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Fraternal groups address local needs

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PJ staff report

Fraternal benefit societies deliver $3.4 billion a year in value to communities and individuals in need, yielding a return of $68 in direct and indirect economic support for every dollar the federal government invests in their operations, a new study says.

Fraternal benefit societies, with 9.3 million members in the U.S., operate as a highly effective private-sector economic and community support system that government could not easily replace, says the study by Phillip L. Swagel, a visiting professor in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

For the study, Economic and Societal Impacts of Fraternal Benefit Societies, Swagle evaluated two of the largest groups, Knights of Columbus, with 1.3 million members, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, with 2.6 million members.

Together, those two groups generate $3.4 billion in charitable contributions and social capital, the study says.

That includes $1.8 billion in direct value from volunteering and charitable contributions, including nearly 70 million volunteer hours, plus $W1.6 bilion in indirect value from improved social capital generated by the work of fraternal members.

The cost to government of public-sector agencies filing the needs that fraternal benefit societies now meet would far exceed current government investment in sustaining fraternal benefit societies, the study says.

It says fraternal benefit societies are “reservoirs and generators” of social capital, which it says promotes long-term economic stability in communities through a better-educated population, higher incomes, a stronger economy, and lower incidence of social ills such as criminal activity.

By mobilizing their members, the study says, fraternal benefit societies can make a bigger and qualitatively different impact than typical corporate donations to community groups.

“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,” Swagel, a former assistant secretary of economic policy for the U.S. Treasury Department, says in a statement.

“These unique community-based networks provide a structure that supports volunteerism and builds social capital,” he says. “This gives immense benefits to communities and a huge return to American taxpayers.”

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