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Making business personal for a cause

Entrepreneurs Todd and Michelle Buelow take a hands-on approach to addressing substance abuse and hunger.

Recently, Todd and Michelle Buelow celebrated a personal and professional milestone—supporting the provision of more than 1.5 million meals via Feeding America from their Fidelity Charitable Giving Account, also called a donor-advised fund, the Matt Tunno Make A Difference Fund. Michelle is the founder of Bella Tunno, a company that makes baby products and accessories sold in more than 3,500 stores across the country. In connection with the business objective of supporting “parenting with a purpose,” every product purchased results in the provision of a meal through Feeding America. Todd, also an entrepreneur, has been involved with several startups, including recently launching custom software company Dualboot Partners.

The fund is named for Michelle’s brother Matt, “a brilliant, funny guy” who died suddenly at the age of 30, two years before Michelle founded Bella Tunno. Matt was working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Montana; he’d also long been struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol. The couple wanted to not only do something significant and lasting to honor his memory, but also to help other families going through similar struggles.

Like many entrepreneurs, the Buelows take a hands-on approach to charitable giving that goes beyond simply donating: volunteering, organizing fundraising events and serving on boards. In addition to support for Feeding America—both note that hunger is an important root cause of addiction—the network of charities the Buelows support include local organizations in their hometown of Charlotte, N.C., such as the Charlotte Rescue Mission.

“When you’re an entrepreneur you’re required to think out of the box because you often don’t have all the resources that you need,” says Todd. “To be successful, I think you naturally create a network that is advantageous to giving, as well as to helping the nonprofit community.”

As an example, Todd’s advocacy while on the board for the Charlotte Rescue Mission, an organization with a strong track record of success in addiction recovery, helped to jumpstart projects such as expanding a men’s dormitory to include new bedrooms, a bathroom and a full gym. They also helped support the Charlotte Rescue Mission program called the Dove’s Nest, a program specifically to assist women struggling with addiction. (A major barrier preventing women from entering recovery programs is figuring out safe care for their children; the Dove’s Nest is a separate residential facility designed to allow women to bring their children with them and provide added family counseling and support.)

“If our time, if our resources, can help another family change their story, and maybe continuously break a cycle for generations to come, we’re going to take every opportunity we can to do that,” says Michelle. “We believe that the donor-advised fund has helped us to do so much more and be so much more strategic with our giving.”

Learn more about entrepreneurs like the Buelows and their unique approach to giving in Fidelity Charitable’s report, “Entrepreneurs as Philanthropists.

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