Thursday morning was a special one for employees of Royal Neighbors of America (RNA), a fraternal benefit society based in Rock Island.

With a big cake and bigger banner, they celebrated the milestone achievement of 250,000 members nationwide.

The member milestone number displayed on fourth-floor windows at Royal Neighbors’ Rock Island headquarters, 230 16th St.

RNA offers life insurance and annuity products to its members (in 43 states) and is driven by its mission of supporting women and serving communities. The organization’s employees, members, and chapters across the country drive the mission through localized volunteerism and philanthropy programs — making social impact the cornerstone of their work.

Interim CEO Curt Zeck said Thursday that as a fraternal benefit society, RNA is one of just a few nationwide growing membership.

“We’re pretty excited about that, getting to the 250,000 milestone,” he said. “We wanted to take some time to celebrate as employees, as a membership group and recognize what our members are doing in communities.”

Royal Neighbors (founded in 1895) is unique among fraternal life insurance companies in focusing on women, Zeck said.

“We’ve really expanded into independent distribution, so we have way more agents that are selling for us now than we had in the past,” he said, noting there are 8,000 insurance agents nationwide that sell RNA products.

Royal Neighbors was at 200,000 members about seven years ago, and expects to grow by 7,000-8,000 a year, Zeck said.

Employees were asked to sign a banner Thursday, putting down one word for what it means to be a Royal Neighbor (photo by Jonathan Turner).

There are 146 total RNA employees, with about 120 at the Rock Island offices.

Growth in membership is mainly in the South, including, Florida, Texas and California (where U.S. population is growing), Zeck said, noting a lot of RNA products are geared to senior citizens.

“Members are obviously the core of what we do,” he said at the employee event in the fourth-floor lunch room, which has a great view of the Centennial Bridge. “We constantly keep them in mind. They’re out there working on behalf of Royal Neighbors and every employee that works here.

“Thank you for celebrating this milestone. It’s a big deal,” Zeck said. The company asked employees to sign a 250,000 member banner, and put a word of what they feel working for RNA.

Over 200 chapters

There are 50 RNA chapters in the Quad Cities region, among 207 nationwide. Each chapter must have at least 10 members, and RNA grants them up to $3,000 a year to give out.

“The chapters are very individual, in that they choose the cause or the causes that are important to them,” said Amy Jones, director of philanthropy. There are student chapters and some focusing on food pantries.

“The way we distribute funding is based on the number of volunteer hours,” she said of chapters. “They report to us on a quarterly basis, tell us what they’re doing.”

Interim CEO Curt Zeck cuts a cake Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, as RNA employees Angie Johnson (left), Raj Krishnamurthy and Karen Hayes look on (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“The important piece is, we are granting them the funds and they get to make the decisions,” Jones said. “They see what’s happening in their neighborhoods and they can make a difference.”

In 2021, Royal Neighbors delivered $20.5 million in social good impact, record revenue, was upgraded to “A Excellent” by the AM Best Company, and received an all-time high score from the Great Place to Work® employee survey, achieving their fifth Great Place to Work Certification, according to a company release.

This week’s celebration was on an “All Society Day,” part of Royal Neighbors’ new Flexible Work Model which allows many employees to choose to work from home and come together on a quarterly basis for in-person team building and connection. RNA staff work remotely about 75 percent of every week.

“From insuring lives with our life insurance and annuities products to supporting women and serving communities with our community chapters, we stand together, all 250,000 of us, to inspire impact as a grass roots local community, and a nation of neighbors,” Zeck said in the release.

Curt Zeck (center) poses with Royal Neighbors staff and a big banner on Thursday morning, Sept. 22, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

In commemoration of the milestone, employees and members were asked what being “a Royal Neighbor” meant to them. “I am proud to be a Royal Neighbors employee because I am able to be the mom I always wanted to be, but still have a career that gives me definition, recognition, and life balance,” said Holly Clark, RNA commissions specialist.

“Being a Royal Neighbors member means opportunity to me,” said chapter member Lisa McNulty in Memphis, Tenn. “Our chapter creates an opportunity for us to make a bigger impact in our community and allows us to create more opportunities for others.”

Making communities stronger

“When our membership grows, our communities become stronger, and that is the cornerstone of our mission,” said Angie Johnson, Royal Neighbors Human Resources Executive. “Our core strategy is to support and engage our employees and members through philanthropic investment and a commitment to volunteerism. This mutually reinforces a loop in a virtuous circle that creates a world that we all want to live in.”

A view from the Royal Neighbors fourth-floor employee lunchroom (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“By growing and leveraging our membership, we are broadening our reach and creating a ripple effect in the communities where our members live and raise their families,” Jones said. “We are working to make our members’ impact meaningful, measurable, and long-lasting for both today and tomorrow.”

This year’s community impact of $20.5 million (a record) represents grants, volunteer hours and corporate giving.

“We also think about the long-term impact of these volunteer hours. Did you gain some education?” Jones said. “We have taken a strong stance of supporting these groups.”

The volunteerism can inspire other members to get involved and show what impact RNA has in their communities, she said.

Now, Royal Neighbors is close to 100 percent of employees volunteering, said Johnson, who oversees philanthropy and marketing.

Recently, RNA gave a $10,000 Nation of Neighbors grant to NEST Cafe of downtown Rock Island.

RNA recently gave a $10,000 Nation of Neighbors grant to the nonprofit NEST Café (Nourish Everyone Sustainably Together), at 1524 4th Ave., Rock Island.

Royal Neighbors’ signature women’s empowerment program, Nation of Neighbors, recognizes and supports women who work to empower women and girls through a nonprofit, business, or program.

Nation of Neighbors gives out $100,000 a year in 10 grants nationwide. Jones said they average 60 to 80 nominations a year from members.

“I was a judge for the first time this year and it is very hard to choose,” Johnson said. “My first request back to Amy was, can we just find more dollars? We hope in the future, as we can, to continue to grow that opportunity.”

Creating a Kindness Island

At Hamilton Elementary School in Moline, a local RNA chapter supports “Kindness Island,” which was started in 2019 at the school. There’s a tree surrounded by rocks painted with inspiring, positive messages for students to take and give.

Samples of “Kindness Island” rocks, painted by Royal Neighbors employees (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“We have it set up out here, so our employees can come up here to create a rock and they’ll be delivered,” Jones said.

Amber Bowers, RNA member marketing and PR specialist, is the president of that Chapter 20213, leading Kindness Island. She has a 4th-grade girl at Hamilton.

“It was a piece of land at Hamilton that wasn’t really being used,” Bowers said, noting it’s near the teachers’ parking lot. “We needed to do something with this piece of land, so we built a huge rock stream and we fill it with all these rocks we paint, with uplifting message.”

“Kids can take one, bring one,” she said. “They’ll share ‘em with their friends, with their teachers. They just light up. The way that Royal Neighbors helps, we have a chapter, and they help us fund the purchase of the rocks and the paint, and we all paint them.”

Amy Jones is director of philanthropy for Royal Neighbors of America.

Jones said RNA always wants to increase their community impact, including member volunteerism.

“We’re always looking for ways to make it bigger and better,” she said. “It’s not always bigger; it’s more impactful.”

Johnson said Jones’ team did a huge project this year, launching a member portal app for mobile phones, so members can access all their information easily at their fingertips.

“There’s a lot more to come on how we can engage them and give them more ideas and help them be more impactful in their communities,” Johnson said.

Stories about employees and members who exemplify Royal Neighbors’ “neighbor-helping-neighbor” philosophy can be found HERE.