Northwestern Mutual’s local offices give to charities with outcomes

March 31, 2013

Who: Leo Tucker, managing partner.

Company: Northwestern Mutual.

Charitable giving highlights: In 2012, the firm contributed about 4,100 volunteer hours to charity.

Define the firm’s corporate philanthropy.

Our local firm has been in operation since 1870, and I took over 10 years ago. We have four core values. One of our values is gratitude. We give back to the community that has given so much to us. Through cumulative effect of all 175 members of my organization, our goal is to give 10,000 hours back to our community.

On which issue areas do you focus?

Childhood diseases and disadvantaged youth. We’ve been focusing on lymphoma. We are working toward a $200,000 gift that we want to give the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by June. We also have 10 people in our organization that mentor young kids. That mentorship takes on different looks: Meeting them regularly, helping them with course work, mentoring them around academic progress. We do that through the Tiger Woods Foundation. They partner with us to find suitable kids that require this mentorship.

How did you choose those areas of focus?

The Washington area is rich with philanthropic activity. It’s tough to figure out which direction to go in. As the owner of the firm, obviously things are important to me personally. I grew up in an unbelievably idyllic life. Mom and Dad loved each other. I went to prep school. I’m an African American, but I felt like I had so many opportunities growing up. I know that’s not the case for every kid. So my way of demonstrating gratitude for what I enjoy is to give to the kids who are less fortunate and who didn’t have the environment I had. On the childhood diseases, I can’t tell you how many friends have lost children to some horrible childhood cancers.

How did you choose the nonprofit partners?

As we looked at the landscape of opportunities, we decided to use outcomes as our barometer. In other words, we would ask an organization how much of its work is really focused on the outcome? Too many organizations just focus on the symptom. We wanted to focus on those that could demonstrate making a difference. We felt that was true with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in terms of the amount of time, energy and resources that go into research to find those drugs.

In terms of the Tiger Woods Foundation, when they came through seven or eight years ago, I was introduced to the individuals at the foundation and they invited me to an info session. I flew out to California to look at their learning center and that really blew me away. One hundred percent of their students graduate from college. Those are some remarkable results. We decided the outcomes are too significant to ignore.

How is the firm’s giving structured?

I direct it with three other people on my executive team. Corporate headquarters focuses on certain diseases and education. So it will partner with me on certain efforts that align with the mission of the foundation.

How do you track the impact?

Each employee hands in a form once a month that shows the contributions in time and resources. And then we tabulate them.

How do you get employee buy-in?

The last thing I want to do is make us sound perfect. We experience struggles. But our values are personal growth, commitment to abundance, personal responsibility and gratitude. We operationalize all four of those. There isn’t a policy or procedures where we can’t draw a direct line back to one of our core values. They know that gratitude is drawing back to a couple behaviors that we track. Also, we have a community service competition. Whichever office and person achieves the most significant contribution of their time, we celebrate that.

How are you looking to improve
giving?

I’d like us to get more streamlined on the impact we’re making on the community. There’s some slippage. There’s contributions made that are not recorded or captured. People who are natural at giving and participating on boards and helping may underreport their efforts.

How are you working through that?

Last year, we waited for people to reply to our e-mail. This year we’re sending out the blank reports on a monthly basis with their original commitments. That will help record exactly where they are, because it’s their own commitment that they are tracking.

Any resources that have been
beneficial?

What’s been most helpful is having a close group of people in the community who are also givers. I have a group of friends who are all philanthropically sensitive. It keeps us all focused on the right thing.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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