Thrivent Financial Embeds Purpose in Business
April 21, 2017
By Randi Feinberg
“Be wise with money and live generously” read the sign on the wall in the lobby of Thrivent, a Fortune 300 financial services institution. A nice sentiment, but how are these words brought to life every day for the employees and customers of the organization?
Understanding how companies make their purpose actionable is the objective of CHL’s member company learning visits. On April 20-21, 35 leaders convened at Thrivent, our host for the first of two learning visits in 2017. During his welcome to the group, CHL Board Member Dick Gochnauer reminded us that each company enacts purpose in its own unique way. “Not a lot is written about how to bring purpose into the organization, so we share with each other. This is the sixth of such visits, and we’ve learned that every organization’s journey is different.”
Thrivent’s quest to bring purpose to life is in its DNA. Brad Hewitt, CEO of Thrivent, kicked off the event by sharing a bit about Thrivent’s roots as a Lutheran fraternal benefit society dedicated to answering two questions: 1) How do we bear each other’s burdens; and 2) How do we avoid the degradation of charity? These two objectives have evolved into the modern goal of “helping people be wise with money and live generously.” This goal has benefitted their customers (aka “members”) and, impressively, has benefitted the company’s bottom line as well. In the past five years Thrivent has served close to 20,000 new members and in the past decade adjusted surplus has almost doubled from just over $4B to approximately $9B.
“If you focus too much on the economic engine, it will take over,” according to Hewitt. While financial performance is critical, it is equally important for Thrivent to deliver on its purpose, and, as a fraternal benefit society, this needs to be rooted in service to its members. To do this, the organization has recently undertaken a major data-driven research initiative to understand the relationships their members have with money. The research shows that people who live with a “surplus” mentality are more satisfied in their lives, give more generously — and, over time, buy more financial services products. As one CHL member CEO noted, “there is a goodness multiplier effect” — positive outcomes for customers and for the company’s financial performance. Notably, the research shows people of any income group can be in a “surplus” mindset – it’s about understanding your true needs and being fiscally smart so you can take care of yourself, protect your family, and live generously. Thrivent’s new goal is to encourage people to think differently about their relationship with money.
In 2013 Thrivent realized they had a unique concept, but how could they really bring this to life? At the time, their member base had declined, Financial Representatives were disengaged and they had not yet realized the strong growth they hoped for. So, they did something truly amazing – they made it really easy for people to experience generosity for causes they are passionate about. “Thrivent Action Teams” invite the public to participate through a simple process with very few rules: 1) Dream up an idea; 2) Apply online; 3) Receive $250 seed money and a Thrivent Action Kit; 4) Share your success on Thrivent social media. According to Shannon Olson, Director of Member Engagement Strategies “we ignited a generosity movement without even trying.” To date there have been over 227,000 action teams involving over 2.5 million volunteers. While Thrivent is proud of the impact this program has had on the community, they also realize it’s been healthy for the business – the program has led to 65 million earned media impressions and program participants are twice as likely to purchase Thrivent services.
In addition to serving as CEO of Thrivent, Brad Hewitt is also the Chairperson of ITASCA, an employer-led alliance of business, public and non-profit leaders working to build a thriving economy and improve quality of life in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. The CHL learning event was a “twofer” — in addition to learning about Thrivent participants heard directly from several ITASCA leaders on how they used the convening power of business to address social problems. CHL Board Member Dick Gochnauer challenged us to “imagine what could happen if this were not the exception, but the rule” as we grappled with how to emulate the success of ITASCA in other geographies.
Both Thrivent and ITASCA demonstrate that the old notion of business’ sole purpose to maximize shareholder value is antiquated. In fact, these two organizations show how the power of business can be harnessed for social good — indeed, to make the world a better place — while simultaneously leading to improved economic value.
Our next CHL learning visit will be hosted by Henry Schein on October 12-13, 2017 at their Indianapolis distribution center. Learn how Henry Schein’s five constituents model has served to deliver extraordinary economic and social value for its employees, customers, suppliers, communities and investors.