Erie Insurance, a Fortune 500 corporation headquartered in my hometown, knows how to sell and service insurance policies through its network of agents in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Erie Insurance also knows that community foundations are smart and efficient grantmakers.
I was recently invited to a companywide meeting where Erie’s dynamic CEO, Terry Cavanaugh, reviewed the company’s 2010 performance and thanked thousands of Erie-based employees and 23 different Erie Insurance branch location employees via live broadcast. At the event, I was honored to symbolically accept a check for $75,000, made on behalf of its employees, that was distributed to 23 different community foundations located close to Erie Insurance branch office communities.
While the individual gift to each community foundation is somewhat modest, the collective idea is quite big. Erie Insurance is leveraging its community outreach efforts with our expertise. This is a new and interesting model—one that other companies nationwide should consider pursuing.
Community foundations are uniquely positioned to identify needs and galvanize the necessary resources to address them. Our knowledge is valuable to national corporations, individuals, and other foundations wanting to make strategic and meaningful grants in local communities. It’s a natural partnership that should continue to be explored and encouraged.
Many don’t fully understand the important and evolving role of community foundations since the first one—the Cleveland Foundation—was founded in 1914. We have seen exponential growth and a significant transformation in the structure, role, and impact of community foundations. Today, more than 700 community foundations are marshaling resources to advance the common good. And there are now more than 2,000 such organizations globally, including Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
According to the Foundation Center, giving by community foundations has increased from $183 million in 1981 to more than $4 billion in 2009 and the most recent asset levels hover around $50 billion. Investments span the spectrum, including support for local programs or initiatives to fight poverty, strengthen the economy, improve education and health, and more.
It’s clear community foundations have evolved from organizations that just cut the checks into strategic community leaders and driving forces for collaboration and results.
Michael L. Batchelor is president of The Erie Community Foundation