Posted by: danielrashke | September 18, 2018

2018 CFC: Looking Forward to Giving Back

CFC Logo_2018Recently, the president of the Give Back Foundation, Jeanan Yasiri-Moe, penned an Op Ed piece for the Federal Times. The Federal Times is a source of information for senior U.S. government managers on trends and issues facing them in their job performance and career. Jeanan’s article (Looking Forward to Giving Back Again) dealt with  the upcoming Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). As my regular readers will recall, the Give Back Foundation selected TASC to be the service provider for the CFC.

As the new campaign started on September 10, federal employees once again will have the opportunity to sign up and give back to their favorite charities through the CFC—a wonderful program begun more than five decades ago and with TASC’s help, recently revolutionized through a single nationwide online giving portal.

Needless to say, TASC and the Give Back Foundation are very excited about the upcoming campaign. After delivering the new platform on time, on budget, and with all the required sign-offs from the OPM, we’re more than ready to deploy Version 2.0 in the 2018 CFC.

While we were pleased with the 2017 campaign, we are hoping for better returns in 2018. In the 2017 campaign year, federal employees, contractors, and retirees pledged charitable contributions of more than $100 million, an average of $600 per donor. And only 409 calls regarding “charity lookups” came into TASC’s CFC dedicated call center, a ratio of less than one-quarter of one percent.

But what moved me the most was some of the feedback we received from the federal employees and donors who used the system. As Jeanan noted in her article, one member of the military told us the new online system was a “huge improvement over the old system.” He specifically appreciated the improvements in the search function that the new system offered. Overall, he believed it reduced his time to sign up from an hour and a half to only five minutes.

Feedback from several of the charities was equally as supportive. “Thank you for the online form. I was prepared for this form to be difficult and time-consuming. However, my processing time in 2018 was reduced from three hours in previous years to 15 minutes,” said one.

“I use a number of online application systems, and I found this one to be one of the most straight-forward, user-friendly systems I’ve come across. Thank you,” added another.

We understand that last year represented a huge change for the federal employees and retirees. I strongly believe that as more federal employees get used to the new system and move through the change curve, we can expect the number and amount of online donations to rise further in the 2018 fall campaign.

Posted by: danielrashke | September 4, 2018

Intrapreneurs are Essential to Innovation

Entrepreneurs take on great financial risk in the hope of creating something successful. But what about after they have successfully launched their business? What then? The natural inclination is to play it safe and keep doing what made you successful, but resisting change can be fatal. Times change, markets change, and people change. If you stop innovating because you feel like you’ve “made it,” you may find yourself, and your company left behind.

Our business is a strong example of how change can pay off. My father was an entrepreneur. He went into business selling life, health, and disability insurance to farmers and people who owned small businesses (I cut my teeth working in that business, too). My father was also an intrapreneur as our company evolved to showing those farmers and sole proprietors how they could benefit by adding a medical reimbursement plan and moving those expenses to their business returns.
Entrepreneurship got us started, but innovation and intrapreneurship keep us going and growing– at more than 20% annually.

So, when I was invited to speak at the University of Wisconsin Family Business Center’s Family Business Retreat, I knew I wanted to talk about the importance of intrapreneurship. But then, entirely by coincidence, I came across a Harvard Business Review article titled, “The Myth of the Intrapreneur.” Here I was thinking intrapreneurship was essential, and the Harvard Business Review was saying I was all wet. Or at least, that’s what the title suggested.

The real point of the article, I soon discovered, was that companies can’t count on a single “lone genius” intrapreneur to power their innovation. Innovation, writes author Andrew Corbett, “has to be a company-wide endeavor.” I completely agree. Intrapreneurship isn’t a person. It’s a culture. And since most companies aren’t set up for innovation from the start, change management is necessary to support the shift into a culture that makes it happen. We’ve worked hard at TASC to create that culture. Here are some of the ways we foster innovation.

We start with basic requirements gathering questions: why, when, what, who, how, and where. “Why innovate?” should be your first question. If you don’t know why, it doesn’t pay to put a ton of energy into the “how” or the other questions. Your innovation should be strategic and sustainable.

After “why,” the most important question you need to answer is “when.” In his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen addresses the difficulty of knowing when to innovate. Your business is successful. You’ve got things rockin’. But at some point, your gains are going to level off. Waiting until then is probably too late. Some people believe that with TASC’s continuing success we should be all-in on driving growth and efficiency instead of spending money and resources on innovating for the future. I tell them I’m innovating while we’re successful because I know that eventually, a downturn will happen. It’s inevitable. I just don’t know exactly when it will happen.

Here’s another way to look at it. TASC has done great, but we’re a 40-plus-year-old company. That’s old. And I don’t want to be old. Sometimes the only way to keep a successful company from getting old is to create what I call a midlife crisis. Create a culture that says, “If I don’t start looking for that next new thing, we’re going to be dead soon.” Use that sense of urgency to jump-start your thinking about how to innovate inside of your company.

So how do we make innovation happen? Several ways. We ask our leaders to continually be assessing who has intrapreneurial spirit? Who is thinking about problems and solutions creatively and from a perspective of opportunity as well as risk mitigation? We want those people invited to the innovation tables.

We have a few different groups formed for what we call our Ideation Clubs. People from throughout the company get together during off hours. They take ideas and start throwing them together. They collaborate. We give them resources, tools, food, and beverages. They feed us ideas.

We also have a New Product Development Pool. We train people on how to create a new product or business model. They come away with a resume that says they know product development. We get more talent to help us research and vet new product ideas.

To foster innovation, we allocate money and time to exploration outside of your normal research and development efforts. This doesn’t need to be a big investment – it just needs to be prioritized and committed to by more than just one person. When your innovators land on something with real potential, fund it and then starve it just enough to create a hungry, start-up mentality.

I’ll drill deeper into TASC’s innovation culture and methodology in future posts. Meanwhile, give some thought to why and when your company should innovate.

Earlier this year my wife Patti and I created a 501(c)(6) organization called The Greater Give. Its mission is simple: to compel more giving. The first initiative launched by The Greater Give is the Everyday Philanthropist Act, a piece of legislation which, if signed into law, will both increase and democratize charitable giving by creating a revolutionary new workplace mechanism called a Flexible Giving Account (FGA).

The proposed legislation passed a key milestone on July 26 when it was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-MN) and cosponsored by Mark Pocan (D-WI), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Ami Bera (D-CA).

The Everyday Philanthropist Act (H.R. 6616) addresses a reality of giving that has existed for many decades, namely that the tax incentives for making charitable donations are skewed to wealthy Americans who itemize their returns. The large majority of working Americans don’t itemize and therefore receive no tax-related incentive for charitable giving.

I firmly believe that Americans of all incomes and backgrounds are interested in helping their country and their communities, and that we’re missing an enormous opportunity to tap their charitable impulses and boost overall giving.

And that’s why we went to Congress with the Everyday Philanthropist Act. It would permit eligible employees to establish a Flexible Giving Account through their employer, then allocate a portion of their paycheck pre-tax to one or more charities of their choice. Because this will reduce their taxable income, it will actually increase their take home pay. If this kind of account sounds familiar, it’s because it’s modeled after popular tax-favored savings accounts for employee healthcare and retirement. So, both employees and employers will have no trouble understanding how it works.

An FGA gives the tens of millions of non-itemizing Americans a tax incentive for giving in the form of a pre-tax payroll deduction. Since it would dramatically increase America’s charitable donations and allow charities to more effectively impact the communities they serve, there’s no question that it’s a win-win for employees and charities.

But what about businesses?

As a business owner, I was sensitive to asking businesses to take on yet another responsibility. But the FGA works for business, too—in fact we have already received expressions of support from the business community. It’s not hard to understand why. For one thing, the administrative architecture is already in place. And by reducing the amount of taxable payroll, businesses will save on payroll taxes. In addition, benefits like the FGA also help companies recruit and retain quality employees. According to a survey conducted by America’s Charities, nearly 70 percent of employees rate the importance of working for an employer whose culture supports giving as “imperative or very important.” The same report states that nearly nine out of ten companies say that “providing effective employee engagement programs helps them attract and retain employees.” An FGA would give employers of all sizes an employee fringe benefit that maps to their business interests.

The common-sense approach of this proposal and its practicality (it would require only a minor revision to the tax code) help explain why it has garnered early support from a significant number of House members on both sides of the aisle. (It also holds the distinction of being the first charitable giving legislation sponsored by a member of the powerful House Ways and Means committee.)

Now we need your support to help make the Everyday Philanthropist Act a reality. We need business leaders and individuals to mobilize and create a whole new class of the Everyday Philanthropist. I urge you to take the following steps. First, visit The Greater Give website (www.thegreatergive.org) and click on “Take Action.” It’s a quick, easy way to let members of Congress know you’d like them to support the bill. Next, spread the word to colleagues, groups and individuals who might be interested in supporting this legislation. Finally, post your support for the bill on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn using our hashtag: #EverydayPhilanthropist.

This is only the beginning, both for the Everyday Philanthropist Act and for The Greater Give. In the days and months ahead, I’ll fill you in on the progress of the bill and about new initiatives from The Greater Give team.

Posted by: danielrashke | June 26, 2018

Growing, Learning & Thriving Together

Recently, my wife Patti and I and members of the TASC team attended a celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Madison Community Foundation. For those of you who might not be familiar, the MCF is a philanthropic organization that supports the local community by creating and sustaining endowment funds, many of which go to initiatives outside of the human services needs addressed by organizations like the United Way.

IMG_0715_retouch2

To mark this important year, MCF awarded twelve major gifts—one for every month—totaling $2 million. As MCF President Bob Sorge pointed out, equity and accessibility were key criteria. The gifts ran the gamut from just under $100,00 to support Madison’s vibrant biking culture, to $1.1 million for a program called “Together We Thrive,” a challenge grant to Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools and their Community Schools Initiative, which helps meet the changing needs of children and families by bringing community services into schools.

One of our main reasons for attending the event was to help support our friend and fellow community philanthropist Diane Ballweg, who serves as the MCF chairperson. Diane has a long history of philanthropic giving and of community involvement, including a stint as chair of the Madison Children’s Museum. In her talk at the anniversary celebration, she pointed up some important facts about the challenges faced by organizations in the charitable space. Maybe the most daunting challenge is demographic: people born prior to 1965 account for 70% of all charitable giving. Clearly, that’s a trend that needs to be turned around if we want charitable giving to succeed in the future—particularly when there is an increasing number of nonprofits (4,200 in Dane County alone) that need support to stay viable and vital.

The key to sustaining charitable giving in the future is not all that different from the key to sustaining a successful business: you have to innovate to meet new needs and challenges.  When it comes to philanthropy there are two parts to the innovation equation. The first involves finding new ways to bring good things to the community and to those in need. The second involves finding new ways to get people involved in charitable giving.

As someone who believes deeply in philanthropy and innovation, I am always on the lookout for fresh ideas. In fact, that’s another reason why I was interested in attending the MCF 75th anniversary and learning more about their work. The Madison Community Foundation has done nice job carving out a niche separate from—but complementary to—the United Way (they overlap on only 7% of their grants). They also scale grants in such a way as to keep control at the local level, where people best understand the needs. They are thought leaders—innovative, creative, and contemporary. Which means, for example, that they use data extensively. They’re smart about how they spend their money but also willing to fund new initiatives outside the traditional sphere of charitable giving. For example, prior to giving the $1.1 million to the Community Schools Initiative, they funded a research grant to test the viability of that program, which had its skeptics. The early successes of the program suggest that unconventional thinking and calculated risk are paying off.

Fresh thinking and calculated risk in philanthropy are ideas we embrace at the Dan and Patti Rashke (TASC) Family Foundation, where we strive to be a catalyst for community growth, helping our disadvantaged neighbors achieve their full potential. We strategically invest in innovative and collaborative solutions in the areas of education, health, and human services. Innovation, strategy, and collaboration are all integral to our efforts, just as they are for MCF.

Like Diane and our friends at MCF, I’m concerned about the aging demographics of charitable giving. But here, too, innovation can bring solutions. In fact, right now my team and I are working on a proposal we think will help attract younger and less affluent givers to charitable giving. More about that soon.

The need for successful philanthropy is great. Today, right here in Madison, Wisconsin, the average age of a homeless person is nine years old. That’s a startling and heartbreaking statistic that ought to motivate us to think in new ways about how charitable giving can create meaningful change. I think we also need to remind people that charitable giving is a gift in itself. In her presentation, Diane talked about a formula for “enduring success” that she came across in the Harvard Business Review. According to that formula, a truly satisfying and lasting feeling of success comes from a combination of achievement, significance, legacy, and happiness. I agree with Diane that philanthropy meets all those criteria. It provides both an opportunity to help others, and a way to find fulfillment in our own lives by working together in a common cause. As MCF says, “Together We Thrive.”

Posted by: danielrashke | June 7, 2018

The Fine Arts of Finance

18-TASC-0008-CEO-Blog-Content-Marketing_MFA_736x229_v1The conventional wisdom in the business world is that the best way to hire someone who will help you succeed and grow is to look for an MBA.

After all, MBAs have “a head for business” and the skill set necessary to jump in and start contributing.

But now a lot of business owners and CEOs are questioning that logic. I’m one of them. It’s not that MBAs aren’t valuable. The point is that with the world changing so quickly, innovation and creativity are essential in every aspect of a business, from product development to finance. So along with recruiting qualified MBAs, it’s time for businesses to look for a different kind of candidate.

Recently, at an event hosted by University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, I met a gentleman who told me he believed the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) was the new MBA. He pointed out that in theater, for example, you learned how to direct people, how to play a specific role, and how to collaborate both creatively and on practical aspects like building sets and setting lights. The more I thought about his argument, the more I saw that the skills necessary to put on a show weren’t all that different from those necessary for business success and innovation.

In fact, I realized that my own company had benefited from an employee’s arts background. Our Chief Operations Officer, Michael Herman, got his undergraduate degree in theater. One day Michael and I were discussing my plan to create change within TASC and he pointed out that when you want to bring about significant change in a company, you need to create a “saga”—a story that explains why the change is necessary and beneficial—or else you risk creating a disruptive “drama” in your workforce. This was a perspective that came directly out of his theater background, and it made perfect sense to me.

We tend to think that finance and fine art are completely different things. But as I realized when I wrote both terms on the smartboard in our office, they share most of the same letters. I consider that a pretty accurate metaphor for how much they overlap in the real world.

The idea that “the MFA is the new MBA” first started appearing about ten years ago, and it has gained steam among business thought leaders ever since. Harvard Business Review pointed out that MFA grads have important “soft” business skills such an ability to accept criticism, an interest in studying motivations of people, and an understanding of the importance of engaging the audience. Inc. magazine’s online “Brandview” points out that “reason alone—the MBA toolset—can diagnose the issue, but not discover new ways to solve it, to radically recreate a company’s business model for real innovation.” That takes creativity.

I’m not arguing that the answer to innovation in business is to hire only MFAs. It’s just as important to have MBAs who think like MFAs. This spring we hired a new Chief Financial Officer, Scott Lane. Scott has an incredible business resume and a traditional business education, with a BBA and an MBA. He’s a first-class financial guy. But he’s also a very creative thinker. Instead of accepting “business as usual,” Scott put together his own approach to creating and fostering business partnership. He has brought us a perspective you wouldn’t necessarily expect from your typical CFO. Even if you’re not lucky enough to have a “Scott,” you can still foster creativity by implementing tools like design thinking, where you start by asking what customers [internal or external] need and then work backwards toward a product or solution (versus asking, “What can we sell?”).

As I recently noted during a speaking engagement, TASC is a 40-year-old company. As companies go that’s old. And we don’t want to be old. So it’s essential for us to create a culture that thinks creatively about what we can do next. I believe bringing MFAs and MFA thinking to Finance and the rest of business is key to keeping our businesses alive and vital, especially through periods of intense change.

Older Posts »

Categories