Leading Through Focus with Heather Nesle
Ep 005: New York Life / Heather Nesle
Considering 1 in 15 children will lose a parent or sibling before the age of 18, child bereavement is an issue that directly or indirectly affects many of us. But few people – or companies – talk about it.
One of the few corporations not just addressing this issue, but embedding it in their organization is New York Life Insurance Company. In this episode, Heather Nesle, President of the New York Life Foundation, shares her company’s journey to embrace and drive progress for a challenging issue.
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Pets, education, and community parks – these are feel-good social impact efforts that brands like to support. Rightly so, as they are worthy efforts that are easy to talk about. Yet, not all companies align most authentically with such issues.
As a provider of life insurance, New York Life Insurance Company faces a difficult reality each day: that their customers may pass away. This reality often means that children lose parents, siblings, or loved ones, at which point they enter a bereavement period. One in 15 children will lose a parent or sibling before the age of 18, according to a recent study with the JAG Institute and the New York Life Foundation.
It’s a sad issue, and one that is under-supported by corporations with the resources and expertise to drive awareness and positive impact. As an issue that directly affects New York Life, its people, and its customers, the company embraced the issue of child bereavement wholeheartedly – making it central for its social purpose.
How does New York Life have such a profound impact for children and families that have lost loved ones?
They partner with experts. Ten years ago, a child bereavement camp asked New York Life for support. The opportunity resonated strongly with the company. A decade later, New York Life has given $7M+ in grants to more than 230 organizations. Experts at the National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) manage New York Life’s Grief Reach program. In addition, the Foundation launched the Shared Grief Project with Experience Camps, which captures stories from celebrities and athletes about losing a loved one at a young age and how they found motivation through their experience. These partnerships aren’t only with experts in child bereavement. The New York Life Foundation recently partnered with StoryCorps to leverage the organization’s capabilities in encouraging powerful conversation through storytelling.
They help smaller organizations scale their capabilities. Since many child bereavement organizations are relatively small, they lack the expertise and size to partner with a company as large as New York Life (with 10,000 employees and 12,000 agents). The New York Life Foundation helps these organizations grow. They invite all grantees to special sessions at the National Alliance for Grieving Children Conference each year to educate them on critical elements to growth: board development, fundraising, tax law, and more. Due to New York Life’s extensive national child bereavement network, the organization was positioned to provide rapid relief following the Newtown shooting, establishing the Newtown Resiliency Center. Following the Parkland tragedy, many individuals reached out to the Newtown Resiliency Center, who in turn referred them to the New York Life Foundation. The Foundation was then able to provide 10,000 booklets for members of the community to facilitate conversations about the tragedy.
They engage and activate their people from the top down. New York Life deeply integrates the issue of child bereavement into its culture and operations. This starts at the top with buy-in and ongoing support and participation from CEO Ted Mathas, who also acts as Chair of the New York Life Foundation Board. Strategic programming development, management, and evolution is conducted by cross-functional team that taps expertise from across the organization: from the Chief Diversity Officer and people resources to marketing and government affairs. New York Life’s commitment to child bereavement is activated “on the ground” nationally through the company’s 12,000 agents, who are educated on the issue such that they can have nuanced conversations with their customers – whether or not they may be affected by the issue. Agents often hand-deliver claims, which include child bereavement resources when appropriate, and can participate in grief counseling conversations. It’s a thoughtful and human approach that is authentic to New York Life’s ethos to “be there for people when they need it most.”
This is only a peek at insights from this powerful – and moving – conversation with Heather Nesle about New York Life’s journey to authentically align with a social issue, embed it in the business, advance knowledge of it, and drive meaningful change.