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Filling a Niche
Businesses that have chosen to create excellence in a corner of their industries—some that have developed innovative products to plug an industry gap and others that are pillars of small communities—are also coming to the philanthropic table. NSI, a division of West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, offers programs for risks not normally covered by standard insurance companies. “We insure a lot of social services and nonprofit businesses, which is why we like to get involved in the community,” says Sheryl Bell, marketing manager.
The organization’s Triple Play Partnership with the Madison Mallards is probably its most unique initiative. “During home games we give United Way $25 for each run scored and $50 for each home run,” Bell says. “We also had a ‘bobblehead night’ to benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”
NSI associates are very involved with Middleton Outreach Ministry, collecting items to donate year-round. They also hold Cans for Cancer drives to benefit the UW’s Carbone Cancer Center, serve meals and clean monthly at the Salvation Army and participate in Adopt a Family during the holidays to benefit DAIS.
Former TV meteorologist Terry Kelly, now owner of Weather Central and MyWeather.com and founder of Rhythm & Booms, is board chair for the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. He’s been central to the $3.5 million campaign for its expansion, which will add the first environmental energy education center focused on teaching young children.
Union Bank & Trust in Evansville contributed $250,000 toward the development of Creekside Place, a community and senior center that city leaders envision as a community anchor. Bank president Chris Eager chairs the initiative’s fundraising campaign. Mayor Sandy Decker has called Union Bank & Trust a “sparkplug for downtown revitalization,” citing leadership of fundraising for historic streetlights and restoration of the city’s 1914 brick-paved main street.
The Creative Class
Many businesses come up with imaginative ways to focus their generous efforts, be it an exceptionally comprehensive program to improve an entire neighborhood or an initiative that helps employees better understand and serve those hit by financial hard times. Meriter Health Services is leading a collaborative initiative to revitalize the Greenbush/Vilas neighborhoods near its campus. “Many houses have fallen into a state of disrepair, but I believe the neighborhood is a strong asset to the city,” says Jim Woodward, president and CEO.
To encourage home ownership, the organization has launched the Meriter Healthy Neighborhood Initiative, which offers qualified employees $10,000 loans to purchase and renovate homes. “It will help stabilize the neighborhood and it’s a greener alternative, since employees may not have to drive to work,” says Woodward.
It’s just one element of an overarching plan for reinvigorating the neighborhoods over the next decade. “We’re looking at a public/private initiative to form a community development organization and do a pilot in the Kleif Park/ Mills Street area,” says Woodward. “It’s a ‘ten-thousand hands’ project; there are so many organizations contributing.”
Summit Credit Union approached United Way’s Moe for ideas that would help boost its philanthropic strategies, which focus on financial education, housing, health and hunger. “She suggested the state public defender’s office’s People in Crisis program, which is an exercise that simulates what it’s like to be in crisis,” says Kim Sponem, president and CEO. “Participating employees took on the
identities of families living in crisis—say the main breadwinner has lost a job—and you seek out community resources, brainstorm how you can save money and survive and then go through a debriefing.”
Participants emerged with an increased understanding of the painful choices people face. “In these situations people sometimes have to decide between paying the bills or buying food, and this helped our employees understand what members are trying to get across when they come to our credit union for help,” says Sponem.
Since 2004, KW2 (formerly Knupp & Watson) has offered Goodstock, a twenty-four-hour marathon in which its strategic communications experts give free marketing and advertising assistance to selected nonprofits. During the event the agency donates marketing, public relations, media and internet strategy, as well as websites, logos, posters, television and radio commercials and more. This year, twenty organizations participated, and fifty projects were completed.
And TDS increased giving last year, despite economic challenges. “They focus on a different nonprofit agency every month and are working to boost employee volunteerism; they’re doing a lot of creative things,” says Moe. Among 2010 recipients are the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon, Gilda’s Club, Sauk Prairie Kids Companion and Race for Myeloma.
Next Gen Generosity
Generous Gen-Xers—maybe our future stalwarts—are beginning to give back to the people, the communities and neighborhoods that nourished their thriving businesses. They’re what Tom Linfield, vice president of grant-making and community initiatives for Madison Community Foundation, calls “a new wave of philanthropists.”
Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. is a premier corporate sponsor of Elvehjem Elementary School’s $250,000 all-accessible Boundless Playground thanks to co-founder and VP Rob LoBreglio, who, along with co-founder and president Eliot Butler, supports a wide variety of local charitable causes inside the restaurants and throughout the community. Butler is a former board chair of the Madison Children’s Museum. “He’s a very generous donor to our organization and other community causes,” says executive director Ruth Shelly. “His contributions came at a pivotal time when we were transitioning to our new building. Besides his very strong financial contributions, his business sense and attention to customer service were vital.”
Hathaway Dilba, a partner at Ale Asylum, is one of the youngest members to participate on A Fund for Women’s executive committee. “She’s been a strong financial supporter for years and she works very hard,” says executive director Jan Gietzel. “She’ll help out in just about any way we ask.” She’s also a founder of Womenade of Madison and helps choose the organizations it supports. “We invite a representative from a nonprofit to talk about its needs when we get together,” Gietzel explains. “Everyone brings at least $25 and we give the money directly to the nonprofit—there’s no bureaucracy.”
Along with involvement on several nonprofit boards, including treasurer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Bryan Chan, president and founder of Supranet Communications, mentors start-up businesses through the UW’s MERLIN Mentors program. “I benefited from mentors and I want to help emerging businesses in the same way,” he says. “It’s really important for Madison to have a vibrant start-up community, and this may also help us increase diversity in our
That outlook illustrates what Steve Goldberg, executive director of the CUNA Mutual Group Foundation, sees as a very encouraging ingredient in greater Madison’s corporate philanthropy. “Businesses are helping the community achieve sustainable improvements and positive outcomes,” he says. “They’re doing innovative things that will add long-term value.”
His own organization’s involvement in rebranding and redeveloping Villager Mall as a community resource is a perfect example. “We’re trying to increase the community’s capacity to serve our most vulnerable populations,” he says.
Quick Read: What Comes Naturally
Businesses often choose charitable initiatives that leverage their talents and the products/services they offer. Among their many contributions: Metcalfe’s Market, Whole Foods and Willy St. Co-op donate groceries and expertise to area food banks and shelters. Full Compass Systems hosts nonprofits’ events, providing video, audio and lighting. American Girl partners with the Madison Children’s Museum on an annual doll sale, with proceeds going to the museum and multiple children’s charities. The Old Fashioned serves up spreads to benefit AIDS Network and contributes gift certificates for its silent auctions. Willy Bikes has sponsored the AIDS Network’s ACT ride fundraisers since they began.
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Judy Dahl is a contributing writer to Madison Magazine.