How to Get Started

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You don’t have to start big. You just have to start. For many agents, figuring out how to get started with a nonprofit is the hardest thing about community engagement.

Claudia McClain gives her thoughts on how agencies can get started with giving back to their community.

Choose a cause, together

Agency employees are key to implementing a giving program that everyone can get excited about. Most are willing to get involved, but they need to be asked first. And they also want to be involved in the process. Here are a few questions to ask your team:

  • What causes are you passionate about?
  • What local problems do you want to help to solve?
  • What skills and interests do you have that could be applied to a giving program?
  • How do you want to give back (time, expertise, money — or combination of these)?

Chances are, many of your employees already give back, and they would appreciate the added support from the agency. If an organization an agent supports aligns with the values of the agency, that employee can make a warm introduction to key contacts to quickly find out what’s needed and how the agency can become more involved.

To be fair, volunteering is not everyone’s cup of tea and asking colleagues to give money to a cause can come with its own set of agency rules and guidelines. For folks that may be hesitant to do either, a simple conversation to find out how they can be involved within their comfort zone promotes inclusivity and camaraderie.

When there are so many causes you could champion, how do you narrow it down? Claudia McClain describes how the McClain Insurance Services team went about choosing the causes they support.
Danielle Shearer talks about how their team volunteers together.
Claudia McClain gives her thoughts in involving the whole team in agency giving.
Danielle Shearer talks about how she leads with compassion when reaching out to employees and coworkers about getting involved with their giving.

Choose a lead

Over the years, we have seen agencies structure their charitable giving in many ways. If you’re a one-person agency, getting involved with a group of other small business owners is an effective way to make a consistent impact and network with like-minded people. We’ve also seen owners start their own nonprofits. Some larger agencies even have paid positions that focus on community relations. It’s all about what works for your agency.

But whatever the size of the agency, it’s best to identify a person, or a team, to lead the giving efforts. Enlisting more than one person doesn’t mean your agency has to do more but it does ensure that the responsibility is shared.

This person or team would be responsible for:

Communicating with the charity

Be the point of contact for the nonprofit and find opportunities to give or volunteer.

Providing updates

Keep your goals — and progress — top of mind at the agency

Promotional content

Supply information about agency giving to the marketing team.

Choose an organization

Once you’ve decided on a cause you want to support, you need to choose a nonprofit to partner with. But with so many to choose from, how do you find the right fit for your agency? Consider the following when selecting a nonprofit:

  • Where is the nonprofit located? If you’re volunteering, make sure the location is near your office so it’s convenient for staff.
  • What local impact can you make? Choose an organization that gets positive results close to home. If you choose to work with a national organization or a large network of nonprofits, make sure your giving helps your particular community.
  • How does your team want to give back? Nonprofits that offer many ways to give back are more likely to engage your entire team. Carefully research volunteer and donation opportunities by checking out an agency’s website or asking for a meeting.
  • What are your long-term goals? If you’re looking to make a long-term commitment to an organization, make sure there are opportunities to get more involved over the years to help them grow.

If you’re starting from scratch, or want to verify a nonprofit’s legitimacy, Charity Navigator and GuideStar can help you find a nonprofit by name, location or cause, so you can find the right match.

McClain Insurance Vice President Nick Pembroke talks about how he chose an organization to volunteer with, and how his commitment has grown over time.

Choose a project

Once you’ve determined which organization you’d like to support, get in touch with them. Set up a meeting to discuss what your agency is aiming to do, and more importantly, to find out what they need.

To make this conversation as productive as possible, make sure you have a good idea of what your team wants to do before you meet with a nonprofit. This will help you find the right fit. Some opportunities are obvious, such as a food bank that always needs volunteers to sort and pack food. But others are less obvious, or very specific, like those at a homeless shelter. What’s more, some volunteering positions require background checks or special training to help them fulfill their mission, such as those working with youth.

Timing is another important factor to consider when choosing a project. If you’re asking employees to volunteer during business hours, then consider it part of their job. A recent survey in partnership with the Big I found that 74% of agencies we surveyed volunteer as a team, and 69% offer paid time off for their employees to volunteer. And we hope to see these numbers grow. For hands-on volunteer projects during the day, agency teams can work in shifts to ensure that business can continue uninterrupted.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with ideas for projects that raise visibility, money and friends for your partner nonprofit. Run your ideas past your nonprofit contact to ensure that they are prepared to participate. As many of us have found of the last few years, virtual fundraisers are on the rise and allow for tons of creativity to get attention for your cause.

Here are a few ideas that we love:
When their nonprofit partner, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh and Morgantown, called the Howard Hanna team to participate in fundraiser walk, schedules just didn't align at the agency. Instead of saying no, they created their own race.
The pandemic sparked a lot of new ideas for volunteering and especially fundraising. McClain Insurance worked with their local animal shelter to develop a win-win fundraiser featuring adorable animals up for adoption and the agency's love for supporting the shelter.

Once you choose a nonprofit to support and begin pitching in, you’ll soon see the positive results of your efforts. The important thing now is to be consistent and keep showing up. You may even find new ways to contribute. And as the relationship grows, you’ll discover another key aspect of any successful giving program — spreading the word.