Milwaukee Biz Blog: A culture of giving

Cultivate a new generation of donors

Milwaukee is known for its loyalty to its sports teams, homegrown brands, and charitable areas of need. Though it’s 40th in size as a metropolitan area, Charity Navigator ranks the greater Milwaukee area as the 12th most generous region when compared with other major metros. Generosity and loyalty are part of the fabric of our Midwestern culture.

That’s fitting because southeastern Wisconsin has no shortage of worthy causes that need our support to continue their admirable work. And as nearly a dozen multi-million-dollar capital campaigns advance publicly in this area right now, we find ourselves asking: Giving now is necessary, but what are we doing to foster a culture of generosity among the next generation to sustain what we’ve built?

Over the past decade, West Bend Mutual Insurance, along with our independent agencies, business partners, and associates, has raised $2.6 million for one of our charities of choice, Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer (MACC Fund). Since the inception of this fundraising effort, we’ve grown our contribution an average of 52 percent biennially at a time when, according to Giving USA, charitable giving has increased about three percent annually.

To what do we attribute the increase?

  • Leadership starts at the top, but expect engagement at all levels. I have the honor of serving as a director of the MACC Fund. While West Bend supported this great organization before my tenure on the board, having the opportunity to work with the directors and the amazing staff, and to meet the incredible kids, solidified my commitment to the MACC Fund. In order to be fully committed to a cause, you have to learn as much as you can and, more importantly, believe in it. Commitment to the cause doesn’t end with me. Throughout the year, we invite our associates and agents to participate in events through which they have the opportunity to learn more about and support the MACC Fund. It’s paid off. Several departments in our company hold their own fundraisers to benefit the MACC Fund. These include the Dog Jog, hosted by our Legal and Claims Departments, and IT’s Egg Toss.
  • Tap into the loyalty you’ve created. Insurance is a people business and at West Bend, we work hard to develop and nurture strong relationships with our agent partners. At every level of our company, we strive to deliver superior service because that’s what creates loyalty. We’re fortunate that this loyalty comes back to us in spades when we call on our agents, associates, and business partners to support the MACC Fund. They open their hearts and their wallets time after time. The same is true for the dedicated associates who devote so much time, effort, and creativity into planning our MACC Fund fundraisers. Just when I think we can’t do any better, they amaze me.
  • Set an example. West Bend Mutual Insurance has a long history of supporting worthy causes here in West Bend, in southeastern Wisconsin, and throughout the Midwest. One of the things we consistently hear on surveys is that our associates are proud of the company’s philanthropy. They see the good it does in their communities and I believe it accounts, in part, for their generosity to the MACC Fund and dozens of other very worthy organizations.

Like all investments, cultivating a new generation of donors takes time, but it’s a critical investment we all must make if we want to create a sustainable future for our treasured non-profits. As leaders, it’s important we communicate with our associates about the impact our support of nonprofits has on our communities, that we foster loyalty for nonprofits through the loyalty we cultivate with our associates and customers, and that we set an example with our own corporate philanthropy. Worthy organizations like the MACC Fund look to us today for that support. And it’s up to us to create that support for the future.

Kevin Steiner is the president and chief executive officer of West Bend Mutual Insurance.