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My name is Joe and I am not a fraternalist …

January 22, 2009

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 that I could be a great college coach if only given the chance…). 

These days I run the scoreboard for Saturday morning freshman games at the Jesuit high school and work the chains for football games in the fall.  I deal cards at our parish’s annual casino night, contribute to our food bank and parish sharing program, and pitch in on Men’s Club community-service projects when time allows. 

I wouldn’t characterize myself as a pillar of the volunteer community, but I’m right with our new president when he talks about government not being able to solve all our problems and the need for individuals to get involved in volunteerism.

It’s not that I don’t purchase life insurance or other financial services products, either.  (I’m a “buy term and invest the rest” guy, by the way.) 

No, the reason why I’m not a fraternalist is pretty simple, really:  I’ve never been asked to join a fraternal benefit society.

That’s right.  In my 52 years walking around the planet, attending Mass (on a fairly regular basis, anyway) at the various parishes to which we’ve belonged in California, Colorado, and Illinois, and participating in a variety of community service activities, not once have I been asked to join a fraternal or participate in a fraternal activity.  Moreover, I’ve never been pitched on purchasing a fraternal insurance product. 

Now that I know something about who we are and what we do, I understand the value we bring to protecting individuals’ financial security and enhancing the quality of life in our communities.  I also understand one of the reasons why so few people know of or understand the “fraternal option” is that, consciously or unconsciously, many societies don’t tell their story very well and, even more disturbing, don’t seek out new, younger members.

Here is a snippet from an extensive article in this past Sunday’s (Jan. 18) Chicago Tribune Magazine on a phenomenon known as “reverse immigration.”  Due to improving economies in the “old country” many Central European immigrants are deciding to leave the U.S. and return home.  In addition to the enhanced opportunities in their native countries, many younger immigrants feel shut out of life in the ethnic communities in the U.S.  Here’s a statement from the Tribune story:

“[Ethnic] community groups are abundant, but lack clout.  Old-line organizations like [fraternal benefit societies] (basically insurance companies) seem increasingly out of touch, relics of an earlier generation.”

And here’s a quote from a 46-year-old that appeared in the story:

“I feel like I’m the only one from my generation – the generation whose parents came after World War II – who is still involved.  When you try to get involved, they tell you you’re too young.  We don’t have leaders in the community anymore.  We have old guys who like to go to banquets, eat big dinners and give awards to each other.”

Does this attitude characterize your society or its lodges?  Is your society perceived as “basically an insurance company”?  Are you unwittingly turning away potential members and certificate holders by putting up barriers to participation?  Do your community outreach activities “fill the gaps” in government programs and deliver meaningful services to those who need help the most – or are they merely big dinners with lots of awards?

These are tough questions, I know.  But by taking a hard look at them, maybe we can figure out why a person like me – and millions more folks exactly like me – are not fraternalists.  Share your thoughts with me by responding to this blog.  Just use the “Post a Comment” box below.