A Deep Culture of Generosity: A Conversation with Nancy Phelps of JE Dunn Construction

hawkins@growyourgiving.org Corporate Charitable Giving

On a recent episode of the Grow Your Giving podcast, Nancy Phelps, Director of Community Impact at JE Dunn Construction shares how the construction company’s corporate giving program has created a culture of generosity throughout the business.

Listen in as LaVon Colhour, the Community Foundation’s Director of Corporate Services, and Nancy discuss JE Dunn’s philanthropic efforts in the communities where JE Dunn employees build, work and live.

You can listen to their conversation online, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. A transcription of this episode can be found below.

All episodes of the Grow Your Giving podcast can be found at growyourgiving.org/podcast.

Are you interested in sharing your giving story on the Grow Your Giving podcast? Contact us at info@growyourgiving.org.

Authored by: Ashley Hawkins, Content Specialist


Episode Transcription

Introduction:
Welcome to the Grow Your Giving podcast, powered by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and our national entity, Greater Horizons. We aim to make giving convenient and efficient for our donors through donor-advised funds and other charitable giving tools. The Grow Your Giving podcast discusses philanthropic topics to help you enjoy giving more. Find us online at growyourgiving.org.

LaVon Colhour:
I’m LaVon Colhour, Manager of Corporate Services at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, Greater Horizons. I’ll be your host for today’s episode of Grow Your Giving podcast. The Community Foundation works with companies around the country to help achieve their charitable goals. Our corporate services range from corporate foundations, strategic planning, employee matching gift programs, employee disaster and hardship programs, scholarship programs, competitive grantmaking, custom charity giving cards and much more.

LaVon Colhour:
Joining me today on today’s podcast is Nancy Phelps. Nancy promotes corporate and employee engagement across 20 markets as the Director of Community Impact At JE Dunn Construction. Nancy and her company oversee the Dunn Family Foundation and JE Dunn’s corporate giving efforts, as well as volunteer involvement and a new employee matching gift program. Nancy is a spring 2021 member of the Centurions Leadership Program, and she recently completed her second term as president of the Marlborough Community Coalition serving the historic Marlborough neighborhood, located east of Troost in South Kansas City.

LaVon Colhour:
Nancy recently served as a panelist at our Corporate Giving Network, where we discussed corporate response to COVID-19. She had such great information to share about JE Dunn and what they are doing in the community, we wanted to hear more about JE Dunn’s community outreach or, as Nancy stated to us, “We’re drinking the Kool-Aid.” Nancy, we’re so excited to have you on today’s podcast. Thank you for joining us.

Nancy Phelps:
Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I had such a great time on that panel, so thrilled to be back and chatting with my friend LaVon.

LaVon Colhour:
Well, good, good because I’m definitely drinking the Kool-Aid!

Nancy Phelps:
Perfect. That’s what we need.

LaVon Colhour:
Yeah. Nancy, can you give our listeners an overview of your background and your role at JE Dunn?

Nancy Phelps:
Yeah, you bet. I just joined JE Dunn in December of 2019, definitely not the start of a new journey that I anticipated. No one can predict a pandemic, but here we are, and it’s just been such a great transition. As LaVon said, I always joke about how I’ve drunk the JE Dunn Kool-Aid. I’m all in. I talk about this position as my dream job at my dream company. Just thrilled to be part of the team. My background is actually entirely in nonprofits, nearing almost two decades of nonprofit experience from the really large to the really small.

Nancy Phelps:
My husband and I spent four years living and working in urban St. Louis, serving alongside a national nonprofit, The Urban Core. Most recently, I served as president of the Marlborough Community Coalition. I’m telling you, best neighborhood in Kansas City. It’s such a testament to what happens when a passionate group of residents gets together and links arms and advocates for their neighborhood and for their community. Amazing things going on there.

LaVon Colhour:
Yes.

Nancy Phelps:
Then most recently, professionally, I worked at the Greater Kansas City Chamber, our regional chamber of commerce here in Metro Kansas City, doing major investor relations, local affinity programs for our members and then even some national programs, where other chambers across the country could partner with us.

Nancy Phelps:
Along the way, it’s been a whole lot of different roles and responsibilities, as happens for any nonprofit veteran. I’m sure any of you out there with nonprofit background can understand. We’ve done all the things from marketing to events to fundraising, investor relations, all the things, but all of those have brought me to where I am today. At JE Dunn, my approach to philanthropy has absolutely been shaped by each of those nonprofit experiences. So, so thrilled to be using that background and that knowledge, that experience to now shape our community impact approach and strategy here at JE Dunn.

LaVon Colhour:
Wow. What an asset! I mean, just your experience, your background. I mean, that’s amazing to take that non-profit background into a corporation to help mold what they already have going. You bring so much experience to the table. Can you tell us about JE Dunn’s philanthropic and community impact efforts?

Nancy Phelps:
Yeah, absolutely, and that’s part of the reason why I say that this is kind of my dream company. Being here in Kansas City, at the metropolitan chamber, the regional chamber, I saw JE Dunn everywhere, getting involved in all of our community efforts, and just gained such a deep respect for JE Dunn as an organization and the people that I met along the way. There is such a deep culture of generosity ingrained at JE Dunn. We’re in 21 different markets across the country. Here in Kansas City, which is our hometown, we are so deeply ingrained in the community, from people serving on boards, volunteering, giving back, whether it’s through the Dunn Family Foundation or through our JE Dunn corporate giving.

Nancy Phelps:
Actually just this spring, right before the world ended with a pandemic, we had just completed crafting a new strategic plan for all of our community impact efforts. We have such a great team that’s really working to continue that legacy of generosity and connect the dots even more to build out our community efforts, both here locally and across the country. We look at that in four main areas.

Nancy Phelps:
Our employee involvement, whether it’s getting involved in boards… Our people have literally served on thousands of board positions across the country. We typically average around 50 to 51,000 volunteer hours a year throughout all of our employee base. We have all of this employee involvement happening. Our employees are so generous themselves. They’re giving back whether it’s through United Way campaigns or now through our new match program at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which we operate through Greater Horizons, the national arm. That has been such an incredible benefit to begin offering to our employees. We just launched that in February, and it’s a one-to-one match for our employees up to a thousand dollars.

Nancy Phelps:
We actually have a million dollars in that fund for year one, here in 2020, as we launch that program. So we’re so thrilled to see our employees giving their time, giving their resources. Then we combine that with the Dunn Family Foundation, which is a family-led, mostly philosophically-based donation primarily here in Kansas City. Then the fourth piece… So tying all these dots together, the fourth piece is our data and corporate giving. That has been a philosophy since the beginning of JE Dunn of giving back 10% of our pre-tax net revenue to our communities where we live, work and build. This whole strategic plan that we’ve launched right before the pandemic hit, and that we’re really focusing on implementing over the years to come, is really enriching lives through corporate and employee engagement in all of the communities where we live, work and build.

LaVon Colhour:
That’s awesome. Yeah, our team has been very busy working on the employee matching gift program. We love seeing how generous employees are and companies that offer these programs for employees. For it to be a brand new program for JE Dunn, we’ve really seen some traction with employees, so it brings me to about the culture. You touched on the culture of giving back at JE Dunn. Can you talk a little bit more about what that culture looks like?

Nancy Phelps:
Absolutely. It’s so deeply ingrained here at all levels of the organization. It started really with our family founders. In December, Mr. William Dunn Senior, Bill Dunn Senior, retired officially after 96 years, which is just incredible. He was still coming into the office one or two days a week after I started in December, so I got to spend some really good time with him and really hear, from his perspective, the roots of that generosity and his philosophy about treating people well, giving back to your community, serving others. I see that resonating with all of our employees today. It’s part of our culture.

Nancy Phelps:
Here at JE Dunn, we have a few core beliefs that you’ll see on signs throughout the building and on our walls. The three that we’ve really tied into our strategic plan are doing the right thing, serving others and fun and fulfilling lives. Those are three of our core beliefs that we see really being lived out through our community impact efforts because, again, we’re approaching this in a very holistic manner, looking at both our corporate engagement, our family foundation and our employees, trying to really bring those together in the most meaningful and impactful way in our communities.

LaVon Colhour:
How has JE Dunn responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Nancy Phelps:
We’ve taken really a three-pronged approach to the way that we responded to the COVID pandemic here at JE Dunn, an immediate approach right away this spring, when things really started to change really rapidly, an interim response, which is where we kind of are right now, and then thinking long term. I’m going to start long term and work my way back because that’s been our focus. Our focus has been trying to ensure that we have funding available when the repercussions of being shut down for months, when the repercussions of canceled events, canceled fundraising, all of that hits our nonprofit partners.

Nancy Phelps:
We see serious fallout for them coming in the future and knowing the vital services they provide to our community, to our people here in Kansas City and in all of our markets, we want to ensure that we’re able and ready to lend support when needed. That’s kind of our longterm vision, and we’re working through how we would evaluate those kinds of requests and that kind of funding responses later on this year. In the interim, which is kind of where we are now, we’re prioritizing our legacy relationships with nonprofits, those that we’ve funded historically, that we have strong relationships with, deprioritizing event support, knowing that it’s a constantly changing event landscape and really focusing on programmatic support for those legacy partners.

Nancy Phelps:
Backing up into March, right when the pandemic really hit here in Kansas City and in most of our markets around the country, we had an immediate response. I have to give such credit to our leadership, to Bob Dunn, to Gordon Lansford, to Paul Neidlein, all of our leaders across the country, for stepping up and responding immediately. We were a founding funder of the Kansas City Response and Recovery Fund, that regional effort that took place through the Community Foundation. Just incredible to see the level of support and the level of impact that that fund is already having.

Nancy Phelps:
We were so thrilled to be an immediate founding funder of that. We actually really prioritized a lot of our immediate COVID funding response there. We also, with our nonprofit partners, as I’m sure organizations have experienced, we had sponsored a number of events that immediately got canceled. We reached out to our partners as things began changing and just encouraged them to keep those sponsorship dollars to use them for programming or the area of greatest need. That way we could support them immediately as they were responding to such an unusual and unprecedented circumstance.

Nancy Phelps:
One of the things I’m most proud of is a COVID campaign that we ran through our employee match program, and this was incredible. I’ve got to give LaVon on this call, on this podcast, a huge shout out because I had this harebrained idea. On day one, I’m working from home, and I reached out to LaVon. I said, “Hey, is this even possible?” Literally within 36 hours, she had a two-to-one match campaign up and running through our employee program. Just incredible. We’ve authorized up to a hundred dollars per employee to COVID response, and we’ve kept that intentionally very broad. We included homeless shelters, community food banks, hospital foundations, disaster relief funds, all of those different types of organizations that we know were being directly and immediately impacted by the pandemic.

Nancy Phelps:
Our employees stepped up. It was incredible to watch. We originally had the campaign on for a month. We ended up extending it all the way through the month of April. By the time it was all said and done, in increments of $100, we had a combined impact of almost $70,000 between JE Dunn and our employees. That is just amazing to me to see how our employees immediately said, “Okay, how can we help?”, and then stepped right up.

Nancy Phelps:
As I mentioned on that Corporate Giving Network, the thing that inspires me most, and the reason that I will always say I’ve drunk the JE Dunn Kool-Aid, is that that’s only part of the story. That’s just the dollars and cents. The ways that our employees and our leaders continued far beyond just giving dollars and funding has been absolutely inspiring to me. It, to me, is that moment where you realize that a company’s unique skills and resources can truly meet a need in a community because we’re a construction company. We build really, really beautiful buildings, but we do not know how to create a vaccine, and we can’t cure a pandemic, but we can do something about the needs in our communities with the unique skills and resources we have.

Nancy Phelps:
As we launched this two-to-one matching campaign, I started having employees reaching out and talking about a food bank that they’re super passionate about or a homeless shelter that they had volunteered at for years. We started capturing this information and telling these stories internally. This was all internally. We called it our Inspiration Feed, a little bit of light in the midst of chaos. We started posting these stories.

Nancy Phelps:
Over the month and a half that we had that campaign going, we have dozens of stories. It’s how a construction company can respond during a pandemic. It’s been amazing. We have people delivering hundreds of meals and cups of coffee and signs and cards to our healthcare providers and our frontline workers. We’re builders, we’re makers, we’re creators. Our people are so incredibly talented. They got to work sewing, and they sewed thousands of masks now for different people around the country, whether it’s friends or coworkers or ambulance drivers, nursing home attendants. It has been amazing to see how they have used their skills for creating and for making to serve others.

Nancy Phelps:
We built emergency testing and treatment facilities for our healthcare partners in a matter of weeks. We donated thousands of N95 masks off our own storehouse shelves that we typically would use for construction projects. It’s even things as simple as providing fencing that would typically be around a construction site, providing that to local nonprofits, to create a safe outdoor space for testing and treatment for our homeless in downtown Kansas City. Those are the ways that a construction company can fight a pandemic. We can’t find the cure, but we are here and we are ready to serve alongside others. We are ready to give back. We are ready to do the right thing and to impact our communities. I feel like for any of us in corporate social responsibility or philanthropy roles, that’s kind of that sweet spot is finding the place where unique resources and skills and abilities of a company and of a people can really impact and connect with the need in a community.

LaVon Colhour:
That’s incredible. I’m just honored to be able to work with you and to work with JE Dunn, just on a very small piece of what you’re doing. I mean, it’s just amazing everything that JE Dunn is doing, the community outreach. We had no idea about the fences and the N95 masks. I mean, that’s just a great story that you can tell forever. It’s amazing. It’s really amazing. Nancy, thank you for joining us on today’s podcast and thank you and JE Dunn for your amazing work in the communities across the country. Thank you for choosing the Community Foundation as your corporate giving partner. And thank you for everything that you’re doing during this unusual time for all of us. I mean, JE Dunn has really stepped up to the plate. So thank you for everything.

Nancy Phelps:
Absolutely. It’s our honor to give back to our communities where we’re living, working and building.

LaVon Colhour:
Listeners interested in learning about the Community Foundation’s corporate giving services can visit us at our website, growyourgiving.org.

Conclusion:
To hear more from the Grow Your Giving podcast, visit us online at growyourgiving.org/podcast. Thank you for listening.