Charlotte insurance industry supports one charity at a time

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte is home to 10,000 employees associated with the insurance industry, and a local nonprofit is trying to tap the time, money and expertise of that workforce to support local charities.

Formed in 2011, Community Matters has enlisted 60 member companies and last year donated $200,000 and over 10,200 volunteer hours to Safe Alliance, formerly United Family Services, a nonprofit that serves people struggling with domestic and sexual violence, child abuse and emotional trauma.

“It’s just been huge in helping us deal with challenges,” says Phil Kline, president and CEO of Safe Alliance and himself a 28-year veteran of the Charlotte-based U.S. insurance operation of Royal & Sun Alliance that was acquired in 2007 by Arrowpoint Capital.

Community Matters initially aimed to raise $10,000 to support a capital campaign at Safe Alliance for a new 80-bed shelter for women and children to replace a 29-bed facility.

But enthusiastic response to that effort led Community Matters to take on Safe Alliance as its sole project for 2012, says Tom Lott, a founder and board member of Community Matters and director of sales and marketing at AmWINS Group.

It expanded its fundraising goal to $100,000, a goal it eventually doubled, and also agreed to provide volunteer hours.

Community Matters, an all-volunteer organization, also agreed to continue its support for Safe Alliance this year.

Insurance industry employees, as well as their friends and families, have served meals at the shelter. They have put down mulch on the grounds, and provided landscaping. They have cleaned rooms in the shelter. And they have provided career counseling for residents of the shelter, helping them write resumes and prepare for job interviews.

On each of two occasions, when the shelter needed diapers and laundry detergent, respectively, Community Matters distributed an email alert to its members, who contributed the supplies the shelter needed the same day the alert was distributed.

“Every bit as important as the financial support is the incredible support from volunteers,” says Kline.

The assistance has been doubly important, he says, because the the shelter now is handling 115 to 120 women and children a day through the addition of trundle beds for smaller children, and sleeper sofas in most living areas.

To help raise money, Community Matters held a fundraising dinner at The Club at Longview last November that netted over $66,000, and a dodgeball tournament this past April at Sports Connection that drew over 500 participants and raised just over $56,000.

And during the summer, each of its member companies holds its own fundraising campaign.

At AmWINS Group, for example, employs can wear jeans or flip-flops on Fridays by donating $2 to Safe Alliance, Lott says.

Community Matters this year also launched a “100 days of meals” campaign, providing volunteers to prepare, donate and serve dinner at the shelter on 100 days.

Community Matters volunteers already have served half those meals, and the total likely will save Safe Alliance $25,000, Kline says.

Fundraising events this year included a “Knight Out with the Charlotte Knights” on August 17 at Knights Stadium and will include a cocktail party September 17 at City Tavern at SouthPark mall; and a celebration dinner November 4 at The Club at Longview, when Community Matters will announce the charity it will support in 2014.

Community Matters also is launching a teen program for children of its members’ employees.

“People in the insurance industry,” Lott says, “are here because they care about helping people in need.”

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