A Community Designed for Generosity: A Conversation with Dimensional Innovations

hawkins@growyourgiving.org Corporate Charitable Giving

“I think it’s the responsibility of all of us to give back. You get almost more in return because of the connections that your team forms with each other doing something outside of just their daily work; that strength and that bond are what create a stronger and better team, a stronger and better culture, and they’re going to do better work together and they’re going to be better collaborators. And that’s true in any business. The benefits far outweigh whatever might feel like a sacrifice to get it going.” – Tucker Trotter, CEO of Dimensional Innovations

 

Tucker Trotter, CEO and Mary Wooldridge, Community Engagement Director at Dimensional Innovations, recently joined LaVon Colhour, the Community Foundation’s Director of Corporate Services to share about the firm’s mission to “liberate people from mediocre experiences” in their work and philanthropic endeavors.


Listen to the Conversation


About Tucker Trotter

Tucker is the CEO of Dimensional Innovations (DI), an experience design, build and technology firm that exists to liberate people from mediocre experiences. Their award-winning portfolio of work spans professional and collegiate sports, cultural centers, museums, children’s hospitals, corporate facilities, amusement parks, retail spaces, entertainment venues, and many more industries.

After launching his first company as an Industrial Design student at the University of Kansas, Tucker joined DI in 1996 as a design intern. Over 25 years later, he continuously strives to develop a world-class company culture while ensuring the work DI introduces to the world has a meaningful, memorable impact on all who experience it. DI is nationally recognized and has been featured in Fortune, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, Yahoo! and more. The company has been named to the Inc. 5000, a list of the country’s fastest-growing companies, for seven years.

Tucker is also passionate about developing and cultivating community, recently helping launch a city-wide public art exhibition geared to supporting the people most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The experience, named The Parade of Hearts, not only rallied an entire community around a common cause, it helped raise awareness for numerous organizations and charitable institutions.

 

About Mary Wooldridge

Mary is a connector of people and ideas, a relationship builder, and a firm believer that most people have the innate desire to contribute and give back. As the Community Engagement Director at Dimensional Innovations (DI) — an experience design, build, and tech firm — she works with the company’s executive team and DI Foundation Committee to create and implement a community engagement strategy to establish and enforce the vision of their employee-funded and managed foundation.

A calculated risk-taker and cultural leader with deep nonprofit industry knowledge, Mary has championed nonprofits to increase funds and create greater awareness of their organization and mission. As a community leader, she has been recognized as a proven relationship builder and helped establish and develop foundations across the nation.

Most recently, Mary served as Co-Director of The Parade of Hearts — a public art installation that raised over 2.6 million dollars to help unite the Kansas City region and bolster those affected by COVID-19. Mary has served on a variety of boards and provided marketing expertise to local and national nonprofits, including The Parkinson Foundation, JDRF and MS Society. She currently serves on two boards — YEP KC and the Parade of Hearts.

Outside of Dimensional Innovations, Mary enjoys time with her family and friends, loves to travel, and always enjoys a good laugh.


Episode Transcription

LaVon Colhour:
Welcome to the Grow Your Giving podcast, powered by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. We’re excited to bring you conversations featuring experts in philanthropy, share impactful stories happening in the Kansas City community, and elevate the voices of those making a difference around the metro. I’m LaVon Colhour, Director of Corporate Services at the Community Foundation. I’ll be your host for today’s episode of the Grow Your Giving podcast. The community foundation works with companies of all sizes around the country to help achieve their charitable goals.

I’m very excited for you to hear a conversation with my good friends Tucker Trotter and Mary Wooldridge from Dimensional Innovations, also known as DI. Dimensional Innovations is an experienced design building technology firm that exists to liberate people from mediocre experiences. DI’s award-winning portfolio of work spans from professional and collegiate sports, cultural centers, museums, children’s hospitals, corporate facilities, amusement parks, retail spaces, entertainment venues, and many other industries.

Tucker is the CEO of DI and launched his first company as an industrial design student at the University of Kansas. Tucker joined DI in 1996 as a design intern. Over 25 years later, he continuously strives to develop a world-class company culture while ensuring that the work DI introduces to the world has meaningful, memorable impact on all who experience it. Tucker is also passionate about developing and cultivating community, recently helping launch the Parade of Hearts, a citywide public art exhibition geared to supporting the people most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Parade of Hearts not only rallied an entire community around a common cause, it helped raise awareness for numerous organizations and charitable institutions in Kansas City.

Mary is a connector of people and ideas, a relationship builder, and a firm believer that most people have the innate desire to contribute and give back. As the community engagement director at Dimensional Innovation, Mary works with the company’s executive team and DI Foundation committee to create and implement a community engagement strategy to establish and enforce the vision of their employee funded and managed foundation. A calculated risk taker and cultural leader with deep nonprofit industry knowledge, Mary has championed nonprofits to increase funds and create greater awareness of their organization and mission. As a community leader, she has been recognized as a proven relationship builder and helped establish and develop foundations across the nation.

Tucker and Mary, we are so excited to have you join us for today’s Grow Your Giving podcast. Welcome.

Tucker Trotter:
Thanks for having us, LaVon.

Mary Wooldridge:
Thank you.

LaVon Colhour:
Thank you. We’re excited for our listeners to hear what you have to talk about, all the great things you’re doing in the community. So to start, why don’t you tell us a little bit about Dimensional Innovations and the work that DI does and some of the fun things that you’ve done around the country?

Tucker Trotter:
Yeah.

LaVon Colhour:
I’ll let either one of you take it.

Tucker Trotter:
I’ll take it. I’ll take it first and then Mary can fill in what I leave out I guess. So yeah, we’re kind of a hard business to describe. I think actually LaVon, I think you did a great job describing it. But we say we’re an experienced design, build and technology company. And so, we have about 250 incredibly amazingly talented people who are really obsessed about this idea of creating the world’s greatest experiences. And you touched on a lot of the ones we work on. We work in pediatric healthcare, which is something that we’re all really passionate and excited about. The idea of being able to distract kids from pain and the fear of treatment just by the use of technology. So, it’s kind of tech for good versus bad. We also do a lot of great work in the museum space, sports stadiums, entertainment, and then we’re excited about work that we do in the corporate space around the idea of helping companies tell their story, which helps them recruit and retain people.

But you touched on our purpose statement, the reason why we get up in the morning and come to work and it really is this idea of liberating people from mediocre experiences. And lucky for us, the world’s full of mediocre experiences, so we’ve got lots of work to do. But I think that’s how we met LaVon because when COVID hit and all the events of 2020 and 2021. And so, that was really the idea of Parade of Hearts and that’s where that came from. And I know we’ll get into more detail as we go through this, but we’re so excited about how Parade of Hearts turned out and it was great to get to know you through that. And so, yeah.

Mary Wooldridge:
Actually we also all work really hard here at DI, but we play hard too. So, we also like to have a lot of fun and as much as the work we do for our clients, we do just as much work in the community, which is really awesome to see, so.

Tucker Trotter:
Yeah, we just did a holiday luncheon and it was so much of the celebration was about that, about all the work we’ve done in the community and I think our team really gets excited about that, and they put so much work and effort and passion behind it.

Mary Wooldridge:
Yeah as Tucker said, you’ve got so many creative people here. And so, when we are asked to help with the community events, sometimes it’s creating an experience on stage and to bring something to life on stage or an experience where the audience is so much more engaged is incredible.

LaVon Colhour:
That’s great that you mentioned that because that really takes us into the next question about the company’s history of giving back and how you engage employees. And I know you all have done some really, really exciting things. So, can you talk a little bit about the history of the DI Foundation and some of the great projects that you’ve done in the community?

Tucker Trotter:
Yeah, the way it all started really was we’d been working with someone else that was kind of doing the payroll deduction and they would come in and speak to us once a year. And a lot of our team felt like they didn’t really know where the money was going and whether they were really making a big difference. And so, there was a lot of our team asking what could we do more so that we know that what we’re doing really makes a difference, makes an impact. And also they often got the most excited and the most engaged when they could do something that really showcases our talents and skillset sets. So like Mary said, if it’s helping to create an experience on stage or at an event, that was when we would see the energy and passion really come out. So, part of the reason for starting the foundation was for us to get really closer to those that we intended to benefit and help.

And so, that’s when we reached out to the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation to help us put some structure behind it and still be able to give our team the opportunity to do payroll deductions or however they wanted to contribute and then have a way to manage that. And you guys have been incredible in helping us do that. And then Mary came on to really run the foundation and what’s been really cool about it is we’ve had so much success with it that a lot of my peers and friends have asked like, okay, we see what you’re doing and some of these are companies much larger in scale. And so, we’ve kind of given them the playbook, so I think that’s one of the things that makes us excited is the others who’ve created similar foundations and used our model. And so, it’s beyond just us. It’s much bigger than us, which is great.

Mary Wooldridge:
Yeah, and the other really great thing about our foundation is that it’s employee-funded and managed. And so, we have of course DI matches the employee giving, which is really helpful as well. But we use all of these talents that we have. That’s really our mission is to give back through building and creating stuff rather than just making a financial grant to someone. But each of our employees, they get to volunteer. We offer eight hours of pay for community service, so that they can go to wherever they want as long as if they’re passionate about it and they want to volunteer, we want them to volunteer, so they get to go volunteer. We also have community leadership opportunities. So, we have a committee that all of these requests that we get are submitted to this committee and we try to get an employee from each department represented on the committee that’s passionate about helping others and giving back. And it’s really awesome when we all get together and meet and review all of these requests that we get and everybody has their own viewpoint.

It’s really interesting to hear how each department and leader on that team is. They all have their own opinions, so it’s fun to make those decisions together. And then of course we also have opportunities for people to do payroll deduction. And so, currently we have, gosh, I think as of last week, it was about 36% of the company giving financially. And so, that’s incredible for… This foundation has only been going really since 2015. So, that’s a big number. Yeah, I know we came to a meeting at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and at that point, we were just a little over 20%. Everybody was like, how did you do that? So, we’re really proud of that. And we don’t take that lightly either, we reward them for being part and giving back. And so, when we have Royals tickets or tickets to something special being done in the community, we offer those to those members and we want to give them benefits for being part of it. And so, they get to submit requests ahead of just random requests that come in. And so, they’re really involved in the whole process.

LaVon Colhour:
That’s great. I love that there are other companies that come to you and want to know what does your model look like? How do you do it? How are you getting employees engaged? I mean I think that’s probably one of the questions we get quite often. And when we get those questions, we typically refer back to we have Dimensional Innovations or we’ll revert refer back to some of our clients who are doing an amazing job. And I know some people might think 36% is not that high. It really is very high. I mean just studies that we’ve done with trends with matching gifts, employee matching gift programs, 9% is usually, that’s the national average. And I think what you guys are doing to get employees engaged and sharing that story, that’s really what people want to hear is they want to hear other companies want to hear is how are you doing it? So, we love when we can share those stories about how our donors are successful at getting employees engaged, because really that’s your most important asset is your employees and how do you get them involved.

Tucker Trotter:
And I think one of the events that Mary does a great job, the committee puts on this omelet breakfast, I think twice a year, something and they make omelets for people. And there’s always a line and it is a huge success. People love it and I think they love it because the committee is there showing how dedicated they are and waiting for their omelets. And there’s lots of great discussion that happens around that and I’m sure there’s a decent amount of money raised, but it’s also just fun, fun for our team.

Mary Wooldridge:
Come on it’s good.

Tucker Trotter:
Yeah, it’s good. I forgot.

LaVon Colhour:
Yeah, you can always work your way to someone’s heart by food.

Mary Wooldridge:
That’s right.

LaVon Colhour:
Food is always a good way to tug at those heartstrings. And speaking of heartstrings, so let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Let’s talk about Parade of Hearts and let’s talk about how that all got started. Tucker, just that, I mean it started out as just an idea and that idea turned into $2.6 million, which some the Big Slick and those are like how did you guys do it in the first year? So, tell us a little bit about that.

Tucker Trotter:
Yeah, I mean I guess where the idea came from, I mean I think it’s a funny story because it was really Chase and I having coffee together. It was maybe the first time we’d met, maybe not quite the first time but close. And he, like a lot of times, this is how DI gets a phone call. He had this crazy idea of putting a giant KC heart on the roof of his building and I said, yeah, that’s cool, but only so many people will see that. And we were just kicking it around and that’s when I sketched up this idea. And because I said, “Do you remember the cow parade?” And he said, “Sure.” And so I said, “What if we did a heart parade?” I mean that’s really how it started and I think it was left to chase and I to do something with it. So, it kind of sputtered and didn’t go too far.

But then people started hearing about it and the University of Kansas Health System, some of the original people that put on the Cal Parade, they had us to breakfast and said we want to do this. And that’s when it really started picking up momentum. And then when COVID hit, I think all of us knew this was bigger than just one thing. This was bigger than just this Heart Parade idea. I mean, this could be a way to take a time that we were all going through where people were very divided and create an opportunity to bring people together. And that’s what art can do. It’s like sports, it can bring people together. And it did, I mean, in a really big way. And so, I think that’s the part that is so exciting is how the community embraced it in such a huge way. And I think all of us are of course really proud of that and you both did so much to make this happen. So, anyone can come up with an idea, but it takes so much more to make it come into a reality.

Mary Wooldridge:
The funny thing about the Parade of Hearts is when we started that none of us had any idea what was really going to happen. And I mean it was if not daily, weekly for sure that something really incredible either a story, a sponsor, a group of people within our community, one of these communities that we were placing hearts in. All of these people just knew that we needed it so bad and everybody just came together to make it what it was. And it’s really was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was great.

Tucker Trotter:
And I think going back to the very beginning, it was Mary you’re right, because it was those little moments and they would happen once or twice a week. And we ran into plenty of obstacles and challenges. But it was those positive things that helped us keep going. And when we went in the very beginning, when Jen and I went out and started having conversations with business leaders and asking them to write really big checks to help support this, and we needed that just to make it get going and in order the hearts and everything else. What I think is so incredible about Kansas City are the leaders that knew this was an idea, it was just an idea. And I think there were so many questions that still needed to be answered, but they still within sometimes within the first few minutes would say “We’re in.”

And they were in with a really big number because they knew the community needed to be united and they knew that this had the potential to do that and that it would also be a really big benefit to their teams to be involved in something like this and be able to go and help. Because if you think back to where all of us were during that time, everyone kind of felt like, what can I do to help? And so, this helped answer that question for a lot of really big companies and the leaders in this town that stepped up to help and support this. It’s inspiring and it’s incredible and it speaks to the power of the Heartland and in what we have in this city.

LaVon Colhour:
Will you talk a little bit about I know Dimensional Innovations had not just you and Mary, you and Tucker serving on the board for Parade of Hearts, but just the support that your employees helped with Parade of Hearts? Just talk a little bit about that from picking up the heart, repairs, those types of things. Another way of you engaging employees.

Mary Wooldridge:
I’ll speak to that first, the Parade of Hearts, in my opinion, affected our whole culture here because we had artists picking up hearts here. We had hearts being dropped off here. We were coding hearts, repairing hearts, making plaques for hearts. Artists were coming, we had media events, we had all this stuff going on and everybody was like, what is going on? What is happening? And the more we talked about it and the more that was done and the more people that got involved, everybody was like, I want to be part of that. How can I help?

I mean all the time people would come up, Mary, I know you’re swamped right now, but how can I help you? It was incredible. And they still talk about it and now that Parade of Hearts 2.0 has started that they’re right back in it. Everybody is so happy. Yesterday we had 13 Hearts show up on the back of a trailer to be given out to artists. It was very exciting. People were coming out just to see them drive in the parking lot. I’m telling you, when a company gives back and they involve their employees, your culture’s immediately changed. It’s incredible.

Tucker Trotter:
I think that’s so true, Mary. I mean, I just remember anytime an artist would drop a heart off or when several would show up, it would make its way around the company really quickly. Have you seen that? It was always, have you seen and it was what one of the great things about art is everybody interprets it differently and everyone sees something different and everyone loves one more than the other. And that what it does is it generates great conversations and it gets people that maybe don’t always talk to each other, an opportunity to have something to talk about. That’s why it’s so powerful. And just seeing that form of human expression and seeing that someone put that much work into something to tell a story, whatever the story is, what makes it so magical. And again, I think it’s why it was so good for our culture, but also for the city or the region’s culture.

Because the same thing happened when you would run into people out on the streets and that we’re looking at a heart. You would start a conversation with a stranger and it was, how many of you seen? And those were sometimes the best conversations because it was an opportunity for someone whose maybe been isolated or going through this division to unite and meet new people all throughout the city. And there were so many inspiring and stories that we uncovered that were far in excess of our original expectations of what this thing would do. And it was a really fun experience for sure.

LaVon Colhour:
Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I mean, I would look at Parade of Hearts and especially your involvement and your employees’ involvement. I mean, that’s what you guys do. You guys create interesting things that it’s not the mediocre, it’s an experience and that’s what Parade of Hearts is. So, I feel like that really bleeds over to what Dimensional Innovations does, what you’re all about, what that means to you. So, that’s great. Is there anything that you want to share about Parade of Hearts 2.0? What’s coming up in 2023, 2024, 2026? There’s some big things happening in Kansas City.

Mary Wooldridge:
Well this has been a big week for the Parade of Hearts actually. So, yesterday we had the first hearts being delivered. We had the artist, 40 artists have been announced. Everybody’s super excited about it. We had, I’m going to let Tucker talk about this, but one of our very own employees was selected and has a great story that we highlighted today. Yes, it’s an incredible story. And the media is already picking up things, they’re getting behind us, the city is getting behind us again. And so, I think Parade of Hearts 2.0 is going to be a little bit smaller this year, but we’ve got the draft going on this year. So, that’s kind of the focus of Kansas City I think. But this is going to be an incredible year. And then next year we’ll be back up to many, many more hearts. But it’s been a big week for the Prey to Hearts 2.0. So, I’ll let Tucker talk about our employee though. It’s a great story.

Tucker Trotter:
Yeah, so Scott Seetin, so DI had a couple of our own kind of hearts that we created and Scott did all the work behind that and on the first version of Parade of Hearts. And so, on this round, he entered in and Mary I think helped get the story on the news. So, they interviewed him on the news and then told him on the news story that he won, which was really cool. But he’s such a talented artist and designer and so, in the idea behind his was he’s a transplant recipient.

So, it’s to tell that story and the power behind it. And that’s again, that’s so amazing about this is that everyone can tell their story through art in a different way. And there was nothing in the first Parade of Hearts that was about transplants. But it’s just great that he can use this canvas to help tell his story and his interview was so inspiring and the message that he wants to provide is so inspiring and to be able to do it through this is great. So yeah, it was today we showed his interview on the news to the whole company and he got a really yeah, big ovation for it.

LaVon Colhour:
That is such a cool story. That is such a cool story, especially considering there were what over 500 artists and only 40 were picked. And we have to put that disclaimer out there just because we’re on the board, we found out like everybody else because of our independent selection committee. But that is such a great story. I didn’t even know that story. That’s awesome.

LaVon Colhour:
That’s so exciting.

Tucker Trotter:
And he was so calm on the news, so I was so proud of him because I would’ve been a nervous wreck and he did an amazing job.

LaVon Colhour:
One other question that I have is, what advice would you give other businesses of your size that want to make an impact in our community but might feel limited by their size or resources?

Mary Wooldridge:
I would just tell them to do it. It changes you as a person, it changes those you help, it’ll definitely change your culture, your business, you’ll succeed by giving back. And in so many ways. And you know what it else it does, it connects you with like-minded people who want to do better and do give back. And people will notice and they’ll start learning about you and your business and the great relationships and those like-minded people connections really you’ll form these connections and just like we’ve done with Parade of Hearts, together you all come together to do something really incredible. So, I just encourage him to do it.

Tucker Trotter:
Yeah, I think you’re right. I mean really regardless of your size, I mean I think it’s really the responsibility of all of us to give back. And I think what you really get almost more in return because the connections that your team forms with each other doing something outside of just their daily work is that strength and that bond is what really creates a stronger and better team, stronger and better culture. And then they’re going to do better work together and they’re going to be better collaborators with each other. And that’s true in any business. It doesn’t matter what business. And again, I don’t think the size of the business or the enterprise shouldn’t really matter either because it’s again, I feel like it’s our responsibility, but the benefits far outweigh whatever might feel like a sacrifice to get it going.

LaVon Colhour:
That’s great. That’s great. I love the culture that you have and engaging employees and your employees giving back. So, you all have inspired me just working on Parade of Hearts and working with you all on the DI foundation. So, is there anything else that you want to add that we maybe didn’t cover today?

Tucker Trotter:
No, I mean other than just to thank you for what you’ve done with Parade of Hearts and the fact, I mean you’ve inspired us, you’ve been involved all the way from the beginning. The success that this had just go… It turns out it’s really hard to create something from scratch, isn’t it?

LaVon Colhour:
Oh yeah.

Tucker Trotter:
So, anyways.

LaVon Colhour:
Yeah that blank piece of paper, but then once you have a little bit of script on that paper, it makes life a little bit easier. So, we have the script now.

Tucker Trotter:
We do. We have the script and we’re just going to keep making it better every time, and that’s what exciting. Now that we’ve got the original one down, we can just keep making it better.

LaVon Colhour:
Well, Mary and Tucker, thank you so much for joining us on today’s podcast. I look forward to continuing our great work together. All the great work you’re doing in the community with the DI Foundation, with Parade of Hearts, everything you touch turns to gold and I love that. So, thank you so much for being with us today.

Mary Wooldridge:
Thank you, LaVon, this has been really fun.

Tucker Trotter:
Thank you for having us.