As a Cooperative with a very large regional footprint (30,000 square miles, 23 K-12 schools, 15 country and elementary schools, and 11 county seats, each with their own public library, Senior Citizen Center, and swimming pool) – and as a provider of services that touch nearly everyone at some point, Mid-Rivers gets our share of donation requests. Probably more than our fair share, considering the limited number of larger companies that exist out here versus metropolitan areas. We also have about 175 employees, each involved in their own volunteer, youth, athletic, or service activities in different communities, many looking for sponsors.
On average, our team fields three to five new donation/sponsorship requests every day. That’s 15-25 a week, 60-100 a month, and 720-1,200 a year. This doesn’t include the regular advertising solicitations from local media for things like team ads or tournament coverage, or the advertising opportunities we seek out to promote the company and its services.
We are in a very lucky position to be able to support a wide variety of deserving activities in so many of our great rural communities. Thanks to the support of Cooperative members, the planning and resourcefulness of those who came before us, sound management practices, and even state legislation, we have been able to dedicate budget dollars to support community activities, sponsorships, and scholarships.
The $40,000 in higher education scholarships we gave to students this year came out of our Fund for Education, which is funded entirely by unclaimed capital credits and the generosity of members who choose to donate their retired capital credits to this Fund. Mid-Rivers Trustees were instrumental in helping to pass State Legislation several years ago that allowed Rural Cooperatives to take unclaimed capital credits (refund checks we have issued to patrons that haven’t been cashed after five years) – and use them for educational purposes. This is your money, and this year it will help 45 local students continue their education.
In addition to these annual scholarships, Mid-Rivers budgets dollars every year toward sponsoring community activities from Lewistown to Ekalaka and Fairview to Roy. Back in 1990, recognizing the sheer volume of contribution requests the Cooperative was receiving, and that fulfilling them all was not sustainable and not all requests were a responsible use of members’ investments, Mid-Rivers Trustees enacted a Board Policy on Contributions:
We continue to operate under this Policy today, and therefore must insure that our sponsorship dollars are used in a way that provides the Cooperative with advertising value. Advertising helps address competitive threats and increases Cooperative revenues, which helps keep your rates down and your member equity up.
How we decide to allocate these dollars often comes into question. The quick answer is, “It’s not easy.” We regularly agonize over how best to direct our limited advertising dollars. In general, the process goes something like this:
- Does it benefit a cause/organization/need in our service area footprint – something that our members & customers care about? (Preference is given to projects with regional impact, such as a facility that will be used by multiple towns/schools).
- Is there some form of advertising/recognition provided? Do we get a sign, a mention on the program or at the event, our company name in the newspaper?
- How much is the request for, and is the advertising value received adequate for the amount being requested?
- Would our members/customers support this request, and can we fit it in our budget?
- Have we recently supported this same town or organization in other ways (do we need to save the dollars to use in another community that we haven’t recently supported)?
As you may imagine, this is an art, not a science. The bottom line is that every dollar we spend has to promote the long-term business goals of the Cooperative, so we are around in the future and can maintain a financial condition that allows continued support of community needs. As a regulated telecommunications company supported by Federal dollars in places like Baker, Circle, Roundup, Jordan, and most of our other small communities, this includes strict limitations on the use of every dollar. The funding we receive MUST be spent on building out broadband, period. Any advertising/sponsorship dollars spent have to come from other sources like customer revenues, so it is always a balancing act between keeping customer rates as low as possible, while still being able to support community activities. This is your money.
In stark contrast, we now operate in the larger markets of Glendive, Sidney, Miles City & Lewistown without Federal support, and must fight the competition in these towns for every available customer to keep the Cooperative financially sound. This takes a much greater focus on advertising, and frankly MORE advertising dollars. This is your money.
Mid-Rivers also gets requests to provide free telephone or Internet services. We have had a long-standing internal policy of working with these organizations to find alternative ways to support their needs. We are a service provider, and if we are not getting paid for the services we are providing, we won’t last long and can’t pay the bills. Any customer service expert will tell you that “giving away the farm” does not equal great customer service. We try to work with customers and organizations to provide creative solutions to their needs without giving away the farm. This is your money.
We will continue supporting community activities with our advertising dollars as long as the financial condition of the Cooperative allows it, because we know that without our local communities we have nothing. But we will continue doing it in a measured and logical manner that ties to our long-term Cooperative business goals and regulatory requirements.
As a member of this Cooperative, I rely on Mid-Rivers to provide the communications services I need at home and to operate our ranching business. As a Mid-Rivers employee, I also rely on the paycheck the company is able to generate when we manage our resources wisely. Our 15,000 members, 25,000 customers, and 175 employees (not to mention all the nationwide cellular providers who rely on us for fiber connectivity) need this Cooperative to be around for the long haul. We’re not just looking at tomorrow, but at 10, 20, & 30 years from now. The decisions we make today will help shape that future, and will determine whether we reach those milestones as a thriving broadband company, or end up as another abandoned farmstead.