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N.D. co-op members contribute small change, make big difference

By Carmen Devney

Operation Round Up

Thirteen of 16 electric distribution cooperatives in North Dakota participate in the Operation Round Up program and one more will start its program this year. Over the past 20 years, co-op consumers who   donated their pennies each month through the program have generated a staggering $5 million to distribute to individuals with medical illnesses, rural fire and ambulance services, schools for safer playground equipment, and other worthy people and organizations.

All of the money raised by members stays in their local communities. On average, participating members donate about $6 a year.

Cass County Electric Cooperative, Fargo, was one of the first distribution cooperatives to start the program in North Dakota. Scott Handy, president and chief executive officer (CEO), says Cass County Electric saw it as an opportunity to expand its outreach and commitment to community.

Palmetto Electric Cooperative Inc. in South Carolina conceived and designed the first Operation Round Up program in 1989. The co-op’s mission was to help members contribute to their communities by collecting and distributing funds for charitable purposes in their service area including food, shelter, clothing, health needs and education.
Handy says he and others from Cass County Electric visited with employees at Palmetto Electric to learn more about the program before implementing it in North Dakota. Cass County Electric then created a foundation and appointed co-op members who represent each district of the cooperative on the foundation.

“The reason we created a foundation was that we anticipated there might be other ways to contribute toward it. We wanted to have it set up as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation so that if someone did make a donation to it, they could receive a tax deduction,” Handy explains.

In addition to collecting funds for the Operation Round Up program, the foundation gathers and accumulates money contributed by many Cass County Electric employees who participate in Operation Round Down, a similar program in which they agree to round down their paychecks to the nearest dollar.

“Most of the employees who are involved have said, ‘I can do more than that,’ so they have a fixed dollar amount that they contribute from each paycheck,” Handy confides.
Cass County Electric is closing in on some milestones. With more than 75 percent of its membership participating in Operation Round Up, Cass County Electric collects and distributes about $150,000 annually. In a couple of years, the co-op will hit the $2 million mark in contributions.

“Those few pennies every month really add up to some significant money,” he says. “What that has done for our communities — the list is pages long of organizations and projects and individuals that have been helped, and these funds touch every corner of our service area. The Operation Round Up board takes great care to make sure that the funds are used all across our electric footprint.”

Being a part of something greater
Jay Jacobson, alliance manager and CEO of Northern Plains Electric Cooperative, Cando and Carrington, and Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, Edgeley and Milnor, watched Cass County Electric and other co-ops across North Dakota implement Operation Round Up, and noted the program was well-received by co-op memberships.

The boards of directors for both cooperatives discussed what the role of the cooperatives should be in contributing to the communities they serve.

“As we looked into the program, it seemed to be exactly what we were looking for. It was voluntary. It was participatory and member-driven. It was open and transparent in the process. And it was doing good for the communities,” Jacobson describes. “It was adopted by both cooperatives and put in place. And it has worked well for us.”

Since Northern Plains Electric started the program in 1999, it has generated and donated about $500,000 in member contributions. Dakota Valley Electric implemented the program in 2002, and has raised and donated about $200,000.

Jacobson says folks in the community are giving people, and he thinks they want their electric cooperative to be a giving organization as well.

“Anyone who looks at the list of recipients of these contributions will recognize that there is a great need in our communities. The part that we’re doing is relatively small, but it’s big to us and it’s important to us because we are doing something for the community,” he continues. “Operation Round Up allows us to be a part of something that’s greater than each of us.”

Handy says the Operation Round Up program is one of the many ways in which cooperatives can show they value the four core values of Touchstone Energy® including commitment to community.

“Our board and employees really do believe in commitment to community,” he emphasizes. “Bringing the Operation Round Up program here and seeing it thrive the way that it has because of the generosity of our members, it shows that they get commitment to community as well.”

If you are an electric cooperative member and want to know if your co-op participates in the Operation Round Up program, contact your co-op. If you do not currently participate in the program but would like to opt in, your electric cooperative looks forward to hearing from you.



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