By: Crain’s Business Detroit – March 29, 2021
On this monthly radio program, The Children’s Foundation President and CEO Larry Burns talks to community, government and business leaders about issues related to children’s health and wellness.
Mike Sullivan, Founder and CEO, Brand25 Media and Metro Detroit Golfers; Suzanne Miller Allen, Senior Director of Community Responsibility and Social Mission, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; and Peter Remington, Founder and CEO, The Remington Group.
The hour-long show typically airs at 7 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of each month on WJR 760AM. Here’s a summary of the show that aired March 23, 2021; listen to the entire episode, and archived episodes, at yourchildrensfoundation.org/caring-for-kids.
Larry Burns: Tell us about Brand25 Media and what the pandemic has done to business.
Mike Sullivan, Founder and CEO, Brand25 Media and Metro Detroit Golfers
Mike Sullivan: Working in radio at 97.1 The Ticket, I had several clients ask about social media and how to have an online presence. That’s how Brand25 Media started with my partner, Kyle Bogenschutz. We call it Brand25 because the average person spends 25 percent of their day on their phone. Business grew to a point where we left our radio jobs. We now have six employees and over 30 clients we provide with social media management, search engine optimization (SEO), digital ads and digital marketing. We also do media production.
During the pandemic, I’ve hated to see all these small businesses struggle. But if there’s one thing that COVID has done, is it’s shown the importance of having an online presence. That’s where we’ve been able to come in and help a lot of small businesses. We love to dive in and help companies grow online.
Burns: I have to ask you, as a native Detroiter and big sports fan, what it was like having a call-in show on The Ticket?
Sullivan: It’s tough when none of the teams are really good. Callers are either angry or apathetic and neither is good. But even when the teams are struggling there’s still stuff to talk about.
Burns: You’re also the founder of Metro Detroit Golfers, the largest online golf community in Michigan. Tell us about that.
Sullivan: Michigan is such a huge golf state. In terms of the number of courses, it is the third biggest golf state in the United States, behind Florida and California. There was a massive appetite to talk golf but there was no online place to gather, so we launched Metro Detroit Golfers last May and quickly got over 40,000 members. It’s a positive space where people can talk golf, meet each other, ask questions and capture the passion of the Michigan golfer.
Burns: Tell us about the ways you’re helping The Children’s Foundation partner, First Tee–Greater Detroit?
Sullivan: First Tee–Greater Detroit is a great organization that has done so much good with kids while helping to promote the game of golf. A couple things we’ve done is encourage our Metro Detroit Golfers members, if they have some spare time, to become a volunteer coach. We’ve been very fortunate to have a merchandise line so we’ve been able to make some merchandise donations as well. There are activities coming up, including a virtual golf show, where we are going to be able to donate a significant amount of money and increase donations overall.
I think it’s so important to help in any way we can to get kids into the game. There are so many lessons that you can learn from the game of golf in terms of integrity, honesty and just class. We’re excited to continue partnering and lending a hand to help however we can.
Larry Burns: As you may know, The Children’s Foundation is committed to the social determinants of health. Is Blue Cross and Blue Shield also getting involved in these environmental and impactful elements of health?
Suzanne Miller Allen, Senior Director of Community Responsibility and Social Mission, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Suzanne Miller Allen: We have been working on the social determinants of health for many years. We have a program in its eleventh year called Building Healthy Communities. It’s a school-based program helping to fight childhood obesity by teaching about healthy living, active lifestyles, good things to eat. This is the first year we are in all of the Detroit Public Schools. We also have funded work across Michigan through our Strengthening the Safety Net grants, which help free clinics to reach the uninsured and underinsured in vulnerable populations.
We are also one of the seven corporate partners with the city of Detroit on the Strategic Neighborhood Initiative. We are expanding our work in the community, and looking for opportunities to help revitalize that area with a $5 million commitment. Our focus is on the East Warren/Cadieux Corridor, helping support local businesses, restore streetscapes and preserve affordable housing.
Burns: Tell us about the impact of the pandemic.
Miller Allen: We have been engaged in fighting COVID right from the beginning. Now we’re focused on the COVID vaccine. We have been working in areas that are underserved. We have extended zero-cost options for our customers; we’ve given different payment and rate options to help our members. We have tried to be a source of information through our blog at ahealthiermichigan.org. It’s been more than a full-time job for our entire enterprise and we’re not done yet.
Burns: Tell us about Blue Cross Blue Shield’s commitment to mental health, particularly with kids and young adults.
Miller Allen: We have seen through an increase in suicide among younger people and overall since the beginning of the pandemic. During Suicide Awareness Month in September we help raise awareness and share options for accessing mental health help. We have also done a lot of work in substance abuse disorder, which sadly has also affected kids.
We have partnered with The Children’s Foundation on a grant to help healthcare clinicians and behavioral health specialists implement sustainable, evidence-based practices that address the growing epidemic of suicide in Michigan. The initiative will support projects in up to 12 organizations that identify and implement actions to prevent suicide attempts and reduce suicide deaths.
We’re going to continue to look for opportunities to help and assist in this important health area, including by being a presenting sponsor for The Children’s Foundation’s Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Summit on April 13 and 14.
Larry Burns: How did you get involved in fundraising?
Peter Remington, Founder and CEO, The Remington Group
Peter Remington: I began work at the United Foundation—now known as the United Way—as a fundraiser in 1972. I was crewing on a ship on the Port Huron to Mackinac Race and one of the other crew members was John Hall, who at that time was United Foundation’s vice president of operations. After three days at sea, he asked me to come work there. What it taught me, and what I teach everyone I work with, is how you deal with volunteers.
Burns: Tell us about the evolution of The Remington Group.
Remington: We’re a very different kind of firm. We’re small in terms of numbers and large in terms of reach. We’re in the healthcare arena, higher education, human services, civic organizations—a little bit of everything.
Burns: What are you seeing in the philanthropic community in regard to the pandemic?
Remington: What you see is people rallying and foundations stepping up at great levels. They were dropping their requirements of programmatic and restricted funding, and they were giving direct money for operations to keep a lot of organizations in play. Corporations stepped up. For example, Jerry Norcia, president and chief executive officer at DTE Energy, led the effort to raise $23 million to get laptops for school kids in Detroit.
The number of virtual major gift requests skyrocketed and the success rate has been very high. The virtual world has taken over. Internet fundraising was up 21 percent overall. Virtual events may not make as much money but also you don’t have to spend as much money.
People are adjusting to a new paradigm and I don’t think you’re ever going to see everything get back to the old norm.You have to be nimble and agile. You’ve got to move where the reality is. Obviously, there’s a certain standard, but how do we create programs that are going to work for the client and push the envelope? People are going to need to be far more flexible to meet client needs, organization needs, and most importantly, donor needs.
Burns: What advice do you have for trustees regarding this new environment?
Remington: Trustees are going through a bit of culture shock, trying to figure out what is the right thing. I always advise to just slow down a little bit. First of all, did you look at the different funding opportunities that COVID created? I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t make difficult decisions, whether it’s staff cuts or executive replacements or potential consolidations. What I’m saying is that it has to be conducted in a thoughtful, non-reactive way. Being a trustee can be a thankless job, but it’s a very important job. It can be the difference between a nonprofit that is successful and one that is not.