I’ve just finished a nine-year term on the Board of Trustees for The American College of Financial Services. I still serve on the College’s Foundation Board of Directors, of which I am the immediate past chairman, and I’m also a past president of the Alumni Association and a current co-chair of the College’s Capital Campaign.
I say this so you know I speak with experience when I tell you: Of all the things I’m involved in at the College, what excites me most is the American College Penn Mutual Center for Veterans Affairs. If it was not for the vision of Eileen McDonnell, Dave O’Malley, Tom Harris and many others at Penn Mutual’s senior management six or so years ago, the Center would never have existed. Penn Mutual funded its creation, covering the cost of administration so every dollar raised would go toward providing scholarships to veterans and those currently serving in the armed forces, so that they can pursue a career in financial services. That was the vision. Today, the Center grants over a million dollars each year in scholarships, which is simply unheard of after such a short existence.
Ted Digges, the executive director of the Center and a retired naval officer, sends an email out to friends of the Center a few times a week that talks about a veteran or serviceman who is receiving a designation. These people are often serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world. Sometimes, they’ve retired from the service. Sometimes, it is the spouse of a loved one who was lost in action.
I believe a career in insurance and financial services is a great fit for veterans and service members. It’s a great opportunity for those individuals who want to be able to say that they love what they do, and make an impact on the lives of people for generations to come. That’s what financial services means to me, and I think it connects with the sense of mission felt by those serving in the armed forces. The opportunities for veterans in this industry are limitless. For me personally, I’ve been involved in financial services for over four decades and still love getting up in the morning to go to work and help make a difference in the lives of people.
In this industry, it takes time and effort to build trusted client relationships. Some people just won’t be ready to hear what you have to say. As I was starting my career, one of my mentors, Lou DiCerbo told me that a “no” was a positive sign, since you’re getting closer to a yes. The person wasn’t ready to buy yet, but the seed had been planted. Military veterans have been immersed in a culture where you need to keep going, which represents a great parallel to our business.
The Center recently held its annual Clambake fundraiser in Philadelphia, which raised close to $700,000 in scholarship money. The centerpiece of the Clambake is the presentation of the Soldier Citizen Award, and this year’s recipient was General David Petraeus. The quality of what’s going on in this program is amazing. General Petraeus was so moved by what we’re doing that he also made a contribution the same night he received his award.
I believe it is time for us to take this program to the next level. A major focus of the Capital Campaign is to drive greater visibility and influence for the Penn Mutual Center for Veterans Affairs. The vision has been made real, beyond our wildest expectations. It’s a home run. Earlier this year, the Center surpassed the $2 million scholarship milestone, but that could easily be $10 million. To do this, we have to build up the Center itself, and we need outside institutions to provide the financial support to fuel quantum growth. Since all of the money raised through individual gifts and events like the Clambake goes toward scholarships, we need seed money from institutions that will pay for the administration, marketing and expansion of the Center. Great things are happening, but there are even greater things to come. Now is the time to help make a difference in the lives of those individuals and their families who have served and continued to serve our great Country.