Vision, really supportive, amazing people surrounding you, funding, preferably a commitment to long-term funding, flexibility and knowing how to kindly but firmly say no.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Clifford Riehl.
Kelly is a communicator and a connector, bringing people together to try to make the world better. She has led Communications and Marketing for Installed Building Products for nearly 14 years. She led the effort to establish the Installed Building Products Foundation and was named its President in 2018. Kelly is on the Board of Trustees of Leadership Columbus and Besa and resides in Columbus with her husband and two pups.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
Two watershed moments come to mind. The first was in 2018 when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. IBP has a significant presence in Texas, and nearly all our employees felt the storm’s impact. Employees from IBP branches across the country were reaching out to ask how they could help; at first, we had no good answer. We donated local relief funds and provided our employees with links to vetted organizations doing relief work if they wanted to contribute. Still, we knew we needed a better answer the next time something happened. This experience eventually helped inform our employee financial assistance program.
The second was what led me to examine my role at our organization and how we were impacting our communities (hint: we were disorganized when it came to philanthropy and community engagement). In December 2017, I participated in a 10-month leadership program designed to develop active and influential leaders focused on community trusteeship. Each month of the program focused on a different issue or area of impact in Columbus, Ohio (where IBP is headquartered and where I live), and December’s focus was health and human services. That morning, a cold, typical winter day, just a few days before Christmas, we divided up into small groups and visited a behavioral health services organization that focuses on addiction recovery. As we toured the facility, we stopped in their outpatient clinic, where folks coming in for medically assisted treatment came in. The nurses had just hung 25 or so stockings on the wall, and someone in our group inquired who they were for. Their response, which I will never forget, was “for the kiddos who accompany our patients into the clinic.” We continued our tour, and as the time ended, we walked back through the outpatient clinic, where at least 100 more stockings had been hung. Those stockings, to this day, are a visual reminder for me that there are bright lights and moments of positivity to be found among the turmoil and crisis. The experience that day stayed with me throughout the holidays and made me realize I wanted to help our company figure out how we could do more and create a more significant impact. In the next few months, we decided to establish our foundation.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
The first is to be authentic. I am the same person I am at work, at home with my husband, my dogs, and my friends. I have a big personality and a huge heart, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m an open book, and you will always know exactly where you stand with me. I have been in roles in my career where I did not feel comfortable being my authentic self, and that ate away at me. It made me less productive and, quite frankly, not a great team contributor. I now know I never want to be in an environment that doesn’t value me, and the same is true for my team.
Second, is that I’m bold. I’m a big thinker, and I genuinely believe that if you work hard, you can bring dreams to life. The IBP Foundation and our charitable efforts are a perfect example. We started small but knew quickly that we had the potential to make a huge impact, and we grew quickly. In three years, we have contributed over $8 million to our employees, their families, and our communities.
Collaborative is the third trait that has contributed to my personal success and the success of our philanthropic efforts. You cannot exist in a silo and expect to thrive. I am the leader I am today because of the incredible people I choose to surround myself with and who lift me up when I need it (and bring me down when I need it, too 😉). A great example of this is our nonprofit partners. We choose to trust them to tell us what they need. We start every conversation with the question, “What do you need?” or “What keeps you up at night?” From there, we work together to find ways to tackle those needs or problems, whether it be money, volunteers, connections, or just advice and conversation. Collaboration and connection build trust and mutual respect.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
People surprise you. ALL. THE. TIME.
We all tell ourselves stories, whether they be about a person, a group of people, or situations. Those stories can be positive, or they can be negative, or maybe even somewhere in the middle. But what I have learned and continue to learn is that a lot of the time, the real stories are vastly different than what we’re telling ourselves, and we must keep our hearts and minds open to eventually hear the truth of any situation. It’s a process but worthwhile if you’re open to taking it.
Please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant so
IBP installs insulation and complementary building products in residential new construction, and commercial projects in 210+ locations nationwide. We have about 10,000 employees, so when we thought about how we wanted to make a social impact, we knew we wanted to focus on our employees and their families but also make an impact in the markets we work in. We decided to do that by focusing on four key areas: our employees, education, housing, and our communities.
Our employees are the heart and soul of our company. Without them, we don’t have a business, so we knew making an impact in their lives was our top priority when building our foundation. Earlier in this interview, I mentioned that our experience with Hurricane Harvey in 2018 was a watershed moment. When we were talking about the foundation’s programs, the first thing that came up was being able to help our folks in a crisis, and we decided to create a financial assistance program. Our employees can apply for grants to help in times of crisis, and they can also contribute to this fund and know that they are helping their coworkers in their time of need.
We know that education can build a brighter future, so we offer scholarships to our employees and their family members to pursue educational opportunities after high school, whether at a traditional university, a two-year college, or a trade, certificate, or vocational program. Education isn’t one size fits all, so our goal is to meet our folks where they are. We also support early childhood initiatives, financial wellness education programs, and other similar programs that empower people to improve their lives.
Supporting housing initiatives was a no-brainer for us. We work in the residential construction industry and honestly believe that housing, in whatever form it takes, is a human right. Our foundation partners with nonprofits involved in building, renovating, or providing shelter for those in need. I know that is ambiguous, but that’s intentional. We wanted to ensure that we were open to whom we could help or how we could help. And in the past three years, we have partnered with organizations all over the country that are doing incredible work to provide folks with safe, accessible housing.
Our fourth area of impact is strengthening communities. We want to help neighborhoods and communities flourish, and we work towards that by offering volunteer opportunities for our employees, as well as matching gifts and dollars for doers programs. We also believe in investing in organizations that are helping to accomplish that, and we are supporting several nonprofits doing leadership development and community engagement work.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
I love that all four of our chosen impact areas overlap. That was kind of intentional, but it was also a happy surprise. We initially thought our goal to impact our employees would be the thread that tied everything together. But what we see, especially as we continue to learn more, is that all four areas align in exciting and innovative ways, allowing us to amplify our impact.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
One of my favorite stories is about a young woman who received a scholarship from the IBP Foundation during the first year we offered the program. Her parents immigrated to the U.S., and her father is a long-time employee at one of our branches. She was starting her freshman year at a university and was awarded a scholarship for all four years. After graduation, she decided to pursue a master’s degree and reapply for a scholarship. It’s fantastic to hear her dad talk about how proud he is of her and see his eyes light up when he tells people that she has received two scholarships from our foundation. It reaffirms that we are on the right path and that our work does make a difference.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
Listening, learning, and then raising your hands to say, “I want to help. What can I do?” I genuinely believe it’s that simple.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
Vision, really supportive, amazing people surrounding you, funding, preferably a commitment to long-term funding, flexibility and knowing how to kindly but firmly say no.
Vision — we started from a place of trying to figure out what we wanted to accomplish and identifying our goals: making a positive impact in the lives of our employees and our families and aligning our giving with what we do best — which is help build homes. Having a clear vision will also help you define how and where you are going to invest your funds.
Supportive, amazing people — When we decided to establish our foundation, I had no idea what I was doing. I was passionate about the work, but my experience is in organizational communications and marketing, not corporate philanthropy. I first reached out to a friend and colleague at the Columbus Foundation, who sat down with me and guided me through our options. Another friend worked for a communications firm, and they helped us craft all of the messaging for our employees. Other friends and colleagues have been sounding boards, connectors, cheerleaders, and reality checkers, and I am eternally grateful for each one of them.
Funding, preferably long-term funding: This isn’t the sexy answer. But, the first thing we discussed when we decided to establish a charitable foundation was how we would fund it initially and long-term. In an incredible fit for our employees, our CEO, COO and CFO stepped up and funded the first two years of the foundation. So that took care of the short-term. After that, the company stepped in to ensure funding and, this year, committed to giving 1% of EBIDTA away every year, ensuring the sustainability of our foundation’s programs.
Flexibility — if we learned anything during the first two years of our foundation’s existence, it’s that flexibility and the willingness to accept and act on feedback was critical. A great example of this is that we doubled the amount of our scholarship award after two years. We heard from recipients that the original amount was helpful and that they were grateful for it, but with the rising cost of education, more funding would be even more impactful. So we did it. And the amount of scholarships we award each year continues to grow.
Knowing how to kindly but firmly say no — This was a tough one for me. Being the new funder on the block meant we were getting funding requests from all kinds of organizations, regardless of our grant guidelines or stated purpose. And while I wanted to meet with every organization that reached out, I quickly realized that those conversations were drains on their time and mine. Thanks to an incredibly wise friend, I learned to ask a couple of qualifying questions before agreeing to a meeting. That friend helped us implement a quick and easy pre-screening questionnaire for all nonprofits interested in applying for a grant — saving them and our time.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
The pandemic may not have changed our definition of success. Our goal is still to do as much good as we can and to treat people the way we want to be treated. But it certainly changed how we work towards success and achieving our goals.
Pre-pandemic, we had strict guidelines with how we gave away our funds, but our experience with COVID taught us to be flexible and that pivoting (sometimes quickly) is the name of the game. A great example is that our employee financial assistance program guidelines stated that employees had to be employed for one year before they could apply for help. But when the pandemic hit and our employees had spouses and partners that were being laid off, we knew we had to step up to help, regardless of their tenure with our company. We realized it doesn’t matter if you’ve been here a week or 15 years. If there’s a crisis, our program should be designed to help. We were able to change our guidelines, communicate those changes within a day, and help our folks when they needed it most.
This change has continued to make an incredible impact in other disasters and emergencies and has been a massive win for helping our employees. Another great example is how we worked with our nonprofit partners. Pre-pandemic, grant applications were only accepted if they were for funding for a specific project. During the pandemic, we started shifting to a trust-based philanthropy model — we still ask for grant applications, but they’re more of a starting point for the discussion. I don’t believe it’s up to a funder to tell a nonprofit how best to use its funds. That’s something we can determine together.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
If we have learned anything over the past few years, setbacks are inevitable. However, I like to look at them as opportunities. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t respond well to being told no, and I look at setbacks the same way. If an initiative we’re invested in is not making the progress they promised, it’s OK. It’s an opportunity to look at what’s working and what’s not working and pivot. Often those pivots bring about the best-unintended results.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oh gosh, I’m going to name two folks associated with politics, BUT I want to be clear that it’s not their political views that I’d like to talk with them about. First — from a personal perspective, because my husband is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom — is President George W. Bush. His awareness and sensitivity to the impact war and conflict have had on our veterans is something I find admirable. Hearing how he got to that point would be an incredible lesson in leadership.
The second person is First Lady Jill Biden. Her dedication and how she views education align with our belief at IBP that education builds a brighter future, and that educational opportunities and paths can and should vary. I’d love to share what we’re doing with her and pick her brain for ideas to broaden our impact on our employees and communities.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
We’re kind of (intentionally) under the radar, but our goal for 2023 is to use our platform to lift the nonprofits and organizations that we support and believe in. So you can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/InstalledBuildingProducts, and on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/installed-building-products.
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.