Modern Woodmen is a multibillion-dollar financial services organization named after lumberjacks.
Founder Joseph Cullen Root was inspired by the compassion of the loggers based in his native Lyons, Iowa, who took care of the widows left behind by their fallen fellow laborers.
Root, a businessman in several industries, saw woodmen as the perfect symbol to illustrate his goal of clearing away financial burdens for families and protecting those in danger of losing their sole breadwinner.
He founded the organization in 1883, dubbing it Modern Woodmen — with the “modern” part invoking his pledge to evolve with the times alongside his commitment to compassion.
The not-for-profit, member-owned organization admits anyone who wants to join when they purchase the organization’s investment products or services, with no annual dues. It is now based in Rock Island, Illinois, and has 750,000 members, 1,500 advisers in 46 states and $16.2 billion in assets as of 2017.
But the group mostly flies under the radar. That’s for a good reason, said Andrew Beers, managing partner of the Grand Rapids chapter, who has been with the organization for five years.
“Being a fraternal financial services organization, instead of doing national advertising, we put money back into the communities we live and work in,” he said.
Chapter boards, made up of member volunteers, plan and coordinate local social, educational and volunteer activities.
Beers said the Grand Rapids chapter currently has five advisers.
Last month, Beers and adviser Scott Lowing took the initiative to sign Modern Woodmen as the presenting sponsor for the Grand Rapids Drive’s annual Veterans Night basketball game. Proceeds went to Operation Supply Drop, a provider of video game care packages for active-duty military members.
Some Modern Woodmen fundraisers have a member-specific focus.
“I had a client get diagnosed with ALS the year he retired, so we did a euchre tournament at a VFW hall in Coopersville, and we were able to raise over $20,000,” Beers said. “It was open to the public, but members organized it and got all the volunteers, reached out to vendors and got sponsorships.”
On the educational side of things, the Grand Rapids chapter has hosted seminars on health and money management and also has engaged speakers on topics such as Social Security and estate planning.
“We like to support local businesses, whether it’s going to the local physical therapy clinic and letting them do a presentation on health education or going to the local nutrition place in Coopersville and letting them put on a presentation on nutrition,” Beers said.
Nationally, Modern Woodmen gave back $20 million last year to the communities it serves — $1.5 million of which was invested into Michigan — through donations, programs and service projects.
Beers said he could have gone anywhere to work as a financial adviser, but he sees Modern Woodmen as special for its mission of care.
“At the end of the day, financial products are financial products, but when you have a vested interest in the community and you’re getting people involved, I think you take the relationship one step further,” he said.