What's this Growing Industry Partnership Doing for Kids? And Can Your Nonprofit Get in on it?

Betsy Myatt, Executive Director, IICF Northeast DivisionCharitable partnerships appear to be on the rise in many sectors, and insurance is no exception. With advancements in technology and social networking, these partnerships are becoming ever more powerful philanthropic vehicles.

One of the growing industry partnerships doing impactful work, particularly for children, is the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF). This partnership is basically the hub for independent insurance businesses, large and small, to come together and donate money and volunteer hours for good causes. It has four divisions in the U.S. and recently added an international division based in London.

IICF has been around since 1994 and is completely directed and funded by the insurance industry. It reports contributing more than $23.5 million in grants to charities since its inception, along with nearly 200,000 volunteer hours from members of the insurance profession.

Betsy Myatt assumed the leadership role as executive director for the Northeast Division in August 2008, which focuses primarily on education for children, at-risk children, and, to a lesser degree, support for disaster relief and the environment. The Northeast Division does work in the New York Tristate area as well as Boston, and has recently expanded, adding another chapter in Philadelphia.

"I can safely say education and children at risk are the two areas that are primarily funded in the Northeast," said Myatt in a recent interview with Inside Philanthropy. She characterized IICF's focus on education as very broad.

IICF's Northeast division has provided over $5.7 million in grants to nonprofits in the region since 2007. IICF has given grants to places like Mount Kisco Child Care Center, Harlem RBI, and the Central Harlem Initiative for Learning and Development (CHILD, Inc.). Its Boston chapter funds some more established organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Junior Achievement. "When we can, we also volunteer at our grant locations," Myatt added.

She described how IICF's work has evolved, recently establishing a national focus on Early Literacy in 2012. "We want to help close that learning and literacy gap, so that every child has the opportunity to read and write," said Myatt.

But how does a nonprofit get to be a grantee of the IICF? If you visit its website, you soon learn that IICF does not accept unsolicited grant proposals. Myatt spoke about the reasons behind keeping the process closed for unsolicited grants. "We are a fairly small operation. We run a very lean, tight ship. For example, for the first six years, we've done a great deal of work, but I'm the only person here, so if we opened up our grants to everyone, we would be overwhelmed with the number that we have to go through."

How does IICF find its grantees? It gets recommendations from its board and staff to narrow the field. "Now that does not prevent charities from figuring out who's on our board," said Myatt. "We are always happy to talk to people and direct them to see if they can find a relationship with board members, which often they do find, and then they're invited to apply."

The key is connecting with an IICF board member or staff and giving them a concise pitch that will get your foot in the door. Myatt encouraged nonprofits within the foundation's focus areas to reach out and have a conversation with a staff member in the appropriate division, since the foundation is always willing to help make the connection between board members and eligible nonprofits.

One of the striking things about the IICF is the range of size for the insurance partners and supporters that participate. "We are basically a relationship organization," said Myatt. "Many of these companies are competitors, so they put aside their competitive differences and their personal branding to give back to their community collectively, which is highly unusual."

Myatt described the origins of IICF, which started on the West Coast 22 years ago when a few people in the insurance industry joined together every year to back a charity; they later decided to become official and broaden their scope.

Today, the board of the Northeast Division comprises over 40 people. "All of those people have different relationships, and many come from other associations in the industry," said Myatt. For example, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of New York is on ICCF's board, an organization representing many smaller insurance agents in the community. "Then we have members who are as large as Travelers or Chubb, so it's really nice to be able to engage so many different people and different-sized organizations."

In October, IICF will have its Week of Giving, when members donate time and money from across the nation and share the experience, by getting together on different initiatives. "It's a nice sense of community to feel like you're going out and doing work along with thousands of other people in the industry," said Myatt. "It makes people feel good about what they're doing, about what their company is doing, about what the industry is supporting them to do."

With the advent of social media, sharing about experiences volunteering during Week of Giving has grown, and volunteers enjoy posting pictures around the country, showing their spirit of collaboration with competitors to others. "Many times when we have a larger project, we will have four or five different companies working together," said Myatt.

As IICF grows, so also grows its agenda to be more inclusive and socially aware. IICF recently began hosting a Women in Insurance Global Conference Series, now in its third year, which brings together industry partners to discuss gender diversity in the industry and best practices to improve equity in the profession. 

Going forward, Myatt sees IICF's national Early Literacy Initiative becoming more full blown, so the time may be ripe for early childhood education nonprofits to get connected with an IICF board member and make a pitch for programs to close the word gap for disadvantaged children. "Both nationally and internationally, each of our divisions is growing by leaps and bounds," said Myatt.