Leah Shrom, External Relations Director, State Auto Insurance Companies

Tell me about you - how long have you been in your position here and what are your responsibilities?

I have been with State Auto for over 11 years and in this role since 2014. My background is in IT, so I started here as a project manager and I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to move around. When this position opened up my boss at the time thought I would be a good fit, and I jumped on it.

My title is External Relations Director. Our office manages our partnerships with nonprofits in Columbus and throughout the country. Personally, I work with Columbus and Indianapolis and others in my office help support our other regional offices.

I manage the State Auto Foundation – our company foundation governed by State Auto senior leaders and our office. I also help facilitate the programs we offer for associates including matching gifts, volunteerism, and corporate giving. Our office also collaborates with other internal departments on diversity and inclusion, wellness, and leadership development. We really try to leverage the resources and expertise of our external relationships in these areas.

 

Supporting the community is a key component of your company. Tell me about that.

In 1921, our founder, Bob Pein, encouraged associates and agents to “plant themselves firmly” in the communities they serve. To this day, it’s a mission we take seriously, not only because it’s part of who we are but because it’s simply the right thing to do. We are about to celebrate our 100th anniversary so this history is very important to us.

In 2014 when our current Chairman, President and CEO, Mike LaRocco, started he really amplified the importance of giving back to our community. He serves on the board of the American Heart Association, chaired the Central Ohio Heart Walk in 2017, and was also recognized as a Person of Vision by Prevent Blindness Ohio earlier this year.

Our associates generously support three annual giving campaigns: The United Way, Mid-Ohio Foodbank, and American Heart Association. We also organize volunteer opportunities and drives throughout the year to collect items for local organizations such as food, coats, hats, gloves, and school supplies.

In addition, we support grassroots efforts including our service to Broad Street Methodist Church and its Manna Café where we cook and serve meals once a month, funded by donations given during our annual Christmas Corner display.

 

You shared that The State Auto Foundation focus for charitable giving includes poverty, food, education and housing, especially in underserved areas.  What is the most significant nonprofit partnership you have in each of these four areas?

Educationally, we have a significant partnership with Champion Middle School on the Near East Side. We are right down the street and helping year round in many different ways including Project Mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters, we created a community garden at their school as part of our American Heart Association partnership, and we continually work with the leadership of the school to assess needs and help where we can.

In the housing area, Homeport is one of our main partners. For three years we have been sponsoring their Strengthening Community Bus Tours in support of their mission to provide safe, decent and affordable housing-revitalizing in neighborhoods.

The Mid-Ohio FoodBank’s Operation Feed Campaign and the Manna Café are our two primary food partnerships and The United Way is our primary partner focusing on poverty. Here we run a national campaign annually to support local United Ways where we also tie in significant volunteer opportunities to get associates involved.

 

Do you have charitable giving guidelines you can share with nonprofits who do work in these areas?

We don’t have hard guidelines. Our funding typically develops through informal conversations to get to know the organization and its mission. We talk about what they are looking to achieve in the community, alignment to our focus areas, and ways we can provide support - financially and with our associates as volunteers and leaders.

 

Are there deadlines for charitable requests to be considered?

We accept written requests throughout the year and our foundation meets quarterly. Annually, we budget in August for the following calendar year. It often helps to visit the facilities and see the organization in action as part of the decision making process.

 

You are headquartered in Columbus but mentioned charitable giving in your regional offices as well. Is your giving focus the same in these markets?

We share the company’s community focus of poverty, education, housing, and food throughout the country, but we recognize that each office area is different, and each community has its own challenges. Because of this, our giving sometimes falls outside of those priority areas regionally. For regional support, we typically work with the leaders in regional offices who review requests with us.

 

How do you place nonprofit board members?

This happens in a few different ways because we want leadership opportunities and good partnerships for our associates. Often we identify what our leaders are passionate about and then match them into the community. These passions tend to align with our four focus areas but not always. We also investigate committee and advisory roles for our future leaders at State Auto to support their development and contributions to local nonprofit partners.

 

You offer a matching gifts program to your offer associates. Is there a cap on the number of donations or the amount you will match annually?

Our Jack C. Boyle Matching Gift Program was named after a former associate who left money in his estate to State Auto Insurance “in gratitude for his livelihood and good pension and retirements”. We used that money to seed a matching gifts program for associates. Because of his generosity, each associate can have donations up to $500 matched per year to qualifying 501(c)3 organizations.

 

Tell me about the paid time you provide associates to volunteer in the community. 

We are proud to share that State Auto associates get up to two days paid time per year to volunteer in the community via our Invest a Day program. Associates can use this time to participate in company sponsored volunteer opportunities or find their own opportunities to volunteer either as individuals or as a team.

 

Does the State Auto Foundation have a board and who administers the foundation funds?

The State Auto Foundation was established in 1988. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation that administers a trust fund dedicated to other 501(c)3 organizations. The Foundation acts on behalf of the corporate giving interests of the State Auto Insurance Companies.

Our foundation is managed internally, and the foundation board reviews the larger grant requests. Community relations handles events, sponsorships, and smaller community initiatives.

 

Anything else you’d like to share the help nonprofits understand how to best partner with you?

Our approach to the community is a very personal one and a big part of the culture at State Auto. We are passionate about our communities and getting our associates involved and doing good. We recognize that we aren’t the biggest organization in town and really try to “right size” our community investments and develop meaningful relationships to make an impact.