The mission of Flags for Fort Snelling was brought about with the best intentions, dedication to work hard, and a deep desire to honor those who have sacrificed so much for our country. However, the best intentions are not enough to accomplish an undertaking of this magnitude. Our first effort of best intentions was Memorial Day 2015, certainly a humble beginning. Before our days operating as a non-profit organization, we were just a few friends armed with Facebook as the only platform to get our message out. About 20 of us quietly gathered 2,700 little flags with our own funds and met on Memorial morning to place them along Mallon Road of Fort Snelling National Cemetery. The number of flags we placed was meager in comparison to what was needed and the drastic shortage caught the public’s attention.
Phone calls, emails, and facebook messages began rolling in from patriots and Veterans inquiring about flags on the headstones on Memorial Day. Two things were quickly being made inherantly clear:
- We weren’t the only ones who assumed, incorrectly, that flags were placed every year at National cemeteries on Memorial Day.
- Minnesotan’s really wanted to be a part of changing that.
Knowing we’d have the communities’ support for the footwork as long as we could build the tools to organize them, Flags for Fort Snelling was born as an organized Minnesota non-profit as of 2016. It was a small team of just a few people with limited resources, so the plan was to grow at a small rate. There are a lot of t’s to cross and i’s to dot when organizing an effort of this size for something this important. We started with 10,000 flags in 2016 and increased to 50,000 in 2017. We were learning right along with the Fort Snelling Cemetery administration, and taking notes on how to establish a sustainable system we could depend on annually.
Today, we are so excited to have partnered with incredible sponsors whom, without their guidance, expertise, and generosity, we simply would not be accomplishing this a great tribute to our American Heroes.
In 2016, our first year as an officially organized effort, about 500 volunteers met at Fort Snelling to place the 10,000 flags we were able to secure with our limited funding. We met before sunrise, watching as the rays cut through the fog for an emotionally charged start to our day.
KARE 11 noticed our efforts again this year and began inquiring about our story and our mission. Coverage such as theirs began to get us real attention. Our mission was gaining interest and with it our fundraising, making it possible to grow. The next year, 2017, over 2,500 volunteers assembled at Fort Snelling National Cemetery (causing quite the traffic jam on 494 at 6am!) to place 50,000 flags.
As we entered our third season, KARE 11 stepped up to partner with our efforts for 2018, committing to our goal of placing a flag on every headstone for Memorial Day. Taking the lead on promoting our message and communicating our needs with the public, KARE 11 has been instrumental in keeping us connected with the community who wants so much to be involved. The dedication and special interest of the KARE 11 team has raised tens of thousands of dollars for our organization and communicated our message to an audience grateful to have the opportunity to get involved. The time and effort they have given to our mission is outstanding and we can’t thank them enough.
Mall of America®
Mall of America® heard of our organization and our mission in 2017, and having a long history of support of our military, including the honor of being a Yellow Ribbon Company, without hesitation reached out to us to help. In addition to a generous initial cash donation, they made it very clear they wanted to dedicate more than a few dollars to our efforts. The organization of an event like this is a bit unlike any other. We aren’t a group of 5,000+ people running or walking a marathon from point A to point B along public streets. We aren’t a festival event of 5,000+ people surrounded by vendors. We are thousands of everyday people wanting to help bring a historic tradition back to life. We are thousands of people working with hundreds of thousands of American flags, all needing to abide by very strict rules, early hours, and often times a lot of patience.
Thankfully, the Mall was excited to rise to the occasion and give this effort the level of respect it deserves. Knowing we are looking to build a sustainable operational system we could depend on annually, the commitment to our mission was not made lightly. The convenient location between the mall and cemetery made logistics ideal and they were proud to dedicate their resources to supporting our annual needs. They have the experience and resources to support our growing organization, and have dedicated an impressive amount of time, funds, and countless resources to bring this event to life. They have provided all the organization for Memorial Day weekend activities from Friday through Monday, including music, fun activities, and the incredible displays of ‘The Fallen Soldier Table” in the Rotunda, and ” Spirit of America’s Story Wall” on display in the atrium.
The Mall of America® has been instrumental in providing connections necessary to grow our organization including things such as the shuttle transportation system needed to transport our volunteers. We are so thankful for their generosity and for being wonderful partners who keep the mission a #1 priority.
RBCU -Richfield Bloomington Credit Union
RBCU reached out to Flags for Fort Snelling in 2017 inquiring about how to help. With only one active board member available at the time, we honestly didn’t get back to them right away. Not giving up easily, they continued to reach out until Todd and Rocky finally connected. RBCU wasn’t wanting to reach out with just a donation, but rather with a breath-taking commitment to help raise $100,000 for the Flags for Fort Snelling mission. Now, again, there was only one active board member at the time. That amount of fundraising sounded incredible and terrifying at the same time. Funds like that could mean a lot of flags, which meant a lot of volunteers, which could mean another traffic jam at the cemetery and there was only one of us…
But Todd wasn’t done. Not only did he want to commit to the fundraising, but he had ideas and connections and a passion for making this happen. He wanted to put his resources to work for our mission and was serious about making it happen. Taking a leap, Rocky and Todd commited to launching the mission to make 2018 the first time in 35 years that a flag would be placed on every headstone at the cemetery.
Kicking things off with a few radio ads to start fundraising flow, RBCU sparked interest in our organizations over the holiday season. They began accepting donations at all of their locations and internally driving fundraising our direction. In the meantime, the partnership grew with the addition of the Mall of America® and KARE 11’s participation. Fundraising goals were increased to $225,000 to cover mounting event organization expenses to develop this as an annual event.
RBCU continues to provide support every day, even offering to provide staff to help manage the multitude of phone calls, emails, postal mailings and other clerical duties to assist in keeping this process as organized as possible. RBCU is well known for their charity efforts, fundraising, and scholarships and we are blessed to have them partnering with us and providing their expertise to make us a successful organization!
VantagePoint Marketing LLC.
VantagePoint Marketing, LLC., is owned and operated by Flags for Fort Snelling’s co-founder, Rocky Borchardt. From the first Facebook call out for volunteers in 2015, Rocky teamed up with co-founder Joanne Malmstedt, jumping in with both feet. That first year, she thought, like everyone else, they were getting together for a fun and patriotic, one-time to-do. We felt good about our effort, be it small, meanwhile sad that we couldn’t do more.
Or could we? Thanks to press coverage of our little ragtag team effort, people were taking notice and reaching out to us. There was clearly a need here and the non-profit was organized. Rocky was excited to have many of the resources Flags for Fort Snelling would need to establish as an operational organization. Her commitment to the board and being such a new and small organization quickly led to VantagePoint Marketing becoming the headquarters of Flags for Fort Snelling. Dedicating what they do best, they were able to provide the online tools necessary to continue to communicate with the community and organize every phase of the effort. VantagePoint Marketing continues providing all the digital marketing including creating and maintaining the Flags for Fort Snelling website, flyers, posters and all other digital promotions. The VantagePoint team pitches in several hours each day attending meetings, maintaining the website, managing the phone calls, emails, postal mail, and donations.