Startup Company Executive of the Year: For Sanders, service is a priority for 365

For many, building an organization involves building partnerships, but Henry Sanders, Jr. believes in partnering with other brands. Sanders, CEO of both Madison365 and Selfless Ambition, has grown the nonprofit organizations through such synergistic partnerships.

As 2019 unfolds, Sanders is in the process of expanding the organizations’ reach, creating new connections across the state and building new platforms to reach people of color and make sure all voices are heard. These partnerships were foremost in the minds of EOY judges, who recognized Sanders as the Startup Company Executive of the Year.

“Henry excels at creating connections between people and organizations to make sure all voices are heard throughout our communities,” states Joe Pleshek, president and CEO of Terso Solutions Inc., one of three past honorees who selected this year’s class.

Sanders and seven other Executive of the Year winners will be honored at an awards reception on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the Overture Center for the Arts.

When those in attendance hear about Sanders’ work, they will hear about how Madison365, a media outlet for communities of color, now reaches about 1 million people each month with important news and content, making it the top news source for people of color in the Midwest. They will learn about how the organization fosters young talent, teaching young people of color the craft of journalism, and that its primary missions are to amplify the stories of people of color doing good work in their communities and hold institutions accountable.

Mostly, they will come to understand the value of partnering with like-minded brands. The Latino Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League of Greater Madison, Ho-Chunk Nation, and the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks are already established partners with Madison 365. As these partnerships suggest, the organization is regional in its appeal but regional beyond Wisconsin. Sanders estimates that 15 percent of its readership is in Chicago and 5 percent is in the Twin Cities, and this helps Madison attract workers.

That’s not an easy task, given data that shows Wisconsin is among the worst places to live for people of color, but Madison365 is eager to tell a more complete story. “If we can give people a real live view of what’s going on in the communities, especially communities of color, we think it will change people’s perceptions,” Sanders says. “It will explain the complexities of all these things going on, but also gives people a forum where they can say, ‘Oh, okay, there are positive things going on in that state for people of color. There are opportunities there, so we can also highlight the problems but also be part of the solution.’ That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to be that bridge.”

Thanks to groundwork laid in the past year, 2019 will bring more partnerships with the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, which will collaborate with Madison365 on events; the launch of FoxValley365, a new nonprofit news outlet covering communities of color in the Fox Valley; a new women’s brand called ANYA, an online magazine for Wisconsin women of color; a new business-to-business publication focused on best practices for diversity and inclusion; and a series of events under the Wisconsin Leadership brand.

“What we’re trying to do is expand our footprint across the state,” Sanders notes, “and we’re also trying to expand into different lanes. Sixty-four percent of our readership is women, so we really want to offer a product for women next year. We’re excited about that.”

Under Sanders’ direction, the organization generated more exciting possibilities by convening the Wisconsin Leadership Summit, the first event of its kind. Sanders established a partnership with the Ho-Chunk Nation to co-host the Summit, and more than 320 people gathered for more than a dozen panel discussions over two days, all led by people of color, on issues ranging from education to incarceration to women’s excellence.

Madison365 also entered an agreement with the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association to develop, brand, and produce content for a new product — Badger Vibes — to engage alumni of color through a monthly email newsletter and online publication.

If it sounds like Sanders and the organization are just getting started, you’ve got the picture. “We’re really trying to establish our brand as a community brand, a trustworthy brand,” he explains. “That’s to let people know who we are, but also for the community and organizations to understand that our mission is to reach people of color and try to give people of color a voice in the community.”

Ambition to serve

Sanders also is the founder and CEO of Selfless Ambition, a coalition of faith organizations focused on partnering with schools and businesses to bring services to families and communities in need. In the past year, the organization has started several “life groups” to help people connect with other people in similar life situations, and thus far life groups have been started for women, teachers, and young professionals.

Selfless Ambition has been behind neighborhood block parties, which served as one-day sites for clothing and toy drives for families in need; the Night to Remember event, which stages a prom for young people with developmental disabilities; and it was the nonprofit partner of Madison-area Starbucks’ “Giving Tree” campaign, expanding it through the Gifts for Kids campaign to forge new partnerships with Metcalfe’s Markets and iHeartRadio to connect more children in need with people able to buy holiday gifts.

In addition, Sanders marshaled volunteers to serve food and water when a deadly gas explosion displaced hundreds of people in Sun Prairie, and Sanders himself was on the ground for several days, making sure people there had what they needed. By volunteering himself at the disaster recovery sites in Sun Prairie and neighborhood block parties, Sanders set the example for other volunteers and staff.

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Another of the organization’s initiatives is to contract with Madison schools to install and manage food pantries for needy families. The first food pantry opened in September at Glendale Elementary, and in just two months it had served 250 households, including 526 adults and 617 children, and food pantries at Leopold and Lakeview schools were set to follow.

Just in case you’re wondering if it was forbidden for faith-based institutions to enter into an agreement with the public schools for any program, even one so necessary and philanthropic in spirit, Sanders says there was no controversy over the separation of church and state. “It wasn’t as difficult as people would imagine,” he states. “First of all, the school district has already done a wonderful job of partnering with churches, and we were coming to them and saying, ‘We want to help coordinate and structure and streamline processes to make sure we’re more effective in helping in schools.’

“And so, philosophically, if you look nationwide, churches give more than almost any organization. So, we’re coming to them saying, ‘Look, you need volunteers. We already have a volunteer base just by going to the faith-based community.’ We’re providing people for volunteering, but also for fundraising. We have a volunteer base of people who are, because of their faith, more willing to donate. That’s part of the core of who we are.”

The schools benefit in their mission, as well, because children of color enter the classroom better nourished and ready to learn. “Right, I agree with that,” Sanders states, “especially when it comes to black and Latino children. The church has historically been part of our culture and our DNA. To separate that would be a disservice to the people who might want to serve in the schools and a disservice to the identity of those children. So, it’s easier for us to go the black community and to black churches and Latino churches and say, ‘Hey, look, we want you to serve in the community because, historically, that’s what our churches have always done.’”

Honors galore

The Executive of the Year award isn’t the only honor bestowed on Sanders and Madison365. The organization also received the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce Media of the Year Award, it was named the Collaborator of the Year by the Black Women’s Leadership Conference, and it was given The Amigo Award for Hispanic Heritage Month.

The EOY recognition is special to Sanders because it means his business peers appreciate his contributions. “Anytime you get recognized for what you’re doing, it’s always an honor,” Sanders notes, “but it’s more of an honor when you’re recognized by peers who are doing the same work, who are trying to build businesses or organizations, and who understand the hard work and the passion that goes into it.”

For more details about the Executive of the Year event and to purchase tickets, visit IBMadison.com/ExecutiveOfTheYear.

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