If you read part one of this post, you've already caught a great example of a church getting a little creative with their welcome message and ending up with a great viral video. In part two, we're going to take a look at how a company in Fargo, South Dakota put a twist on the typical "donate a bunch of money at the end of the year" idea to score a viral hit of their own.

Everyone knows the thing for companies to do at the end of the year is to donate a nice chunk of change to a charity. It gives you a warm fuzzy holiday feeling, impacts the community, let's your PR folks get you some press and results in a nice tax write-off.

It's also fairly boring. After all, when everyone else is also writing those big year end checks, what makes your company's efforts stand out?


That's what State Bank & Trust out of Fargo, North Dakota put into play for their year end charitable contribution. That creativity is not only poised to do an amazing amount of good, but is also generating a TON of positive press both online and off.

Here's how they explain it on their web site:

State Bank & Trust's employees received a big surprise at the Fargo-based company's annual Christmas party on Saturday, December 15. Chief operating officer Michael Solberg announced a bankwide effort, modeled after Oprah Winfrey's "pay it forward" project, in which bank employees will be making gifts totaling more than half a million dollars to help individuals, families and organizations in need.

At Saturday's event, with a visit from an Oprah impersonator as the featured entertainment, Solberg announced that every full-time employee will receive $1,000 and every part-time employee $500 to spend on someone in need between now and June 30, 2008. Employees may choose to give to one or more individuals, families or organizations, pool their funds for larger projects, or come up with creative ways to partner with other donors outside the bank. The only condition is that employees do not use the funds on themselves, their families or the families of other bank employees. The funds available total $502,000.

"Over the past years, we have been so blessed at State Bank & Trust," said Solberg. "We wanted to put this money in the hands of our employees, who know where the needs are in their communities. Giving back is one of our core values, and we hope this project will have huge impact in our communities in 2008."

Each employee also received a digital video camera with which to record their project and its impact. Employees can then keep their cameras or give them to someone else as a gift.

(Lest you think this was just a creative way to get out of paying year-end bonuses, State Bank & Trust also passed out bonuses that totaled 5% of the company's earnings in 2007.)

State Bank & Trust reports that before the night was over, employees were already gathering in groups to begin brainstorming ways to pool their money to have a larger impact. I'd imagine it's only a matter of time before video from employees begins showing up on YouTube and blogs across the web.

There's no doubting the move has turned into a viral gold mine either. It's been less than five days since the announcement and COO Michael Solberg has already been contacted by Good Morning America, CNN, CBS, USA Today, Fox News, the BBC and quite a few other media outlets. Word is spreading across the web as well.

Google news shows nearly 350 stories for the search "state bank and trust $1000" and Technorati has more than one thousand blog posts indexed so far. I would imagine by next summer when the project wraps up, those numbers will look tiny in comparison to the final numbers.

It's been good for business too:

"This is an unbelievably big gesture," said Eddie Reif, a loan officer in the Alexandria, Minn., branch. "It was a big step for the bank to say, 'Hey, you know where this money can best be used.' I think it's great."

The bank's act of kindness has had unexpected consequences. Reif said that at his branch alone, about 50 people have called wanting to open an account because they were so taken by the gesture.

Now, your company may not have half a million dollars to give away, but that isn't the point. Consider how many other companies around the world donated half a million (or more) this holiday season. None of them got the press this company is giving. It's not so much the money that has captured people's interest and sparked the conversation, it's the way they approached things.

So ask yourself. What are you already doing that could be giving a creative twist? You could find yourself sitting on your own viral gold mine.

December 20, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.



What I like about what State Bank & Trust did is that it was not just about a great new marketing gimmick. This was about State Bank & Trust being a good corporate citizen, putting their money where their mouth is and getting media attention because of that.


I'm an employee of State Bank & Trust. So glad you got the info about the employees getting the 5% bonus because most sites and the AP have missed that and they think the employees are complaining about not getting it. Much of the media coverage is negative because we had to give this money away. Well, last year we got an additional $1000 besides the 5%. This years money is not given to us or taxed to us. The requests are given to the Pay it Forward Committee and when approved it is sent to the individual or organization. The owners of this company are genuinely caring for the employees and the communities they serve. We also get many other great benefits - an amazing profit-sharing percentage into our 401K and clothing allowance and many other good deeds throughout the year. It was not their intent to get international media coverage. The employees are very excited to help the normally unnoticed, more personal needs that most would miss. I was more excited about this than the money I got for myself. A video highlighting many of the giving stories is planned to be shown at next years' party and I'm sure it will be amazing.


Also, what i like about this is that the money goes through an extra process of being checked that it is being sent to worthwhile causes by spreading the responsibility in the company for this to all the employees, not just a few. And there might well be a few families with children or relations with some severe sickness or disability whose charity or support group would also greatly benefit from this.

I found this article just a day after I had done a similar thing with my own small home business. I sure didn't have any 1/2 million to give away, but I do donate 5% of my annual gross income to charity. I had all my kids and grandchildren together this week. I was about to make my annual donation to Mercy Corps. Instead of sending in one lump sum, I had each child choose "kits" to donate. Some chose goat kits, one chose a pig kit, others chose bee hive kits, family garden kits, school supply kits, and so on. In addition to what they all chose, I personally choose a water well kit to bring fresh drinking water to a village in need. The kids had a great time deciding on where to put their portion of the money and learned a lot about helping others in need. And of course I can feel grateful that my business did well enough to be a blessing in the lives of so many people around the world.


I prefer to donate just to help others and of coarse get that warm fuzzy feeling you described. I believe it's a mistake to believe that your business will stand out because of it.

Standing out takes some marketing experience as well as dedication, and a little creativity. Of course you could also just take a course from an expert like Chad Weber.

Here's a site for loan officers or real estate agents that teaches you how to really mmarket and make more profit.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Old Idea + Creative Thinking + New Media = Viral Marketing Potential Part 2