For Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, community comes first. But that community goes beyond their headquarters of Baton Rouge, beyond their nine regional offices across Louisiana, and even beyond their own policyholders. Since 1934, when area hospitals joined forces to form a nonprofit mutual insurer in the midst of the Great Depression, Blue Cross has been committed to the health and lives of all Louisianians, and to their public service mission. They’ve served Louisiana for more than 85 years—and now they’re using pro bono to find new ways to give back to the state they love.
Helping neighbors help neighbors
“Helping everyday people do extraordinary good” is how Blue Cross defines their Community Partnerships work, and they strive to live up to that goal. In 2019, Blue Cross funded the work of 300+ community nonprofits that reached 2.7 million Louisianians. The company’s employees also volunteered more than 35,000 hours.
Michael Tipton is head of Blue Cross’ Community Relations department, as well as president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. He noted that employees are always eager to give back to the community through Team Blue, their hands-on volunteer force. “But we kept hearing from employees: ‘I want to do more, what else can I do?’” Tipton said. “We have an actuarial staff that know all about finance, we have an entire team for translation services, we have an incredible marketing team… all things our nonprofit partners needed and could benefit from. We realized that we could engage more colleagues and meet the needs we saw in grant applications.”
This realization led Blue Cross to pro bono. They’re now in their fifth year of matching their employees with nonprofit partners on high-impact skilled volunteering projects. In 2019, this meant supporting nine projects with more than 1,300 hours of service and providing a value of $205,000 to their nonprofit partners. But the success of their pro bono program meant that Blue Cross found themselves faced with more applications than they could process. “We were limiting our nonprofit partners and that felt wrong,” Tipton said. “We realized we needed a platform where nonprofits could easily find the support they need.”
Their work to build a virtual volunteer platform started more than a year ago. Originally, Blue Cross planned to pitch the platform to other businesses as potential partners. But in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything changed. “We were taking a slow and thoughtful approach,” Tipton said. “But COVID made us realize that the time is now.” So, this summer, Blue Cross partnered with Taproot Foundation to launch the state’s first dedicated platform for virtual pro bono volunteering through Taproot Plus. The platform is free to use—and it’s open to nonprofits and volunteers from across Louisiana, not just Blue Cross and their partners.
For Tipton, this open-door approach to their pro bono platform aligns with Blue Cross’ community-based philanthropic philosophy: “Much of the most meaningful work happens on the front lines—neighbor supporting neighbor. So we facilitate, we convene, we connect, and we help friends and colleagues address the needs they see down the road and across town.”