Our Story

What do you want to hear, the facts or the fun stuff? Thought so. You don’t achieve an odds-defying, three generations of family ownership without a few tales: like Paul’s “one pencil per employee” rule. Steve’s “always park under a shade tree” advice. Larry’s “Are we having fun?!” mantra. Oh yeah, the figures: 100+ employees, 1,500 clients, 30,000-square-foot headquarters.

Our People Careers
Paul J. Stelter

1962: Our founder Paul J. Stelter

After working for years at a direct-mail firm creating newsletters on behalf of bank trust departments, Paul J. Stelter says something to the effect of “Carpe Diem.” Certain he can create a better offering for the industry, he founds The Stelter Company with a metal desk and a filing cabinet in the basement of his Des Moines home. He begins outfitting banks with marketing materials to educate clients on the importance of estate planning and the value of professional trustee services.

four color printing press

1967: Early innovations

Stelter leads the way in the banking industry by introducing full-color, syndicated advertising. If you can remember the first time you gazed in awe at a color TV, you’ll understand why this was a notable step at the time.

Perhaps more important, Stelter upends the way estate planning topics are typically presented to the consumer. Lawyer-talk is great for court rooms, but Stelter knows that real people—even smart and sophisticated ones—respond best to plain ol’ English. Simple, intelligent and inspiring content becomes the mantra.

1969: While not at Woodstock...

Stelter conducts the first-ever statewide trust survey, gathering facts on potential and existing trust service customers in Iowa. This focus on research foreshadows an emphasis on data that will drive the company in decades to come.

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Larry and Steve Stelter

1970: Here comes the cavalry, Part I

Larry Stelter, the oldest of Paul Stelter’s two sons, joins the company—by now a six-member firm serving banks in a handful of states. Larry quickly builds relationships throughout the industry and looks for new ways to grow the business.

1972: Here comes the cavalry, Part II

Paul Stelter’s son, Steve, joins the firm to concentrate and expand relationships in the Southwest. The brothers will lead sales at the firm for more than 40 years.

1979: A shift in a new direction

Larry Stelter proposes a new direction for the business: Helping nonprofits to solicit estate gifts and other types of planned gifts. After extensive market research, the company launches its nonprofit services under Larry’s direction. Fueled by this new business opportunity, the company grows tenfold over the next four years.

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Creating estate planning course documents

1980: Doing our homework

The Creative Estate Planning Course, an innovative home study program, debuts as an instant success—providing nonprofits with an unprecedented number of leads and planned gifts. Still in use today, the course serves as the prototype for similar products developed throughout the fundraising industry.

Larry Stelter

1981: Adding a splash of color

The Stelter Company introduces the first full-color planned giving newsletters for nonprofits. Hardly ground-breaking in other industries, the use of color publications by nonprofits is a psychological shift for many fundraisers who say they are concerned about their solicitations appearing “too expensive.” Stelter proves, however, that consumer-friendly marketing publications boost response, which more than justifies the cost to create them.

1985: An early adopter

Stelter sets itself apart as an early adopter of the emerging science of market segmentation. The company introduces newsletters specifically for seniors, women, professional advisors and physicians—a novel approach for most nonprofits.

1987: The Stelter Printing Company

The Stelter Printing Company is formed to exclusively serve the company’s growing client base. On-site printing allows employees to carefully oversee quality and speed.

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1991: Passing the torch

Beloved founder, Paul Stelter, officially retires and Larry Stelter purchases the company. Larry will usher in an era defined by product innovation and professional leadership. By now his success formula is finely honed: People first. Have fun.

Peggy Fisher

The 90s: Getting our groove on

Family roots grow deeper as Larry Stelter persuades his wife, Peggy Fisher, a successful art director at Country Home magazine, to join the company in 1994 as creative director. Her arrival marks the company’s shift toward offering increasingly customized and professionally branded materials for nonprofits.

Bev Hutney arrives in 1998 with a background in service journalism and expertise in consumer publishing and research—honed from years as a managing editor at Country Home magazine.

1995: Relationships matter

Stelter recognizes that industry jargon and the technical aspects of gift planning are not the first skills fundraisers needed to master. The Relationship Building Workshop® debuts—a groundbreaking training course for fundraisers, which teaches the observational skills of chess champion Bobby Fischer and the interpersonal magic of Oprah Winfrey.

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2000: Connecting the dots

Anticipating that the dot-com boom and powerful, affordable computing would change the face of fundraising, Stelter introduces planned giving websites as a managed service for nonprofits. Within the decade, more than 1,000 nonprofits will host their planned giving websites with Stelter.

Nathan and Jeremy Stelter

2002-2004: Generation X arrives

As the company grows so do the number of employees named Stelter. Third-generation family member Nathan Stelter leaves his sales role at financial sector giant ING to create Stelter’s first Washington, D.C. office. Two years later, younger brother, Jeremy Stelter, joins the company to establish a West Coast office based out of Denver.

Uncovering the Secret Giver book

2008: Curiosity may have killed the cat...

... but it fueled a new direction for Stelter. The company releases the first national, scientific study ever completed on the topic of bequest giving, which rocked many long-held beliefs and transformed the way the industry tackles planned giving. Armed with data on the generational differences in giving behavior, Stelter revamps its entire content offering and develops new marketing approaches.

The 2008 study laid the foundation for Stelter’s research division, which regularly publishes national studies and industry insights. This evidence-based model helps inform Stelter’s product development and continually refreshes our work.

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Stelter employees

2014: Teamwork makes the dream work

Although still keeping their fingers firmly on the pulse of the business, Larry Stelter and Peggy Fisher decide to spend more time on nonprofit and personal passions. Steve Stelter announces his retirement after 42 years of service. With Nathan and Jeremy Stelter serving as the faces of business development nationwide, a new leadership team is announced. Its members bring decades of experience in business strategy and management, market research, creative direction, client services and digital services.

giving website open on computer

2015: The digital future

Stelter launches a digital marketing platform that integrates Web, email and social media into a mission-focused, actionable experience for donors. The platform was developed after Stelter analyzed user behavior on its more than 1,400 nonprofit websites, hosted donor focus groups and interviewed planned giving and digital marketing professionals—all with the goal of creating a flexible, but proven approach to donor engagement online.

2016: Next question please

Stelter leverages its research on consumer attitudes, behaviors and unmet needs to create customized direct mail and digital surveys that unlock an untapped treasure trove of insight. The process allows nonprofits to benchmark their results against similar organizations, identify hot prospects and use data to drive stronger relationships and results.

2017: Supported by three pillars

Stelter develops its 3 Pillars of Service to act as guiding principles.

Industry Insight: Stelter is committed to conducting national donor and professional advisor research studies annually. This data is used to drive strategic counsel, content and design strategies and recommended delivery channels.

Customer Focus: From initial contact through the delivery of post-campaign analytics, Stelter promises to provide unequaled customer service.

Creative Services: Stelter’s team of subject matter experts in content, design and delivery will provide relevant and engaging marketing campaigns designed to deliver results.

Nathan Stelter, Jeremy Stelter, Bev Hutney

2019: Passing the torch (Part II)

Larry Stelter and Peggy Fisher announce their retirement. No culture shift here: The second generation is ready to lead. Nathan Stelter (freshly minted as an MBA) is named president and Jeremy Stelter assumes the role of executive vice president. Bev Hutney is promoted to chief executive officer, taking over for Fisher. With the second generation of Stelter brothers in charge, Stelter and Fisher move into new roles as chairman of the board and strategic advisor, respectively.

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Stelter Intelligence Center

2020: Leading with analytics

Does your marketing work? Only data holds the answer. The launch of the Stelter Intelligence Center, an interactive dashboard with real-time donor response, combines all of a nonprofit's data so they can uncover their donors' stories. Who is engaged and who is not. When they take that next step. What brought them there. And what interests them most. The Intelligence Center also has the industry’s best donor-scoring model, bringing clarity to the eternal fundraiser problem: I need leads to follow up with.

SECURE and CARES Act passed during COVID

2020: Buildings close, but marketing perseveres

On March 13, 2020, the rising concern over the novel coronavirus moves the Stelter home base staff of 80 employees to their homes. (The initial schedule was to stay home for 2 weeks…the “new normal” had other plans.)

In the nonprofit world, museums shutter, universities send students home and food banks manage huge demand. Stelter team members change the way we work—creating a “war room” for ever-changing content and art needs (remember stock images of casually shaking hands?); doubling our blog content to keep the industry informed; covering the CARES and SECURE Acts through webinars and videos; and responding to record survey results as donors return communication from their favorite causes in incredible quantities.

As the year closes (and Stelter HQ remains empty) we celebrate record results for our clients and our business. It was a hard-fought fiscal for everyone in the nonprofit industry.

Healthcare imagrey

2021: Getting subsector specific

To provide clients with stronger strategy, support and success, Stelter realigns our internal teams by nonprofit subsector. This new four-team structure—Health (health care, medical research), Education (higher education, K-12), Community (environment and animal welfare, arts and culture, public and society benefit) and Cause (international affairs, human services, faith-based)—allows subject matter experts to develop a deep understanding of the unique business challenges facing today’s fundraisers.

What's next?

Planned giving’s importance has been amplified during the pandemic. The most successful nonprofits are diversifying their revenue with asset-based gifts. Stelter continues to innovate to make it easier to identify and understand the donor journey through the Stelter Intelligence Center and enhanced survey offerings. As we look to the future, the magic marketing formula continues to be grounded in the list, the offer and the creative. Stelter will be releasing groundbreaking research focused on the list: Who are the givers?; what are their backgrounds?; what’s the lifecycle of giving?. Stay tuned for whitepapers, webinars, new partnerships and candor on who our industry is successfully marketing to…and who we’re missing.

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