To whom much is given, much is required Featured

9:04am EDT December 3, 2001
Howard Lewis can recite the survival rates for childhood leukemia off the top of his head. More important, he can cite how St. Jude's hospital in Memphis, Tenn., has affected those rates over the last 30 years.

"Before St. Jude's, the survival rate was 4 percent," says Lewis, president of Family Heritage Life Insurance. "Today, those rates are up to 80 percent survival."

Lewis' passionate devotion to St. Jude's, as well as a number of other cancer and cancer-related causes, is contagious. To date, his company's cumulative giving to St. Jude's is more than $500,000. But he does more than give money to a cause; he also promotes awareness and will hold next year's company meeting at the hospital to underscore the importance of St. Jude's work.

Family Heritage's commitment to St. Jude's is just one of the reasons Lewis and his firm were honored with a 2001 Pillar Award for Community Service. Family Heritage is also actively involved with Daffodil Days, a program in which Family Heritage employees deliver flowers to cancer patients at the Cleveland Clinic. And throughout the year, sales agents are encouraged to wear caps and pins in the field to promote awareness of National Cancer Survivor Day.

Lewis and his employees have an intimate knowledge of the problems associated with prolonged and critical illnesses. The company sells supplemental insurance, including cancer, intensive care and accident insurance. This brings him and his staff face to face with the devastating effects of cancer and other diseases every day.

Not long ago, Lewis founded the Lou Massey Memorial Fund after Massey, one of Lewis' workers, lost his battle with brain cancer. Each year for one week, Family Heritage drives donations to the nonprofit fund that was specifically created to help affiliates and family members who suffer from cancer and cancer-related illnesses.

Lewis and his senior management are the driving force behind the company's giving culture. In fact, Lewis even ties company success to giving. The 200 sales agents that work mostly out of the main office aren't let off the hook. The better sales are each month for Family Heritage salespeople, the higher the amount of the donation the company makes in each salesperson's name.

For example, at the end of the year, donations to Toys for Tots are tied to sales numbers. It's a program that continues to expand.

"We had 10 major outreach programs this year and we have 12 for next year," says Lewis.

And, Lewis says, talk is cheap. That's why he and other senior managers are involved in outreach projects such as Harvest for Hunger's month-long campaign. He divides his company into teams and builds incentives to encourage giving.

"Outreach is part of the culture," he says. "They know that it is expected, but people have responded to what we have promoted."

Another program involves teams of employees and their families, who donate time and financial resources to health-related causes. Called the "For a Healthy Life" team, they solicit donations from sales incentive programs to support National Donor Day, Easter Seals, the National Day of Prayer, the American Red Cross and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

There's one more motivating factor behind Family Heritage's culture of wanting to give back -- every year, Lewis puts on a black tie event, at which he gives a recognition award to the employee who best exemplifies outreach work and philanthropy. It has, he says, become very competitive.

"The award is all about what you have done in outreach," Lewis says, "regardless of sales or other work."

How to reach: Family Heritage Life Insurance Company, (216) 520-2800

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.