How it Started

Bell State Bank & Trust’s Pay It Forward project has become a tradition, building on the bank's mission of giving back to the communities we serve. President Michael Solberg, who helped start the project, says this tradition will continue for years to come.

How it Started

In December 2007, at their annual Christmas party, Bell State Bank & Trust's employees received a big surprise. President and chief operating officer Michael Solberg announced an effort modeled after Oprah Winfrey's "pay it forward" project.

With a visit from an Oprah impersonator as the party’s featured entertainment, Solberg announced that every full-time employee would receive $1,000 and every part-time employee $500 to give to an individual, family or organization in need.

During the rest of the year, employees gave individually, pooled their funds and partnered with other donors outside the bank. Eventually, the half-million-dollar employee commitment, along with additional gifts from employees, customers, other businesses and foundations, totaled more than $600,000 in the first year. Pay It Forward gifts given to date at Bell State Bank & Trust total more than $6 million.

Roots in History


Actually, "paying it forward" has a history dating back more than two centuries. Benjamin Franklin described the concept in 1784, writing to a friend who owed him money and asking the friend to lend the same sum to "another honest Man in similar Distress." Said Franklin, "This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money."

Science fiction author Robert Heinlein popularized the term "pay it forward" in his 1951 book, Between Planets, and today, the Heinlein Society, a humanitarian organization, operates on the "pay it forward" philosophy.

Book and Movie


In 2000, Catherine Ryan Hyde published her novel, Pay It Forward, which was made into a Warner Brothers film. In Ryan Hyde's book and movie, "paying it forward" is described as an obligation to do three good deeds for others in repayment of a good deed that one receives. Since the novel was published, this idea has been championed by many organizations.

Catherine Ryan Hyde joined Bell State Bank & Trust as guest of honor at the bank’s Christmas party in 2008, when we announced that we would replicate the Pay It Forward program for 2009. In a new twist, we also added a "Friends & Family" component. Employees each received an extra day off during the year, as well as a gift card for $200 ($100 for part-time employees). The catch? They had to spend it on their families. This part of Pay It Forward is in appreciation for all of our families and their importance at Bell State Bank & Trust.

In 2013, Bell State Bank & Trust added a new component, Pay It Forward: Community Connect, which has continued. Through this additional component, each employee also chooses a customer, vendor or community member, who themselves have the opportunity to Pay It Forward to those in need. This is a wonderful way to recognize the support of those in our community and expand the impact of Pay It Forward giving.

With needs greater than ever, Bell State Bank & Trust continues to replicate Pay It Forward each year – and president Michael Solberg says it will be a tradition for years to come. We expect the needs in our communities, and the impact of giving, to be at least as great in the years ahead.

About Bell State Bank & Trust

Founded in 1966 and headquartered in Fargo North Dakota, Bell State Bank & Trust is the largest privately owned local bank in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Bell State Bank & Trust has more than 900 employees at its 20 full-service banking and Bell Mortgage Division locations, with assets totaling more than $3 billion.

While many companies focus solely on net profits, Bell State Bank's "bottom line" statement is unusually simple: "Happy Employees! Happy Customers!" We believe that if we create a great environment for our employees, who in turn give outstanding service to our customers, we will build strong communities and continue to grow. This is our goal as we live and work by our organization’s values:

  • Promoting & sustaining our family atmosphere
  • Providing unequaled personal service to each & every customer
  • "Paying it forward" by giving back to the communities we serve