President Obama is absolutely committed to the concept of volunteerism and community service.  That’s our bread and butter.  It’s part of our fraternal DNA.  It’s who we are and what we do.  That’s why we don’t just need to take advantage of the Administration’s support of such efforts, we need to embrace them.  This is a batting practice fastball that we should hit out of the park. On Monday, June 22, the President wil
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15 Jun 2009

Calling All Lawyers

Last week I had the opportunity to attend and the honor of addressing the annual meeting of the Association of Fraternal Benefit Counsel.  Now I've got to tell you, for this non-lawyer (although I was accepted to law school about 100 years ago, but decided to go to work instead), the prospect of spending two days with a room full of attorneys was not exactly something that made my heart flutter. But I'll be honest; these were two days well spent. I had the chance to listen to
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8 Jun 2009

9 Reasons Not To Miss the 2009 NFCA Annual Meeting

I know that I’m biased, but if you only attend one meeting this year, make it the NFCA Annual Meeting.  Here’s why… Value – No matter how you cut it, the NFCA Annual Meeting is a great value.  You’ll participate in four top-notch workshops (from a menu of 11 total offerings) and hear two incredible general session speakers – a total of six hours of education that would easily cost you up to $1,500 if purchased individually.  You’ll also attend a variety of Section meeti
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1 Jun 2009

The View from North of the 49th Parallel

I had the opportunity to participate in the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Fraternal Association last month in Ottawa.  It was my second trip to the CFA Meeting and my first visit to Canada’s national capital.  And if you haven’t been there, it’s worth the trip for many reasons.  First and foremost, the hospitality of the CFA and our Canadian fraternal brethren is second to none.  They are just an awfully nice group of individuals.  Ottawa is a pristinely beauti
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28 May 2009

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 Gaze
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19 May 2009

Random Thoughts on a Tuesday Morning

I’ve been on the road quite a bit lately, which means lots of reading.  Here are a couple of mini-reviews for you to consider: The Forgotten Man – A detailed analysis of the impact of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policies and programs on America and Americans by an author with a decidedly conservative point of view.  The most interesting part of the book was the section dealing with America’s fascination with Soviet-style collectivism in the 1920s and how close our government came to
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12 May 2009

A Meeting of True Believers

I attended a meeting of “true believers” last week in Nashville.  And it wasn’t the Annual Conference Apostolic Ministers that was meeting just a few doors down from the event in which I participated. No, the “true believers” I met with were the members of the National Association of Fraternal Insurance Counselors (NAFIC), who were attending their Annual Meeting.  These are the folks on the front lines of fraternalism.  They represent the primary sales force of many NFCA member s
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7 May 2009

Faces of fraternalism

Earlier this week, I talked about the importance of cultivating "faces" of fraternalism - i.e., our fraternal stories are best told by those who live them.  Will policymakers know who we are the next time the fraternal tax exemption is challenged?  Here are three stories to demonstrate what we’re doing now to educate and engage legislators: Royal Neighbors of America has visited the offices of Senator Charles Grassley in D.C. and in Iowa.  Royal Neighbors has assi
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5 May 2009

Where fraternalism and politics intersect

What does fraternalism have to do with politics?  In a word – everything.  Fraternals are tax-exempt organizations for a reason and it’s not because of the insurance products we provide.  Our exemption is based on one thing and one thing only:  Our ability to fund projects that fill the gaps in government programs and mobilize our members to provide the “boots on the ground” necessary to deliver those services to the communities that most need them. Any commerci
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29 Apr 2009

The Specter Switcheroo…

After the latest polling numbers indicated that he was trailing his arch-conservative primary opponent by 14 points (up from a 10 point spread just two weeks ago), long-time GOP Senator Arlen Specter discovered his “inner-Democrat” and announced that he was switching parties and will run for re-election on the Democratic ticket this November.  (See today's articles from POLITICO, the Wall Street Journal and NY Times for more information.)  Some other numbers that may have affecte
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24 Apr 2009

Continue Your Section Networking Online

Before you get away for the weekend, I would urge all of you who have participated in Section meetings over the past few weeks to not let the momentum established and the connections made at these meetings fade away.  Join the various social network groups NFCA has established on the Web site and keep the conversation going.  Keep lighting those candles by communicating with one another.  Who knows where it may lead? Still not completely comfortable using social networks? 
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21 Apr 2009

10 Revelations from the Fraternal & Communications Sections Meeting

Last week’s Fraternal & Communications Sections Mid-Year Meeting continued a series of well-attended Section meetings that featured enlightening speakers, engaged audience members, and enthusiastic roundtable discussions that didn’t just recite the long list of problems facing the fraternal system, but generated ideas on how participants – that’s you and me – can work together to stabilize the system in 2009 and expand the fraternal footprint in 2010.  Here are the ten revelations I to
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14 Apr 2009

Fraternals Not Immune to Impact of Congressional Action

Each day we’re bombarded with news and opinion on Congress’s effort to bailout certain industries or stimulate the economy through massive spending programs, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the depths of the Great Depression.  While fraternals – viewed individually or as a group – won’t make anyone’s list of organizations deemed “too big to fail,” societies are likely to feel the impact of congressional action, especially when it comes to issues like life insurer access to feder
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9 Apr 2009

Five Tangible Takeaways from the Presidents Section Meeting

The leaders of 41 NFCA member societies gathered in Las Vegas last week for the annual Presidents Section meeting.  While the setting may seem a bit incongruous – executives of fraternal societies, many with religious bonds, meeting in Sin City at the beginning of Holy Week – the combination of location, agenda topics and timing contributed to one of the best attended and most productive Section meetings in recent memory. Here are just five of the tangible takeaways from that session:
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1 Apr 2009

Set Aside Foolish Things

Board Adopts Tighter Dress Code Standards for Annual Meeting In a unanimous vote, the NFCA Board of Directors approved a motion to enforce strict dress code standards on attendees of the 2009 Annual Meeting, scheduled for September 17-19 in San Antonio.  The requirements include Stetsons, pearl-snapped shirts, string ties, blue jeans (boot cut, of course), and boots for both men and women.  This is commonly referred to as “a Texas Tuxedo” among the locals.  Board Chair Barbara Ch
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24 Mar 2009

10 things I learned from my visits with you

Next week I'll celebrate my one-year anniversary as president and CEO of NFCA.  Trade association executives have a unique role.  We are here to serve the members – after all, it is YOUR organization – and to lead the organization, sometimes in a direction that members may not want to go.  Balancing the "servant/leader" roles is critical to the success of the executive and the organization.  I welcome your thoughts on how I've done that over the past year
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13 Mar 2009

Who's Your Partner?

I’ve used this blog several times to talk about the need for fraternals to develop long-term partnerships with well-respected charitable organizations.  Or we need to align ourselves with specific causes in an effort to engage in sustainable and meaningful community service activities that resonate with members and deliver real value to individuals who need the help that only caring and dedicated volunteers can provide.  In fact, I’ve talked about this so much I’m starting to sound a
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6 Mar 2009

Victory in the Pacific!

I know I promised several more postings about the enormously valuable Knights of Columbus “Summit on Volunteerism,” but, at least in the short term, the good news from the Aloha State trumps everything else. I’m pleased to report that H. 1749, the bill that would have...
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1 Mar 2009

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

On Friday, Feb. 27, I attended the "Summit on Volunteerism" in NYC hosted by the Knights of Columbus.  And I came away inspired with a greatly expanded view of the role fraternals can play in a nation in need of community service now more than ever. I write this on the flight home from that event.  This will be the first of several postings about the summit.  You can view the various sessions by clicking here, where you can access video coverage of the entire event.
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18 Feb 2009

All Work and No Play …

It’s been a long, cold winter here in Chicago.  Seems like when it wasn’t snowing we had those wonderful “Alberta Clippers” that the local weather forecasters enjoy so much because they get to brush up on their wind chill calculation skills.  Seriously, once it gets below -10 degrees does it really matter?  No one’s going outside anyway. So what do you do when it’s too cold to do anything else and you need a break from worrying about the solvency and relevance of the fraternal sy
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11 Feb 2009

A Taxing Debate in the States

Quick, what’s the biggest threat to the fraternal tax exemption?  Most NFCA members would say congressional action to revamp the tax code and repeal a variety of longstanding exemptions in an effort to generate more revenue for the cash-strapped government.  But with federal lawmakers focused on the economic stimulus proposal, two wars, and an overhaul of financial services regulation, reform of the tax system may just have to wait.  I’m not saying we’re free and clear on the is
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6 Feb 2009

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Pardon the shameless rip-off of Dickens’ famous opening line to A Tale of Two Cities, but nothing describes the situation facing fraternals with such clarity. Worst of Times Let’s start with the “worst of times” part of the equation.  These are tough times for everyone and every industry.  The precipitous drop in the real estate and equities markets, and the lingering uncertainty over just how long this economic malaise will last have hit the nation hard.  You can’t pick-up a new
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28 Jan 2009

The Turkish Bazaar of Insurance Marketing

I write this from Orlando, Florida, site of the 2009 Inter-Company Marketing Group's (ICMG) Annual Meeting. ICMG brings insurance manufacturers and distributors together for a single purpose: to discuss ways to create alliances and partnerships that successfully market innovative products and services to well-defined target markets through the most effective distribution system. It's really quite a remarkable meeting. Everyone knows why they are here - to make connections that enhanc
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26 Jan 2009

I'm listening

Well, it looks like my comments on not being a fraternalist touched a nerve.  I’m thrilled.  And as of next week, I would venture a guess that I will be a member of more than one fraternal benefit society.  I’ll keep trying to post interesting and thought-provoking comments on my blog, and I hope you’ll keep those cards and letters coming.  It’s not only a great way to create an effective dialogue between me and the members who I represent, it can also be a way of coming up
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22 Jan 2009

My name is Joe and I am not a fraternalist …

Seems a bit odd, don’t you think, for the president and CEO of the National Fraternal Congress of America – the leading advocate for the nation’s fraternal benefit societies – to not be a member of a fraternal. It’s not that I’m not engaged in community-service activities.  I coached our parish school 8th-grade basketball team for years (my travel schedule precludes me from coaching these days; otherwise, I’d still be prowling the sidelines doing my best Jim Valvano imitation and believing
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20 Jan 2009

Making a difference, one Knight at a time ...

Yesterday, January 19, we celebrated the birthday of one of the champions of America's civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Fittingly, President Barack Obama called on the country to celebrate Dr. King's legacy, by participating in a National Day of Service.  Moreover, our president has made volunteerism and community service one of the pillars of his candidacy and will undoubtedly continue that emphasis during his tenure in the White House.  I
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13 Jan 2009

Jump Starting JOIN HANDS DAY

Believe it or not, JOIN HANDS DAY – scheduled for May 2, 2009 – is just 16 weeks away.  In my short tenure at NFCA, I’ve come to think of the event as a “sleeping giant” – something that right now is long on potential but short on impact.  This year, we’re committed to jump starting JOIN HANDS DAY by taking some important steps to get more members involved (and enthusiastic) about the event, to make it easier for member societies and local lodges to list their individual activities on
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5 Jan 2009

Helping Members Address an Unprecedented Environment

It’s sometimes difficult to place a price tag on the value of a trade association membership.  A trade association’s primary “products” – advocacy and information – are intangible.  How much are NFCA’s efforts to promote the value of member societies’ contributions to individuals and communities to state and federal public policymakers and preserve the integrity of fraternals’ tax exemption worth to your society?  And what about the handful of fraternals that are not members of N
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22 Dec 2008

The Voice of the Members

We wanted to know how we were doing and you told us.  Your responses to our first annual comprehensive membership satisfaction survey indicated that while the overwhelming majority of members are satisfied with the performance of their trade association, there is certainly room for improvement.  We appreciate the time you took to provide us your feedback, and all of us here at NFCA are committed to improving our performance and exceeding your expectations in 2009. Why conduct such a s
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2 Dec 2008

Making the Right Connections

How often have you heard someone say, “We’re in the relationship business."? When it comes to fraternal benefit societies, it’s really true. Our entire business model is based on relationships – with the members of your society, with lodge leaders, with agents and brokers, with other community service organizations, and with state and federal public policymakers, to name just a few. Today I’d like to focus on relationships between fraternals and public policymakers – state regulators and l
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17 Nov 2008

Welcome to my new blog!

Welcome to the “next generation” NFCA Web site.  We’ve created an entirely new site based on the feedback, suggestions, and demands of members like you.  I hope you’ll take a few minutes to explore the site, see what it has to offer, and take advantage of its many new features. No doubt the first thing you’ll notice is the “look” of the site.  Since the Web is by far the most popular way our key audiences – member societies, public policymakers, opinion leaders in the news media,
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