Building Stronger Communities

Helping Innovative Ideas Come to Life

When Alliance Communications wanted to give back to local communities in their service area, we helped their Keep the Change program come to life. Today, nearly $400,000 has been awarded from this fund to help local nonprofits and causes working to build a better tomorrow.

Team members from Alliance Communications. Submitted photo.

In 2013, Alliance Communications was experiencing a symptom that comes from being a fast-growing, community-minded company.

The internet, cable TV and telephone service provider was on the move — expanding throughout portions of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. As the company began serving more communities “we often had people approach us for donations,” said Paul VanDeBerg, head of business relations.

“As we were growing in all our communities, we were thinking of different ways we could give back. But we wanted to make it a little more systematic — more of a program rather than one person making all our charitable decisions.”

So Alliance turned to the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation for help in establishing a donor advised fund to support an idea called Keep the Change, a program through which customers’ bills are rounded up to the nearest dollar.

The difference between the billed amount and the rounded amount is pooled, deposited into their donor advised fund at the Foundation, and is used to provide grants to nonprofits throughout Alliance’s cooperative service area.

A donor advised fund, a convenient giving vehicle popular for helping donors simplify and maximize their charitable giving, proved to be the perfect way to help the idea come to life, said Mary Kolsrud, the Community Foundation’s vice president for philanthropy.

The flexibility offered by a donor advised fund, combined with the Foundation’s philanthropic expertise and a shared commitment to help build stronger communities made the partnership a perfect fit.

“Partnering with Alliance Communications is another way we have been able to create meaningful change through philanthropy,” Kolsrud said. “We love the Keep the Change program, we’re grateful to Alliance for choosing us as their philanthropic partner, and most of all, we are inspired as they work to build stronger communities — for good, forever.”

VanDeBerg said 92 percent of customers choose to participate in the program and, while the average customer contribution is small — about $6 per year — collectively, the contributions add up.

“Alliance seeded the money to get the fund started but today, on average, we’re depositing $5,000 into the fund at the Community Foundation each month — those are all contributions from our customers,” he said.

From there, an advisory committee comprised of Alliance customers from different communities, a member of the Alliance Board of Directors, and VanDeBerg meet each quarter to award grants from the fund.

“On average we give out about $15,000 each quarter,” he said, explaining that Keep the Change grants range from $500 to $10,000. “The great thing about this is that it’s 100 percent customer-funded. So it’s really the customer’s money doing good in their communities.”

‘The Best Decision We Made’

Residents from Bethany Meadows enjoy a ride in a Trio Bike
Residents of Bethany Meadows and Bethany Lutheran Home of Brandon enjoy a ride in a TrioBike Taxi. The TrioBike was made possible thanks to a grant from the Keep the Change program’s donor advised fund held at the Community Foundation. Submitted photo.

VanDeBerg said the Community Foundation has been key to the success of the Keep the Change program.

“The best decision we made in doing all of this was partnering with the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation,” he said. “We started looking at what’s tax deductible, what’s not tax deductible, nonprofit status, all the accounting — we knew we didn’t have the staff for all of that. The Foundation also helped guide us as we set up some of our bylaws and policies.”

Today, VanDeBerg said, the partnership works like a well-oiled machine.

After the advisory committee reviews grant applications and selects recipients, the Foundation steps in to cover the administrative work involved.

“The Foundation gets the checks ready, does all the accounting and ensures all the IRS rules are covered. So we can just focus on the fun part — and that’s giving the money out.”

Making a Difference

Since the Keep the Change program launched in 2013, Alliance Communications has awarded nearly $400,000 in grants to nonprofits and causes throughout South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

The grants provide meaningful support to vital organizations throughout the area.

“A common theme through all of our towns is public safety, so we make a lot of grants to local volunteer fire departments, ambulances, those types of things,” VanDeBerg said.

Businesses, individuals and families with a Donor Advised Fund at the Community Foundation distributed more than $10 million to nonprofits and causes throughout our area last year.

Let us help you simplify and maximize your current giving with a Donor Advised Fund.

Other grants support efforts that contribute to the vibrancy of a community — libraries, recreational and outdoor activities, and the arts, he said.

“In many cases, the grants we’re able to award are some of the largest contributions these organizations receive,” VanDeBerg said.

Amy Ahlers, marketing supervisor for Alliance Communications, agreed.

“It’s been fun to see how, when just a little bit of money is pooled together, it can help organizations accomplish some really big things,” Ahlers said, pointing to a few grants as examples.

A recent grant to Bethany Meadows and Bethany Lutheran Home of Brandon helped toward the purchase of a TrioBike Taxi, a machine that enables residents to re-live the joy of riding a bike again.

Another grant helped the Baltic branch of Siouxland Libraries replace its roof after it was damaged from heavy spring rains.

And a grant to the Mighty Corson Art Players has helped ensure the continuation of community theatre for those in southeastern South Dakota.

“This all ties to a real sense of community,” VanDeBerg said. “Again, these are customer dollars supporting the communities they call home.”