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CIMA: Insuring Volunteers for Forty Years and Counting

Featuring Laurie S. Coleman, Senior Vice President, CIMA

Posted on 20 Oct 09

In this edition of Insurance Unplugged, we are pleased to be featuring Storefront The CIMA Companies, Inc. Founded in 1949, CIMA, which is headquartered in Alexandra, Virginia, also has offices in the Baltimore area, and clients throughout the United States. CIMA administers the Volunteers Insurance Service (VIS®) program, which is run by Laurie Coleman, senior vice president and part owner. She has been with the company for 30 years, handling all its association programs. There are more than a dozen programs in all, serving more than 5,000 non-profit and for-profit organizations nationwide.

The VIS® program is operated through its Volunteers Insurance Service Association, a risk purchasing group that CIMA formed. In operation since its creation more than 40 years ago, VIS® is available to some 2.5 million volunteers every year through more than 5,000 participating organizations. These organizations include: local governments and government agencies; all volunteers in the Corporation for National and Community Service programs (Retired Senior Volunteer, Foster Grandparent, Senior Companion); social service non-profits of every kind; work-release and alternative sentencing programs; and many others.

“What distinguishes VIS®,” says Laurie, “is that it’s the only program that combines Accident Medical insurance, Volunteer Liability, and Excess Automobile Liability for volunteers. Through VIS®, non-profit organizations can protect volunteers from the most common risks they face, while at the same time protecting their own claims experience and limits of liability. The three lines of coverage are available separately or in any combination,” explains Laurie.

It is exactly the unique nature of the VIS® program that makes it successful. “The program really is an “easy sell,” even to non-profit organizations coping with tight budgets,” says Laurie. “Non-profit managers understand that the program provides an economical way not only to insure volunteers but also to attract and retain good volunteers.”

Additionally, the experience of the staff working on the VIS® program is invaluable. The average work experience at CIMA is between 10 to 25 years. “Longevity at our company is something of which we are proud,” says Laurie. She and her staff are responsible for negotiating rates and enhancements with underwriters, and maintaining first-quality service to ensure the satisfaction of thousands of customers.

The VIS® program over the years has experienced its growth principally through word of mouth. “Non-profit organizations like to share information about resources that can help them,” says Laurie. Even with this key advantage in its arsenal, in 2005, CIMA decided to expand its program by making it easy for other agents and brokers around the country to offer its program to their own customers. “We decided to create a portal on our website – – where agents and brokers can learn about the program, and in less than five minutes execute a simple producer agreement and complete an application to enroll the volunteers of any of their customers.”

A 12% commission is paid both on new business and renewal of that business, and CIMA handles all the administration. “Once the agent or broker has enrolled the volunteers through our website, he or she has no other responsibility. The opportunity is there for any agent or broker to add a new revenue stream without a lot of demand on their time,” explains Laurie.

Since the program has been made available through the web portal, more than 130 agents and brokers have enrolled a customer with VIS®, and several have enrolled numerous customers. Additionally, CIMA has put together a simple marketing package on the VIS® program which is available to agents or brokers upon request.

Part of CIMA’s marketing strategy also includes establishing a Storefront on in 2008 and sending out four e-mail blasts per year. “The click-through reports we receive from ProgramBusiness allow us to capture detailed contact information for those who saw the e-mail and chose to click through to our website for further information,” says Laurie. “We retain that contact information for future follow-up, and also to cross-reference with the new business we actually write. This allows us to quantify our return on investment with ProgramBusiness, and the return has been positive.

“We use a combination of email and telephone for the follow-up. We’ve found that if we are able to actually have a conversation with an agent or broker who clicked through on a ProgramBusiness e-mail, we can get an idea of the potential opportunity to work together. While some have only a few non-profit customers, others really have targeted that class of business, and see the VIS® program as a valuable asset on a continuing basis.

“We also conduct e-mail marketing campaigns with two other vendors, and quantify the return on investment the same way.“

In discussing any challenges that CIMA may face with its Volunteer program, the only obstacle is to overcome inertia. As Laurie explains, “Sometimes an agent is comfortable with knowing that volunteers are included on the customer’s General Liability policy, and the Workers’ Compensation policy in states where that is allowed. To make a change requires not only convincing the agent that a change is needed, but also explaining that change to the customer. We try, however, to meet both of those challenges, by doing two things: First, we use the information on to illustrate to the agent that, in most cases, the VIS® program really is the most appropriate way to protect their customers’ volunteers. Second, we offer to provide them with marketing materials the customers can read at their leisure, so they can become familiar with our program and comfortable with it. This seems to get agents and brokers moving.”

To find more about CIMA and its VIS® program, please visit the Storefont, or call Laurie at 800.468.4200 or email her at Vicki Brooks ( and Joan Wankmiller ( also work with agents and brokers in the VIS® program, and would be happy to provide information. They also can be reached at 800.468.4200.