One of my favorite business-based community initiatives comes from Bell State Bank & Trust and Bell Mortgage. The initiative, Pay It Forward, which was started in 2008 by Michael Solberg (now the President and CEO of the Bell State Bank & Trust and Bell Mortgage), has resulted in over $4.1 million being given to individuals, families, and organizations in need. The concept is simple, but genius – employees receive a sum of money ($1,000 for full-time employees and $500 for part time employees) that they can use as they see fit to help those in need.
Over time the Pay It Forward initiative has become a big part of the bank’s identity. Each year they send out a pamphlet (which also serves as a holiday greeting) that includes employees photos and lists of where the money they donated went. I look forward to this publication and I spend time looking at the folks’ photos and the choices they made regarding their Pay It Forward donations. After I am done with the publication I make my way to the Pay It Forward webpage to watch the short video clips about some of the recipients of the donated funds. In the clips, folks tell the story of why they selected the person, household, or cause they did and what the money went toward. It is in these clips that you can best appreciate the reach that the Pay It Forward initiative has. You can see that the participants stepped in where they saw need through their daily life travels and experiences. It is easy when you are watching these clips to think of folks you know who might also need some help and to think of things you can do to help them. But that is the point, because both the givers and the receivers are people like us. In their stories we can appreciate the impact of a caring soul who extends a helping hand. The Pay It Forward initiative is a part of a powerful movement – one in which community means more than a geographic place, one where community stands for connection, caring, and commitment.
This past year the bank’s Pay It Forward initiative added another layer to its efforts by adding a “Community Connect” component. Under that piece, “each employee selected a customer, vendor or community member who themselves had the chance to Pay It Forward to people in need and causes they care about.” With this addition, matched funds, and additional donations (from employees, individuals, customers, and businesses), the Pay It Forward initiative resulted in a 2013 giving total of $1,627,515. $1,529,500 of that was directly from Bell State Bank & Trust’s employee and “Community Connect” gifts.
That is a pretty remarkable commitment to community. Indeed, one might even call it an investment in the community’s well-being. And while this initiative is fabulous from a charitable giving standpoint, it also makes perfect sense from a business standpoint. This initiative evidences that the leadership at Bell State Bank & Trust understand three key tenets of business success: 1) service-oriented businesses are only as strong as the communities in which they exist; 2) employee satisfaction and commitment is enhanced when you provide them an outlet that allows them to engage their own sense of community connection under the umbrella of the business; and, 3) the goodwill built by such initiatives creates a level of loyalty that can carry a business through hard times.
I adore the Pay It Forward initiative and I applaud each and every person who participated in it this year. I also applaud Michael Solberg and Bell State Bank & Trust for understanding the point where smart business and good community citizenship come together. Your investment is noted and appreciated. I hope other community-based businesses will follow your lead and likewise empower their employees to invest in their communities, and I hope it will remind us all that community starts with us.
Day one thousand two hundred and seventy-six of the new forty – obla di obla da