There is nothing so fragile as an institution that has grown comfortable in its own skin, and for any number of reasons resists the urge to look deep within its soul to keep pace with a world that is changing at a velocity unimaginable just a few years ago. It is easy not to initiate self evaluation, but at what cost to NAIFA?
As the ocean erodes an unsuspecting beachhead wave after wave, like a metronome unrestricted by time or physical restraint, the perception of NAIFA’s relevance is being questioned by the very same people who should be joining without hesitation. To sell protection for the future to families and businesses and not step up to join the only grassroots business protection organization we as insurance professionals have is a staggering and bizarre juxtaposition.
Let’s examine what’s going on here, starting with dues. Are NAIFA dues too high? It is impossible to move around the federation without hearing this refrain, particularly in tough economic times. The reality is that federation dues were far below what they needed to be for many years, and membership still declined. Even in years when the dues were increased the cycle of falling membership continued at the same pace as it would have as if there were no change at all. While it seems counter intuitive, this is fact.
We sell protection for a living and that comes at a price to the client – not one of us would shy away from having that discussion. Paying dues to NAIFA is the premium we pay to protect our unique business model. I contend that the dues issue is merely an excuse for not joining or renewing; it is not the fundamental reason potential members do not sign up.
NAIFA is a business, not a club. The continuous decline in membership reflects severe inefficiencies within our current business model in three distinct areas: 1) governance, 2) membership, and 3) messaging.
Governance: Whenever the discussion turns to the federation model and its cumbersome inefficiency and duplication of limited resources, the cry of outrage echoes through the states and locals like an ill wind blowing through the plains. Research over the past decade has made abundantly clear that the relationship between our members and their states and locals is complex at best but can be very damaging to NAIFA if it does not work properly. There is no line of reasoning that can support our current business model.
Membership: Under this current model the actual membership experience is disturbingly inconsistent. There are some locals that have active programming that is well received and the attendees perceive value in going and participating. On the other hand, programming coordinated by other locals has the potential to ruin the reputation of the states and NAIFA. We all pay the price for such inadequate membership experience.
Messaging: Finally, the ability for NAIFA to deliver more consistent organizational messages nationwide will enhance the membership experience. A unified message – whether about our value proposition or our important advocacy efforts – will have greater resonance and impact among the entire membership.
There is no objective logic we can apply to keeping NAIFA at the status quo. Let’s acknowledge the facts and have an honest debate.
By Robert Miller, M.A., M.S.
2011-12 NAIFA President
Note from NAIFA:
Last fall, NAIFA President Robert Miller convened a Presidential Blue Ribbon Task Force. The charge given the group is to examine the governance model, structure and bylaws of the NAIFA federation, to ensure that they are best aligned to meet the mission of the association. The Task Force pursued its charge by asking: If NAIFA were created today, how would it be structured in order to achieve its mission now and in the future? See minutes, memos and materials as a result of task force activities: