OAK BROOK, Ill., Sept. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- At a time when growing numbers of Americans are in acute need of economic help, a new Georgetown University study finds that fraternal benefit societies are providing billions of dollars in direct and indirect economic support to allay community needs and support social structures. Not-for-profit mutual aid organizations like Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, the Knights of Columbus and more than 70 others were created more than a century ago to serve the financial and social needs of U.S. communities. Today these fraternal benefit societies give back $68 to U.S. society for each dollar that the federal government invests to help support their operations, concludes the study's author, Phillip Swagel, a Georgetown professor and former Assistant Secretary of Economic Policy for the U.S. Treasury Department.
The study's economic analysis shows that fraternal benefit societies are a highly effective private sector economic and community support system that could not be easily replicated by government. From assisting families struggling with medical bills to providing financial literacy initiatives to acting as a first-response network in the face of natural disasters, the Georgetown study finds that fraternal benefit societies and their extensive networks of members generate $3.4 billion of economic value annually through charitable contributions, volunteerism and generated social capital by meeting growing community needs that might otherwise go unmet if fraternal benefit organizations did not exist.
"In times of economic uncertainty and in the face of an enormous fiscal challenge, fraternal benefit societies work to strengthen families and communities across the country," said Swagel. "These unique community-based networks provide a structure that supports volunteerism and builds social capital. This gives immense benefits to communities and a huge return to American taxpayers."
As case studies for fraternal benefit society's social and economic benefits, the Georgetown study evaluated two of the largest U.S. fraternal benefit societies: the Knights of Columbus and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, with 1.3 million and 2.6 million nationwide members, respectively. Like other fraternal benefit societies, the Knights and Thrivent operate as social and charitable organizations whose mission is to provide financial security to members and provide a structure for their members' charitable giving and volunteerism.
Adding the further efforts of the broader universe of fraternal benefit societies – a total of 9.3 million members across the country – would reflect even greater contributions beyond the $3.4 billion highlighted in the Georgetown study.
"This study quantifies the services and extraordinary volunteerism that fraternal benefit societies and their members provide each day across America," said Joe Annotti, President and CEO of the National Fraternal Congress of America. "While there is no numerical value that can be placed on service to one's neighbors, this study demonstrates that fraternal benefit societies deliver tangible results by combining local energy and knowledge with national infrastructure and resources. The original social network, the fraternal model provides relevant value in meeting community needs today as it did well over 100 years ago."
Noteworthy highlights of the study include:
- Each year, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and the Knights of Columbus alone generate $3.4 billion in charitable contributions and social capital. This includes:
- $1.8 billion in direct value from volunteering and charitable contributions, including nearly 70 million in volunteer hours
- $1.6 billion in indirect value from improved social capital brought about through the activities of fraternal members
- For public sector agencies to fill the needs that are currently being met by fraternal benefit societies, the cost to government would far exceed the current government investment in sustaining fraternal benefit societies.
- Fraternal benefit societies are reservoirs and generators of social capital. Increased social capital promotes long-term economic stability in communities, as evidenced through a better educated population, higher incomes, a stronger economy, and lower incidence of social ills such as criminal activity.
- By mobilizing their members in local chapters and councils, fraternal benefit societies such as Thrivent and the Knights are able to make a bigger – and qualitatively different – impact than typical corporate donations to community organizations.
"Fraternal benefit societies have quietly played a key role in helping build and maintain the economic and social infrastructure of this country," said Brad Hewitt, president and CEO of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. "We are in a unique position to further build social capital and make a significant difference in communities nationwide through the volunteerism and charitable giving of our members."
About the National Fraternal Congress of America
The 124-year-old NFCA unites 69 not-for-profit fraternal benefit societies operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Canada. The association represents nearly 9 million fraternalists in 32,000 local chapters, making it one of America's largest member-volunteer networks. Fraternal benefit societies provide their members with leadership, social, educational, spiritual, patriotic, scholarship, financial and volunteer-service opportunities. Combined, the NFCA's member-societies maintain more than $363 billion of life insurance-in-force and, in 2009 alone, contributed almost $402 million to charitable and fraternal programs, and volunteered nearly 108 million hours for community-service projects. These statistics demonstrate the commitment that fraternals make to those in need and exemplify the true meaning of the NFCA signature phrase: Joining Hands to Touch Lives.
SOURCE National Fraternal Congress of America