A Family Business Committed to Making a Difference
From the vision, courage and persistence of one man, The Stelter Company was born. Today, this growing business has flourished into a respected leader in planned giving marketing communications for nonprofit organizations across the United States. Still, the company remains true to its roots—a family business committed to its mission and its relationship with each and every client.
Paul Stelter founded The Stelter Company on June 1, 1962, with just a metal desk and a file cabinet in the basement of his home. The purpose of his business was to create and produce direct mail newsletters for bank trust departments, educating bank clients on the importance of estate planning and encouraging them to name the bank as trustee of their estate. Paul was confident he could produce something better than what was currently offered, and clients across the country quickly agreed.
By 1969, Paul employed six individuals—a bookkeeper, a secretary, a production manager, and three marketing consultants in Ohio, Georgia and Pennsylvania. As the company expanded, Paul’s drive and enthusiasm inspired two important young men to join him—his sons. In June 1970, with a degree in business from the University of Iowa and one year toward an MBA, Paul’s oldest son, Larry, took a sales position with the company. Two years later, Stephen, Paul’s younger son, graduated from Drake University with a degree in journalism and followed suit. The Stelter men worked earnestly to grow the family business. Larry took over a 16-state territory in the Midwest. Relocating to Fort Worth, Texas, Stephen managed a 12-state area in the western United States.
A Shift in a New Direction
While traveling the country, Larry discovered a natural progression for The Stelter Company’s market—charitable organizations. After extensive market research, the company turned to this new market, with Larry leading the division. In 1980 the first product, the Creative Estate Planning Course, was launched and business increased 20 percent.
As years passed, leadership in The Stelter Company shifted to the new generation. In 1985, Larry Stelter was named president of the company and Stephen was named executive vice president. Paul remained chairman of the board. Two years later, Stelter Printing was formed; The Stelter Company retained 79 percent ownership. With an in-house printing facility, the company gained complete control over the quality of its products.
In 1991, Larry purchased the company from his father, who then retired to Florida. With more marketing consultants hired to travel the country and business quickly growing, the internal business also evolved, and Larry spent much more time in the Des Moines office. For the first time, internal account managers were hired and paired with an outside field consultant. Within three years, a graphic designer was added to each team, providing consistent service to each valued client.
In 1995, Peggy Fisher Stelter left Country Home magazine, where she had served as art director, and became the director of creative services for The Stelter Company. The same year, strategic planning began and the company completely changed the way it did business by streamlining production and making product quality and customer service top priorities. With the changes came a new office building, where the company remains today, and a revolutionary service, the Relationship Building Workshop, which transforms organizations’ approaches to making better donor solicitations.
By 1999, The Stelter Company was re-evaluating the editorial content of its products. Bev Hutney, managing editor of Country Home, was hired as Stelter’s editorial director. Under her direction, the editorial content of the company’s products took on a service journalism direction. The next year, Bev was named creative director, while Peggy was promoted to chief operating officer. The staff grew to 50 employees.
The Third Generation of Stelters
A new decade brought another major milestone for The Stelter Company. In 2000, a third-generation Stelter joined the company. Nathan Stelter, Larry’s oldest son, became the marketing consultant for the eastern territory of the United States, relocating to Alexandria, Va. The same year, Stelter took planned giving marketing to the next step for the entire nonprofit industry by becoming the first print publisher to develop Web content pages for clients and prospects.
Working to enhance efficiency, Stelter Printing and The Stelter Company merged on Jan. 1, 2001, after 13 years of operating as separate companies. Russ Swanson, continuous process improvement specialist at RR Donnelly, joined The Stelter Company to lead the printing division. At this time, The Stelter Company discontinued its banking business, which constituted only 1 percent of total sales. The remaining banking products were sold to Merrill Anderson, and Stelter focused solely on the nonprofit industry for its print programs and the new Web product.
In 2002, family roots grew even deeper as Jeremy Stelter, Larry’s second son, joined the company as marketing consultant for the western territory of the country. The company began introducing more customized services to set it apart from competitors. Testimonial writing services were developed. Dialog, an electronic marketing product, was purchased to help organizations reach out to a new market of donors. The Relationship Building Workshop was offered to sponsoring organizations at their locations. And by 2004, Stelter offered the services of a senior planned giving consultant and an e-marketing specialist.
Focused on the future, The Stelter Company remained unafraid to tackle new technologies. By 2005, hundreds of new websites were being built each year, including its first Spanish-language website. Four new electronic products were introduced—iNews, iAdvise, iDream and iAutopilot. Adding to the company’s mission to control the quality of all aspects of direct mail print production and delivery, in-house mail processing began.
As The Stelter Company branched out in its abundance of services and products, a second planned giving consultant was hired, and the company offered on-site seminar kits, on-site consulting and planned giving program assessments and strategic plans. Staff members began to meet weekly and discuss process improvement and process efficiency. Customer satisfaction, as well as staff retention and satisfaction, remained a priority.
With new positions being created to accommodate growth, The Stelter Company found itself running out of room, despite small additions over the years. On Aug. 15, 2007, ground broke for an impressive 8,800-square-foot addition that we moved into in November 2008. Today, in its 30,000-square-foot headquarters, Stelter houses sales and customer support functions, a creative team of graphic artists, editors and Web designers, administrative employees and a printing plant and mail processing division.
In 2008, the company launched the most scientific national survey ever completed on the topic of bequest giving. This research laid the foundation for a data-driven strategy that has once again transformed how the company does business and has reset the agenda for the way in which nonprofits nationwide address their current and prospective donors. In 2009, the company expanded upon this benchmark survey with a poll that defined Americans’ understanding of specific ways to make gifts, how the economy affected giving and new opportunities for nonprofits to solicit gifts.
The HUB, an online showcase of Stelter products and services, was designed and rolled out to staff for use by the sales and account teams when speaking with clients and prospects.
Also in 2010, Nathan was promoted to vice president of business development and relocated to our Des Moines headquarters. Nathan provides continuity throughout the territories and researches emerging customer needs, industry trends and competition nationwide. Mark McMichael joined Stelter in June as chief financial officer. He also manages support services and our human resources department.