You’ve helped ensure that Dacotah Paper Co., a long-time local business, continually gives back to the community. What challenges come with corporate giving decisions, and how do you go about those decisions?
To be effective, you have to believe in the missions of the organizations you give to, and get involved with them and their work in the community. There are many requests made of well-known, successful businesses. As a corporate leader or board member, you have to prioritize multiple requests and choose. Focus on missions you believe in and where you feel you can make a difference.
What recommendations do you have for those who wish to approach businesses for money, time or in-kind contributions?
First, when looking for contributions, you need to have a well-crafted and specific “ask” to make of the company or board. Be sure you show both the need for the request or service and how it will make a difference in the community. Present a personal connection, such as how you or someone you know needs and uses the service and how it has affected real-life situations. For health-related services and education, that’s often easy to show. For other services, it can be more difficult. For example, throughthe Fargo Kiwanis I learned of a service called “Rainbow Bridge” which provides a safe place where parents who are within contentious separation processes can bring children when it’s time to transition to the other parent for a visit or stay, so that the child doesn’t get involved in the middle of arguing or the conflict. It’s a bit more obscure, but valuable. Also, take care not to base your “asks” on the amount of business you or your agency give to the corporation—it’s not a positive approach. Stay focused on the mission, and the difference that the business can make with contributions. Consider extending an invitation for a meeting or visit to your [organization]. Also, it’s important to show your appreciation for contributions. We’ve been involved in contributions where no thanks were given after the fact. Recognition is an important and effective way to show appreciation, especially when you can show how the contributor made a difference.
You have served and continue serving on multiple nonprofit boards.
What do you see as the most important talents, skills, and actions to help organizations fulfill their missions? How can nonprofits ensure they are best utilizing board members?
Effective board members must get involved with the organization. And again, they must believe in the organization’s mission. Go to the board meetings, and take time to visit the organization. Spend time learning about and seeing their daily operations. In addition to personally seeing the outcome, by being involved and visiting the organization, you can then provide informed guidance. If you truly believe in the organization and its mission, it’s not hard to get involved. Sometimes board members don’t have or don’t make time to attend board meetings, much less to visit the agency or its operations. Organizations should consider setting policies for at least minimal board-meeting attendance to help ensure that
members are engaged and informed. Reasonable involvement will result in reasonable and more effective contributions.
What do you feel are the smartest decisions you’ve made in respect to giving at both a corporate and personal level?
Those situations involving a commitment to sustained giving have proved to be the most meaningful. For example, Dacotah Paper has been a supporter of the Anne Carlsen Center [Jamestown, ND] since its inception. Their long-time commitment to supporting and educating people with special needs has grown to be renowned and has improved so many lives over many years. [Editor’s note: The Anne Carlsen Center began as a care facility in Fargo and opened as a full-care center in Jamestown in 1940.] Sustained giving gives you chance to really help a mission along. Trollwood Performing Arts School is another example that we’ve been involved with since its early days. We’ve been rewarded with seeing and helping it mature into a long-term and valuable community asset. Sustained giving takes commitment, but you get to see the greater value over time. It’s rewarding to see positive growth and apparent change.
What advice do you have for other business owners regarding charitable contributions?
Long ago our company set a policy that our officers could not get directly involved with fundraising. We were well known within the community and often asked to assist with fundraising, but had to focus on doing business. I’m happy to help make connections and offer support, and of course make decisions on corporate giving. But being involved directly in fundraising, as a corporation, can be a tough issue. It of course depends on your [corporation’s] personality and mission. Chuck Bailey [founder of the accounting/consulting firm Charles Bailey and Co, which merged in 1998 to
become Eide Bailey] was a friend of my grandfather’s, and always very involved in the community. I remember he once told me, “You know Matthew, I chose to give a lot of my time whenever I could, rather than only giving money.” He knew the value of involvement. I personally believe that time is
often more valuable than money when it comes to contributions. Contributors of time and money should prioritize the recipient groups that display “best practices” regarding use of those resources.
What do you consider top best practices for agencies?
It’s difficult to be specific about what “best practices” are for every agency, because there are so many different causes. But you need to be very subjective about how the agency spends money and how your contributions will be used, making sure the money is going directly toward the agency’s mission. Be sure the agency can show exactly what they do and how it’s making a difference.