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Danielle Robinson. (Photo: Jackson)

Financial Planning > Charitable Giving

Jackson Aims to Lift Families From Poverty to Financial Well-Being

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Corporate philanthropy can take myriad forms and directions. At Jackson, “The goal is to provide a pathway and pull families out of generational poverty to financial well-being and economic opportunity,” Danielle Robinson, assistant vice president of corporate philanthropy and executive director of the Jackson Charitable Foundation, tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

One aspect that sets Jackson apart is the critical role that employees play in corporate giving, which spans volunteer work at community organizations and serving on nonprofit boards.

Winner of a 2022 ThinkAdvisor LUMINARIES award for Community Impact, Robinson established Jackson’s first corporate responsibility program and by 2017 had launched the Jackson Charity Foundation to advance financial education throughout the country.

Since then, the firm has awarded more than $80 million in grants and matching gifts to nonprofits and has reached more than 10 million students through its financial literacy efforts.

In 2020 and 2021, under Robinson’s leadership, the firm supported more than 300 charities.

She joined Jackson — which markets annuities for individuals and fixed income products for institutional investors — after graduating from Michigan State University in 2006 and immediately began making philanthropic impact in the Lansing, Michigan, community on behalf of Jackson.

She oversees the charitable contributions the company makes there, where its headquarters are located, as well as from the firm’s offices in Nashville, Tennessee, and Chicago.

One of her numerous responsibilities (“I literally work from 7 to 7! I’ve always been a high-energy person”) is heading the philanthropic component of the company’s environmental, social and governance efforts, as well as managing Jackson’s annual ESG report.

Robinson leads a six-person team that has formed long-term relationships with nonprofits to advance Jackson’s goal of helping people achieve “financial freedom for life,” as she frames it.

The company has contributed $750,000 — a combination of corporate gifts and employee contributions — to underwrite the Jackson Volunteer Center at Greater Lansing Food Bank’s new expanded facility. It will allow the organization to distribute a planned 18 million meals in 2025.

ThinkAdvisor recently held a phone interview with Robinson, who was speaking from Lansing.

Words to live by for this high-energy executive are: “Look around the company for needs and see if you can help to solve them,” she says, adding, “It’s brought me lots of opportunity.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: What’s the objective of Jackson’s philanthropic program?

DANIELLE ROBINSON: Overall, the idea is to find a way to be connected to the community, contribute to it and help it become successful.

Our approach to giving is geared to having meaningful, long-term relationships with nonprofits that build the foundation for helping people achieve financial freedom for life.

What distinguishes Jackson’s program?

A differentiator is that our associates [aka all employees] play a critical role in Jackson’s philanthropy. They’re at the heart of helping us on our grants review committee, making recommendations for funding [and so on].

[Eighty-one of] our associates serve on nonprofit boards [mainly in Lansing, Chicago and Nashville].

And our associates volunteer regularly at organizations. Their time there helps multiply the impact of our philanthropy dollars.

What are Jackson’s giving priorities?

They focus on what it takes to build a strong family, to help families strengthen and stabilize and also to provide funding for economic opportunities — like job-skills training, financial education, coaching and even wealth-building, like homeownership programs.

The goal is to provide a pathway and pull families out of generational poverty to financial well-being and economic opportunity.

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Jackson did something unusual to help address food insecurity across the country. Please explain.

The dining center kitchen in our Nashville office was available, but the staff had no one to cook for because all employees were working from home.

Nashville Food Project, a nonprofit, was, because of social distancing, in need of more kitchen space to create food kits they were sending to students.

So we loaned out our kitchen and kitchen staff and did about 4,500 box lunches for students during that summer.

Great! What did Jackson do amid the pandemic that directly addressed the company’s business?

Our sales team all over the country was limited from meeting in person with the financial advisors they would normally meet with.

So we began a program called Zoom for Food, in which the wholesalers hosted virtual meetings.

For every advisor that attended, Jackson would donate $100 to their local Feeding America food bank.

It was a terrific way to be in touch with advisors and also contribute to the wholesalers’ local communities.

Since we began the program, we’ve contributed nearly $500,000 to local Feeding America food banks.

What’s your early background? Are you from a family of wealth and philanthropy?

No, we were regular people — not the Rockefellers! But I have many memories of giving and serving together as a family — like cleaning windows and mowing the lawn at church with my grandparents.

I have one specific memory of painting a conference room with my mother at a charity where she served on the board of directors.

Our parents were teaching us how to live more simply so that we could help support others in the community.

It’s certainly something that I’m grateful for. It set me up for a lifetime full of joy.

At the firm, you also hold the position of executive director of the Jackson Charitable Foundation to advance basic financial education in the U.S. Tell me about that.

Our company’s business is to help Americans achieve financial freedom for life, and we do that through our investment products.

But in philanthropy, we know that financial freedom doesn’t begin at retirement — it’s a lifelong pursuit built on the foundation of financial knowledge and confidence to make financial decisions that begin at the earliest stages [of life].

So we partner with Junior Achievement USA and their local chapters, who provide curriculum for [kindergarten through 12th grade] for volunteers from all backgrounds to go into school classrooms and teach students about work readiness, entrepreneurialism and personal finance.

Our employees regularly volunteer with Junior Achievement, which is one of the many partners we work with to give free financial education in classrooms across the country.

Have you personally volunteered in that capacity?

Yes, for more than 15 years now. I teach students about money and financial [basics]. They want to learn about money and understand it more.

There are plenty of bad money behaviors that happen in the world, and kids see them all. This is a safe place to talk through their questions.

Yet another initiative you lead is the ESG [environmental, social, governance] program and report. Please describe.

My primary responsibility is to [head] the philanthropy program that contributes to ESG and also lead efforts to report on how Jackson handles ESG: Our annual ESG report was started in 2021.

How long have you been at Jackson?

I started right after graduation from Michigan State University in 2006 as an internal communications specialist. I was writing our company newsletters and planning employee meetings and special events.

I learned the business. Very shortly after I joined the firm, when the opportunity came to contribute to a corporate giving program, I was eager to experience that and helped develop a plan of what would work well.

And I just continued to grow it over the years.

What’s the real secret to your success?

One of the best pieces of advice I was given before I joined Jackson was from my boss at the Michigan Department of Education, where I interned.

He told me: “Here’s some advice for your full-time work: Look around the company for needs and see if you can help to solve them.”

That’s been my mantra and my goal: to look for needs and see if there’s something I can do to help.

It’s brought me lots of opportunity.

Pictured: Danielle Robinson


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