Through the years, giving back has become part of agency’s DNA

Nov. 27, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by Howalt+McDowell Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency company.

Sioux Falls businesses have set a high standard for supporting philanthropy and volunteer efforts in the community.

It’s more formally known as corporate social responsibility, but the team at Howalt+McDowell Insurance simply calls it “doing the right thing.”

For years, the agency has been a tireless supporter of nonprofit and charitable groups, youth activities and arts organizations. When Marsh & McLennan Agency acquired Howalt+McDowell in 2012, some wondered how moving from a locally owned, independent agency to a global Fortune 500 subsidiary would impact the agency’s storied presence and involvement in the Sioux Falls community.

One need look no further than the agency’s successful track record raising funds for the Sioux Empire United Way to see the arrangement has only strengthened Howalt+McDowell’s ability to make a difference.

For another consecutive year, with just over 100 employees – 68 of who are Rising Heart or Heart Club members – the agency exceeded its long-running goal of raising 1 percent of the SEUW’s total campaign, netting $122,835 for the 2019 drive. Other examples of Howalt+McDowell and its employees’ generosity abound. If you’ve ridden the downtown Sioux Falls trolley, visited the Washington Pavilion, enjoyed JazzFest or attended one of the many fundraising events around town, it’s hard to miss their logo featured proudly as a sponsor.

On South Dakota’s first-ever Day of Giving, we take a look at the agency’s philanthropic philosophy from the perspective of the employees who make it happen.

Be a “happy giver”

Bill Townsend, president of the agency’s business insurance division, has seen a lot of changes in the organization over the years – new office space, a greatly expanded staff, corporate restructuring and ever-evolving client needs. But one thing that has remained steadfast as ever is the agency’s commitment to charitable giving.

Youth activities have always been a main area of focus for the company’s charitable giving. A 10year-old Bill Townsend (left) and his brothers played on a Howalt+McDowell Insurance baseball team in 1972.

“We’ve always been very invested in the community. One testament to that is budgeting to donate 1 percent of the total for each Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce community appeals fund drive,” Townsend said.

Townsend is actively involved in the current community fund drive. A past board president at Volunteers of America, Dakotas, he is now leading the charge to raise funds for VOA’s HomePlace, a multifamily housing unit to serve young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Townsend said his philosophy on giving has been heavily influenced by long-time Howalt+McDowell leader and prolific philanthropist Jeff Scherschligt.

“Jeff’s always encouraged us to be a ‘happy giver.’ The blessings we receive come with a responsibility to pass those benefits on to others.”

That comes in many forms.

“My personal and professional involvement with numerous nonprofits has given me firsthand appreciation of the impact the gifts we give have on an organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. But my situation, my passions, my capabilities are not necessarily the same as my co-workers’,” Townsend said.

“We strive to meet our employees where they are at and empower them to give to the causes they take pride in whether through time, talent or treasure.”

Cultivating a culture of giving

Lori Kiesow is another employee who knows firsthand the impact donors have on an organization. For many years, she inhabited dual roles as the executive director for the Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum and as events and promotions coordinator at Howalt+McDowell until transitioning to the agency full time earlier this year.

Lori Kiesow (front, fourth from left) and other Howalt+McDowell employees recently took part in serving a meal at The Banquet.

Kiesow is one of eight employees who serve on the internal community relations committee. Comprised of team members across all departments and leadership levels, the committee is tasked with vetting donations and sponsorships, seeking new opportunities for corporate community engagement and stewarding the company’s philanthropic values.

“The corporate giving here has been the most exemplary of any company I’ve worked for,” she said. “In many companies, the decision of which organizations to donate to is siloed with one person or department. Our committee gives the entire company a voice. We are fulfilling the wishes of our leadership, our teammates, our company as a whole and the community at large. It allows us to be very responsive to changing priorities.”

Being part of that decision-making process has given Kiesow a new perspective on both the company’s giving and her own.

“It’s brought awareness to needs and nonprofits I hadn’t been exposed to. The breadth of organizations in our area and the scope of services they provide are truly remarkable. From the arts to human services, animal rescues and youth programming, we are fortunate to have so much benevolence in our community, and it’s a great honor and privilege to contribute to those charities,” she said.

One such organization Kiesow has recently been acquainted with is Junior Achievement. The agency invited a JA representative to visit with employees about its mission to empower young people to own their economic success and discuss its volunteer-delivered K-12 education programs. Kiesow was one of seven employees to newly volunteer to teach for the 2018-19 school year.

“That’s another key component to our charitable giving. We don’t just give dollars, we give manpower,” Kiesow said. “Our agency offers a very generous time-off policy for volunteering and actively encourages employees to dedicate time during working hours to serve nonprofits. We’re fortunate to be given the ability to contribute our labor. Not all workplaces are like that.”

Leadership at all levels

Terra Bylander works as a claims advocate at Howalt+McDowell, but among her colleagues, she also serves as a culture advocate. A member of the agency’s Culture Club, Bylander organizes and promotes opportunities for co-workers to interact with one another. She coordinates the office Secret Santa, encourages peer mentoring and spearheads friendly cross-departmental competitions. But some of her favorite activities to plan and be involved with are group volunteering efforts.

Terra Bylander works on the Habitat for Humanity house she helped organize as an employee volunteering day.

“When I started working at Howalt+McDowell seven years ago, it didn’t take long to realize I had joined an amazing organization that cares deeply for its community,” Bylander said. “Our leadership team and employees speak about community giving with such passion. Their genuine enthusiasm is what first encouraged me to get involved.”

Bylander started by joining the internal United Way committee. She credits the sense of pride and accomplishment stemming from that involvement to inspiring her to take a more active role in volunteering efforts.

Bylander led an employee volunteering outing with the Greater Sioux Falls Habitat for Humanity in August. And, like Kiesow, she’s looking forward to being one of the new JA teachers this school year.

“Volunteering gives me a natural sense of accomplishment. But more importantly, it reaffirms not only does giving back make a difference in my life, but I’m also improving the lives of people in my community,” Bylander said.

Bylander is also part of an internal team doing outreach and awareness to remind employees to take advantage of the corporate matching contribution program.

“It’s a wonderful benefit we have that Howalt+McDowell will match employees’ financial donations to a nonprofit. We want to encourage everyone to use it,” she said.

Bylander is grateful for the opportunities Howalt+McDowell provides to impact causes she is passionate about.

“It makes me feel appreciated to work for an organization that dedicates the time, financial contributions and other resources to help me contribute to causes I care about.”

Bigger than oneself

“I love being part of things bigger than me.”

Risk management consultant Tracy Dahl-Webb may not have meant that statement literally, but as one of the 14 members of the Zoological Society of Sioux Falls’ board of directors, the rhinos, tigers, bears, giraffes and other animals at the Great Plains Zoo are most certainly bigger than her.

Howalt+McDowell contributed to the Great Plains Zoo’s Fortress of the Bears exhibit, which opened earlier this year. Its corporate sponsorship and Tracy Dahl-Webb’s involvement as a board member support the organization’s conservation and education efforts.

“Anyone who knows me will attest that when I join a board, I commit,” she said.

A growing menagerie of stuffed animals perched on her office storage cabinet is proof of that commitment.

“I buy one from the zoo gift shop at every board meeting as part of my reflection,” Dahl-Webb said. “They help me maintain focus on the policy decisions and oversight I’m tasked with as a board member.”

Her mayoral appointment to the board is just the latest in an extensive history of nonprofit involvement.

As with many Howalt+McDowell employees, Dahl-Webb is a strong advocate for the Sioux Empire United Way and is in her sixth year serving on the organization’s board of directors.

She also has a faithful allegiance to Rotary International. Dahl-Webb has hosted four foreign exchange students and participated in an international professional exchange through the organization.

“Rotary International works across every level from local, state, nation and world. They bring awareness to important issues in the local community as well as the rest of the world,” Dahl-Webb said.

Dahl-Webb credits Howalt+McDowell with helping her be part of things bigger than herself.

“There’s no doubt I would still be actively involved in causes I’m passionate about. But there’s also no doubt the connections and charitable culture I’m afforded as an employee have been integral to the opportunities I have to serve,” she said. “I am blessed to work at such an upstanding organization with such generous people.”

Through the years, giving back has become part of agency’s DNA

This might be South Dakota’s Day of Giving, but we think you’ll agree that could apply every day at Howalt+McDowell Insurance.

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