Government elections are often fraught with controversy. But even polls with fewer voters can be difficult. What about electing the board of your community’s homeowner association? Or your agricultural cooperative?
For many organizations, Eden Prairie–based Survey & Ballot Systems has become the impartial election board. It allows members to complete their tasks on line, via snail mail, or by fax. It has built a reputation for being meticulous about the ballots and the results, providing consistent elections and surveys year in and year out for its clients.
Jon Westerhaus founded Survey & Ballot Systems in 1990. His brother, Peter, joined the firm nine months after its founding. Early customers were Illinois-based Allstate Insurance, which hired the company to handle a national testing program for its agents. Another was Inver Grove Heights–based agricultural cooperative CHS, seeking help running its board elections.
The firm currently specializes in three areas: associations, cooperatives, and corporations. About 70 percent of its revenue comes from handling board elections and member surveys for homeowner and other associations, a fruitful market because most organizations’ bylaws mandate annual elections. The company can set up online surveys and balloting to help clients reach out to members dispersed cross-country and across the world.
The rest of the company’s workload is split between commercial projects, such as membership surveys, course evaluations for certification programs, and patient satisfaction surveys for health care providers.
Survey & Ballot Systems earned $3.5 million in revenue last year with a staff of 40 full- and part-time employees. It typically has grown at an 8 percent annual pace, the Westerhauses say, though the economy has dragged that down to about 2 percent so far this year. Survey & Ballot Systems has recently added international clients, including associations in India, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada; it now plans to pursue more business abroad.
The Westerhauses run the company with a philosophy of conservative growth, avoiding outside funding to order to maintain objectivity. “We wanted stairstep growth—to have a profitable company, but we didn’t want it to go up fast and down fast,” Jon explains. “This allows us to stay really strong and stable.”