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A Unique Kind of Not-for-Profit
November 1, 2014
Fraternal benefit society
Thrivent Financial is a not-for-profit membership organization. We're also a Fortune 500 financial services organization. How can this be?
We're actually a unique kind of not-for-profit called a fraternal benefit society.More Information By definition, a fraternal benefit society is a not-for-profit organization that provides insurance to its members and – this is key – has to carry out social, intellectual, educational, charitable, benevolent, moral, fraternal, patriotic or religious purposes for the benefit of its members and the public. So we can't simply sell insurance, and we can't simply do charitable work either. We have to do both.
Another key is that we have to operate under what's called the lodge system, which means a member of the "society" is a member of a local group of the society (which is self-governing). Other unique aspects: Fraternal benefit societies have representative governments (local and national boards elected by members), and members share a common bond that can be religious, ethnic, vocational or another common bond.
Why do we have fraternal benefit societies?
At the beginning of the 20th century, life insurance was a largely unfamiliar and unaffordable concept. Fraternal benefit societies were formed so people with a common bond – typically religious, ethnic or occupational – could help one another if tragedy struck. Fraternal benefit societies also provided opportunities for people to socialize and helped recent immigrants get used to life in America. Members belonged to local "lodges" or meeting places where they could come together as a community and celebrate their common bond.
For those who want the "official" language …
The IRS defines a fraternal benefit society as "one whose members have adopted the same or a very similar calling, avocation, or profession ... working in union to accomplish some worthy object." The IRS also notes that members of a fraternal band together as a society to "aid and assist one another and promote the common cause" and engage in activities of a "beneficial and fraternal character."
The American Fraternal Alliance (a trade group) defines it as a membership organization united around a unique common bond. And it must offer members fraternal benefits including insurance. The common bond of Thrivent Financial is Christianity.
To be exempt from income tax, a fraternal benefit society must also "operate under the lodge system," which means having its members belong to subordinate units that are "largely self-governing." In our case we call them chapters or Thrivent Member Networks.
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Fraternal benefit societyA not-for-profit organization that provides insurance to its members and operates for social, intellectual, educational, charitable, benevolent, moral, fraternal, patriotic or religious purposes for the benefit of its members and the public. These organizations operate under the lodge system, which means a member of the society is a member of a local chapter of the society. Fraternal benefit societies have representative governments, and members share a religious, ethnic, vocational or other common bond.