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Doing Great Things

Volunteering can give you a sense of satisfaction and, if handled properly, help your bottom line.

By Lucretia DiSanto Jones

Perhaps all of us should try to live up to the bumper sticker that says: Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. Acts like holding the door for an elderly person. Collecting our old clothes for Goodwill. All of these everyday events are virtually effortless and can give a little lift to your day—and to someone else’s.

As an insurance and financial advisor, the business of selling life insurance and securing the future for Americans gives you the opportunity every day to accomplish great things for others. Despite the drop in volunteerism nationwide (a victim to our hectic lifestyles), you find time to make a real difference in your community. In fact, you make helping others—through community service and charitable giving—a priority.

You do it because you want to. The fact that it’s good for your business and your image is just a fringe benefit as far as you’re concerned.

Part of a whole
Edward J. Zore, president and CEO of Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee, applauds all of the good deeds you do. Zore believes that every employee in every company in every industry needs to become involved in their communities. It’s especially important, he says, for the insurance industry. “Our primary role is creating financial security for our consumers. Part of being secure is being part of a wholesome neighborhood in a wholesome community. It’s in our best interest to make sure we do all that we possibly can to make their communities a better place to live."

The concept of being part of a community goes well beyond the physical. “The community is something that you are part of, that you can’t exist without, and it’s in your best interest to keep it going,” says Robert Trudeau, Ph.D., professor of political science and a member of the faculty of the Feinstein Institute for Public Service at Providence College, Providence, R.I. If businesses contribute to the community, not only with dollars but also with hands-on involvement, community problems are solved, he says. “Service makes the community a better place. It’s kind of a magic.”

Like many insurance companies, Northwestern Mutual has a long history of community involvement. “It’s part of our culture. It’s our mission to add value to the quality of life,” Zore says. The company takes its mission seriously on national and local levels. Through its Community Partner Program, Northwestern Mutual encourages its agencies around the country to team up with local nonprofit organizations to provide financial support and volunteers. In turn, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation matches the funds provided by the agencies.

“If someone’s motive for volunteering is to give something back, it’ll be really good for business.”
—Michael Condrey, Northwestern Mutual

Advisors in action
Northwestern Mutual’s general agent in Raleigh, N.C., Michael Condrey, CLU, ChFC, CFP, has taken advantage of the Community Partner Program. His agency and its 100 agents teamed up with SAFEchild (Stop Abuse For Every child) to develop the Northwestern Mutual/SAFEchild Network. The mission of the network is to provide child identification services for parents and their children at events happening in and around Raleigh. Parents who have their children identified receive a sample of their children’s DNA and photographs of their children for safekeeping. Law enforcement officials can use both if a child is lost or missing.

Condrey says the partnership was a boon to the project. "It made the project come alive,” Condrey says, “because suddenly it was part of a larger cause. It was a natural teaming up that has paid great dividends for all of us.” Condrey’s history in community service goes back to his adolescence. "As a high school sophomore, I went to an inner-city school in Alabama to tutor fifth graders. If you can find a volunteer program that’s fun, you’ll get hooked on it. As a general agent, I want to set the example for my reps. It’s fun, and there are many similarities between the volunteer feeling and what we do for a living. They get hooked on volunteering, and they get hooked on selling life insurance."

A beautiful relationship
Marjorie Menestres, executive director of SAFEchild, says the child ID program would not be possible if Condrey and his reps were not supporting the effort. “It’s a tremendous service we offer to the community. They fund it and are instrumental in making it happen. They volunteer at events like state fairs, ball games, health fairs, community events and school fairs. Just last month we identified 350 new kids. We ID between 200 and 300 a month, and we’ve been doing that for about a year. We’ve identified more than 2,000 kids.”

The benefits of the partnership go far beyond receiving financial support and having people to staff booths at fairs, Menestres says. She describes the relationship between SAFEchild and Condrey’s agency as one that ties together the missions of two organizations and creates a team when volunteers from both are combined. “It’s an interesting relationship. They are trying to ensure the security of their clients and their clients’ children, and so are we. It’s a beautiful blend of our mission and Northwestern Mutual’s mission, in ways most people wouldn’t think.”

The business case for doing good deeds
To Condrey, service is a tangible way to give back to a community that has given many professionals the chance to build a lucrative business. But he emphasizes that gaining a business edge is not the reason to get involved. “Any agent in any community for any length of time has had the opportunity to make a magnificent living. Way too many people get involved because they think it’ll be good for business. If someone’s motive for volunteering is because it’ll be good for business, believe me, it won’t be good for business. If someone’s motive for volunteering is to give something back, it’ll be really good for business.”

“When people see you working with the cause of their organization in mind, they will come to you when they need personal financial planning help.”
—Carrie Hall, New York Life

Serving the cause
Improving the quality of life in American towns and cities has been the long-standing focus of the New York Life Foundation. With the arrival of CEO Sy Sternberg in 1988, New York Life’s community efforts became more strategic, providing grants focused on educational programs for children, mentoring and after-school and technology initiatives. For New York Life, getting involved—with agents and home office staff rolling up their sleeves and getting their fingers dirty—is as important as providing funding, if not more so.

Peter Bushyeager, president of the New York Life Foundation, explains that the insurer works hard to tie the employees’ activities with the foundation’s grant making. The company’s Local Volunteer Action Program provides grants to support specific volunteer activities of agents. “We firmly believe that agents are ideal community representatives, not just in terms of business. They can also have a positive impact on the quality of life in their communities,” Bushyeager says.

Making a difference
Among the many New York Life agents who are making a difference is Carrie Hall, CLU, CFP, in Phoenix. Hall grew up in a small town of 2,000 people in a family that has always been involved in charity work. Hall appreciates New York Life’s approach of letting agents choose the organizations they want to support and then providing funding for those organizations. She believes this maximizes the foundation’s donations because they are closely aligned with volunteer capabilities of agents in the field.

Hall is highly involved in Arizona’s Children Association (ACA), an organization whose mission is to protect children and preserve families. She takes advantage of a number of foundation-funding opportunities for ACA. One is the foundation’s competitive grant process. Hall has received sizable grants to support ACA’s First Steps program. The objective of the program is to prepare low-income families for the responsibility of having a newborn child in their homes.

Beyond fundraising
To kick up her involvement a notch, Hall stretches beyond bringing in dollars and cents. Her experience is an excellent example to others who want to provide time and talent, as well as treasure. “As an agent and a businessperson, you can give not only fund-raising capability, but also business knowledge to the organizations. For example, I realized that ACA needed a strategic business plan. They are good at social work, but they needed a way to increase fundraising and a way to let the community know about the organization. I worked with another volunteer, a former business executive, to create the plan.”

Advisors can help organizations build their boards of directors, shore up their volunteer rolls and pump up fund-raising activities by introducing well-connected business clients to the executives in the nonprofit world. In addition, advisors have many business clients whose services and expertise can fill large needs for some organizations. For example, a restaurant-owner client can use his contacts with food wholesalers to keep a soup kitchen’s shelves from going bare.

Hall introduced ACA to a nonprofit attorney to lend legal guidance to ACA’s foundation. “I wanted someone to look at the foundation and make sure the right decisions were being made. It doesn’t cost me any money, but it was so important to the health of the foundation, and it was rewarding.”

“…when people who are prominent in the business world are involved, they bring credibility to the cause that is otherwise difficult to obtain. ”
—Fred Chaffee, president and CEO,
Arizona’s Children Association

Hall’s story demonstrates the importance of advisors drawing on all of their resources and contacts to help a cause. Fred Chaffee, CEO of ACA, says that without the leadership of businesses, many organizations cannot do an awful lot. "You can get scraps from the table, but when people who are prominent in the business world are involved, they bring credibility to the cause that is otherwise difficult to obtain. Carrie’s contacts are invaluable when we travel and tell our story to raise money through the private sector. She has introduced us to countless people who have partnered with us by giving private money," he says.

Hall’s philanthropic mindset has seeped into her practice, which includes estate planning. She has crafted the estate plans of some of ACA’s board members to include the organization. ACA is a beneficiary of one of Hall’s life policies. Hall is also willing to let ACA use her name to their benefit. "Her leadership by example is important," Chaffee says. "There never seems to be enough money to work with the challenges of kids and families, so we are dependent on private dollars. Carrie’s been helpful in introducing us to the right people."

The benefits of giving
Giving to the community has many advantages. As a businessperson, you want to be seen as a whole person. When you give back to the community, you are sharing a side of yourself that completes the whole picture of who you are. This comes back to Hall tenfold. “When people see you working with the cause of their organization in mind, they will come to you when they need personal financial planning help. They will say: ‘I want you to handle my financial planning because you will have my best interests at heart.’”

There are other aspects to volunteer involvement, Hall says. “One, you learn so much. My experience has taught me a lot about business planning, how to get committees and boards together and working. Two, I have two small children, and I want them to see that both mom and dad are very active in the community and that it is an important piece of what you need to do as an adult."

How to help
Many times people don’t get involved in a community cause because they think they don’t have enough time or money. Condrey and Hall have shown that although there is a need for money, there’s also a need for the volunteer spirit.

If you’re not supporting an organization right now and don’t know how to begin, think first about the human conditions that tug at your heart. Is it hunger, poverty, child abuse or illiteracy? Is it the aging population, children, animals or a certain illness that you keep hearing about? If you work in an agency with a few people, why not find out what you can do collectively?

Next, do some research to find local organizations that are addressing the issues that interest you. You may want to review their annual reports to make sure you are comfortable with their stewardship of the dollars they receive. Once you’ve chosen an organization you believe will meet your needs, call or stop by and ask to speak with the person who coordinates volunteer activities and schedules. Then ask some simple questions: What volunteer opportunities are available? What time commitment do you expect from your volunteers? What is the biggest challenge your organization faces? What materials, expertise, people or services do you need to meet the challenge? Once you’re sure you want to become involved, ask the biggest question of all: How can I help?

 


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