Nick Pembroke, vice president of McClain Insurance Services, delivers food with his kids and Patrick Doyle of Advocate Telecom
Community service and charity efforts are often a major way that independent agencies involve themselves in their communities, and while COVID-19 has only made those needs greater, the restrictions of social distancing have made it more difficult than ever to bring help to those who need it. This year has forced agencies to adapt their businesses to a new way of life, and their charity efforts along with them.
We’d like to share a few HawkSoft agencies that have inspired us with their community relief efforts this year, and how they’ve pivoted to keep providing needed service to their communities at a time when it’s needed most.
This article at a glance:
- Advantage Auto Tags & Insurance - Ronald McDonald House & Angel on a Leash
- All Lines Insurance - Bite 2 Go
- McClain Insurance Services - Food for Our Future
- Get started at your agency
- Thank you, agents
Advantage Auto Tags & Insurance - Ronald McDonald House & Angel on a Leash
Steven Kramer of Advantage Auto Tags and Insurance in Langhorne, PA, has a long history of community involvement. He, his family, and his agency are longtime volunteers and fundraisers for Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC), raising over $225,000 in 2019 for a new Ronald McDonald House facility in Philadelphia.
He’s also the co-president of local nonprofit organization Angel on a Leash, which brings together two of his passions—his work for children and families and his passion for training therapy dogs. His interest in therapy dog training started with Stella, his Dogue de Bordeaux (a large French Mastiff breed), who became the first certified therapy dog at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia. Stella and Abner, another dog of Steve’s, became the ambassadors for the National Dog Show by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia for 5 years, helping to raise awareness and funds for therapy dogs and their work at RMHC. “We’ve taken these big, massive dogs and shown the world how gentle they are,” Steve says. “We’ve made friends and raised funds from all over the world because of these dogs and what we’ve done for the breed.”
Steve (far right) with his wife and therapy dogs at the National Dog Show with hosts John O'Hurley (seated, left), David Frei (seated, right; founder of Angel on a Leash), and others from the show.
Angel on a Leash provides volunteer therapy dog handler teams to visit with anyone whose health and quality of life could be enhanced through a bond with a therapy dog—especially children, seniors, and those with serious physical or mental disabilities. The organization is currently raising funds to start a foundation to award scholarships to local high school students, based on community service rather than academic merit. “We want to not only do service with therapy dogs within our local communities,” Steve says, “but we want to give back through charity efforts. Helping people changes how you look at your life and why you get out of bed in the morning. That’s why I’m involved with these programs.”
“Helping people changes how you look at your life and why you get out of bed in the morning. That’s why I’m involved with these programs.”
Steve Kramer, Advantage Auto Tags & Insurance
Adapting to COVID-19
COVID-19 dealt a devastating blow to Steve’s efforts with Angel on a Leash, which visits hospitals and schools and nursing homes—all places that were quickly shut down. “We’ve had to change things to meet with the situation,” he says, “whether it’s visiting children in hospital lobbies with masks on, or having senior centers bring the seniors outside on nice days and using 12-foot leashes so the dogs can interact with them even when we can’t.”
Other events have gone virtual. When the annual Ronald McDonald camp that Angel on a Leash usually participates in was cancelled, Champion team member Jo DeAngelis created a virtual “Reading with Lucy” segment where she read books to children and let them meet her English Bulldog Lucy online. Efforts for RMHC’s Read for the House event, where Steve usually brings dogs from Angel on a Leash to school auditoriums, have gone remote as well. On November 7th-17th, Angel on a Leash will be holding a Virtual Dog Walk where people can pay to register, individually walk their dogs, and post pictures or videos to raise awareness. The event has already received more than $5,000 in funding from major companies like Allstate and UPS.
Steve visiting children in a Ronald McDonald House facility with his therapy dogs, Stella and Abner
In addition, the staff at Steve’s agency has looked for ways they could help their clients during the pandemic by saving money on their premiums during these difficult times. “My commercial CSR started looking at things like Workers’ Comp,” he says. “We noticed that a lot of companies were giving credits on personal lines, but no one was looking out for commercial. We’d contact commercial clients and see if they had to downsize and if that could save them money. We went to nonprofits who had vehicles and asked whether or not their vehicles were currently being used. We made adjustments on policies to get them some of their premium back.”
While the move initially reduced the agency’s commissions, they were able to keep more clients in the long run. In fact, their grateful clients ended up referring more business to them. “Most of the people we helped stayed in business,” he says, “and they told their friends what we did for them, and now they’re calling us to be their agents.”
All Lines Insurance - Bite 2 Go
Randy Ahmann’s agency, All Lines Insurance in Spokane, WA, just won a Change Agents award and $3,000 donation from Safeco for their work with Second Harvest’s Bite 2 Go program, which provides food packages to local elementary school students in need to take home on the weekends.
The agency has made charity part of their referral program—they make a $10 donation to their selected quarterly charity each time they receive a referral from a customer. The idea for the program came from collaboration with other agencies as part of a Safeco marketing program they participated in along with other agencies in the area, such as McClain Insurance Services. “Agents like Claudia McClain have done some amazing work with our state legislators to allow agencies like us to donate to charity organizations in return for referrals,” Randy says.
The agency started the referral donation program more than 6 years ago and has continued it ever since, generating over 170 referral donations in the last quarter for the Bite 2 Go program. The agency volunteers 3 staff members each month to help distribute the food to the school, and helps at food packaging events a few times a year. “When students see you deliver the bagged food at the school and shout out a big thank you or give you a hug, it’s so meaningful and reassuring that you are making a change as an agent,” Randy says.
Randy and Chris Sloan, president of Second Harvest, with food to be delivered to local elementary school students
The agency has also experienced other benefits from its charity efforts. “It’s not only the right thing to do personally,” Randy says, “but it’s a good business decision. It’s an investment that pays back. People think that donating to charity will make your business broke, but in reality it makes your business healthy. We’ve grown more than 10% each year since we started doing it, which is a great return on investment.”
“It’s not only the right thing to do personally, but it’s a good business decision. It’s an investment that pays back.”
Randy Ahmann, All Lines Insurance
He mentions other unexpected benefits as well, such as receiving referrals through the charities they work with, or even having the charities themselves become clients. “That’s not what it’s about,” Randy says, “but it’s an added benefit. When people come to you because they know you’re involved in the community doing good things, it builds a more lasting relationship than just running an ad.”
The All Lines Insurance team volunteers at a Second Harvest food packaging event
Adapting to COVID-19
COVID and the school closures that came with it brought changes to the Bite 2 Go program. “The schools are shut down,” Randy says, “and charity donations went down significantly too. We had to figure out different ways to generate funds to get the food the kids needed.” For the agency, getting other organizations involved to match funds was important. They knew Amazon’s charity arm, Smile Amazon, had set aside $25 million in matching funds for Washington businesses, agreeing to match up to $5,000 in donations per business, and the agency was able to secure a match for their donation. The Change Agent award from Safeco brought in another $3,000.
“Without school, the need is even greater for the children in the program,” Randy says, “so we’ve been working hard to get them everything we can. Between the money from the referral program, our charity budget, and these matches, we were able to get the money Bite 2 Go needed for the rest of 2020 and into 2021.”
McClain Insurance Services - Food for Our Future
Community involvement has always been central to Claudia McClain and her agency, McClain Insurance Services in Everett, WA. The agency has had a partnership with local non-profit Cocoon House, an organization committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness for teens and young adults, since 2012.
“This year when COVID hit,” Claudia says, “we asked Cocoon House to advise us of one of their biggest challenges.” The organization told them that the food budget for their residential program had been heavily impacted. Their teens normally received breakfast and lunch at school, which were now closed, or home-cooked meals from church or community groups, which could no longer offer food donations due to health concerns. Food had to come from a commercial kitchen or be prepared onsite, which was an additional expense for the organization, and counsellors had to aid in preparing meals, limiting the time and energy they had available for their important one-on-one work with the teens.
“At the same time,” Claudia says, “most of our most treasured local family-owned restaurants were struggling financially. We saw an opportunity to support both Cocoon House and our local restaurants. We launched our Food for Our Future initiative on June 3rd, promising to deliver Wednesday night dinner to the 20+ residents and staff of Cocoon House.” Claudia’s team didn’t know how long they could maintain the financial commitment, but a couple of their family-owned vendors, a water restoration company and an IT/telecom vendor, asked if they could join in and take responsibility for some weeks. Several insurance company partners donated as well, allowing them to splurge on surprise desserts to accompany some of the dinners.
“We’re now past our 20th week of supporting Cocoon House and our local restaurants,” Claudia says. “Our goal was to provide a variety of food options for the teens and to that end we have thus far used 15 different restaurants with more in the queue. We hope to be able to continue this work through the end of 2020, if not beyond.”
“We’re now past our 20th week of supporting Cocoon House and our local restaurants...We hope to be able to continue this work through the end of 2020, if not beyond.”
Claudia McClain, McClain Insurance Services
Get started at your agency
If your agency wants to get involved with the community but doesn’t know where to start, Randy recommends trying a referral donation program. The budget required is minimal—donations happen as you add new customers, guaranteeing more revenue to cover the expense. If you don’t already have a charity you’re involved with, try working with several different charities to find the best fit. “We started by doing a different charity each month for 12 months,” Randy says. “That gave us a chance to try a lot of different programs and see what we were most passionate about and what organizations were the best fit for us to work with. Bite 2 Go partners with a school and a church that we love working with, and has created a very supportive and nurturing relationship between all of us, so now they are one of our quarterly charities.”
Steve shared an example of how even small efforts by the agency can add up. His agency has a box at the office to collect the tabs from soda cans as part of a fundraising effort with RMHC, and has now collected over 4,400 pounds of tabs. While one soda tab from one person may not seem like it makes much difference, the effort of many people over time can make a huge impact. “The big things get mentioned all the time,” Steve says. “I think it’s important to recognize the small things, even if it’s just a high school student bringing groceries for a neighbor who’s sick. Angel on a Leash is all about creating and recognizing those small moments.”
“The big things get mentioned all the time. I think it’s important to recognize the small things, even if it’s just a high school student bringing groceries for a neighbor who’s sick.”
Steve Kramer, Advantage Auto Tags & Insurance
Thank you, agents
HawkSoft is honored to have agencies like Steve’s, Randy’s, and Claudia’s as part of the HawkSoft family. Helping others has always been an important part of HawkSoft, reflected in our core values like Sense of Community, Do the Right Thing, For the Good of All, and Attitude of Gratitude. We’re incredibly grateful to serve agencies that are doing so much to help their clients and communities in their times of greatest need, whether it’s a natural disaster or a worldwide pandemic. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making the world a better place.
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