Agencies embrace community initiative with heart and action
“Pay it forward” … “Thank you for your service” … “Practice random acts of kindness” … we’ve all heard these and similar exhortations, and perhaps we’ve even tried to live by them. In a society where civility seems to take a back seat to being first, best, and loudest, most of us likely would welcome a little kindness.
Welcome to The Kindness Revolution! Established in 2007 by Ed Horrell, author of a book by the same name, this nonprofit business membership organization seeks to raise awareness of values like kindness, dignity, and respect in leadership, customer service, schools, and communities. The entity is supported and funded by its members, who are called Community Champions. Support also is provided by Friends of The Kindness Revolution: individuals who join the organization because of its mission to restore civility in our society.
Kindness Revolution® headquarters have been established in 350 cities, and the movement has spread worldwide. Just one exclusive partner is appointed in each community. The organization sponsors Walks for Kindness and distributes wristbands that say “Pay It Forward” and “It’s Cool 2B Kind.” Kindness Revolution Radio provides weekly public service announcements that offer tips on how the audience can promote kindness at home, work, and school and in everyday situations.
It’s safe to say that the general public tends not to hold insurance agents in high esteem, and few people are likely to associate them with the concept of kindness.
Readers of Rough Notes know that publisher and president Walt Gdowski is deeply committed to honoring independent agencies that launch and support initiatives that make life better for people in the communities they serve. Each year since 2000, Gdowski has presented a check for $5,000 to the cause that is supported by the agency that has been chosen to receive the Rough Notes Community Service Award. Attendees at a banquet that celebrates this occasion often are brought to tears by the stories shared by winners of the award.
One of those winners is Chris Paradiso, founder and owner of Paradiso Financial and Insurance Services in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. His agency, which was featured as the Rough Notes Marketing Agency of the Month in the August 2009 issue, in 2011 received the Community Service Award for its efforts on behalf of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, whose dedicated professionals saved the life of Paradiso’s infant daughter.
Paradiso, who serves on the Rough Notes Agent Editorial Advisory Board, is a frequent contributor of articles about using social media to acquire and retain clients. At each annual editorial board meeting he generously shares his knowledge of and experience with social media to help his fellow agents.
Kindness is in the DNA of Paradiso and his employees, so it comes as no surprise that they’ve enthusiastically embraced The Kindness Revolution.
“We first heard about The Kindness Revolution from our friends at Apple Insurance on Long Island when they mailed us a packet of information to introduce us to the program,” Paradiso says. “We learned about several actions that they had taken the initiative to create and deploy in their community. They added their own safety program and branding, and it was stellar. The idea of spreading kindness and agency awareness all in one shot is a no-brainer and a win-win.”
The Paradiso agency launched The Kindness Revolution in local schools in April of this year, and Paradiso says: “It’s been amazing for our community. We were already involved with our school system through our Bikes for Reading program. We saw a new opportunity to positively influence local students, and we eagerly embraced it.”
Achieving buy-in for the program among agency employees was easy, Paradiso comments. “Most of our employees are parents, and those who aren’t have family members whose kids attend local schools. When we talked about encouraging our youth to put kindness first, our employees were excited about the program and eager to get involved. Our timing couldn’t have been better; with all the negativity in the media about bullying and the tragic school shootings, we love knowing that we can positively influence our local youth.”
The Kindness Revolution seems to be contagious, Paradiso observes. “Our staff members wear the wristbands and hand them out to folks they catch performing acts of kindness. One of our employees has a daughter in a school district two towns away, and she asked if she could implement the program in her school. After talking with the principal, we were given the opportunity to expand to a whole new school system. This program spreads like wildfire, and everyone who gets involved, including the students, lights up with joy.”
“At a team meeting we discussed bullying at school and other issues that kids face today, including our employees’ own kids. At that point the discussion became personal, and the team was all in.”
Stromsoe Insurance Agency
The agency chose to launch The Kindness Revolution during its Bikes for Reading initiative, in which students at Stafford Elementary School who read for at least 70 hours enter a raffle to win a bike.
“With this program we visit the school four times each year, and when we announce the winners, we remind the students of the importance of being kind and give them rewards for their kindness to set a positive example for their peers,” Paradiso explains. “During each visit we ask students to share stories about when someone in the room was kind to them, and we give the students who share the stories two wristbands—one to keep for themselves and one to share with the person who was kind to them. We also nominate a Kind Teacher of the Month and a Kind Student of the Month, and everyone who has received the award so far has been ecstatic.”
Paradiso Insurance uses its strong social media presence to build traction for The Kindness Revolution in Stafford Springs. “The Kindness Revolution created a Facebook page called ‘The Kindness Revolution in Stafford Springs—led by Paradiso Insurance’ where they post daily content on our behalf,” Paradiso says. “It’s more exposure for our agency without any extra work on our part.”
As noted earlier, the agency’s employees eagerly embraced its launch of a Kindness Revolution, and no one is more enthusiastic than receptionist Annie DaRos. “She’s really excited about it, which is great because she greets everyone at the door,” Paradiso says. “Anytime she sees someone doing something kind, like a child holding the door open for his family, she gives him or her a wristband and explains that he or she needs to pay it forward.
“We also ask clients if we can take their photo when we give them wristbands, and those get blasted out to our social media networks,” Paradiso continues. “Our online audience has a chance to digest The Kindness Revolution content while getting a glimpse of our customer experience where they see our agents and customers happy together. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Another beautiful thing, Paradiso remarks, is the increase in positive interactions among staff members since the launch of The Kindness Revolution. “Our employees are already friendly with each other, like a big family, but recently we’ve experienced more heartwarming moments among our staff,” he says. “We’ve only had the program in place for a couple of months, and I’m confident that it’s strengthening our relationships with our clients and our community.”
Alignment of values
Another Rough Notes Agency of the Month (April 2016), Stromsoe Insurance Agency in Murrieta, California, also has embraced the mission and principles of The Kindness Revolution. Mike Stromsoe, president, says the agency found out about the program from Claudia McClain, whose McClain Insurance in Everett, Washington, was the 2014 Rough Notes Agency of the Year.
“When the unstoppable Claudia McClain launched her program, we knew we should check it out,” Stromsoe says. “The more we dug into the ‘why’ of the program, the more we knew it was in alignment with our promise, our values, and our brand. The mission of The Kindness Revolution fits our agency’s core value of ‘Do Unto Others’ and our brand of ‘inspiring happiness’ throughout our communities.”
Like the Paradiso agency, Stromsoe Insurance decided to launch The Kindness Revolution in local schools.
“Our team loves being involved with humanitarian projects, and schools rose to the top of our list because they are so instrumental in shaping our future leaders,” Stromsoe says. “Most of the people on our team have kids, and our team has a heart for the kids in our communities. Because a primary target for The Kindness Revolution is kids and schools, it’s a natural fit for us.”
The agency’s employees didn’t have to be coaxed into participating in the initiative, Stromsoe says; right from the start they embraced the concept and understood its relevance to their own lives and the lives of their kids.
“At a team meeting we discussed bullying at school and other issues that kids face today, including their own kids,” Stromsoe says. “At that point the discussion became personal, and the team was all in. They were excited about the opportunity to help raise awareness of kindness, leadership, and respect for others, both adults and children.
“We love to see people smile and to hand out ‘smiley balls’ at our community events,” he adds. “We always have a stock of ‘It’s Cool 2B Kind,’ ‘Thank You for Your Service,’ and ‘Pay It Forward’ wristbands to spread the word even further.”
Stromsoe Insurance launched The Kindness Revolution in November 2017, “right in time for Veterans Day,” Stromsoe says. “A couple of our team members visited all the local police and fire stations and handed out ‘Thank You for Your Service’ wristbands. I wish you could have seen the looks on their faces when they said: ‘We just wanted to bring you a gift and thank you for your undying service to our community.’”
The agency created a Facebook group for the community and used the page to publicize The Kindness Revolution and invite residents to help spread kindness throughout the community. “Our very first boosted post received more than 30 comments,” Stromsoe says. “People were all in and wanted to help. The response was absolutely off the charts!”
Through the agency’s outreach to volunteers, Stromsoe says, “We became aware of Kendahl, an amazing young lady who participated in leadership programs and was truly going the extra mile to help students at her elementary school be kind to others, help their fellow students in need, and encourage students to be respectful of others. We decided that she would be our first Spirit of Kindness award recipient.
“When she came to our office to pick up a supply of wristbands, we surprised her with her well-deserved award, balloons, and a gift card,” he adds. “We thanked her for making a difference in our community and for helping to spread kindness. We feel incredibly honored to have the opportunity to recognize those who are going out of their way to serve others.”
To spread the word about The Kindness Revolution, Stromsoe explains, “We consistently add messaging to all of our media. We touch our clients, prospects, and community partners through direct mail, social media, voicemail recordings, and other means. To reach 100% of our marketplace, we must use 100% of the available channels.”
Internally, agency management makes an ongoing effort to reinforce support for The Kindness Revolution. “We have Kindness Revolution materials located throughout our office as a constant reminder of its importance, its message, and its meaning,” Stromsoe asserts. “We distribute reminders to our team at meetings and via email to keep the Revolution and its message top of mind.”
A word to fellow agents
We asked Chris Paradiso and Mike Stromsoe what advice they would offer to an agent who is considering launching The Kindness Revolution.
“Take the leap of faith,” Paradiso urges. “This is a win-win for your agency. You’re putting more kindness into your community, inspiring your youth, enjoying some brand exposure, and building stronger client relationships. It’s a very affordable program, and we’re happy that we jumped on this opportunity before it went to someone else in our community.”
Stromsoe is equally enthusiastic. “We absolutely encourage any agency to jump on board with this incredible nonprofit organization. The law of reciprocity is always in effect: When you take the opportunity to lead a conversation with kindness, you’ll receive it back tenfold.”
Stromsoe advises agencies to designate an employee to help manage The Kindness Revolution. “Once you’ve launched the program you’ll receive a lot of responses, and having a point of contact will simplify the processes of organizing volunteers, coordinating with teachers, and distributing wristbands. After the launch you’ll have immediate requests for wristbands, so be prepared and keep plenty on hand.”
By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU
For more information:
The Kindness Revolution