The Fargo/Moorhead community has always stepped up when needs arise.
From filling sandbags to protect local neighborhoods during flood season, to filling backpacks full of supplies for children getting ready for school, and filling the Fargo Dome with food for those in need, this region gets it.
Employees, leaders and investors have a unique desire in common: making impact while making a business grow. It’s a philosophy that many in our business community have embraced to use their gifts and success to improve the lives of those around them.
Without realizing it, our local businesses have been practicing the African philosophy of ubuntu, which means “I am because we are.” We get to witness amazing acts of kindness, compassion and philanthropic leadership that helps combat current social challenges, and facing it together, we get to realize a better future for us all.
That’s pretty neat how no matter how far apart we might be politically or socially, we rally close together under the same banner when needed: doing good for others.
Countless businesses who care and show genuine empathy and understanding for what people are enduring, is the long game that smart leaders are developing for their companies.
But what if supporting, partnering and cheerleading nonprofit organizations was more than just part of a marketing plan to attract new customers and increase the bottom line? What if dedicating people and fiscal fire power to help solve some of our regional challenges was a bonus benefit used to recruit and retain skilled and passionate employees?
Relationships built on a foundation of aligned values and organizations creates a unique bond between company and customer.
That’s why, the future of business is giving back.
Do businesses really seek out and invest time, talent and treasure into causes simply because it feels great to those that work there?
Turns out, the answer is a resounding YES.
Whether it is the innate way that helping others is seemingly ingrained in our Midwest culture, or the way giving back warms the soul in a place where the freezes our faces off 6 months out of the year, the business community has created a roadmap for imbedding philanthropy into their day-to-day operations
From empowering employees to seek out volunteer opportunities, to leveraging their influence, brand awareness and customer base to increase donations and visibility to organizations, local businesses have made it their business to do good in their community.
Small Business. Big Heart.
When your business model is helping others on their wellness journey, you better believe that model involves a passion giving back.
Vivian Fellman, founder of Kota Botanics, has seen firsthand how her CBD products change the lives of individuals who stop into her storefront. And her drive to help outside of her business, is as natural as the merchandise she sells.
“I try to say ‘yes’ to as many individuals seeking gifts or donations as possible,” Vivian says. “Generosity has always been something I want this business to be associated with.”
Vivian recalled a young mother who’s child was suffering from a rare debilitating disease that caused incredible anguish. The mental strain of the mom watching her son with no way to help was too much.
So, without hesitation, she and her team put together a customized, wide ranging series of products to help the family find relief, calm and comfort to give light to this mother’s darkest anxiety-ridden chapter of life.
People first. Whether they are customers or not.
“Hearing about children suffering needlessly – whether it is hunger or medical issues – is at the heart of my passion,” Vivian continued. “Giving back to organizations like Ronald McDonald House or No Kid Hungry, sets the tone for the type of impact we strive to make every day.”
Listening to her speak about how much joy donating time and effort to her nonprofits of choice is a mirrored passion of her talking about her storefront.
If a business’s philanthropy philosophy is any indication of what sort of customer or employee experience you will have when buying form, or working for a company – you’ll find no better authentic roadmap on how to conduct your venture than Kota Botanics.
Should a company be concerned when the general public seemingly expects a business to give back to the community because they have done it for so long, so passionately, and so impactfully, that it just becomes the norm?
Unless your name is Erik Hatch , founder of Hatch Realty.
In that case, you’re right where you wanted to be when you determined to live out your business philosophy of passionate servant leadership to help others succeed in order for them to be able to donate generously.
“We don’t just talk about a culture of generosity,” Erik says. “We live it.”
A perfect example of Hatch’s culture takes place yearly at his leadership conferences. Real estate professionals from across the United States descend upon Fargo to learn the skills necessary to build better relationships with customers and employees alike. The theme of giving back is woven into each speaker, breakout session and break.
“Everyone has natural talents and gifts meant to amplify their life and others,” Erik states emphatically.
His company puts that to the test.
“In the middle of our event, we host a fundraiser to raise money for a local charity. This year, we worked with Unseen – an organization helping save children from global trafficking, and one that aligns closely with our company’s values,” Erik recalls. “One of our team members, when prompted to donate to the cause, raised his hand for an amount that equaled 1/10th of his annual salary. And challenged others to match him dollar for dollar.”
“The passion he had for this mission, combined with the opportunity to leverage leaders who got to witness his enthusiasm, helped propel the total fundraising to nearly $300,000 in one night,” recalls Erik. “It was unreal.”
What an amazing community we live in that this type of generosity is seemingly the norm, and what an incredible business model that helps facilitate such giving.
Fields of Opportunities
One of the largest names in agriculture, has been cultivating a culture of giving since their inception over 15 years ago. And like the seeds they produce for the global breadbasket, a lot of the good is done under the surface and behind the scenes.
What started out as giving Christmas presents to partner dealers, turned into donating directly to charities of their choice.
“We started by simply giving gifts for the sake of just doing it,” recalls Keith Peltier, CEO/President of Proseed. “But when we shifted our focus to help others maximize impact in local communities, giving became more important, fun and fulfilling.
Each year, Proseed donates to a nonprofit organization that each dealer and partner chooses. They also challenge those partners to match the gift to make even more impact.
“The guys really enjoy and look forward to seeing which charities each other gives to,” Keith continues. “Whether it is a local animal shelter, church or club, we get a great sense of who the people we work with are.”
So much so, that dealers reach out to Keith to personally celebrate the impact that the company’s gifts make.
Keith believes by giving locally and using their partners to help financially lift up organizations, that his company vicariously learns more about the communities they do business with.
That type of knowledge and understanding of customers, clients and partners has helped Proseed become the agriculture powerhouse it is today.
Indeed, a pretty good benefit of giving back.
Sure, they can build you a website, customize a tech solution for your business, or tell you how many hit points it takes to defeat a Dracolich in Dungeons & Dragons. But for Codelation – the values driven passion to help others might be the biggest reason to work with them on a project.
“We take creating a sustainable community as seriously as we take creating a sustainable business,” founder Josh Christy says.
Attracting and keeping talent at Codelation is a huge benefit from living those values. Josh and his leadership team look to their employees for perspective, ideas and connections when finding organizations to give back to.
The result? Authentic and meaningful acts they can do together as a team to help nonprofits in need, and that translates to driving value to their customers, clients and community.
“Although we don’t aggressively track what our gift of time or talent does to impact each nonprofit we support, we find that some of our new customers are drawn in from our social media or digital posts talking about how we are helping organizations move the needle forward,” Josh continued.
No need for Bardic Inspiration to add to the perception (and reality) that doing good for others is good for the bottom line.
Paying it Forward
If there was a True North that businesses should look towards on how building philanthropy as part of their culture can be woven into the fabric of a business model – Bell Bank would fit the description of the shining star to follow.
“Giving back is actually at the heart of our company!” exclaimed Julie Peterson-Klein, SVP of HR and Culture. “One of Bell Bank’s core values – which have held true from the very beginning – is paying it forward by giving back to the communities we serve.”
What does that mean you ask? How about giving money to every employee, every year to give as they choose to individuals, families and organizations in need.
That also equates to more than $19 million in giving since 2008.
That’s a pretty big deal.
It also adds up to aligning with the perfect customers.
“We believe when we focus on carrying out our values and helping other people, we will continue to find customers and community partners who share those values,” Julie says.
“Banking or partnering with us then becomes a natural fit for them. We know we have to win people’s business and earn their trust. Hopefully when our hearts are in the right place, including through philanthropy and paying it forward, we can accomplish that.”
Sure that sounds good on paper, but what about real and tangible ways Bell Bank helps make that philosophy happen in the community?
Julie’s stories of success in implementing such audaciously philanthropic mission leave no room for doubt that her company not only believes it, but lives it.
“One thing I love is that giving back through something like our Pay It Forward initiative allows everybody in the organization to be a leader and show their heart,” she says. “Just one example is Tony Lee, who works in Bell Bank’s mail room in Fargo.”
“Tony has rallied other team members to pool their funds and help people in big ways – including giving a $42,000 check to a family that had lost nearly everything in a house fire. We have seen that time and again, in every part of our company – people being leaders who see a need, then come up with a project that not only helps someone else, but inspires their co-workers and others in the community to be part of that opportunity to pay it forward.”
Our region is lucky to have a Tony in our lives, and fortunate to have companies like Bell Bank to foster creative ways to give way more together, than alone.
We believe when we focus on carrying out our values and helping other people, businesses will continue to find customers and community partners who share those values. Not only that, but potential employees will be drawn to the companies who align with their sense of community and purpose.
Additionally, current employees will naturally be more inclined to stay, become involved, and develop long-term relationship-like affinity to their companies which leads to less turnover and better company culture.
In order to win people’s business, or attract the perfect employee, companies typically have to earn their trust.
As Julie Peterson-Klein so wonderfully states, “Hopefully when our hearts are in the right place, including through philanthropy and paying it forward, we can accomplish that.”
I think we can all agree on that.