January 4, 2024
SFM Foundation board chair Dave Kaiser steps down after 15 years
Dave Kaiser doesn’t have a singular moment that stands out during his time with the SFM Foundation.
“The moment for me happened every year,” Kaiser said. “It was when I would speak in front of everyone at our annual golf events. There would be 250 people in a packed room, and we’d be introducing the kids and you could feel the energy in that room. You could understand the whole reason why you were doing this. That was special.”
Fifteen years after co-founding the SFM Foundation, which provides college scholarship funding for families affected by workplace injuries, Kaiser stepped down as board chair on Dec. 6, 2023. While it was partly due to SFM Foundation bylaws, there was another reason.
“Honestly, it was also time,” he said. “It was time for someone else to do this and give them that opportunity. Fifteen years is plenty for anybody.”
Over those 15 years, the SFM Foundation has awarded $3.7 million in scholarship funds.
Origins of the SFM Foundation
Back in 2008, Kaiser had heard of an organization in Colorado that provided scholarships to the children of injured workers.
He told Bob Lund, former SFM President and CEO, a similar nonprofit would be a good idea for the company.
“We saw how successful it was and also how it fit so well into our organization. We thought it would give employees something to be proud of,” Kaiser said. “We’re giving back to the same community that we work hard to provide good outcomes for.”
Aside from heading up the SFM Toys for Tots program, Kaiser had never had any experience with a nonprofit. He made some calls to officials with the Colorado group, spoke to some lawyers and “boom, we had a foundation.”
A board of directors and volunteer team was established to run the SFM Foundation, which started with a golf fundraiser because Kaiser had experience at such events.
In its first year, the SFM Foundation provided $57,000 in scholarship money. This year, it was $500,000. And the SFM Foundation is among the top organizations in the country providing similar philanthropy.
SFM Foundation successes
That growth over the past 15 years benefits more than just the scholarship recipients.
“The mission was to impact not only the kids, but also the families,” Kaiser said. “These families have been through some really awful things. The kids’ grades tend to drop. And the families are often financially strapped because they lost their primary breadwinner.”
Those families have gotten to know each other over the years and attend SFM Foundation events.
“You saw this huge community being built,” Kaiser said. “Since the third year, we typically sell out the golf event in February because everybody wants to show up to it and they want to be part of that community. That’s why you do it – you see how you’re impacting the lives of other people.”
That sense of community and hope is big for Kaiser. “Bad things happen but there are also good people out there,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kaiser noted how SFM and its employees have embraced the organization, which has earned the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar – the top transparency rating a nonprofit can receive.
“It’s about finding people that share the same mission,” he said. “The people who have worked on this over the years – you have to find the people who have the same place in their heart and they’re all doing it for the same purpose.”
Those involved in the SFM Foundation don’t see the efforts as work. “When people view it as something that adds to their life, then you have magic,” Kaiser said.
There is a strong core of SFM employees who make the foundation go. Kaiser himself has held virtually every title in the organization over the years, and added that the foundation’s efforts also offer SFM employees the opportunity to take on new roles and challenges outside of their day-to-day job.
Of course, every promotion within the SFM Foundation comes with extra pay.
“Everyone’s used to my famous line – if you get a promotion I double your salary,” he said. “Well, no one got paid.”
Future of SFM Foundation
Kaiser credited the ability of the foundation’s leadership team in making the SFM Foundation a success. That group will continue to operate as it has in Kaiser’s absence.
Taking over as board chair is Andy Gebhard, SFM’s VP & Chief Communications Officer.
“Andy’s going to do fantastic,” Kaiser said. “I told the board – after 15 years, having fresh blood is a good thing. And having someone like Andy, who has so much creativity and shares that same emotional connection, it’s a perfect match.”
Kaiser thanked SFM Foundation volunteers, saying the organization is only successful because of them. “They are the heart and soul of the foundation,” he said.
He’s proud of how the company and its employees have adopted the organization and moved it forward, specifically mentioning:
- President Linda Williams
- Executive Director Lindsay Henningsgaard
- Scholarship Director Debra Zorn
- Event Director Kim Thelen
Circling back to the annual golf event that is so special for Kaiser. Is he even any good at golf?
“Not tremendous,” he said. “I can hit the ball a long way, I just don’t know where it’s going.”
Learn more about the SFM Foundation on its website.
About the SFM Foundation
Since its inception in 2008, the SFM Foundation has granted 232 scholarships totaling $3.7 million to help students pursue higher education thanks to the generous support from sponsors and donors.
The SFM Foundation provides scholarships for students whose parents were seriously injured or killed while working for Minnesota or Iowa employers. SFM Foundation is an affiliate of Kids’ Chance of America in Iowa and Minnesota and is also known as Kids’ Chance of Iowa. To learn more about the cause, visit sfmfoundation.com.