Posted by: danielrashke | October 1, 2018

Building An Internship Program for the Future

TASC is a relative newcomer to internship programs. For many years we were so focused on adding the experienced and expert talent we needed to grow our business that we didn’t feel we could give interns the attention they deserved. If we were going to bring people in, we wanted them to do more than the stereotypical intern duties—more than collating papers and getting coffee. We wanted our program to be strategically focused and meaningful both for our interns and for us—an internship program of the future, not the past.

Two things helped convince us that it was time to act. The first was that our company reached a point where we felt we could provide a quality internship experience. The second was that I saw the enormous benefit my own children derived from their internships. My son Quinn landed spots with two outstanding Wisconsin companies, Exact Sciences and S.C. Johnson. The latter internship developed into a full-time staff position as a chemical engineer. My daughter Tia spent this past summer in South Africa working as an intern with the Southern African Bishops’ Conference Parliamentary Liaison Office, where she researched and wrote a briefing paper on how migrant children are received around the world. I saw that in addition to gaining valuable practical experience, Quinn and Tia had been able to contribute meaningfully to the companies and organization they worked for. And I knew TASC could benefit by a similar infusion of youthful energy and thinking.

In summer 2017 we brought in two interns, Alexandra (Alex) Gallagher, a Nonprofit Studies major at University of Wisconsin Madison, and Vishal Narayanaswamy, who’s major is in Economics and Political Science at Berkeley. We picked them strategically, knowing their areas of study could help us develop The Greater Give, a 501(c)(6) formed to increase charitable giving by cultivating a movement of shared responsibility between employers and their employees. Alex and Vishal were instrumental in helping us build a case for “The Everyday Philanthropist Act,” a piece of legislation we hope will revolutionize giving. And I think both would tell you they got a lot out of their internships. In fact, during a recent trip to Washington D.C. I ran into Vishal, who had leveraged his experience with us into another policy-related internship.

In 2018 we built on that success. As with many businesses, our need for new and better information technology has been growing rapidly. That’s why we recruited eight aspiring Information Technology professionals. They came to us from University of Wisconsin campuses in Madison and La Crosse and from an innovative program through Madison’s YWCA called “Y-Web,” which provides Information Technology learning to women and men in minority communities. These interns helped write code, enhance automation, and fine tune our websites and applications.

This past summer we also refined the shape of our program itself. For example, we brought our interns in as a group, so they could support each other as cohorts. Besides giving them pizza and TASC swag, we provided access to senior leadership during coffee hours and a brown bag lunches. We helped them develop soft skills such as using email effectively, effective communication and listening, and effective time management. We asked them to put in eight hours of paid volunteer time, and to give a presentation at the end of their internships, where they could talk about what they had learned from us. Last but not least, we challenged them to tell us what they thought TASC could learn from them.

That point is key. Internship programs give businesses an opportunity to see how they look to the emerging workforce, the young women and men they will need to recruit if they hope to succeed in the future. In the final analysis, a good internship program should make it easier to recruit good people. In many fields, especially Information Technology, we’re all in competition with high profile names like Google and Facebook. To get the best people, you need to create a memorable experience that will make your company a destination.

This innovative approach to recruiting interns has already paid great dividends. We offered all three of our interns from the Y-Web program full-time positions. We offered other members of our summer 2018 program opportunities to work at TASC part-time while they finished school. In future years we hope to expand our internships beyond IT into other departments as well.

I want to congratulate this year’s summer interns: Edmond Apaloo; Ashley Budden; Gustave Gbossou; Paul Heyrman; Krishna Kunadharaju; Lucy Putnam; Junior Quintero; and Lexi Wegman.

We appreciated their enthusiasm, energy and intelligence. And we can’t wait until next summer to meet our next group of interns!

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.

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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.”

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