Brethren Benefit Trust board affirms five strategic goals

By Jean Bednar

Continuing to affirm bold steps in the plan to position Brethren Benefit Trust for a strong future, the BBT board affirmed the five strategic goals that evolved throughout 2020 from conversations among board and staff members, with members and clients, and with denominational leadership.

The affirmation of the goals among the board and staff who were in attendance took place at the April meeting of the BBT board, held April 22-24. For the second year in a row, the board’s April meeting took place via Zoom, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The five strategic goals are:

— Embrace a mentality of growth (rather than one of maintenance),

— Adopt marketing and communications measures that will boost BBT’s message and make it more competitive in the benefits marketplace,

— Align the structure of BBT staff appropriately to meet future challenges,

— Determine how best staff should work and from where, in order to better meet the needs of BBT’s client base among changing demographics of the denomination, and

— Examine our corporate image and brand to ensure that it resonates with the people and organizations we are to serve.

Even before the pandemic hit, BBT leadership was engaged in strategic conversations on how the organization might need to adapt to meet the changing needs of members and clients. Now, a year later, the goals for this plan have been affirmed by the board, and steps are being taken to position staff for these changes. As always, the focus is on those BBT serves and how to retain their business while bringing on new clients and enrolling new members.

Assisting with this process is a consultant that has a proven track record of assisting companies with challenging transitions. The consultant has worked with BBT president Nevin Dulabaum since January, and in the following months interviewed more than 10 of the BBT staff to help assess strengths, weaknesses, and internal dynamics. At this meeting, the consultant joined the board in closed session with Dulabaum and Michelle Kilbourne, BBT’s director of Human Resources and co-facilitator of the strategic goal process, to address how best the company can fulfill the goals.

A pivotal question going forward will be how BBT might want to position itself in terms of identity. BBT will examine whether its name accurately reflects its mission, vision, and values in an invitational manner for those the organization serves both inside and outside the Church of the Brethren.

Changes to the BBT board membership

The BBT board has undergone recent changes with more to come.

Shelley Kontra tendered her resignation from the board in March, due to scheduling issues. The board agreed to appoint retired BBT staff member Donna March to serve the remaining one year of Kontra’s term.

In addition, Kevin Kessler, Sara Brenneman, and Ron Gebhardtsbauer will complete their terms as of the July board meeting. Filling these board positions will happen in three ways. First, through an election of Pension Plan and Insurance Plan members. In that recent election, Kathryn Whitacre of McPherson, Kan., was chosen; she will begin serving in July. There will be two elections taking place at this year’s virtual Annual Conference, which will produce two new board members as well. The 12th member of the board will be added by board appointment, also in July.

Clean audit opinion of 2020 financials

The BBT finance staff, accustomed to working in close quarters to handle the flow of more than $630 million in assets under management, was dispersed to work from their respective homes for the past 14 months, due to the pandemic. Despite this challenge, the team didn’t miss a beat in its administration and oversight of its responsibilities, once again earning a clean audit opinion, the highest ranking possible.

At its meeting, the board met with BBT’s independent auditors, reviewing the 2020 financials in open session with staff, and in closed session without staff.

The BBT board also

— Approved IR&M as one of its two bond managers for an additional three years,

— Affirmed the two 2021 Department of Defense lists that BBT staff prepared, which screen out publicly traded companies that generate a significant amount of their revenue from US Department of Defense contracts, which show Brethren values-based screens for most investment options, and

— Agreed that it will meet again in person in November at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.

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