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Thought Leadership Thursday

Thinking Outside of the Box to Promote Social & Economic Equity

David Damschen

Thought Leadership Thursday Article

Thinking Outside of the Box to Promote Social & Economic Equity
September 24, 2020
State Treasurer and Immediate Past President of NAST
Dear Colleagues:

2020 might not be remembered by many as a “good year,” as at the moment it seems defined primarily by the unpleasant combination of a global pandemic, extreme political divisiveness, and spirited, sometimes violent, social discord. Separation. Differentiation. Despair. Since I prefer laughing to crying, I admit that I enjoy the memes and jokes that express an almost universal response to this year’s bounty of adversity by saying, in essence, “What next, an asteroid strike? An alien invasion?” But, in seriousness, I hope that we can all recognize the extraordinary opportunity this year provides us for meaningful introspection, growth, and change. Can we think constructively about these trials as a “refiner’s purifying fire,” and recognize an opportunity to emerge from this adversity as a country strengthened? I believe that we can.

Amidst this turmoil, we as Treasurers ask ourselves, “What can do in my role as State Treasurer to address growing chasms in wealth and opportunity, in social justice and equality?” I am impressed by the efforts of my fellow State Treasurers across the country to engage in discourse and take steps to enhance social and economic balance in their spheres of influence as they answer, through both their actions and words, this essential challenge. I am thankful for their example.

As I explain and promote my unclaimed property agency’s efforts to safekeep and reunite properties to their rightful owners, I often quote James Madison: “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…this being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man [and woman], whatever is his own.” (Emphasis & clarification mine.)

Now, we are competitive; we feel an imperative for high performance. Our team strives to make record-breaking unclaimed property payouts each year. This is imperative as we justify our existence–and our mission–to a business-minded legislature and public. And we are producing solid results. We have achieved a 19% average annual increase in properties paid for the past 10 years by employing diverse strategies, both high-tech and high-touch, to achieve these results.

I believe in the Pareto principle, or the “80/20 rule,” which posits that roughly 80% of effects stem from 20% of causes. Our most effective approach to success with unclaimed property is what I call “ringing the dinner bell,” or getting the word out about unclaimed property through advertising, broadcast media, and social media to encourage people to visit our website to search for and claim their lost property. In addition to “ringing the dinner bell,” we also have dedicated staff who work full time on locating owners. Apply the 80/20 rule to locating efforts and that means focusing on larger properties, which ostensibly come (generally) from one end of the socio-economic spectrum. We appreciate that producing impressive bottom line results might violate those ideals expressed by Madison.

In preparation for passing the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (RUUPA) in 2017 and seeking to “win the hearts and minds” of legislators for our mission, I met with elected officials across the state, providing them with lists of property owners in their counties, and worked with them to reunite property with the people on those lists. But I prioritized rural counties suffering high unemployment and economic distress.  It was an incredible experience that resulted in impactful stories of unclaimed property making a difference in the lives of everyday Utahns. Breaking records has to be done while also targeting vulnerable communities. Drawing from our 2016 rural Utah outreach, we have gone on to engage in targeted, personalized outreach to additional rural communities, Native Americans, and charities. While these initiatives will not drive large dollar results, they are integral to our mandate of impartial service to our constituents. We seek to ensure that our overall approach to unclaimed property outreach is balanced and equitable.

We have recently launched an initiative that will match our unclaimed property reported addresses with corresponding census tract median income data. This will provide us with a clearer view of claimable properties at a more granular level in our rural outreach and will also enable us to focus more surgically on some of our most economically depressed communities within the state. Once we are able to assess the results of these efforts, we will continue to fine-tune our outreach efforts to accomplish as much as possible in these and other targeted areas.

I implore each of you to continue to think outside of the box about changes you can make within your organization to promote social and economic equity. Small actions can make a big difference in the lives of the individuals and businesses we serve.


David Damschen
Utah State Treasurer
Immediate Past President of NAST

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