Most companies today have philanthropic initiatives but they’re often superficial or even counterproductive. How can a company design a charity program that does real good in the world? We sat down with Russ Fletcher, CEO of Xyngular, to hear about how he and Xyngular have risen to the challenge.
Russ tells us about how Xyngular has fostered a culture of giving, about the ways their distributors give to each other, and about the ways their distributors encourage each other to do good. He also gives us an inside perspective on their relief work in Puerto Rico during 2017’s hurricane season—how they matched distributor donations and then made sure, in-person, that those donations went to where they were most needed.
We’re so grateful for Russ’s contribution to our show and we hope you’ll listen in!
Kenny Rawlins: Hello and welcome to the MLM.com podcast brought to you by InfoTrax systems. I’m your host, Kenny Rawlins, and today we’re joined by Xyngular’s CEO Russ Fletcher. Russ and I have gone back a long time. I’ve learned a lot from Russ as we’ve worked around each other in different capacities and I’m excited to have him on the show today. How are you doing, Russ?
Russ Fletcher: I’m doing really well, thanks for having me, Kenny.
Kenny Rawlins: Thanks for making the time for us! So, Russ, one of the things that recently—through the grapevine—we’ve heard about is last year when there was a hurricane in Puerto Rico, that you guys did some really awesome philanthropic work, both going and visiting there, and some help with your distributors. And it got us here at MLM.com kind of talking about the different ways that MLMs give back and the different ways that they approach philanthropic efforts. And so, I wanted to talk to you a little bit, and I wanted to get a little bit of background and some insight from you on kind of how you guys at Xyngular approach philanthropy and giving back.
Russ Fletcher: Okay, well, again, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this. You know, we have some strong feelings about what it means to be philanthropic. And here at Xyngular, you know, if you take a step back, you look at the grand spectrum of what network marketing companies do, many of them have charitable arms that they spend a lot of time with, and some of them that’s their whole reason for being. We applaud that. But there are some where it feels a little shallow. Where they have a philanthropic organization or a charitable organization that they contribute money to, but it isn’t part of their DNA. And so, when we started to talk about the way we wanted to do it here at Xyngular, we wanted it to be part of our DNA that we believe first and foremost the company exists as a philanthropic organization. Now having said that, we’re not a non-profit right, we’re a for-profit business, but we believe in our mission of helping improve people’s lives and financial situations through independent businesses—so much so that we try to throw everything we can into that, and we think that that by itself is a is a form of philanthropy, so we have to start with that. You know, we believe in the mission of changing people’s lives for the better. And it actually was kind of an a-ha moment when we came to it a couple of years ago—when we realized that we don’t actually change anybody’s life, all we can do is empower them to change their own lives. So, we believe very strongly in that.
Having said that as a backdrop, right, so that’s sort of the background, if you will, I get frustrated with what I call big checks from stage. Where an organization, out of the abundance of their profits, donates money to another organization and their connection to that organization is tenuous at best. I’m sure the money is well received and I’m sure it’s well intentioned. I’m not trying to make light of that. But it just doesn’t feel like it’s as sincere as we wanted to be. So, when we set out to do more philanthropic things, our first thought was we wanted to serve and help in the communities where our distributors and our Xyngular members live. And so, beginning, you know, a number of years ago, I came on board in 2014 as the CEO here, and starting right up in 2015 there were some floods in West Virginia and we have a number of strong leaders in the West Virginia area. And so, we decided we would donate to a specific organization in the community where our people live, to help the actual relief efforts as opposed to just a check to the Red Cross or to some other general relief fund. We actually flew out, sent an executive representative from the company to see the damage and see the concern for himself, and to make a monetary donation to an organization in the city of Logan, West Virginia, that we knew would actually go directly to solving the problem where our members live. And that’s kind of been the model that we followed ever since. Does that make sense?
Kenny Rawlins: Yeah that does. And I think it’s very interesting. One of the points I take from that is that giving kind of has to fit your culture, right? So, you guys have said, you know, “What makes sense for us culturally?” And then applied it. And the other thing that I think is powerful about what you’re saying is that it is so direct, right, which is interesting in this industry because you naturally have a relationship with your distributor base and your customer base—and it’s a relationship that I think a lot of people outside of this industry don’t fully appreciate—but I think it’s powerful that you guys have let that relationship inform how you give back to the community.
Russ Fletcher: Yeah, I mean, so many network marketing companies when they start, they have very personal relationships with their field leaders because its small, right, the company is small. And as we’ve grown over a hundred million last year, one of the things we made sure, or stressed very intentionally, is we want to make sure that that connection to our field leaders—and not just the leaders but to these sort of rank-and-file, if you will, people who are just part of our company—that that personal connection never gets lost. Now there’s only so far you can go, right? You know, you only have so much time in the day and so much ability to connect to people. And so, to make it a point of saying we are, we call ourselves member-centric—which means everything we think about and do we’re trying to do to foster that communication with the members and make sure that they understand that it’s not just a number on a spreadsheet or a name on a recognition webpage or something like that. There are real people with real challenges and real lives that we’re trying to affect for the better. And so, all of that together encompasses our philosophy, if you will, around philanthropic activities.
Kenny Rawlins: Yeah, and that I also find interesting because, you know, one of the benefits, quote-unquote, of having an organization that you support or that by default that’s your organization, is it takes a little bit of the work out of it, right? Whereas what you’re talking about is really powerful to me in the sense that it seems that it would be kind of ongoing. You guys are constantly assessing the needs throughout the world and especially where your distributors are. And I guess that kind of leads me to the hurricane last year, I believe it was Maria, and I’m curious how you guys made decisions to respond to that and just kind of how that continually assessing the situation plays into what you’re talking about.
Russ Fletcher: Well the interesting thing is, the hurricane season last year was particularly devastating. If you remember, we had Hurricane Harvey that hits Houston just a couple of weeks before Hurricane Maria and we also had Hurricane Irma which hit in the Caribbean also just a few weeks before Hurricane Maria. So, it was a rough hurricane season. And when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, some of our owners and a number of our key distributors live in and around the Houston area, and our initial reaction was “What can we do for them?” Because you’d never know what else is gonna come along, right? And so, we reached out to them, and they were all doing well, and the ability for emergency response to Houston was great and they had, you know, relief people on the ground within hours and they could get to high ground. You know, the devastation in Houston was real and significant, but so was the ability to respond.
And so while we were concerned about what happened in Hurrican Harvey in Houston, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and hit the islands dead-on…we have a large group in Puerto Rico that are members of our Xyngular family and we were really taken aback by how bad the devastation was and how little support they were going to get—because they’re an island and because you can’t just, you know, drive trucks in from Mississippi to help clean up the damage. Everything has to come by boat and plane. You know, the infrastructure in Puerto Rico isn’t as strong as it is in Houston so we immediately began thinking, “How do we help our people in our Xyngular family in Puerto Rico?” And communication was bad, it was hard to get information out there, and so we said, “Well, the first thing we can do is we can open it up to our Xyngular families.” So, we had an event in the few short weeks after Maria hit and we had one of our annual conventions in October—I believe the hurricane hit the latter part of September—in the first week or so of October we had this event. So, we said from stage, to our member community there attending our convention, we laid out the problem, we showed pictures of the island, we showed messages we were able to get out from our members and distributors there that they were without power, without water, without gasoline, even if they had a generator—and many of them were without generators. And we said, “Look, we’re going to match dollar-for-dollar everything that you donate here at this convention. We set up a SKU in our in our back-office so you can donate that way, if you’d rather. We’ve set up a Venmo account and you can donate that way, if you’d rather. We will match it dollar for dollar and a hundred percent of that money will go into the hands of our Xyngular family members in Puerto Rico.” Well, the response was very heartwarming. Part of our recognition program is people earn a certain amount of cash we give them. They get to walk across the stage for hitting a certain rank. We literally hand them cash in their hands. And several other people we would hand the cash and as they walked off the stage they would turn around and hand it right back to us and say, “This should go to Puerto Rico.” And you know the feeling that we get from that, you can’t pay for that, you can’t buy it, it’s not fake. It’s because they understand that our mission about empowering people to change their own lives is real. And mostly they didn’t know these people from Puerto Rico, right, this is just—they know they’re part of the Xyngular family and they trusted us that we would make sure they got the money. And so, we raised, you know, tens of thousands of dollars at that event. I’m reluctant to give the exact amount, but we raised tens of thousands of dollars.
Kenny Rawlins: It’s just amazing, that kind of response, and yeah, the trust that it requires from the field. But I’m also wondering, I want to hear a little bit how you think it changes the dynamic of your field when they see the company that they’re associating with and that they are a part of being proactive in that way and being generous in that way. How do you think it changes the dynamic amongst the field and between the corporate office and the field?
Russ Fletcher: Well, so it’s interesting because there are two things at play. I think that they appreciate the sense of community that we’re trying to foster—where people from across different walks of life in different areas of the world understand the heart of what we’re trying to do and that’s why you get people walking off the stage and turning around and giving their money back, because they understand that the overall goal here is not just to make money. The overall goal is to empower people to live the life they were meant to live. And when they were seeing the devastation and understanding that their Xyngular family wasn’t there because they couldn’t get out of Puerto Rico—they couldn’t come to the event because they were literally trapped on this island. They understand that that they needed to help.
The trust factor is another interesting one, you know. We’ve all read the stories about how 90 percent of charitable donations go to running the terrible organization and ten percent of the dollars make it into the hands of the people who need it. And while that’s an anomaly and the exception not the rule, it does happen. People become cynical about donating to charities and things like that when they’re saying, “Well, no, they’re never going to get the money.” And one of the things we made sure is that we were accountable to the dollars.
And so, within short order, two of us from the corporate office—and I say us because I went, we flew to Puerto Rico. I speak Spanish and so we were able to fly to Puerto Rico as soon as we knew we could fly back out. Flights in were easy, flights out were hard, right? And as soon as we knew we could fly back out we flew to Puerto Rico with cash in hand as well as supplies: water purification tablets, gas cans for waiting in line for gasoline, pumps and purification, ways to purify water. We flew down there and we met with as many people in person and assess their situation and said, “Look, your roof is gone, you need more money.” And we literally handed them cash in their hand and then we reported back to our field that this is what we’ve done, of course, took pictures and things like that but it wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about the publicity, it was about the accountability to say, “Look, you donated this money and here’s who got it.” And in fact, because of the kind of community that we’re trying to build, a few of the people that we went to visit said to us, “Look, I know I’m without electricity and without water, but I have a way to get it. Take the money you were gonna give to me and give it to somebody else!” Even on the island of Puerto Rico they were willing to share with each other because they recognized what we were trying to accomplish.
Kenny Rawlins: That’s amazing and that’s one of the things that I think is really powerful about what you guys do is that it encourages people to be involved and to be invested in it, right? Especially when you’re talking about matching donations and then reporting back to people and, you know, going directly in and making sure that the funds get into the right people’s hands. I can see how that would have a powerful effect in spreading the atmosphere of generosity, right? And even to the point that you just made about people saying, “No, I’m okay, go help this person who’s even worse off than I am.”
Russ Fletcher: Well, I’ll tell you a story that’s not corporate-related that indicates how this trickles into our field. Because of this culture that we have, we’re all in this to try to help each other live better lives. There was a woman in our field who was a fitness model and a CrossFit athlete before she ever was part of our Xyngular family. And she was in a terrible car accident and was paralyzed from the waist down and kind of became despondent and put on a bunch of weight. You know our products are weight-loss focused. And so, sometime after this, she came across the Xyngular opportunity and used our products to lose a bunch of weight. And she had competed in these Spartan sort of obstacle course races. Are you familiar with those?
Kenny Rawlins: Yep, yeah.
Russ Fletcher: So, she had, before her accident, she had done those, and after she lost the weight with us she started back into going back to the gym and working out. Well, her former Spartan team said, “We want you to do another race.” And so, she actually went, and together with her Spartan buddies, not associated with Xyngular, they basically—everything she could do with her upper body she did, but if she needed to do something with her lower body, they carried her. Well, we kind of made a big deal about how exciting that is and shared her video of that experience on our official corporate Facebook. Well, a distributor that lives in Canada—this woman lives in South Carolina—two of our distributors in Canada saw this video and reached out to her and said, “What do you need for your medical help?” And she said, “Well, you know, there’s this experimental electric nerve stimulation which would give me the ability to walk again, albeit with a walker and with the artificial nerve simulation, but I can’t afford it.” And they paid for it for her. They’d never met her, all they knew was that she was part of the Xyngular family and she had a need. And the first time they met her she was walking with the help of those devices. So, we didn’t do that, that’s not a corporate thing, we didn’t even know about it until after it had already happened. But it’s the idea that the company culture is helping to bring these kinds of people together that makes me just excited for what we can do.
Kenny Rawlins: Yeah, I mean, that’s the type of story that just gives you goosebumps. And, you know, a lot of critics outside of the industry find ways to pick on it, and certainly there have been companies that you can point to that they haven’t been the most aboveboard, but those are the types of stories and the community that this industry can really foster, right, where people feel a sense of togetherness and a sense of belonging and wanting to help one another, that I think is truly incredible. And you know we’re running short on time here, but there is one last story I want to have you share, and that’s—go ahead, and if you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to have you tell our listeners about your experience on your leadership retreat and the service project that was kind of informally organized there.
Russ Fletcher: Oh yeah. I’d almost forgotten about that. So, we do these rewards trips. We have a very robust travel program that our distributors can earn by doing certain things in their organizations. So, we had a trip last January to the Dominican Republic and as part of the trip we just, almost on a whim, we reached out to a local organization here in Utah where we’re located that helps place girls that they’ve rescued from sex trafficking into orphanages. The company’s called Operation Underground Railroad and they do great work. We’d heard about them here local and we said, “Hey, we’re going to the Dominican Republic, is there an orphanage that you can vouch for, where you place some of these girls, that we could help? Could we bring supplies or, you know, something like that? We’re coming down with a group of a hundred plus people and we’d sure love to help out.” And they immediately responded and said, “Sure, here’s this organization, here’s the directors name.” So, we reached out to them and said, “We’re coming down, we’d love to bring in some supplies.” So, the first step was we just reached out to our people who had earned this trip. Now this is a vacation, right, all expenses paid for a week at a resort in Punta Cana—which is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. This is them taking their vacation time and saying to us, “Yeah, we’ll bring stuff.” Well, so in the process of gathering lists of stuff they might need, one of our distributors said, “Well, can we go visit? Can we visit the orphanage?” And that evolved into, “Well, can we help out in ways that are more tangible than just bringing supplies?” So, we went back to the orphanage and said, “What do you need in terms of like a service budget? What could we do?” And we took—I can’t remember how big the group was—but several dozen people away from the resort town of Punta Cana and went to this very small orphanage that had been given some buildings that just needed painting. And we bought paint at our expense and these people took time from their vacation to just go and paint walls and classrooms and dormitory rooms in this orphanage.
Well, okay, we’re there on site now, we’re painting and one of the girls was there, sort of amazed that these people would come from there because they know the resorts and so they’re like, “You came from the resorts to come here and paint?” and so I said, “Yeah.” And they struck up a conversation and they were saying, “If you could have one thing that you wanted that I could send you from the United States in the mail, what would you want?” And they meant it’s sincerely, right, they were they were thinking they would help out. And this girl very humbly said, “I’d like a pair of shoes. All I get to wear around here are flip-flops and I would like a pair of shoes and it would be great, you know, I’m a size whatever and, you know, if you could send me a pair of shoes that would just make my day.” She didn’t ask for, you know, an iPhone or a Nintendo or any of those sort of material things, she just was humbly saying, “I’m tired of wearing flip-flops, if I could have a pair of shoes.” Well, she said, “What size are you?” And she told her and they were the same size. And so, this woman took off her shoes and gave them to her and she said, “I could go home barefoot. These fit you, why don’t you give them a try?” And pretty soon, the whole room was turning to the girls that they were they were trying to serve and they said, “What size are you?” And I get a little emotional when I talk about this because, you know, these aren’t necessarily millionaires. Yes, they’d earned a trip to the Dominican Republic, but these are people of sort of normal regular lives just getting literally the shoes off their feet and going home happy as they possibly could be. And we took a picture of the girls in their new shoes and these other women barefoot, all of them beaming ear-to-ear, this just incredible moment. Again, if I had gone to them and said, “Could you pay for a pair of shoes?” They would have. They would have done it gladly, but that’s not the point. The point is to have these opportunities where a giving heart and a person in need can be connected and it just made the whole trip just that much more powerful.
Kenny Rawlins: Yeah and then just hearing that, I mean, it’s a heartwarming story and I think it’s incredible both in the actual experience and also in the representation of the culture that you guys are working to foster over there. And Russ, I genuinely appreciate you taking some time out of your morning to come on in and talk about this because I think it is important for everyone, whether it’s in the corporations that they run and manage or are part of, or even in their individual lives. I think the thing that I really appreciate about Xyngular and your guy’s way of going about this is the creativity, is the willingness to say, “Hey, what can I do in in my sphere of influence and in this situation?” And it’s powerful. It’s powerful to see. So, I appreciate your time this morning.
Russ Fletcher: Well, you’re welcome, and thanks for letting me talk about it. I’m fairly passionate about it.
Kenny Rawlins: Well, thank you very much.