Impact: The Insurance Industry's Contribution to Community Development

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Erie Insurance employee volunteers at a Habitat for Humanity build. 


It started 90 years ago. H.O. Hirt and O.G. Crawford decided to start an insurance exchange, and they wanted to base it on “simple common sense,mixed with just plain decency.” They turned to the Golden Rule as a guiding principle, and on April 20, 1925, Erie Insurance and its legacy of compassion and giving opened for business.

Erie Insurance celebrated its 90th anniversary on April 20, 2015, and the Erie, Pennsylvania-based, regional property and casualty insurer continued its tradition of quality service to customers and communities by giving back.

H.O. Hirt had a lifelong concern for those less fortunate than he was, and that compassion is shared by the employees and agents of Erie Insurance. When he learned about the Foster Parents Plan for War Children in 1949, for example, he asked employees to make small monthly donations in support of war orphans. Hirt was later honored for this philanthropy in 1954, when he and Erie Insurance were awarded The Brotherhood of Children Award for “the innumerable tangible evidences of brotherly love and help.”

Through the years, Erie Insurance and its employees and agents have continued Hirt’s tradition.

Employees often refer to their colleagues as the “ERIE Family” and look after each other the way a family would. That care often extends beyond ERIE’s walls into the communities in which it does business. Volunteer efforts and charitable giving are carried out in neighborhoods across each of the 12 states (Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin) and Washington, D.C., which make up the Erie Insurance footprint.

Today, ERIE’s workforce of nearly 5,000 employees and 2,200 independent agencies serve their communities by supporting events and programs focused on safety, community building and environmental responsibility.

The wide scope of employees’ community support is due in large part to two helpful programs: The Matching Gifts program and the ERIE Service Corps. The company matches every employee’s minimum donation of $25 to eligible nonprofit charities. The ERIE Service Corps gives every employee one paid day off from work each year to volunteer for an eligible nonprofit. These programs are popular among employees and give them the opportunity to extend the limits in which they can serve their communities.

In its 90th year alone, ERIE’s charitable giving included supplying backpacks and tutoring students at elementary schools, donating to training programs for at-risk youth, sponsoring community festivals, cleaning up neighborhood garden beds, repainting homes for those who physically could not and fighting hunger by helping local food pantries and kitchens.

One team of employee volunteers in Columbus, Ohio got creative in their own kitchens by opening their doors as a part of a home tour. The Kitchen Kapers event gave tour-goers a sneak peek of newly remodeled kitchens in neighbor’s private residences for an admission fee as a donation. ERIE also sponsored the event, which raised funds for the OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, specifically concentrating on breast health services.

On the corporate level, ERIE has sponsored Habitat for Humanity home builds for many years. In 2015, Habitat homes in Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky; and Erie, Pennsylvania were completed. The company is also sponsoring a home in Milwaukee that will be completed in 2016.

ERIE also continued its corporate support of the United Way. In 2014, employees and leaders together raised more than $900,000 for the United Way of Erie County with President and CEO Terry Cavanaugh leading the way as chair of the organization’s fundraising committee. Employees also helped to pack 100,000 meals during the United Way of Erie County’s Centennial Meal Pack-A-Thon.

The company also looks ahead by investing in emerging innovations and programs that will position its communities for future success. ERIE sponsored HackPSU, Penn State University’s annual 24-house hackathon that gives students who use programming and coding the opportunity to solve problems and build solutions. It also sponsored a TEDxErie event, which is a local, independently organized version of the international program that promotes “Ideas Worth Spreading” in technology, entertainment and design. In Maryland, ERIE was a major sponsor of the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business Expo. This event provides business connection opportunities for growing Hispanic and other minority-owned businesses and the communities they serve through networking, outreach, advocacy and education. ERIE’s involvement in events like these act as encouragement for communities to continue to seek new ways to be their own thought leaders.

ERIE’s force of local, independent agents also takes the lead in supporting their communities. Often they team up with branch office employees throughout the footprint to sponsor charities to which they have a personal connection. Erie Insurance’s Giving Grants program helps them to take that support one step further. Giving Grants are corporate charitable funds that branch offices can apply for and then donate to eligible nonprofits. Giving Grants help to bring ERIE agents and branch office employees together to volunteer side by side.

During ERIE’s 90th anniversary last summer in Raleigh, agents and branch employees attended the Special Olympics of North Carolina Unified Relay and gave a $1,000 Giving Grant toward the event. Also in Haverstraw, New York along the Hudson River, agent Carlos Barrett helped to plan the town’s annual United Latin Festival and parade with donations from his own agency as well as the help of a $1,000 Giving Grant.

In the spring, three Giving Grants helped to sponsor races in three locations. The YWCA Lancaster 17th Annual Race against Racism received $5,000, while the races in Harrisburg and Williamsport received $5,000 and $3,000 in Giving Grants, respectively. The races saw more than 20 ERIE employee and agent volunteers there to help together. A Giving Grant also helped to establish a scholarship endowment fund in memory of three University of North Carolina students who were tragically killed last summer. ERIE agents and employees in Chapel Hill knew the students and wanted to honor them by funding annual scholarships for three students who uphold the values of achievement and service.

The desire to pay it forward as a way to give back comes from every level at ERIE — including the very top. President Cavanaugh helped to raise over $100,000 by hosting the 2015 annual Charity Challenge Golf Tournament. Cavanaugh first introduced the tournament to Erie Insurance in 2010. In the six years since then, the tournament has raised a total of $448,000 for local charities. Each year the winning teams select charities to which to donate cash prizes. In 2015, the grand prize of $15,000 went to a local housing and neighborhood development authority.

While ERIE went full steam all year, it also ended its 90th year of service with a bang. The company gave three charities across its footprint each a $30,000 donation. Employees chose recipient charities that reflected the passions of the late Susan Hirt Hagen, daughter of co-founder H.O. Hirt and first chair of the board of director’s Charitable Giving committee. Hirt Hagen, who passed away in June 2015, dedicated much of her life to supporting the arts, education, youth and the prevention of domestic violence.

Erie Insurance continues to thrive as a business due in no small part to the company’s founders establishing a legacy of service. In the nine decades since, generations of dedicated employees and agents have remained grounded in that vision, building upon it in new and inspiring ways. It holds true its promise to work together for the good of its customers and communities and the promise to be Above all in Service.