Do well by doing good.
For life insurance and financial services professionals, this adage finds perhaps its fullest expression in an often-overlooked industry niche: fraternal benefit societies. Agents and advisors seeking more rewarding and successful careers might do well by taking a closer look at them.
Why? The societies offer producers unique opportunities to weave charitable and community-building initiatives into their careers. And in so doing, many among them find their lives transformed.
“Our agents and advisors say the experiences in the field changes their lives,” says Teresa Rasmussen, president of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. “They want to be part of our mission; they find it very fulfilling.”
In business for the members
Not-for-organizations, fraternal benefit societies sell insurance to members that share a common bond or purpose. Many have a religious orientation: The American Fraternal Alliance counts among its members nearly 20 organizations for Catholics. Others cater to individuals in particular trades or professions (teachers, police, firefighters, etc.) or nationalities (e.g., Serb National Federation, Sons of Scotland, Polish Falcons of America).
Organized as lodges, branches or local chapters, the fraternal insurers oversee mutual aid programs for their members and their communities at large. Collectively, the all-volunteer work they do is impressive.
According to a July 2014 study of the Maryland School of Public Policy, fraternal insurers generated nearly $19 billion in member benefits between 2007 and 2011. Counting only direct contributions, the societies chalked up $2.4 billion in charitable and community assistance, an average of $478.3 million per year. Members of fraternal lodges also volunteered nearly 400 million hours of their time during the five-year period, which averages out to $1.6 billion annually.
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Generating these eye-popping numbers are the fraternal insurers’ field producers. The volunteer efforts, say top executives interviewed by National Underwriter, are yielding tangible benefits not only for the members and communities served, but also for agents and advisors spearheading them. Topping the list: deeper and more trusting personal and professionals relationships with the members.
That’s true, not least, of 20-somethings entering the profession. Says Kevin Marti, president and CEO of Gleaner Life Insurance Society: “Young people are very motivated by the fraternal model. They’re attracted to the caring, giving and comradery developed in a fraternal type of environment.”
The caring and giving is wide-ranging. Through “Thrivent Choice,” a program of Thrivent Financial, 305,000 of the insurer’s members directed an estimated $54 million to 29,000 churches and non-profits in 2015. Over the same 12-month period, Thrivent Action Teams — a volunteer army of nearly 1 million people — contributed more than 5 million hours to community outreach initiatives. And they raised more than $50 million for charitable causes.
Some of the fraternal insurers’ philanthropic efforts target the poor or the homeless. Last year, field reps from Modern Woodmen of America prepared 548,000 meals to feed the hungry in local communities. The “Knockout Hunger” program drew on the efforts of 3,000-plus Modern Woodman chapters.
Other initiatives have a broader focus. In 2014, Gleaner Life Insurance funded nearly $170,000 in educational programs (e.g., scholarships and youth training), patriotic events (donations to veterans organizations), and community outreach (family picnics, elder and animal support, lifestyle and safety activities, etc.).
Still other efforts involve alliances with organizations that a have a purely philanthropic focus. Through Thrivent Builds, a 10-year long partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Thrivent’s financial service reps and members have contributed $212 million and 4.4 million volunteer hours to build homes for 16,000-plus families and individuals.
Many of the fraternal insurers direct their good works towards rural communities that have fewer resources to cope with locals’ needs, such as rebuilding after a natural disaster. Often, too, they avail members and the communities they serve of resources needed during a financial emergency.
Should, for example, insured members of Modern Woodmen die in a car accident, the society will not only pay out a death benefit, but also provide a monthly annuity to guardians of the orphaned children. The children also receive a minimum of $16,000 to fund their college education at an accredited school.
Children who otherwise would not quality for a life policy can also be insured up to a certain limit. Or should they require physical rehabilitation following an accident, Modern Woodman matches funds raised by members for the needed services.
“We’re really facilitating a way for our people to be benevolent, to give back, to be charitable, and to be community-minded citizens,” says Modern Woodmen President & CEO Kenney Massey. “And, when appropriate, we encourage them to facilitate the various activities with their children.”
All of this unpaid work and giving can be taxing for even the most disciplined and civic-minded financial service professionals. Acknowledging as much, as well as producers’ primary task — generating insurance sales — executives at the fraternals say they expect their agents and advisors to participate in (though not necessarily lead) philanthropic and community efforts.
They also expect of their field reps an appropriate balance in commitment to professional, charitable and personal responsibilities. Not everyone fits the bill.
“We always say we’re looking for the racehorse with a big heart, or the tiger that’s benevolent,” says Massey. “We want that special person who’s highly driven.
“Many are in this business for the money, which is not always bad,” he adds. “But reps who don’t want to be involved in community service or participate in volunteer activities won’t be happy here.”
New recruits who are a tad more focused on the money may find that certain benefits compensate for the volunteer undertakings. Modern Woodmen funds life, dental and health insurance policies for their career agents, as well as retirement benefits.
The fraternals also have professional development programs. Example: Mission for Life, an intensive one-day program hosted by Gleaner Life that teaches best practices in life insurance sales and client servicing.
Also to weigh is the satisfaction and loyalty of members they bring on board, intangibles attributable in no small measure to their philanthropic and community outreach efforts. Many fraternal-affiliated advisors form lasting personal and professional relationships not only with members, but also parents, children and grandchildren.
That can add up to a lot of people — and a huge impact on a small community. Massey cites one exemplary Modern Woodmen advisor who counts among his clients over 1,400 policyholders in a town of 5,000.