USAA, the San Antonio-based financial services giant that serves military members and their families, is embarking on a new corporate philanthropic journey.

The company already has a reputation for generosity. It distributed more than $15 million in charitable contributions in 2015 through its various entities and charitable foundation.

USAA executives expect to double that by 2018, and bring a new focus to its giving in San Antonio and several other cities where its more than 29,000 employees live and work. The company’s benchmark will be 1% of pre-tax income, according to Harriet Dominique, USAA’s senior vice president of corporate responsibility and community affairs.

“Now we have a strategic approach to our philanthropy that allows the increase in investment,” Dominique said. “We need to have a targeted approach so that the investment can drive impact. Impact investment is really where the industry is moving.” 

The move toward this new strategy is not something that developed overnight, and Dominique emphasized that the company is only a year and a half into its new mindset, which was ratified by the board of directors in 2014.

After studying a variety of possible services to military families, USAA found that what was missing for most was support services for the families that have a deployed family member or need sustained, post-service medical care.

“We’ve learned a lot, but there’s a lot that we don’t know yet,” she said. “But we are super excited to have the opportunity. As we mature, we’ll get this more right year after year.”

Part of that maturing process will come from measuring outcomes, which is becoming the norm across corporate philanthropy. USAA’s new signature cause is military family resiliency. Given its membership base, it’s a change that makes sense.

“USAA has always been about military families and making sure that the military community and our members are better for our existence,” Dominique said. “Purpose-driven leadership drives business results. Since I’ve been with this company, our focus has not been on driving the bottom line. It has been doing what’s best for our membership and when you do that, the numbers will follow.”

Veteran Arturo Escobar stands in the corridor surrounded by 640,000 poppies. Photo by Scott Ball.
Veteran Arturo Escobar stands in a corridor at USAA in honor of Memorial Day 2016, surrounded by 640,000 poppies that pay tribute to the lives lost in battle. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The national focus on the new signature cause covers three main areas: supporting military caregivers and families of the fallen and wounded by providing emotional and financial support systems; establishing financial readiness for service members, spouses, and children by improving financial behaviors and security; and providing transition assistance in order to fulfill career opportunities for veterans and military spouses.

“Our workforce, from CEO to frontline employee, is so excited and passionate about our membership and taking care of them,” Dominique said. USAA is able to gather more national support because it has a “purpose-driven, mission-driven business model” centered around service men and women.

There are three more focus areas specific to local communities the company serves: supporting families affected by homelessness and hunger; promoting education by increasing financial literacy and STEM-related learning opportunities; and supporting safety through heightened natural disaster prevention, response, and relief.

Members of the United States Air Force overlook a large model representing the USAA headquarters. Photo by Scott Ball.
Members of the United States Air Force overlook a large model representing the USAA headquarters. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report File Photo

Currently, there are 29,500 USAA employees worldwide, with more than 17,000 based here in San Antonio. Other locations that have a significant employee presence include Addison and Plano, Texas; Tampa, Fla.; Chesapeake, Va.; Colorado Springs; and Phoenix.

In addition to the impactful changes to the company’s philanthropic program, USAA employees will soon have farther-reaching opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others.

“We’re going to give employees much more flexibility and open choice on where and how they give their dollars through USAA,” Dominique explained. “We are going to ultimately have an open giving campaign, that will include the option to give through United Way.”

The new option, which should be fully implemented by 2018, will allow employees to go beyond the traditional United Way agencies if the cause they’re passionate about isn’t addressed through their agency network. In 2015, USAA employees and retirees donated approximately $10.7 million to a variety of nonprofit organizations across all USAA locations. This was in addition to the $15 million given by USAA, USAA Bank and The USAA Foundation, Inc., of which more than 60% went to approximately 175 organizations in San Antonio.

“When I took over this role, I heard it directly from my peers across the nation – they want more choice, whether (it’s an employee) on the front line or a senior leader,” Dominique said. USAA also conducted a survey to maximize employee feedback, she added. The results showed that employees – Millennials in particular – wanted more options for volunteering and giving.

More than 452,000 volunteer hours – valued at $10.9 million – were logged by more than 10,000 USAA employees, retirees, and their families in 2015. Of that volunteer time, more than 300,000 hours were donated by employees in San Antonio.

As USAA broadens its philanthropic footprint, Dominique emphasized that the company has an “enduring commitment” to the nonprofit community in San Antonio.

Dominique assumed her new position at USAA three years ago.

“I love that I started entry level with the company on the phones 27 years ago in member services – ‘May I help you?’” she quipped.

“I’ve moved six times and worked in most of our regional campuses. I’ve led large call centers and even worked in HR for a while – a fascinating role,” said Dominique, whose previous position was vice president and general manager of USAA’s Phoenix campus.

Dominique said her predecessor, Barbara Gentry, left high standards for her to strive for.

“It’s such an honor (to work for) this incredibly beautiful brand that is so laser-focused on the military community and purpose-driven,” she said, “(and) to work in this role now, shaping our corporate strategy for philanthropy to be consistent and aligned with our mission and our brand and our legacy.”

 Top Image: USAA Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Community Affairs Harriet Dominique stops and looks at a large framed image of USAA’s mission statement.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Annette Crawford

Annette Crawford is an Air Force veteran and has spent more than 30 years as a writer, editor, and public affairs officer. She is the house photographer at Sam’s Burger Joint & Music Hall.