Noting 46 years of working with “the people of NAIFA,” David Woods, chief executive of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, affirmed that relationship, stating “I can think of no better way to have spent my life.”

Woods’ remarks concluded the second general session of the 2007 Convention and Career Conference of the organization, based in Falls Church, Va., held here Sept. 8-12.

The speech also marked the close of Woods’ 5-year term as NAIFA’s CEO, a turbulent period during which the 117-year-old organization has warded off financial insolvency but faces the continuing challenge reversing a decline in its membership.

The capstone of Woods’ efforts to keep the organization relevant to the nation’s estimated 250,000 agents and financial advisors is NAIFA 21. An outgrowth of a strategic planning initiative in January of 2006, the endeavor calls on the organization to enhance its advocacy role on Capitol Hill, develop a “full-service” professional development initiative, and beef up business resources and professional networking opportunities.

Marketed under the campaign theme “Connections that Count,” the plan also calls for expanded use of online learning tools to provide mobile access to educational information and other resources. Since May of this year, for example, NAIFA has availed its members of monthly podcasts and Webinars that deliver sales ideas, industry information and legislative updates. Also, this year, NAIFA upgraded “Programs-in-a-Box” to provide on-line delivery of program content to state and local association meetings.

To help fund the various initiatives, NAIFA has instituted a dues increase for members to begin January 1, 2008, the first such increase in 5 years. NAIFA executive said the dues hike was essential to maintain the organization’s fiscal health.

NAIFA’s improving financial condition is reflected in its 2006-2007 annual report. As of June 30 2007, the organization’s reserves totaled $3 million. For the fiscal year ending August 31, preliminary internal consolidated financial results through June 2007 (10 months of operation) indicate that NAIFA’s operating income will “once again exceed its budgeted goals for the fiscal year,” though the results include many of the costs associated with the creation of NAIFA 21. NAIFA executives counseled, however, against excessive optimism, as they expect the strategic plan will sorely test finances.

“The much needed changes outlined in NAIFA 21 will be extraordinarily challenging for us to implement financially,” said NAIFA Treasurer Peter Browne. “Fiscal 2008 is shaping up to be one of our most daunting yet. Our utmost resolve and fiscal discipline on all fronts will remain vital to our continuing success.”

Another top challenge is reversing a decline in membership. While meeting its budgeted projection of 60,000 for the fiscal year, NAIFA has 15% fewer members than it did 5 years ago and less than half of its membership from 14 years ago, according to Woods. Despite “the most imaginative membership campaign and capable volunteers,” NAIFA remains well shy of the campaign’s target of 100,000-plus members, he said.

To reach that number, the NAIFA Board of Trustees approved during the past year the development of a member recruiter program that will be rolled out in two phases: (1) finalizing a program structure, creating pilot regions, and hiring three recruiters; and (2) a potential increase in the size of the recruiter force and the targeting of a larger base of prospective members.

To achieve membership and other strategic goals outlined in NAIFA 21, the organization is also depending on its new CEO, John Healy. Formerly the head of the American Machine Tool Distributors Association, Washington, Healy is NAIFA’s first professional association executive in more than 50 years and brings over 25 years of association management experience to his new role.

During the conference’s first general session, Healy committed himself to fulfilling NAIFA 21 and, to that end, offered attendees a multi-point “covenant.” Among them: Increasing “the value proposition” of NAIFA membership, listening to and acting on members’ suggestions, and establishing a trusting relationship with NAIFA state and local associations.

“During my first 100 days [as CEO], I will embark on a listen-and-learn whistle-stop tour, where I come to our state and local associations to talk about our way forward,” said Healy.

Chief among these, NAIFA executives said, is advancing the organization’s legislative priorities. At the federal level, NAIFA’s lobbying efforts extend to insurance regulatory reform, maintenance of the 1945 McCarran-Ferguson Act, advancing the Interstate Compact, defending the continuing availability of 12(b)-1 fees, and promoting new health savings accounts or HSAs.

At the state level, NAIFA has helped the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo., in drafting a revision to the group’s Viatical Settlements Model Act, which aims to limit the use of investor-initiated life insurance. NAIFA also assisted the NAIC in developing the Military Sales Practices Model Regulation, which aims to regulate the sale of insurance, financial and investment products to members of the armed forces.

To help fund its advocacy initiatives, NAIFA is seeking to beef up its two political action committees, IFAPAC and APIC. At press time, NAIFA secured $57,637 from conventioneers for IFAPAC, according to NAIFA President-elect Jeffrey Taggart. The organization’s goal, he added, is $120,000.

To promote new leaders who can advance its lobbying and other initiatives, NAIFA grew its Leadership in Life Institute during the year past to include 37 institutes nationwide. LILI now counts 1000-plus members among its alumni, including 300 graduates in 2007. Next year, NAIFA will launch a pilot program for accomplished agents and advisors as a part of its new Professional Development System.