New John Deere Foundation President Oversees New $200 Million Pledge
John Deere is known the world over for its signature green – in its iconic deer logo; its gleaming ag equipment, and literal link to the land.
But another kind of green is playing a larger role in the Moline-based institution as it continues a long tradition to devoting time and treasure to communities it serves, through corporate citizenship and charitable contributions.
This week, the John Deere Foundation announced it will invest $200 million over the next 10 years in initiatives that will bring to life John Deere’s higher purpose: “We run so life can leap forward.” That recalls the historic company slogan “Nothing runs like a Deere,” and its leaping deer logo.
The financial commitment builds significantly on the foundation’s legacy of philanthropy, and $20 million a year represents its largest single-year total in giving, foundation president Nate Clark said Thursday. Since its founding in 1948, the foundation has awarded over $340 million in grants, in the Quad-Cities and around the world.
Clark (named head of the foundation last summer) said when he started in 2012 with the foundation, the average annual disbursement was $12 million. Since then, due to company generosity (the sole funder of the foundation), it’s increased levels of investment, he said.
“We know the significance of the need that exists in our home communities and people we serve,” Clark said. “We want to help contribute financially and in other ways, to solutions for those challenges.”
“The urgency of running today with the vision of a better tomorrow is John Deere at our core,” John May, Deere chairman and CEO (and chairman of the John Deere Foundation) said in a Wednesday company release. “The foundation’s financial commitment holds true to this purpose by investing deeply in the people we serve to overcome the challenges they face today and create for themselves paths to a more prosperous tomorrow.”
The foundation historically made grants in the areas of world hunger, community development
and education, in geographic areas where John Deere has had operations. After Covid, the company saw needs were so varied and great, “instead of focusing on the pillars, let’s focus on the people that matter to us,” Clark said.
May (the Deere CEO) has said the company stands in two places – “We stand in the moment, the immediacy and urgency of doing something today. But it’s also this notion that we’re working toward something bigger,” Clark said. “The bigger is the lives of the stakeholders we serve.”
As part of its new 10-year commitment, the foundation will invest:
- $100 million in the families and youth who live, work, and learn in John Deere’s home communities to ensure their inclusive and equitable access to resources and educational opportunities critical for human dignity and self-sufficiency. Annual investments of $2 million in food banks will provide the equivalent of 100 million meals over the next decade, and investments in youth education will reach at least one million underserved and underrepresented youth.
- $50 million in farmers throughout the world to bolster their capacity to make a living, feed a growing global population, reduce inequality, and protect the world around us. Through its work with a range of global partners that serve smallholder and resource-constrained family farmers, the Foundation will help 15 million farmers unlock their enormous potential.
- $50 million in John Deere’s extraordinary workforce — its greatest asset — to further mobilize and build on their enormous volunteer talents and generosity to strengthen their communities and improve lives around the world.
A key part of the commitment is pledging $20 million a year for an entire decade, Clark said.
“We believe it will serve as inspiration and guidance for others in the community – including the nonprofit organizations we’re proud to serve – to think of longer-term interventions,” he said.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and the tragedies suffered over the last year have proven that we all must do more to assist those who do not have access to the resources and opportunities they need to prosper,” Clark said.
“In addition to committing to increase our funding for an entire decade, the John Deere Foundation has increased the proportion of unrestricted funding and capacity-building grants we award to strengthen vital nonprofit organizations at a particularly vulnerable time,” he said.
The Q-C area has always been a focus for the Deere Foundation – mainly because it’s been the headquarters community since 1848, and the largest community in terms of employee presence. The Q-C has roughly 8,000 Deere employees, out of 69,600 worldwide.
“We’re enormously grateful for what the community has provided us,” Clark said. “The investment of the John Deere Foundation and this most recent commitment is one way that we show our thanks.”
Already this year, the foundation committed $3 million in grants to Q-C nonprofits, and they’ve pledged $1 million more in matches for employee giving and volunteerism, he said.
If that’s extrapolated over the 10 years, that could equal $40 million given in the Quad-Cities alone, Clark said.
Much of the foundation work includes approaching nonprofits with ideas, but many organizations contact Clark or the foundation about supporting a program. They have an annual meeting in February, and most applications come in by December.
“Needs may arise, not on our schedule, but on the community’s schedule, and we try to address that,” he said.
With the new commitment, the foundation will direct resources to the three groups Deere is proud to serve, Clark said.
“Covid-19 revealed the importance of the interdependence of access to high-quality childcare,” he said. It allows parents to pursue employment and education.
“We have longstanding relationships with organizations like the YWCA Quad Cities, the Two Rivers YMCA, the YMCA of the Iowa Mississippi Valley,” Clark said. The Deere Foundation has given $1.2 million for the YWCA’s new downtown Rock Island facility.
The foundation has supported local nonprofits like United Way, River Bend Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity.
The YWCA grant is “a perfect example of some of the investments we make,” Clark said. “It’s providing equitable access to women and children, to high-quality, world-class childcare. In the same facility, they will have empowerment resources to allow women and families to pursue education and careers. It’s a wonderful investment.”
Last summer, the foundation supported construction of a Habitat for Humanity home for a West African family in East Moline. Once the home was sold to the family, they have a no-interest mortgage based on their income, helping to make it affordable. The Deere Foundation sponsors new home construction and neighborhood revitalization efforts with Habitat each year.
“I do whatever needs to be done including framing, building stairs, hanging drywall, mounting kitchen cabinets and bath vanities, and painting – even though painting isn’t one of my favorite jobs,” Deere retiree Don Landphair said last August about the East Moline home. “The biggest reason I volunteer for Habitat for Humanity is the great mission of helping to provide affordable home ownership. Habitat provides a ‘hand up’ not a ‘hand out.’”
Landphair spent 32 years managing product development for the company’s global planter line and felt a calling to help those who need it.
“I’m getting to know Aminou and his wife Aissatou, and they’re great people,” he said. “Their story is a big reason why I support Habitat both financially and by volunteering. The organization can make a permanent and significant change in people’s lives and truly breaks the cycle of poverty. It gives me great satisfaction to help build a nice house.”
A history of giving
The Deere Foundation was founded in 1948, one of the oldest corporate foundations in manufacturing, Clark said. In the ‘30s, there was a decision that corporate charitable activity could be tax-deductible and in the economic boom after World War II, “there was a golden era of
the creation of these wonderful foundations,” he said.
“John Deere was a leader in that way,” Clark said, noting the foundation has invested over $340 million in its communities since then, as well helping as others around the world.
Where did this generosity start? Look to the company namesake and founder.
“It’s part of the heritage of who we are,” Clark said. “Look at John Deere himself – he was the mayor, he helped start the YMCA. Our leaders helped start the American Red Cross, the River Bend Food Bank. It’s part of who we are, and it’s also a component of our value of integrity.”
“It’s our highest value – it means we look out for one another,” he said.
Deere has invested regularly into the foundation endowment, which now totals more than $200 million. Between the company corporate citizenship department and foundation support staff, there are currently seven employees. The foundation board – which meets four times a year – makes decision on grant disbursements, Clark said.
In the 2020 fiscal year, Deere had $35.5 billion in net sales and revenues, with $2.75 billion in net income. According to its 2020 sustainability report, the company devoted $36.7 million in corporate citizenship efforts – including investments made by Deere & Company and various affiliated sources ($18.8 million) and the John Deere Foundation ($17.9 million in grants and matches on employee volunteerism and giving).
Deere & Company is comprised of many business units that make charitable donations of its own, apart from the foundation, Clark said. For example, a factory might make a donation to a local cause or event – these are often fairly small and ad hoc investments, and it’s easier for the factory than the John Deere Foundation to review and make these donations locally, he said.
“Units all over the world make donations, and they add up. Another reason is that there are some donations that the John Deere Foundation
cannot make for tax or other reasons, and that Deere & Company is in a better position to make,” he said.
Deere’s philanthropy website says: “We aspire to be a catalyst for positive global change by focusing our energy, intellect, and resources on solving world hunger, empowering others through education, and developing our home communities.
John Deere and the John Deere Foundation will not provide contributions, gifts, grants, or other charitable support to the following:
- Organizations or for activities that are not formally recognized as charitable from a legal and tax perspective.
- Organizations or for activities that constitute self-dealing between John Deere and the John Deere Foundation.
- Directly to individuals or families.
- Political organizations or campaigns.
- Religious or other organizations that perform ministry, proselytization, or advocacy for any specific religious worldview. Faith-motivated organizations may be considered eligible, at the sole discretion of John Deere and the John Deere Foundation, if the organizations serve a secular purpose.
- Organizations that discriminate against any person or group in its operations or activities.
- Animal welfare or rights advocacy organizations.
- Any organization or for any activity that John Deere and the John Deere Foundation, in their sole discretion, consider illegal, controversial, or otherwise incompatible with their mission.
The foundation’s new 10-year commitment aligns to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the Foundation will track and report investments against relevant targets and indicators.
Support for United Way and Q-C Cultural Trust
The John Deere Foundation was among the three 2007 founders of the Quad Cities Cultural Trust (originally contributing $5 million), with the Bechtel Trusts and Hubbell-Waterman Foundation.
Over the last 13 years, QCCT has provided annual unrestricted funds (over $11 million total) to the Figge Art Museum, Putnam Museum & Science Center, Quad City Arts, Quad City Botanical Center, Quad City Symphony Orchestra, and River Music Experience.
Deere’s foundation donated $3 million more in 2019, to help QCCT exceed its fundraising goal. While the trust had a three-year campaign to increase its endowment from under $25 million to $32 million, QCCT raised $12.8 million in new pledges – allowing it to give out a record-breaking $1.6 million in 2020, including $400,000 in a first-time fall 2020 allocation.
“When you have a pillar in the community like that, they set the tone for everything,” QCCT executive director Jen Dobrunz said Friday of the Deere Foundation. “Our region is really lucky they chose to always set the right tone. That’s part of why we’re able to recover from Covid the way we are; why we had success with our campaign.”
Deere’s 2019 gift was “pivotal for the funds to come in,” she said of the campaign. “They didn’t
have to do that. It set the tone, set the momentum, and also sent a message to the community that you have to join us. I’m so grateful for that message.”
“They continue to be a strong supporter of the Cultural Trust and the trust provided critical support for those six cultural institutions, in order for them to sustain their work over the last year,” Rene Gellerman, president/CEO of United Way of the Quad Cities and a QCCT board member, said Friday.
Among Deere & Company’s key property donations have been the land in Moline where the TaxSlayer Center was built in 1993, and for the Western Illinois University Riverfront Campus. They also were a major part of the John Deere Commons development around the Moline arena.
“Deere, for many years they’ve been pretty quiet, humble about their investments in the community,” Gellerman said. “Some of the things that they have contributed — either whether property or money in their investments, they have been catalytic and really is the foundation of a lot of development growth in the Quad-Cities.
“On the social services side, or the social impact area, they’re extremely generous,” she said. “They are committed to ensuring that every person in our community can live a quality life and their foresight and understanding that when all people succeed, our company’s going to be more profitable. Their employees are going to want to stay working for them and their employees are going to want to stay in this community.
“They’ve been a terrific partner to United Way. For 40 years, they’ve supported United Way in both grants and in their employees, so they are very encouraging to employees to get out in the community and volunteer.”
It’s not common for companies to match dollar-for-dollar employee donations to United Way — about 20 companies in the Q-C do the match, Gellerman said.
“And when you think about the leverage that provides for individuals and for the nonprofit sector, it’s pretty incredible just the incentive for people to contribute to causes that matter to them,” she said. “I often wonder if John Deere and other companies that run employee campaigns and look at the match, if some of these people weren’t asked by their company or provided an incentive — would they give philanthropic dollars?
“Some nonprofits, they’ve certainly proven how critical that work is, more than ever before,” Gellerman said.
A Deere program Clark is most proud of is employee giving, where eligible staff can get up to $3,200 per year to incentivize volunteerism and giving. Employees who volunteer and record those hours online can get $20 per hour, and can apply that to the nonprofit or school they volunteer for, or any other nonprofit of their choice.
Some employees can get paid time off to volunteer, but most use off hours, Clark said.
Deere shows they care about the community and issues related to poverty, hunger and education. It’s also a great workforce development
strategy, to help attract and retain employees, she said.
The new effort “signals their long-term commitment to even rebuilding, recovering, reclaiming our communities post-Covid,” Gellerman said.
“It really signals our ongoing commitment and for us, the last year for the nonprofit sector has been a real struggle. Not only are we working with donors who have been impacted financially or economically — I think about retired people who have seen their nest egg deteriorate because of their added expenses, and people being unemployed.
“We see higher needs in the community. And so there’s that there has been a lull in confidence or uncertainty about what our fundraising efforts are going to look like going forward?” she said. “How are we going to meet the demands and the challenges of the community? With this commitment, I think that really provides a lot of confidence and hope that others are going to follow suit and that we not only can we reclaim what we’ve lost, but we have a possibility to do more and make our community better.”
United Way has been a recipient of Deere Foundation funding in the past and has a new partnership that they will announce in May, Gellerman said. On average, 923 Deere employees volunteer through United Way annually, she said, noting that has an economic value of $103,513.
“The best job in the company”
Last summer, Mara Downing, vice president of Deere & Company’s global brand and communications division, announced she was stepping down as foundation president but would remain a board member. Nate Clark – already Deere’s director of strategic business
communications — was a natural to step into the role.
A 47-year-old native of Rapid City, S.D., his parents were both from Waterloo, Iowa (neither worked for Deere there). Clark met his wife Melissa first at college at University of Iowa.
“I opened the door for her on the first day of class,” he recalled. “We dated and we had diverse college experiences; she went to Monmouth College.”
Clark transferred to Boston University in Massachusetts, and got his undergraduate degree in religion. He kept in touch with Melissa, and they got married after he earned his law degree in 1999 from the University of Iowa. His first job was clerking for a judge in Arizona, and they moved back to the Quad-Cities (where Melissa’s parents lived), and Nate worked in litigation for the firm Lane & Waterman four years.
A member of both the Illinois and Iowa Bar Associations, he first joined Deere in 2004 as a senior attorney.
“One of the things that is truly special about John Deere was the sense of work-life balance that you could attain,” Clark said. “Being an attorney is always very hard on your time, and the grass was greener at John Deere, so to speak. Apart from marrying Melissa, joining John Deere was the second-best decision I’ve ever made.”
He and Melissa (an outstanding local musical theater performer) have two kids – 20-year-old Spencer (who attends Grinnell College), and 16-year-old Harper.
In 2008, Nate became director of public affairs for Deere’s Worldwide Construction & Forestry, Power Systems; in 2010, moved to be manager of Forestry Marketing, John Deere Construction & Forestry Company, and in 2012, Clark became associate director, Corporate Citizenship, Deere & Company and vice president of the Deere Foundation.
“Once you join the company, in 10 years you’ll be in a position you never imagined,” he said. “I had the opportunity to serve as an attorney; to do work in public affairs for the construction and forestry division. I also helped sell forestry equipment for a couple years, and then the opportunity to work in corporate citizenship and the vice president of the foundation opened up. I was lucky enough to get that job in 2012.”
In 2020, Clark was appointed director of strategic communications, based at the Moline world headquarters – but like 85 percent of the global salaried workforce, he’s been working from home during Covid.
“Deere is a real special place. As a company for a long time, they have created opportunities,” he said Thursday of his jobs over 17 years. “It was nice for me to stretch myself. Opportunities came up and I love the opportunity to learn more about the business, to see a different part of how the business and society interact through public affairs.”
“It’s a treat for me; it’s a dream job,” Clark said. “I certainly found my way to a space that is very rewarding. I tell everyone this, I’ve got the best job in the company – with my role in the foundation, I get to help steward some really special resources, and I do communications work
as well, so I get to tell the story.”
“I have one of the best jobs in the world. My legal background helps me in two key ways,” he added. “First, it helps me uphold the John Deere Foundation’s legacy of integrity and ethical giving. Second, it provides me with insights into the challenges that many in our community face, including equitable access to legal, government, and other community resources.
In his role with the foundation, Clark serves as its principal operating officer with responsibility for directing $20 million in annual grantmaking to nonprofits and programs that enable people to unlock economic, social, and environmental value in and throughout their lives.
As vice president of the foundation, Nate managed the Joint Initiative for Village Advancement in India, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recognized as the Best Community Improvement Program in 2017.
In juggling two Deere positions, Clark said it’s pretty hectic, splitting time between them. “I need to do a time study; recently with this commitment, it’s leaned more in the corporate citizenship.”
One of the lifelines of corporate citizenship is meeting in person with community partners, and he’s mostly not been able to do that during the pandemic.
“This has been particularly tough at a time when we know the nonprofit organizations are struggling,” Clark said. “The nature of our grants have changed, to more unrestricted grants we provide, to give nonprofits the greatest amount of flexibility and capacity they can have. I
cannot wait to have the Covid pandemic behind us, but I also appreciate how John Deere has kept its employees healthy and safe.”
“One of the things John Deere has gone through over the last year is a fairly significant reinvention of itself,” he said. “That was premised on the notion that we exist to unlock greater and more value for our customers. With that transition as inspiration, we too felt at the foundation that we could reinvent ourselves, focusing on unlocking value in the nonprofits we serve and the people they serve.”
In the wake of the Covid pandemic, Deere knew there are times in people’s lives when an investment can have a greater impact, he said.
“We also know that challenges that many in this community face – and people all over the world – are really complicated,” Clark said. “There’s no single solution.”
One of the best parts of his job is, “I get a front-row seat to what John Deere employees can mean to the community – both in terms of their volunteerism and their philosophy. They naturally add value to any grant we have and they extend the life of it through their volunteerism and personal philanthropy.”
In the coming weeks and months, the foundation will announce several key grants that will illustrate how this commitment is being put into action, Clark said.
Deere & Company is a world leader in providing advanced products and services and is committed to the success of customers whose work is linked to the land – those who cultivate, harvest, transform, enrich, and build upon the land to meet the world’s dramatically increasing need for food, fuel, shelter, and infrastructure.
Since 1998, it’s also been title sponsor for the PGA Tour golf tournament in the Quad-Cities, and Clark said he and the company can’t wait for
the return of the John Deere Classic — for its 50th anniversary July 7-11 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis.
Even with the huge event being canceled last summer due to Covid concerns, it helped raise $12.22 million for 465 local and regional charities, through the annual Birdies for Charity program.
Each participating charity also received a 5-percent bonus in addition to the money raised through the Birdies program.
“The John Deere Classic and Birdies for Charity are truly magical,” Clark said, “and their success in raising over $12 million for 465 charities speaks volumes about the enormous generosity of the Quad-Cities community, especially in the face of Covid-19 and the cancellation of last year’s tournament.”
With the 2020 donations, the John Deere Classic has helped raise a total of $133.1 million for charity since the tournament began in 1971, with $130.54 million – 98 percent – coming since John Deere assumed title sponsorship in 1998.
The $12.22 million total works out to $32.58 for each of the Q-C’s 375,000 residents, again making the John Deere Classic the No. 1 in per capita contributions on the PGA Tour, a distinction it has had for over a decade.