goBeyondProfit CEO Interviews: Heather Fortner, CEO of SignatureFD


Friday, November 4th, 2022

Relentless Curiosity on the Journey to Generosity

SignatureFD and CEO Heather Fortner were nominated and selected by fellow Georgia business leaders as a goBeyondProfit Champion for their relentless curiosity to lead better. During our interview with Heather, we learned how the value of generosity captured her attention for very personal reasons. As the business itself became known for generosity, Fortner remained focused on embodying this value through her role as Chief Executive.

Company Values As a Mirror for Leaders

Each year, our company gives out awards for the teammate who best exemplifies each of our core values. I remember many years ago looking at the results of the annual employee surveys and wondering why my name didn’t come up as a leader in the generosity segment. That concerned me. And so it was really a pivotal moment for me as an individual. Why was I not seen that way? At the end of my life, I can be known as relentless. I can be known as ambitious. I can be known as someone who always gets it done, who laser focuses on a goal and gets there. I can be known as all of these things, but what do I want to be known for? And honestly, generosity was one of those things and I had no idea how to change that.

And when I became CEO in early 2020, there was this real moment in time where two things collided. Where the fact that I wanted to be more generous as a person and I wanted to be known for that, collided with the fact that I now had a platform and a responsibility because one of our core values is generosity. And so as a leader, I now had to lean into, “We’re going to be known for this.” And so there was just this real moment where when the rest of the world’s falling apart and I have literally zero idea of what tomorrow holds, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was the moment that I had to lean in, not only to generosity, but to every single core value we had and lead well.

Relentless Curiosity

When you have people aligned to your perspectives and you have people aligned to your values, and you have people, quite honestly, that want to make the type of impact that you yourself want to make, all you have to do is create the space for those people to lean in and magic things happen. And that’s what we did. We just created the space. We started asking some questions. We focused on relentless curiosity of, what are other firms doing? What does it mean to be generous? What does corporate generosity mean? How are we focusing on generosity with our clients? What are we doing internally? We’ve already been doing this for a lot of years with a lot of people in the community. What have we learned there? What has worked? What hasn’t worked? What do we want to do as individuals, as teams? There, there’s just an enormous amount of wealth that comes from creating a space where you can ask questions and allow diverse populations to lean in with their experiences and perspectives.

And ultimately, what came out of that was a challenge. It was a challenge of, we can do this differently. We can do this better. We can have more impact. We can incorporate more of our people in the decision making process. And we can lead better, which ultimately is what will make a difference in the community in which we serve.

Defining the Net Worthwhile

You know what I love about our end game is we have a term we use called net worthwhile. And it is this beautiful space where an individual’s wealth, which is not just their money, money’s just a tool. Wealth is your time, your talent, your resources, your energies, all of the things that you have at your disposal in order to pursue the things that you find worthwhile in life. Net worthwhile is the intersection of those two things. It is ensuring that you have a solid strategic plan in place to pursue a lifelong journey of the things that you find worthwhile.

So as we leaned in on the client side helping clients define their Net Worthwhile, I was sitting back saying, “What does that mean for us as an organization? Have we taken our organization through our Signature Generosity tool and what are the things that matter to us?” So we said, you know what? We’re going to plug our bottom line. We now have in our budget a hundred thousand dollars donation that we are going to make every year. We are also going to ensure that 5% in revenue also goes into that giving bucket because we don’t want to just plug the line. If we do better than what we are budgeting and what we are anticipating doing, we want to give a portion of that back as well.

We call it Signature Giving. It’s a beautiful program that we rolled out to our team. Every year we take nominations from our team members and we say, “What are the organizations you’re passionate about? What are the organizations that you want to serve that are near and dear to your heart? Tell us a little bit about that organization.” And then we vote as an entire group. We vote on, here are the two organizations that we want to support this year.

We then give a $50,000 donation to both organizations and we align all of our team volunteer activities, our Signature Generosity Days we called them, to activities in support of both of those organizations. And then the extra 5%, should we have revenues over our budget in that amount, we simply divvy that up, equally, by the amount of people that we have, and we fund a Donor Advised Fund with those dollars for each of our team members so that they can then give to the organization that means something to them.

So not only are we doing it at the corporate level, but we’re leaning in and helping to provide a way for them to do it at the individual level to the things that matter to them as well.