Last year we featured an article on the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) about the great work the foundation does, including its annual Volunteer Week, an eight-day industry-wide event with volunteers participating in projects and offering their service throughout their communities. It’s that time again, with Volunteer Week taking place October 15-22.
We followed up this year with Bill Ross, IICF’s CEO, to take a more in-depth look into the foundation, why it’s good for our industry and the communities we serve, and to learn about some of the new projects underway. Bill has served as CEO of the foundation for eight years. Prior to joining IICF, he had a long, fruitful career with the Walt Disney Company in the Parks & Resorts Division.
IICF was established 16 years ago by a group of agency principals in California, and today the Foundation has grown into a national organization with a national board of governors, a national advisory board, and three operating divisions: Western, New York-Northeast, and Midwest. The foundation is funded and directed by insurance industry professionals representing reinsurers, insurance agents, and brokers; property/casualty companies; health/life companies; and related advertising, public relations, law, accounting, computer, and other companies that work closely with the insurance industry. Since its inception, IICF has raised over $16 million in grants for non-profit agencies.
Annie George (AG): How do you see IICF’s role in our industry?
Bill Ross (BR): “Whether you’re talking about large insurance companies with national and international commitments to social responsibility and philanthropic endeavors or the smaller brokerage operations and agencies engaged in their local communities, there is a tremendous amount of good work taking place. Yet there isn’t always a lot of attention or awareness about what our industry as a whole is doing. The IICF serves as a philanthropic voice -- not only highlighting what we do as a nonprofit organization representing the insurance industry, but also what companies in the industry individually are doing. We want to be the champion of the large and small efforts taking place across the nation and around the world. We want to give a voice to the work the insurance industry is doing to help make communities better through various philanthropic services and their presence within those communities.
“The work of the IICF is to elevate the industry. What makes the foundation so unique is that it serves as a platform, a network providing camaraderie among competitors within our industry. We have five leadership boards, a national board of governors, three operating boards, and a national advisory board – all of them providing some level of leadership for the foundation. You essentially have competitors sitting around the table and talking about how they can help communities around the country. This is a very unique dynamic that is working.”
AG: What other benefits do you see in having an industry foundation?
BR: “Working with an industry foundation allows the industry to have greater impact through collaboration. There is no question remarkable things are taking place in our board members’ companies across the nation, but when we come together as an industry and collaborate on a philanthropic activity, we learn from one another. We also have the opportunity to highlight and champion the leaders of our industry and the Best Practices we employ. For example, at the annual Western Division dinner last December, we highlighted Fireman’s Fund and their Heritage program, which provides resources for local firehouses across the nation. It was a great way for the foundation to highlight and recognize a program and give other organizations ideas and thoughts on how they can distinguish themselves within the industry and community.
“Another example of our collaborative and leadership work is the project that’s taking place with McKinsey & Co. For the first time, the industry has a well-respected research firm conducting a survey and putting in place industry benchmarks. The survey will provide a record of the industry’s philanthropic work, including the dollars invested, the volunteer hours contributed, and the type of programs provided by our industry. You can’t go anywhere today and get an answer as to what the industry as a whole is doing philanthropically. We want to be able to discuss what the industry is doing collectively. The insurance industry contributes a substantial amount of money through their foundations, organizations, and outstanding employee base. The McKinsey report will begin to shed light on these efforts, with our first model targeting the top 100 insurance Property and Casualty organizations, and our ultimate goal to reach everyone in the industry.”
AG: What other new projects have you undertaken or are in pipeline?
BR: “We hold fundraising events, provide grants, and offer volunteer service to give back to communities. The grant program is on a local basis, and we are now looking to institute a national grant platform, which would collectively unite the entire industry under one effort. By doing this, it allows us in our leadership role to bring forward the message of what we as an industry are accomplishing individually in a collective way.
“We’re also looking at all the work the industry does when it comes to natural disasters. Our industry is very active in this area, but often it goes unnoticed. We want to see how we can help the industry as a whole approach a disaster from a philanthropic standpoint. For example, when a natural disaster occurs, such as Hurricane Katrina, how active was the industry in philanthropically supporting the residents and businesses affected? I think if you did the research you’ll find that the industry gave more philanthropic dollars of support and recovery after Katrina than any other industry. This industry is also very generous in international disasters as well, and contributed tremendous dollars to Japan after the country’s earthquake and tsunami. I’m not sure this is something that our own industry is aware of, let alone the general public. We can benefit from tracking, coordinating, and being able to share this information.
“Another focus of ours is to get younger individuals in the industry involved in our foundation. We know the younger workforce is interested in philanthropic activities, both from a social perspective and from a commitment to better their communities. The Midwest Division is leading the Foundation effort in the formation of an associate board. This will help to introduce the next generation to philanthropic responsibility and the concept of community engagement, while reinforcing what the foundation is about and fostering future leaders.
“We’re also very involved in supporting education, establishing close partnerships with colleges and universities that offer insurance studies, such as St. John’s College on the East Coast, and California State University Fullerton and its center of insurance studies on the West Coast. We also work with many nonprofits that have educational-related focuses. For example, the Mayor’s Fund for the City of New York launched an initiative to establish Financial Empowerment Centers to provide one-on-one financial counseling and education in underprivileged areas of the city. The IICF New York Division provided the funding to get this project started, and the first center then became the model for five others. “Additionally, in September 2012, we’re planning to hold a Women in Insurance Global Conference, highlighting and bringing together women executives in senior leadership roles.
“We are very committed to supporting education within our industry as well as those in our communities through various programs in which we participate.”
The IICF 5th Annual New York – Northeast Division Benefit Dinner will be taking place Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at the Waldorf Astoria. Each year this event has raised $1 million-plus. If you’re in the Tri-State area, try not to miss it! And remember, Volunteer Week is coming up–find out more about how you can participate in your community.