Mike Fratto on the History of Open Your Heart

Apr 19, 2016 | At Open Your Heart

The Organization with a Slogan for its Name

Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless is a pretty good campaign slogan.  It is a slogan so simple one has to ask its origins. The answer is also quite simple, originating during the depression.

In the fall of 1985 Minnesota Department of Jobs and Training Commissioner, Joe Samargia asked department offices around the state to hold a Thanksgiving food drive.  Food collected would be given to local food shelves.  In order to make sure this effort would be a success, he made this food drive a competition among the offices.

Mike Fratto

Mike Fratto

Of course, any good campaign needs a motivating slogan.  One of the staff from the department’s Public Information and Education office, Anna Marie Ray, suggested “Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless,” which was adopted.

Eventually organizing documents for a not for profit organization were developed.  As the required paperwork was being prepared the organization was going to be incorporated as “The Food and Shelter Fund.” However, due to a clerical error, at least that is what we were told, “Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless” was entered into name fields for the paperwork submitted to the Secretary of State and the Internal Revenue Service.

So the Food and Shelter Fund became Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless. Obviously, no one complained with the name.

Consideration for creating an organization

Once this statewide food drive was complete, Commissioner Samargia convened a committee of employees who worked on the food drive and a couple of others who were interested in the issues of homelessness and hunger for a review of the food drive and what, if anything, should be the next step.

Commissioner Samargia, remembering back to when he worked on the Iron Range,  suggested that while food drives during the holiday season are great and needed, there are so many during the holiday season but very few at any other time of the year. The biggest problem was during the summer when children were home from school and didn’t have a school lunch program. His challenge was to determine how could we tap into the generosity of employees year round?

After consulting with Mike Hatch, the Commissioner of the Department of Commerce it was learned that a department could hold an employee giving campaign using payroll deduction.  However, the idea was to hold a campaign in all state departments. Consulting with Nina Rothschild, Commissioner of the department of Personnel, it was determined that only a not for profit organization would be allowed to solicit all state employees.

This resulted in the formation of an incorporation committee consisting of the Statewide Presidents of the four largest employee bargaining units and a department of Jobs and Training employee.  The purpose was to develop the articles of Incorporation and By-laws for a not for profit organization that met Minnesota Statute requirements to solicit state employees in an annual giving campaign.

After a few meetings this incorporating board had completed its work.  It had approved Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws for an organization called the “Food and Shelter Fund”. These documents were turned over to department staff to be filed with the Minnesota Secretary of State for incorporation and the Internal Revenue Service for a ruling on the organization’s tax exempt status.

An organization to help all food and shelter programs

The incorporating board looked into how the various organizations that participated in employee campaigns distributed its funds.  In each case their funds were given only to member organizations.  However, most organizations that served the hungry and homeless were smaller non-profits and were not members of any charitable funding organizations.

The Board was interested in getting money to these small non-profits the easiest way possible. They wanted to make sure donations made an impact as soon as possible while ensuring the donor that their money would make the greatest impact. This meant the new organization had to be different.

With a small donor base, we knew we wouldn’t know how much money we would be able to raise each year.  Therefore, we couldn’t guarantee an organization ongoing operating funds.  So it didn’t make sense to have member organizations. The result was a decision to distribute money via a granting process and not membership criteria.

Since all of our income was realized when the employer transferred payroll deductions to us we decided to review Grant requests on a monthly basis and limit grants to the money available.

Since the need was continuing to grow and a new organization wouldn’t have a lot of money it was decided that money raised would be used generally for the purchase of the necessary food and hard goods each organization needed to be able to assist their clients.

As the organization aged we realized that we needed to require our grantees to report to us the accounting for the grant, including receipts for purchases and a requirement to return any money remaining.

Eventually adopted the Common app

We had the advantage of Jobs and Training program staff who worked in the department’s food and shelter programs serving on the early Boards of Directors. This allowed early Boards to shape our policies and procedures to better serve the needs of the poor through the organizations who received our grants.

A piece of input from these Board members was significant.  These professionals reported that shelters who served school aged children found that usually when a mom left a untenable situation at home, her children didn’t have time to gather school supplies and materials.  This added another stress on shelters. In order for children to keep up with their schoolwork they needed educational materials and school supplies to ensure the children in these shelters were able to keep up with their school work.  In addition, the increased use of technology in the classroom meant shelters needed to be able to provide similar technologies for their young clients. These facts resulted in establishing the Education Fund.

Commitment to low Administrative Staff

One of the original Board’s commitments was to ensure as much of the money raised would be used to invest in organizations serving the hungry and homeless and to keep the administrative costs to a minimum. The Board of Directors needed to be a working Board.  Members performed all the administrative work the first few years. As Open Your Heart added employee campaigns it was necessary to hire part time staff to coordinate our late fall campaigns.  Eventually, most of the work to manage the various campaigns, including completing applications and making work group presentations were handled by these part time Campaign Coordinators.

With the election of Arne Carlson and the changes in leadership in all state departments, the Board decided it didn’t want to jeopardize Open Your Heart’s reputation resulting from Board members doing organization work at their desks.  It was in the Board’s best interest to hire an Executive Director.  It hired one of these Campaign Coordinators, Arna Yetter, to be our first Executive Director.

Competing with the Big Boys and need to ensure our right to campaign

Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless while organized by State employees was just another non-profit fundraiser that was trying to fund various non-profits the United Ways and others were not willing to support.  All of them were all seeking access to employee campaigns.  The state of Minnesota realized that as a public employer it needed to establish public policy that establishes the requirements for organizations who wanted access its employees for fund raising.

Since the law at that time defined a Registered Charitable Campaign Organization as having members, Minnesota Statutes had to be revised to include a section that included language that specifically included Open Your Heart, by definition, in the State of Minnesota’s annual Employee campaign. (This legislation also included the United Negro College Fund by definition.)