Giving away power

Giving away power


Melissa Paulik

Melissa Paulik
Public Affairs Specialist
State Farm Insurance

I would say that the programme has been inspiring. It has restored my faith in people.


State Farm is the largest insurance company in the US. We have been around for more than 90 years and our 65,000 employees now serve more than 79 million auto, home, life and health policies. State Farm is ranked number 43 on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies.

We might be a large corporation but our work is all about improving neighbourhoods and improving individual lives. So we run an annual programme called the Neighborhood Assist grant through which each year we give away $1 million to causes up and down the country.
It is an interesting programme not only for the sheer amount of money that we give away – 40 causes each receive $25,000 - and the difference that can make to communities, but also for the use we make of social media to engage thousands of people, and our use of a Youth Engagement Board which is responsible for making the initial decisions about which causes we support.


The first stage of the Neighborhood Assist is for people to visit our Facebook page where they can submit their ideas for change. Once we reach the limit of 3,000 causes that is when the Youth Engagement Board, a group of 30 students aged between 17 and 20, start assessing them.

Last year they spent a total of 1000 hours reviewing the various causes, and emerged with a list of 200. We posted those 200 on our Facebook page and invited the public to vote on them. Each person was allowed up to ten votes each day, and last year more than 38,000 people cast 1.2 million votes. The top 40 causes each received $25,000.

Perhaps the greatest challenge we faced in running this programme was giving away so much power. As a large corporate it was a major step for us to let a group of 30 young people and then the general public decide on such a major decision as where we donate $1 million.
However, it has worked extremely well – the commitment and judgement shown by our Youth Engagement Board was inspiring and engaging the broader public via Facebook has done much to build the reputation of State Farm Insurance as an active and responsible corporate citizen.

We worried that large cities would be over-represented but as it turned out the five causes that received the highest number of votes were all from towns with fewer than 275,000 votes.

Indeed the causes selected came from right across the nation – 32 states had a causes in the top 100 – and they covered a wide range of causes from returning veterans and autism, to literacy and anti-bullying.


The cause which received the most votes in 2012 was Skate for Change. It was founded by Mike Smith, a pro-skateboarder who started handing out food to the homeless in Lincoln, Nebraska. It received 67,252 votes and our funding has really helped it continue the great work it is doing.

As Mike Smith pointed out, the benefit is even greater than the money involved. “I knew that even getting a shot at winning $25,000 would be game-changing for us,” he said “Even if you don't win it gives you the opportunity to showcase your nonprofit or whatever you're involved with on a national level.”
We are running Neighborhood Assist again this year. A major challenge has been to make the site mobile-friendly but as more and more people are using mobile devices to browse the Internet this became essential this year.

In conclusion I would say that the programme has been inspiring. It is easy to see the news and become cynical about the world we live in, but my involvement in Neighborhood Assist has shown me how much people do care about others. It has restored my faith in people.

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