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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 subcommittee presented its report to the Board. Titled “The Search to Redefine Fraternal Benefit Societies in the 21st Century,” the report identified the most significant challenges facing fraternals and, more importantly, provided detailed recommendations for overcoming them. It was an exhaustively researched analysis that didn’t pull any punches. It contained truths – some of them inconvenient and uncomfortable – that many of us would prefer to ignore. In a word, it was – and…

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The Holidays….a great time to connect and reconnect

The winter and holiday season is a perfect time to connect and reconnect with family, friends, the community and the members of your fraternal.  It is also a time to reflect on the past year and plan for 2013.  Here are a few tips and thoughts to consider as we enter into the holiday season and welcome in a new year:

1.  Reflect on 2012:  What did you accomplish?  What could you do better?
2.  Plan for 2013:   After reflecting on 2012, set some goals.  What has worked and what needs improvement?  It could be a simple improvment on exisiting events or it could be planning a few more family or youth centered events or a new community service activity.  What will you do in terms of promoting your organization?
3.  Holiday event:   The holidays are a great time to bring people together.  Whether it’s a dinner, potluck, visit from santa or a volunteer activity in the community.  A fun activity or great community service project is an opportunity to connect with families and to get them involved.  It is also an opporunity to connect with non-members in the community.
4.  Stay connected:  At your event, volunteer activity or through some type of communication, make sure your members and members of the community become aware of the next event or volunteer activity.  You have a captive audience, so use it!   Provide a calendar that may list your meetings, but most importantly the events and volunteer opportunities that are planned for the upcoming year.

These are just a few things your local organization can do to take full advantage and to celebrate of one of the greatest times of the year.

Ideas of events and volunteer activites:  dinner/potluck, santa visit and invite the public, hand out candy canes at local holiday events, provide coffee/hot chocolate at local events, collections for local charities, volunteer with other organizations that have planned activites, provide holiday bags with a small token to senior centers or nursing homes, take small fruit baskets to senior members who cannot get out to events, volunteer at local soup kitchens.

These are just a few ideas.  Please share events and volunteer activites that your organization does or other ideas that you may have.

What is your elevator speech?

Every organization, especially fraternals, should have an elevator speech.  What is an elevator speech?  An elevator speech is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization and its value proposition.  The name “elevator speech” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes.

When speaking with others abour your fraternal organization, it is important that the first 30 seconds is the most meaningful.  You can attract others or bore them and some will only give you 30 seconds to 2 minutes of their time.  Well thought out and practiced elevator speeches could be a valuable marketing tool that can take “word of mouth” marketing to the next level. According to Entrepreneur Media, “word of mouth” marketing/advertising is one of the most credible forms of advertising.  Coming up with a clear and concise elevator speech about who you are and the attraction of being a member is not only free, but can be extremely beneficial.  This may also assist in refocusing on the vision and mission of the organization.

Revisit your mission, draft an elevator speech, practice it and share it.

What is your elevator speech?

American Fraternal Alliance

Attending the annual meeting of the American Fraternal Alliance was a great way to network, share ideas and reflect on our fraternal benefit society.  Jim Collins, a business and management thought leader, was a key-note speaker at the meeting.  I have a special interest in Collins as we study Collins and his principles of “Good to Great” and “Great by Choice” in my place of work.  I was skeptical going into the session as I have seen many hyped-up key notes fall flat.  This time, I was not disappointed.  Below are a few statements that continue to strike a chord with me and my thoughts on the statements:

  1. “A truly enduring organization will preserve the core AND stimulate progress.”  Holding true to the organizations mission and values while looking for new ways building growth and success. We have a great mission and the generations before us built something great, but we need to look at the hard facts, analyze where we are and what we need to do to get to grow and build the organization. There is so much that is good about our fraternal and now we need to look at what it is that will make us great and what we need to do to stimulate progress.
  2. Today’s young emerging leaders are amazing and when we give them the ability to lead, there is no doubt that things will be great. This may not be an exact quote but it was so powerful that everyone in the room applauded this statement.  His reference to young leaders struck a chord with me because there is much truth to this as I have said previously.  This generation of young leaders is in-line with the values of the fraternal system.  What he said is very connected with a previous post of mine which talks about my generation.  You can look at any generational study and you will find that my generation is a revival of something special.  Young leaders are waiting in the ranks, we need to embrace them and build programs around getting them involved, embrace their energy and ideas, and give them the reins to lead.
  3. 50% of your organization membership should be under the age of 35.  If you look at fraternals across the nation, this is something that everyone struggles with.  The fraternal system is an aging one, but there is great opportunity that just needs to be harnessed and taken advantage of (my ideas on this are numerous and will be appropriate for another post).
  4. What is your “20 mile march?”  If you do not have a plan and goals set at 5, 10, 15, 20 years, then what are you working toward?  As I have experienced in my line of work, discipline is key to meeting your goals that are in your overall business and organizational plan and strategy.  Where are you, where do you want to go (your BHAG), how do you get there, how do you know if you are on track?  If you do not have a “20 mile march,” wandering aimlessly is your likely result. Focused and disciplined actions toward your goal makes up your “20 mile march” and ensuring that the right people are in place to get you there is the key to building the organization and working toward growth and success.

Above are just a few concepts and statements to get you thinking and I hope to share more on these and others.  What are your thoughts?

Finding the void and filling it

A few things have caught my attention in the last couple weeks that reminded me of the reasons why community organizations exist–to fill a void. On my typical drive home from work last week, I noticed an older church with three sand volleyball courts and about 50+ out there enjoying the night. Their strategy was clear and simple, provide recreation and an attraction for young families and they will come.

It may not be a large void in your community so don’t think that looking for the void and trying to fill it will be unreachable, it may just require a little research and creativity. They provided an environment, invited people and my guess is that they gained substantial membership from this one summer activity. I am sure the next seasons events are well known to all those people as well.

It’s interesting to see new churches pop up all over the place. They are in non-traditional type buildings and are targeting young families. They use billboards with modern teenagers on them, advertise at the movie theater while people are waiting for their movie to start and have activities available that every member of a young family will enjoy. The key is to have a suitable environment prepped and ready for when those people come, it cannot be an after thought. They are not filling the void of religion necessarily but the sense of community with a welcoming environment.

Interesting enough, I have a friend who is agnostic but he never minded going to church. Why? Because it provided a sense of community. There were activities for the children, groups for adults and a sense that his family belonged to something bigger than their nucleus family. I asked him if a fraternal organization could fill the same need for his family and he agreed that it would as long as it had something to offer his family.

Fraternals could learn something from these new churches popping up all over the place and the revived long standing churches. They are providing something for the community and it isn’t breath taking, just a place and chance for young individuals and families to be part of a community.

Are you providing this for young people and families in your community?

You can either shoot in the dark and hope you hit something or turn the light on and take aim

Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend with some amazing people.  Every year my local fraternal puts on an amazing celebration.  It turns a small community of under 100 into a big party that attracts people from Michigan and from across the country.  About 15 years ago, I remember people questioning how much longer the festival would continue since the volunteers were all aging.   I was overjoyed when I walked into the early morning hour volunteer shift (2 a.m.) two weeks ago and saw that the oldest person in the room was in their early 60’s.  The remainder were in their 30s and 40s.  15 years ago, the average age of those volunteers was around 75.

Some people say that our membership growth or our active membership is the “exception” and that I don’t understand what other locals are facing.  Sometimes our success is dismissed by saying simple things as, “there is always two sides to the story.”  My response is usually the same, “This hasn’t happened by accident.  A lot of hard work, commitment and planning is the reason why we have shown success.”

We are in the middle of nowhere in a state that has one of the worst economies.  We are not “lucky” or “exceptional.”  We work hard, have fun, and intentionally focus on our challenges.  You can either shoot in the dark and hope you hit something or turn the light on and take aim.

There are many instances where organizations recognize that there are issues.  Sadly, some never even look at the organization and understand that there is anything wrong.  If they do recognize issues they take two routes, either look the other way as if problems don’t exist and never address them or they try to tackle the issue.  It’s obvious what will happen if they take the first route and sadly that happens more than most think.   But even if an organization decides to face the problem, attempts to address the problem are too often a shot in the dark.

Strategic planning is something that is one of the most important undertakings that an organization does.  If done well, it sets clear goals and outlines objectives that members of the organization will focus their work toward.  Communicating these goals and objectives will then lead to development of department or committee plans that will be clearly tied to these objectives.

Of course you can have the best strategic plan around, but it’s not enough to just plan the work, you need the right people who are able to work the plan.  This takes discipline and focused work.  A plan could be considered the greatest plan ever developed, but if it  sits on a shelf without being implemented it is worth no more than the paper its written on.  This of course would require assessment of the individuals to implement and to ensure mechanisms are in place to monitor whether the work is getting done.  In order to do that, the objectives must have clear deliverables and be measurable.

Any organization no matter how big or small can benefit from the development of a strategic plan and ensuring appropriate implementation.  Whether it is a corporation, government entity, lodge, church group or any other organization.  Planning is essential to moving forward and staying in touch with what is needed in the organization, staying focused on the real goals, and ensures that everyone is clear on the focus and individuals role in reaching the organizational goals.

Next steps:  Talk about this at your next meeting.  Ask yourselves the below questions.  Be honest with where you are at.  Decide in general where you want to go and then form a group of people who are truly interested in moving to the next level and will actually go through strategic planning.  It will help that some of those individuals will be the people who are essential in the implementation process.

Here are some basic questions that you can ask yourself in assessing where you are:
Does your organization have clear goals and objectives?
Do those goals and objectives meet the needs of moving the organization forward?
Do the members of your organization know the goals?
Do you have clear objectives that will allow you to meet these goals?
Are your goals and objectives measurable?
Are the members of your organization knowledgable of the strategic plan and understand their role?
Are the projects or tasks that people are performing aligned with the goals of the organization?  If not, then you may want to consider ending them.
How do you know if the initiatives of your organization are effective?

I know this may seem very basic for some of you, but have you truly put effort into this process?  For those of you who have started to identify issues but have not progressed any further and do not understand why, I suggest a book called Immunity to Change.  The authors Lisa Lahey and Harvard Professor Robert Kegan examine this type of issue.  It is intriguing and may assist in understanding why you are immune to necessary change and how to break through that immunity.

I know people are tired of me using words such as intentional, focused, strategic planning, data driven, goals, objectives, plans or measurable.  My life and day job operate under those key words and concepts.  I wouldn’t talk about it so much if I saw it happening everywhere.  Ask yourself those above questions.  If your answer is yes to all of the above, please disregard everything I have said.

Looking back with gratitude and ahead with a vision

When our fraternal lodge started in 1911, it was formed mainly by Czech immigrants who  came to the US and worked as farmers in the community.  They formed the lodge to help provide community and financial security for their families.  In 2012, more than 100 years later,  the lodge still serves the same purpose, but the makeup of its membership looks different.  The foundation of the organization will always be the members who are in the range of 60-90 years, as they are the generation that made sure that the values and common bond of the organization stayed alive.  I have more respect and gratitude for them then I will ever be able to express. But the heart of any organization is my generation, they are the individuals who will keep it strong.

We have a large group of youth involved and have formed a YELL! group (Young Engaged Lodge Leaders), but what we are also building is emerging leaders in the age range of 30-45. This is the target group with young families and the individuals who will keep it alive and well just as generations that came before us. Unlike 1911, today the emerging young leaders in our local lodge consist of the following:  teachers,  an attorney, graphic designer,  corporate manager, therapist, school administrator, welder, and office professionals.

So with this different make up of our lodge, it is evolving.  It must. But the only people that can see this transformation through is my generation.  I was fortunate to have grown up in the lodge with parents that ensured I understood the importance of community and being part of something that is bigger than myself.  I want that for the generation that will be coming after me.  When I finished my undergrad and took a job locally, I came back to my roots and started to get involved in the lodge again, but this time as an adult and not a child.  It took some adjustments for the older generations and I had to be very patient and understanding of their needs, wants and expectations.  Change is never easy, especially if this is the way it has always been done and these are the people who have always done it.  I ran into simple issues of trying to help at events and having to make sure that I didn’t “take” anyones job.  One after another, my generation started coming back along with new members my age.  My generation and their families now have a respected presence and it feels great.

I am fortunate.  I grew up in a lodge that taught me the importance of being part of giving back and building on the strength of its community.  There is no doubt that my professional career benefited from it.  I became a teacher, an attorney, and currently a leader in an organization that is at the top of its profession.  And now, I am honored to give back to wfla by serving on its board of directors.

I actively participate in my lodge and joined the board of directors to ensure that others will have a chance to grow and benefit from the organization as well.   I am ready to influence the organization and ensure it is what my generation and younger will need and want it to be.  We are not there yet and we have a long way to go, but I believe that there are people just like me who want to see the community they live in grow, will step up, endure through the growing and changing pains, and make it happen.  It is time for us to embrace this opportunity and a chance to have an impact and make this organization into one that will endure and prosper.