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The benefits of having a corporate cause

Does your company have a cause? A mission? A higher goal? Bill Cook, CEO of Donaldson says it should...
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By Mike Felmlee, The Prouty Project

I’ve always marveled at the giving spirit of our Twin Cities Community. We enjoy a vibrant United Way organization, great non-profit leadership, and one of the best, if not the best, corporate philanthropy in the United States.

I had the opportunity to ask Bill Cook, CEO of Donaldson, to explore the concept of corporate philanthropy and get his thoughts about the benefits of giving and having a corporate cause.

Hi Bill, I recently attended a breakfast you sponsored about the Bike MS: C.H. Robinson MS 150 Ride and was struck by your passion and enthusiasm for this cause. How did you get involved?

I give much of the credit to my colleagues at Donaldson who had already started a team participating in the Bike MS 150 Ride and kept encouraging me to join them. While I always enjoyed doing some casual cycling, the thought of biking 150 miles from Duluth to the Twin Cities in 2 days seemed like a huge undertaking. However, in 2005, the combination of their persistence and seeing a close friend struggle with the horrible effects of Multiple Sclerosis finally convinced me to give it a try. I purchased a better bike, began training, and have been involved ever since.

I found that not only did I thoroughly enjoy the MS 150 riding with Team Donaldson, but I was extremely impressed with the great work the MS Society does to help those afflicted with MS. So I joined the Board of the MS Society a couple of years later where I served until recently. Our support of the MS 150 continues, and today I’m proud to say Team Donaldson provides more than 250 riders and volunteers who collectively raise more than $145,000 each year for Multiple Sclerosis programs and research benefitting people living throughout the upper Midwest. In addition, and in order to get the “word” out to more local companies and organizations, we issued a CEO Challenge several years ago that has significantly increased the number of new corporate teams participating in this event.

Why did you pick this corporate cause?

I think it really picked us. We have a long history at Donaldson of corporate causes and support many throughout our organization. For example, at our Twin Cities campus, we support the United Way, Memorial Blood Centers, the MS 150, and Bridging, as well as many others. Generously giving back to those in need in our local community has always been a part of our Company’s DNA so raising money, volunteering, and serving people in need just seems to come naturally to my colleagues.

What benefits do you get personally by participating in the Bike MS 150 Ride and your other corporate causes?

I really like the fact that it keeps this almost 60 year old in somewhat decent shape. I also love the feeling I get knowing I’ve helped, in a small way, to improve the lives of others. And the many events we sponsor provide me with an opportunity to get to know my colleagues at a deeper and more casual level. In fact, I think the Bike MS 150 Ride is better than a golf course (where I am really bad) as I get to ride and talk to my colleagues over a couple of days rather than a few hours about their personal and professional hopes and dreams.

Any corporate benefits…does this impact your earnings per share?

First of all, we don’t do this because it will impact our earnings per share. We do this because it’s the right thing to do. That said, I believe it does have a very positive impact on our Company. At the core is the increased sense of pride that all of us have for what we are doing and in our Company for supporting us in our efforts to make a difference in the lives of so many others. The fun and camaraderie I see with and among our colleagues is a by-product of these efforts and I think serves to build even more trust and commitment throughout our organization. This increases the speed in how we do our business, which serves us well in the marketplace. Thus, everybody wins and all of us feel great about where we work.

What final words of wisdom would you give to CEOs about the benefits of having a corporate cause?

I’m not sure this constitutes words of wisdom, but I’d suggest three things:

-- Encourage your colleagues to donate their time and talents to a cause your organization can rally behind and be visible in supporting it.

-- Challenge other CEOs to participate in some friendly competition for a great cause.

-- And finally, join our Donaldson Team at the Bike MS 150 Ride to be held June 8-10. We’d love to have you ride with us and participate in our annual pig roast under the big Donaldson tent in Hinckley, Minnesota, after the first 75 miles.

Join our team and I’ll even buy you a Donaldson jersey to wear in the event!!!!!

Mike Felmlee, CEO: Mike is the CEO at the Prouty Project and he works with management teams, boards of directors, and teams to facilitate strategic planning, team, leadership development, and executive retreats. Mike leads the firm’s healthcare and nonprofit practices and has 28 years of financial and operational management experience in the healthcare, manufacturing, and public accounting industries.

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