Marti Skold-Jordan is Manager of the Tractor Supply Foundation and Community Relations at Tractor Supply Company. She leads the Foundation, working to maximize the impact of charitable giving and community partnerships through the Foundation’s mission: to support vibrant rural communities for all by investing in the future of ‘Life Out Here’ through today’s youth and being a good neighbor in the communities we call home. In 2022, the Foundation gave $15 million to charitable causes through direct giving, sponsorships, fundraisers and more.
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so excited to have with us today, Marti Skold-Jordan. She is the manager of Tractor Supply Foundation and Community Relations. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Marti.
Marti Skold-Jordan: Thank you so much, John. You have fascinating podcast, and I’m so anxious to be on and chat with about what we’re doing here at Tractor Supply.
John: Well, I’m so glad you came on today, and I’m really honored you came on because this is really important story, what you and your colleagues are doing at Tractor Supply with your foundation. But before we get going about all the great work at Tractor Supply you’re doing, tell us a little bit about your fascinating and wonderful career, where you grew up and how you even got on this path at the Tractor Supply Foundation.
Marti: I grew up in a tiny little farm town, one stoplight corn field across the street, Benson, Minnesota, very tiny, out in Southwestern Minnesota. Norwegian-Swedish parents and my grandparents were actually in North Dakota, and North Dakota was Tractor Supply’s very first store that opened up 85 years ago. We’re celebrating our 85th anniversary, and not a lot of people know where Minot, North Dakota is, but I do because my grandparents and their parents were actually immigrants from Norway and homesteaded in North Dakota. So, I know that area like the back of my hand. I spent 30 years in television news all over the country; Upstate New York, Miami, Los Angeles, kind of ran into some common friends that we have there. But I left television after 30 years, and I knew that I wanted to go into work, either in non-profit or corporate media. So, I went into corporate media for GSK, started running their stewardship program, and then went to Honeywell, ran their Global foundation. And then Tractor Supply found me and brought me here to Nashville, Tennessee. They started this foundation in 2020. Last year, we spent over 15 million dollars giving back across communities, across the country, and so it is a great opportunity to run a brand-new foundation and come up with our funding-focused pillars.
John: And also, it brings you right back full circle to your roots of farming.
Marti: Absolutely. I love Tractor Supply. We’ve been in many Tractor Supplies because we’ve always had pets, and a lot of folks go in and buy their dog food, their horse feed, even if you have a chicken coop that you’ve decided just to raise chickens, or just people who are living in urban areas are starting to do a lot more gardening and doing things at home.
John: It’s so interesting. For our listeners and viewers to find Marti, her colleagues, and the foundation in Tractor Supply, please go to www.tractorsuppy.com. Marti, when they started this foundation in 2020, what was the mission? What was the general overview, their corporate social responsibility overview thought process that went into this foundation?
Marti: You know, John, we believe that we are all stewards of life out here, and I’ll give you a perfect example. This morning, I had 30 people over on land that was deemed unusable at one time. It’s called Cul2vate[?]. So, the two is cul-2-vate[?], and it’s folks who have come out of being incarcerated, and they’re teaching them gardening horticultural skills. They attained a master gardening certificate, and many of them are now working for the State, for jobs, for farms. It’s really this great program. The land was deemed unusable by the State. It’s not a floodplain. They raised 250,000 pounds of produce a year for food deserts. So, folks here are eating due to that, and then half of their other produce goes to restaurants like Taziki’s, where their biggest funder is. So, I brought folks over there and we all had on our backs: stewards of life out here, folks that I was talking to, executives who had meetings this afternoon, if you had their ear pods in. But we were harvesting what we had helped them plant in the spring, and so it really brings it full circle for us. Our four pillars, first of all, is egg education, where the largest funders of FFA and 4-H. I sit on the National FFA Board.
We started this year a $5 million commitment for scholarships for FFA, and that’s kids who are going to be working in places in rural America. So, we do it for four-year universities, kids going to community college or even kids who are starting a skilled trade. So, they are the eventual diesel mechanics and the vet techs and folks who are going into agribusiness. We have our very first-class coming in. They started a few weeks ago, and they’re living in their dorms, and some of these kids are first generation to graduate from high school, let alone go off to college. And so, this has really been wonderful for us. So, first pillar for our funding pillars is egg education, FFA, and 4-H. Second is land and nature conservation, like that farm we were on this morning. People have been losing their family farms all over the United States, and so it’s to help with regenerative farming or keeping people on their family farm. So, we invest in a lot of land trusts. American Farmland trust for 85th Anniversary, we gave them $850,000.
So, 85 farmers across the country from California to Connecticut will be getting these small micro grants. And because of climate change, think about this, maybe they were, at one time, growing wheat and corn. Now, they’re potentially changing over to honeybees and strawberries, just because the way the climate is. And so, this will allow these farmers to do that. So, that’s our second bucket. Our third is pets and companion animals, and one of my very favorite organizations that we fund there is called Dogs on Deployment. If people are deployed overseas 2 to 4 years, they cannot take their furry family members with them, so this organization finds foster families that will take care of them while the armed services folks are abroad. And then we help with the vet bills and the food. So, that is just one of the organizations that we dearly loved. And then finally, it’s our community bucket, and that’s Make-A-Wish, that’s our veteran’s programs. That’s if there’s a tornado, hurricane, wildfire, we go in. There are times that we’ve sent in 300 bales of hay and fencing because people may have lost their livelihoods because their animals got out because of the tornado. So, those are some of the things that we do and that we fund.
John: That’s amazing, Marti. I mean, you’re covering some of the most important issues that we face here in America today. Education, absolutely, is so under discussed in the media and everything else in educating our next generation. I’m very familiar with FFA because here, I live in Fresno, California. I’m a New York City boy who now lives in Fresno, married a young lady that grew up on a farm as well and from the raisin industry. But my assistant and Chief of Staff of 25 years, her two daughters are FFA stars, in terms of they raise a champion lambs for years, and then that helped propel their careers at Fresno State in Ag[?], which has [inaudible] program. The FFA is very big on this side, in the farming, in the Ag belt of the West Coast in United States. It’s such a great organization. I give you so much credit for, first of all, sitting on their board, but then the education element of what Tractor Supply is doing is tremendous. And pets and animals, we all love pets and animals. And then you talk about veterans and Make-A-Wish, I mean, my gosh. So, you’re really covering a lot of ground. Now, is this all under the foundation, or is this also foundation, philanthropy, corporate responsibility? How does it all tie together under the umbrella of what you deal with and how you manage all this?
Marti: Yeah. It’s definitely under corporate social responsibility sustainably. So, if you look at ESG, Environmental, we’ve got a group that’s working on that. The Social really falls under the foundation and then Government, but it kind of all really melds together. A good example that I give is by 2025, Tractor Supply is committed to preserving 25 million gallons of water, and that’s our water goal. But how do we do that? Half of it, we can do through our stores, it’s what we’re doing, but we also decided to bring in the foundation. We are funding two organizations for a three-year partnership. The first one is Ducks Unlimited, and it’s a partnership between North Dakota, our first store, and Texas, where we have 224 stores.
It’s the migratory bird path. So, if you think about all the wetlands there that have been changed over into construction areas and not being used as wetlands anymore, we can save half of that amount; 12.5 million gallons by just going in and doing wetland mitigation. Then we’re also working with Trout Unlimited to put trees in across the United States. A good example is in California; if you look at all the wildfires, really in the shadows and the footprint of our stores. We have 2180 stores across the United States. If you think about that footprint, a lot of wildfires, and so we planted thousands of trees. And on Earth Week, we took folks out of our headquarters here, our store Support Center, and we planted 450 trees one day and got rid of nine acres of invasive species. All of that is going to be preserving water for us. So, there’s a way that we can do this through our foundation, through partners and save water. So, it really is helping us towards that 2025 water goal.
John: Marti, when you came in, you started in… What year did you start again? Did you start in 2020, when they’ve created this foundation?
Marti: No, I came in January of 2022.
John: Okay, 2022. So, when you took it over, it was only two years. It was still very embryonic stage. Was this like a white sheet, is this a white board that you took over, or was it [inaudible] some velocity and already some mandates? How much of it is still a work-in-progress? Because it’s still unbelievably fairly new, but you’re covering so many topics.
Marti: Yeah. So, when I came in, they had these in place, but we really streamlined them and decided on, “These are going to be our partners. These are the programs that we’re going to fund.” But this is something that I’ve always believed, whether I was here, Honeywell, GSK. We don’t just write a check and walk away. We want to shepherd our money. So, we put our Executives on boards. We sit at the table with them and talk about programming. We don’t just write a check and walk away. That amount of money is for a particular program; its programmatic spend, and that’s going to move the needle on something. You mentioned Make-A-Wish, and I have to share this story because it’s one my favorite stories.
So, a week ago, there was a little girl, 14 years old, who has cancer, and her wish was not to go to Paris, not to go to New York shopping, not to go to Disney, she wanted a Mini Highland cow. So, Make-A-Wish CEO called me, and she’s like, “Let’s do this because it’s definitely a Tractor Supply kind of story.” So, we found Homer the cow, who is as cute as can be, came up from Chattanooga, and they couldn’t get Homer in the goat trailer or the horse trailer. So, Homer was in the back seat of a king cab pickup and drove from Chattanooga to Nashville. They opened the door, here comes Homer, popping out. It was just the cutest thing ever; 175 pounds, has the Beatles hair, on a leash. I had 23 of our vendors all pitch in from Tractor Supply for leashes, shampoo, bedding.
Purina gave us a year supply of food. So, this little girl, when she came home from school, we had about 50 people out there with cowbells, and we surprised her. Here came Homer up the road. It was just one of the most precious, beautiful wishes that we could have granted. I always say that I like to go to bat with wands, and so it creates some wishes. So, we do those. We do puppies. We’ve done horses. We’ve done UTVs for kids who may have lost the use of their legs, and it’s too hard for them to get from their house down to the creek to fish with their family. So, really, anything in the outdoors, Make-a-Wish calls. We’ve done 16 in the last about a year and a half.
John: And good for them, too. So, this is not to make any enemies with anyone. You’re not just check writers; you are really involved with everything you’re doing, and you get the company involved. So, people feel the nexus between writing the check but also the whole impact that you’re making as well.
Marti: Absolutely. And you were talking about FFA. those kids will come into stores and have meetings with that stores. The convention is coming up now, at the end of October, beginning of November, and we have a massive booth there. We do line dancing and karaoke. I, just yesterday, got a list of seven schools that couldn’t afford to go, so they’re going to get what we call a Surprise and Delight in the next week or so, and either one of our store managers will come to the school. We will bring them into our store for a career talk. But before they leave, we’ll be like, “You’re going to the convention and you’re going to the convention.” So, that will all be coming up. And so, we try to do that. Kids who can’t afford, they need to be able to go and compete. It’s on national platform, and so if they can’t get there, that’s something that we’ll pick up.
John: And now, all these four pillars that roll up underneath you and the whole corporate responsibility and community relations and the foundation, all that then we’ll roll back into your ESG impact[?] report that gets published every year, I take it.
Marti: Absolutely. We look at it for several reasons and several ways. Volunteerism is huge and you asked about that. So, you really check, and you say, “Okay, we want to do this program with you.” Well, that means that I’m going to have X amount of people go to the Boys and Girls Club this morning. I brought 30 people over to cultivate, and I had about 40 over there when we were planting things. I had close to 180 people out planning those 450 trees. And so, we make volunteerism really big, and I always say, it’s our time, our talent, and our treasure. If we have people who can do pro bono work, some of our legal team, HR for some of these nonprofits, that also helps, but it also gives people really meaningful job tie in with all of our nonprofits. The last 10 days, we had our giving campaign here in the office, and we raise money for our Tractor Supply Assistance Fund. And that’s if there is one of those tornadoes or hurricanes and some of our people have losses, then we’ll step in and help them. So, that’s very near and dear to our hearts. But also, people signed up during that giving campaign for volunteerism. We’ve got a veteran’s one coming up very soon. We do that year-round and make sure that those partnerships are true partnerships.
John: It’s wonderful. For our listeners and viewers who just joined us, we’ve got Marti Skold-Jordan with us today. She’s the manager of the Tractor Supply Foundation and Community Relations and manages all of their important impact work with her colleagues. To find them and all the great and important work they’re doing at the foundation and in community relations at Tractor Supply, please go to www.tractorsupply.com. Marti, this is fascinating. You’re never bored because you’re literally managing this wide array of community events, not only locally but outside of your area, and that have impact on so many different ways, both with veterans, children, education, and with land management.
I mean, you must almost like jump out of bed every morning. It sounds like a very exciting and really interesting position. For our listeners and viewers who don’t know who Tractor Supply, though… I love turning on CBS on Saturday mornings, watching the bull riding and seeing Tractor Supply logos all around the arena because I figured, I say to myself whole time, “What a great American brand.” I mean that’s mom apple pie[?] and the girl back home. I’m 61 years old, so to me that just harkens back to all the great things about the United States’ Tractor Supply does. Talk a little bit about the company. It’s 85 years old; it’s got 2180 stores. How many employees do you have? And how dispersed does your employee group across America?
Marti: We’re in 49 states, and we’re continuing to build. We have 2181 stores right now, and we’re working our way in up to 3000, and so we are a growing company. If you think about where we are, we’re really in rural America, we are in urban, suburban areas. COVID really changed the landscape for a lot of stores, for us. People wanted to be at home, do things at home, do gardening, and get pets. And so, that’s exactly who we are, we were one of those businesses that it was a need to stay open because you needed to feed your horse and your chickens and take care of your farm, and then feed everybody else in the country as well. It was very important during COVID. A lot of folks found us during COVID.
If you go into a Tractor Supply store, you can get baby chicks. We sold about 12 million last year, which is just a wonderful thing. But you can also go and buy your jeans and your shirts. You can go into the garden center and get fruit trees for your backyard. You can get your pet food while you were there, anything that you would really need for your house or your farm. A lot of folks decided to move out of those really urban areas and move into kind of urban, suburban and have a little hobby farm. So, we see a lot of those folks coming in, a lot of millennials come in now and shop with us, and so it’s really a welcoming store. I always say it’s about five stores in one store because you can really get everything at one stop.
John: That’s amazing. So, last year, in 2022 alone, you gave $15 million to charitable causes. Explain how much of that comes from Tractor Supply? How much do you have to go out and raise? How do you juggle the role of fundraising and philanthropy? And then how much to give whom? How do you make those decisions?
Marti: So, part of it has comes out of the foundation, part of it is product donation. So, say for example, that UTV that the child might need for Make-A-Wish, that is a product donation. When there’s a hurricane or a wildfire, we make sure that our stores have gift cards that go to volunteer fire departments. So, that’s something that we do very quickly, so all of those come in. I always say that it’s kind of cause marketing. Right now, we have the FFA shirts, with the beautiful FFA down the sleeves for all those kids going to convention in our stores.
But also several times a year, we have what’s called our Clover Campaign and people can go in stores, and then when you shop and you’re buying your jam, your jeans, and maybe some chickens on the way out, it’ll say, “Do you want to give $1, $5, $10 to 4-H. And many of the folks who shop with us for former 4-H or FFA, they’re like, “Yes. I remember this. I remember going to camp.” And so, we raise every time we do a Clover Campaign, fall and spring, about a million dollars just from our customers because they remember those times at 4-H. I was in 4-H years and years ago. So, it’s cause marketing. It’s in our stores, it’s product donations, and then it’s funding through our foundation in are company.
John: So, that, itself, is a huge enterprise. Talk a little bit about the other side. I mean, Marti, you’re out there, you’re in the community, you’re unbelievably personable, I can imagine you’re getting emails, text messages, phone calls every day of the week about new requests and a new charitable causes that support. How do you make those very hard and difficult decisions when there’s so many great causes out there and so many things that we are in need out there? How is that made? How are all those decisions made? I’m fascinated by that whole process.
Marti: Yeah, John, we do, we get so many requests, but not all of them fit in those funding-focused pillars, and that’s why it’s very important; my foundation board[?] and we meet four times a year. I bring them all of these different proposals. Some things fit in those, and some things just don’t. That doesn’t mean that they won’t get funded, it just means that it’s not our company, it’s another company. So, if you look at all the companies across the United States, they all kind of have their focus pillars. So, some do stem education, some do affordable housing. Ours are really a mirror of what our business is and who our customers are.
John: That’s amazing. So, what are you working on that you’re allowed to discuss in the coming months and years ahead in 2024 and beyond? What initiatives that get you really excited about that you’re working on to release next year?
Marti: Well, coming up in about two weeks, we are going to announce on National Farm Day, all of the farmers for those 85, will get the $10,000 mini grants and that would be every state across the country. And so, that’s very, very exciting, and we’re anxious to see what they’re going to be doing with that funding. But coming up, definitely, new programs through FFA, we do grants for growing with 4-H. We’re looking at a couple other things with them. So, really taking those partnerships that we have, expanding them and really putting them across the country. Sometimes, we will find an idea and we pile it in one place, and then we will scale it up.
John: Marti, you’ve had a fascinating and wonderful career that’s taken you, as you said earlier, everywhere from Miami to LA and now back to Nashville, and you made an imprint everywhere you’ve gone. Talk a little bit to the young people that listen to this podcast, not only in United States but around the world. There’s a whole new generation of young people that watch this podcast, that listen to it, that want to be the next Marti Skold-Jordan, and they don’t know how to get going. They’re getting out of high school; they’re getting out of college. What advice can you give now to the next generation that not only are interested in making a living, which we all have to do to pay our groceries and keep the lights on, but also this generation is interested in what you’re doing, making a living but also making a difference?
Marti: Yeah. I always say every day, I love my job. But no matter what I’ve done, whether I was on radio, television, doing a talk show, I loved what I did, and I put 100% of my soul and my heart into it. I knew because I’ve always worked with nonprofits, I’ve always done community work when I was in television. 18 years, I did the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and what people didn’t know, I took a week off every year and would go to the camp with those kids. [inaudible] Telethon but it was always the behind-the-scenes, and it was the things on the weekend. So, find something that you love outside of your work, whether it’s in the community, whether it’s a non-profit, and give up your time, talent, and treasure there as well because that comes back to you tenfold, a hundredfold, and you’re helping people that really need help. They can’t help themselves sometimes. I think about that every time we do a wish reveal for these Make-a-Wishes. This is making such a difference, not only in that child’s life, but their family as a whole. A little boy on hospice, they had lost their dog, and so we found a dog that looked like the dog. We brought the kennel, the bedding, and all of those things. That hole was then filled by that puppy for that little boy, and for us, that’s worth millions.
John: Mm-hmm. I love it. Marti, for those people that are listening to the show and want to become more involved with Tractor Supply stewardship efforts, how can they get more involved?
Marti: Well, look on our website and just keep watching the news. We’ll continue to have the wishes and the farm stories. If you’d love to get involved with FFA and 4-H, they need mentors. I love the Boys and Girls Club. I used to work with them out in LA and all over the country. So, I say, if you have the time, be a mentor, because all of these kids really deserve people who love their jobs and can open up the world to them.
John: I love it. Marti, you’re doing such important impactful work at Tractor Supply. You’re always welcome back on the Impact Podcast. As you and I know, the work is never done; it’s truly just a journey and there’s no finish line. And this kind of great community work that you’re doing with the foundation at Tractor Supply, you’re always welcome back to come on, to continue to share more wins and more great things that you’re doing for the communities around this important country that we live in, and supporting these farmers and other people that really are the backbone of this great country that sometimes get forgotten by the media and everybody else, as other bigger events in the media’s mind take shape. But this is the kind of work that’s so important and really makes us a great country. You’re part of the fabric of this country.
For our listeners and viewers to learn more about what Marti and her colleagues are doing in community work and sustainability and impact work at the Tractor Supply Foundation, please go to www.tractorsupply.com. Marti Skold-Jordan, you’re just a delight. I’m so thankful for everything you’re doing and thank you also for making the world a better place.
Marti: Thank you, John. Look forward to hearing many more of your podcasts.
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