Carolyn knows that non-profit organizations and volunteers are an important part of the fabric of our society. Listen as she talks about her work in Corporate Giving and shares her journey.
William Krieger: The views and opinions of the guests of the “Me You Us” podcast do not represent the views and opinions of Consumers Energy.
Bill: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Me You Us, a wellbeing podcast. It’s another Wellbeing Wednesday here at Consumers Energy, and I’m your host, Bill Krieger. Today, my guest is Carolyn Bloodworth. She is the executive director of Corporate Giving here at Consumers Energy. Carolyn, if you’d introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversation started.
Carolyn Bloodworth: Hello, Bill. Thank you so much. I’m so delighted to be here. As you said, I’m Carolyn Bloodworth. I have several hats that I wear here for Consumers Energy. In addition to being the executive director of Corporate Giving, I am also the secretary and treasurer of the Consumers Energy Foundation, as well as the CMS Energy Foundation.
That basically means I’m here to help nonprofits and support our corporate and charitable giving. Also included in that is our employee volunteerism as well.
Bill: You’re not busy very often? [laughs]
Carolyn: Never busy at all. No, not at all.
Bill: Anyone that follows Carolyn, in fact, the last week I’ve seen so many posts. I don’t know if there’s a clone. I don’t know how you do it.
Carolyn: [laughs] There’s a lot of times sleep is not quite the big priority, but I tend to try to catch up on that a little bit more. I’m fueled by being engaged and being involved with people, so I don’t mind one bit.
Bill: Excellent. That’s good to know. The Executive Director of Corporate Giving, that sounds like an amazing title, but for the members of the audience who aren’t familiar with that, what do you do for a living?
Carolyn: What do I do for a living? I help provide a face to the company in terms of our charitable support for the communities that we serve. Corporate Giving is all about making contributions to nonprofits in the communities served by Consumers Energy.
Nonprofits provide a critical and important piece of the fabric of communities across Michigan, and it’s important for us as a utility. We’re doing business in Michigan. Our employees live here. Our customers live here and work here. We want to support these communities to make them strong, and nonprofits are a big part of that.
Bill: Yes, absolutely. I know that I’ve worked with a few nonprofits that have benefited from the work that we do. It’s interesting because as a utility, many of our customers are our coworkers, are people who are recipients in one way or another from some of these nonprofits as well.
When they talk about the circle of life, that is all encompassed here.
Carolyn: It really is. We often talk about work being a family and trying to make sure that we’re supporting our own family. We talk about the support that we gave for you and nonprofits you care about, Bill.
One of the great things that’s part of our philanthropy here at Consumers Energy is we try to make sure that we’re also supporting organizations that are important to our coworkers. We have programs specifically designed to support those nonprofits where our coworkers are volunteering or where they’re making contributions. We try to match those contributions as well.
Bill: Good to know. We’re going to talk a little bit about how maybe folks can get in touch with you through our portal and other ways. Before we do that, I’ve got to ask. When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a policeman. That was my thing. I was going to grow up and be a police officer.
Here I am today, doing a podcast. I got to think, when Carolyn was a young girl growing up, were you thinking, “I want to be the executive director of corporate giving”?
Carolyn: That’s a really great question. I have no idea. I grew up in Jonesville, and had a wonderful life. My parents owned a newspaper. I saw the amount of great work that they had. I knew I didn’t want to do that, but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I landed in the company while I was a college student. Things just took off from there.
Bill: If you don’t mind my asking, how long ago was that?
Carolyn: I started with the company in 1981. I’m coming up on 42 years with Consumers Energy. I did start very, very young. It was a tremendous start. It wasn’t my first job by any stretch of the imagination, but it was my first job with a very large corporation. First experiences in every way imaginable.
Bill: Where did you start out then with the company?
Carolyn: I found a part?time job opening on the job board at Western Michigan University. Those job boards do work. They do turn into something great. I started at our Kalamazoo service center when the service center was full with about 500 people.
I remember many people pointing out to me, “You’re the youngest person in this building,” which was always fun. Now I think sometimes I’m the oldest person in the building. That’s really interesting.
Bill: [laughs] I hear you.
Carolyn: I was a junior office clerk. Started from the ground floor. I was answering the switchboard in the front lobby. Greeting guests as they came in to either pay their bills or meet with people in the building. I was making copies. I was pulling service orders for our customer care team at the time. Doing a little bit of everything.
Bill: What an exciting time. I can only imagine. It’s funny that you mentioned being the youngest person in the room because I know when I started here, sometimes some of the folks who’ve been around for a while would…say you’re do something, would chuckle like, “Oh, come on.” Now I find myself being that person.
Carolyn: I am very much aware of that myself as well.
Carolyn: I feel bad because now I think back to things people used to say to me because I don’t understand it. I get it now. I totally get it, and I totally understand.
Bill: You couldn’t do the job that you’re doing without a real passion for taking care of people. Where does that come from?
Carolyn: Somebody asked me that a long time ago, and I think it came from home. I grew up in a small town, as I mentioned. I don’t know why I remember this, but I remember my mom was very actively…Both parents were very actively involved in the community, but my mom, walking up and down our street for the March of Dimes.
I remember going to doors with her. I had no idea or awareness of what she was doing until later I realized what she was up to. It started very early, and so our parents were very encouraging to get out and do whatever you need to do to make things better.
That was part of who I was and how I was raised. This came very naturally. When I finally landed in this role after some time with a company, I realized I was home. It made a difference.
Bill: It’s funny because I can’t think of a time where I mentioned your name where someone didn’t smile and then share great stories. You are the face of the company, especially when it comes to taking care of our communities.
Carolyn: It’s a real honor, I have to say. It’s very humbling, and it’s a real honor, but I get a lot of joy, a great deal of joy. So much of that comes from our coworkers and tying into what they’re doing and the differences that they’re making. I get as much joy from that than I do from anything that I might do myself.
Bill: I can tell. I wish people could sit here and watch this right now because Carolyn is smiling from ear to ear. You can tell when somebody enjoys what they do. I think I said this before. It was Mark Twain that said, “If you can find a job that you love doing, you never work a day in your life.”
Carolyn: That’s true. That is very true. I’d say 99 percent of the time, that’s how I feel. It’s some of that paperwork or having to tell a lot of people, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t help you,” then it feels a little bit like work.
Bill: There’s always that one percent of the time where it doesn’t work the way that we would like it to. What are some of the things coming up? Now, we’re recording this a little bit late in 2022, but this will air in January of 2023. I’m sure there’s some plans and some things coming up in ’23. Can you share some of that with us?
Carolyn: Sure. We’re right in the thick of creating those plans, but I can tell you it’s nice to be back. It’s so thrilling to be back here sitting in a room with you in person.
We’re building our programs back as our employees are back to work. Trying to encourage more employees to get out to volunteer, and trying to support that as best we can.
Also fulfilling our commitment to Michigan through our philanthropy, and focusing on our priorities of people, plan and prosperity. Continuing to do good things across the state and making a difference and meeting the needs where they are.
Bill: I want to go back to a point to where corporate giving and philanthropy isn’t just about writing checks to these folks. Sometimes it’s about getting out there and doing the hard work. What are some of the things that our volunteers have done over the past year that stand out in your mind?
Carolyn: First thing, as soon as you mentioned that, I think of Habitat for Humanity. It’s one of those very natural organizations where engaging employees, engaging residents in the community together to build homes or renovate homes and neighborhoods and to make them better places for families.
That’s always been a very strong priority for us. We provide a great deal of funding for Habitat for Humanity across the state. We engage Habitat for Humanity organizations with a lot of our energy efficiency programming, which is wonderful.
A lot of the Habitat work involves upgrading homes and making sure they are more energy efficient. Giving them better appliances, caulking the windows, and making sure their energy bills are reduced.
We also send in a lot of employees to help out as well, and that makes a difference. I think that sometimes is the secret sauce for us. It’s wonderful to write a check. No question, those nonprofits need money, but we send our employees out.
Quite often, our employees get very attached and they recognize the value of what they’re doing. They go back and they show up again. Or they get some interest and they sometimes might join a board because they become so passionate about the organization. That’s exactly what we want to see.
Bill: I know that many times those board seats have been instrumental in helping people.
I interviewed one of our coworkers because there were trolls of his family. He and his sister were involved in a group in Detroit that Patty had sat on their board. To see that he was able to finish school, go to college, and come work here as a result of that work, was amazing.
Carolyn: It is. It’s very fulfilling. I think anyone who volunteers, they don’t really truly realize the impact that they can make even as an individual. It doesn’t take your entire life to do that work. Even just a few hours a day, a week, a month has an impact on people’s lives.
Bill: I would say too, when you mentioned Habitat for Humanity, I’ve been on a couple of builds, and I would say this to the audience. If you want to go home tired, but feel good about what you accomplished that day in a very different way than you might feel about any work that you do in your office, check out Habitat for Humanity.
Those builds are just…It’s indescribable. You have to actually experience it, I think.
Carolyn: You do, and you learn new skills. I do remember I learned some skills at a Habitat built that I was not sure I wanted to go home and tell my husband about because then he would have known I could have helped him at home projects because I now had that skill.
It’s a wonderful way to learn, and obviously these team building opportunities, a Habitat build or going out to clean up a park. We have a lot of employees that do a great deal of work during Earth month in April. We go out and we clean up parks, and clean up rivers, and we’re picking up trash, and removing invasive species.
We’re also doing is, we’re working together as a team to make a difference and that is incredibly valuable.
Bill: I learned a lot about the teams that have been on here at Consumers through those efforts. I recall a Habitat build in Midland. This has been a few years ago, but Guy Packard, and Chris Schellberg, and some other folks who are retired now were all there.
I look back at those pictures, and I remember not only were we helping this family out, but we had a good time doing it and we got to know things about each other that we wouldn’t have known if we just passed in the office.
Carolyn: Without question. I think back to a lot of volunteer activities was involved with the Relay For Life here in Jackson for many years. I made some of my dearest, closest work friends because we’re all there supporting a cause that we all care about very deeply, but then you learn about them in a very different way.
Things that don’t come up in a national meeting, or a setting, or a virtual setting you have at work. Those things don’t happen unless you’re outside of the work setting.
Bill: You talk about Relay For Life, that’s interesting because when I first started here, that was a big deal. I remember Relay For Life and some of the folks that were involved in that. I know over the years it’s dwindled down a bit, then I know when the pandemic hit, a lot of things that we do, we didn’t do anymore.
I know this past year, we started getting involved in it again. My hope is that next year, we’ll see it grow bigger and bigger and get to the point where it was before.
Carolyn: Without question. Cancer is one of those very sad circumstances where virtually everyone’s been touched by it. It’s easy to connect to people in that way. At the same time, a lot of those events and things have changed, and the pandemic did change.
I feel for nonprofits because they’ve had to adjust. They’ve had to adapt to agility measures that we’ve never even imagined. We’ve all dealt with it ourselves here at work.
If you think about a nonprofit whose main income for the year was based on certain special fundraising events, and those went away. How are they going to manage and what are they going to do? Because they’re providing critical and important services.
Bill: If you want to exercise your agility muscle, please join the board of a nonprofit. I’ve seen it, and they do amazing things sometimes with nothing. It’s almost magical.
Carolyn: It really is. I talk about our coworkers and the friendships I’ve made. I have friends in the community from that board involvement as well. I often tell coworkers of ours, if they want to do some professional development and they don’t see it immediately at work, they need to get out in the community.
Diversity is a very big priority for us at Consumers Energy. Being on a board provides a level of diversity that you don’t see back in the office.
All of us at the office, we have a common characteristic, a common bond. We have the same paycheck. We have the same goals, many of us have the same leaders. There’s a lot of commonality there at work.
You go to an outside board to work together, everybody’s coming in with a very different thinking, different priorities, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful way to educate yourself on community, how to work together, how to grow your leadership skills.
Maybe how to exercise some of the great skills that you have yourself that you can provide to the organization too.
Bill: You make a great point. It reminds me of the time I spent in the Michigan National Guard and it’s Citizen Soldiers. We all came from different walks of life and different neighborhoods, and we brought that to our decision making while we were in the National Guard.
I remember seeing these amazing ideas come out of problem solving, especially in combat, where, if we were all thinking the same way, we probably never would have reached that conclusion. I can see that not only did that help the National Guard, but that also helped those employers when those people came back.
To your point, not only do we bring those diverse thoughts to those boards and those things that we work on, it helps us think differently when we come back here too.
Carolyn: Without question.
Bill: Which is always good. Having diversity of thought helps come up with some pretty interesting ways to solve problems.
I do want to ask, though, if I wanted to get involved either volunteering or with a nonprofit, if I work for Consumers Energy, and let’s say I want to go volunteer and go do something, what do I do here to make sure that you know that we’re doing this?
Carolyn: Thank you, Bill. Your payment will come later.
Bill: No problem.
Carolyn: For those of us, I know not everyone’s with the company that listens to this, but for employees and retirees of Consumers Energy, CMS Energy, we have what we call the volunteer portal. We would love for employees to go out onto that portal and log their hours, their time that they’re volunteering.
Coaches, people that are supporting the PTA, the band boosters, serve on a nonprofit board, whatever you might be doing in a volunteer capacity, we would love for you to put that time in the portal.
What will happen when you put that time in the portal if you are volunteering with a 501(c)(3) organization, once you start accumulating hours, you’ll reach a threshold of 20 hours. This wonderful technology is going to send you a message and tell you, you’ve earned $100 that you can direct to any 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
That just grows. The more time you put in, the more dollars you will be able to distribute, up to $5,000 in a calendar year.
Bill: Wow. That’s not small potatoes. [laughs]
Carolyn: It’s not small potatoes. This is an enhancement over a program that we’ve had here at the company for nearly 30 years. It’s been through the foundation where we used to have you fill out a form. Then you had to get the form signed, get the form back, you send it to my team, and then my team would have to process the check.
We’d send you the check, and then you can imagine it was very manual, very time consuming. Often people might have lost or misplaced checks. Timing was always challenging because of the time you had to do all of that; mail not always entirely reliable.
We’ve mechanized everything. We’re using technology. We’ve really adapted and embraced the company’s, what we call the CE way, trying to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make life easier for everyone. The program is still available.
Also, if we have employees that go out in a group, say five people go out and walk for the Relay For Life, or maybe they’re going to go bowling for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, maybe they’re going to do a Habitat build.
If there are five of them that go out together, we want them to go back into that portal and make sure that they report that time, because that group of employees that are out volunteering earned $250 for that nonprofit.
Bill: I’ve been here for a little while. I didn’t know that either. [laughs]
Carolyn: Don’t forget, we’re happy to outfit employees with T?shirts. We have lots of blue T?shirts that we would love to put on the backs of our employees just to show them that we care. We would love for the community to know that we’re out there and doing wonderful things. It’s part of the fabric of who we are as a company.
I think it’s inherent in utilities. This is how we operate. We’re fully into the community as a business, and we’re fully into the community as a care for what’s happening as well.
Bill: I have a couple of those T?shirts.
Bill: It seems that every time I do a voluntary event, I forget my T?shirt. Someone’s nice enough to give me. If anyone’s looking for an extra?large T?shirt, I have a couple that maybe I could donate back if you need them. [laughs] No. It’s been a lot of fun to do these things.
What if I don’t work for Consumers Energy, and say, I’m a nonprofit. How could I maybe engage your team, then?
Carolyn: There’s lots of ways to do that. If you’re a nonprofit in our service territory for Consumers Energy, if you’re looking for ways to obtain funding from us, there is a website. www.consumersenergy.com/foundation. You will see our priorities listed. You will see ways that you can apply for assistance from us for grants.
We also have sponsorships, so also part of my team. We also provide support for events and activities. This is separate from grant?making. We have a foundation. We also have corporate grant?making as well. You think about some of the events and activities in Michigan that are really pure Michigan.
You just came back from our ArtPrize this fall. We support the Cherry Festival in Traverse City, the AuSable canoe marathon.
Bill: One of my personal favorites, by the way.
Carolyn: Yes, of course.
Bill: …but I love that one.
Carolyn: It’s one of my favorites. How many events go across five of our dams, when you think about it? The connections to consumers and the canoe marathon are so strong. That would be one that would be very difficult for us to turn away from because we’ve been so actively involved since the beginning.
There are a number of festivals and events throughout Michigan that we support every year. Nonprofits are encouraged to look online and find the correct application. I believe my phone number and my email’s on the website. They’re welcome to call me or send an email to ask questions. We’re happy to help.
Bill: Listen up. If you are struggling with that application, there is help. I know that Carolyn is more than happy to help walk through that because she’s helped me walk through it a couple of times.
Bill: That’s a couple of ways that we can get involved either if you work for Consumers Energy or if you do not. If you work for Consumers Energy, feel free to reach out to Carolyn and her team to find out how to support those nonprofits, not only through hard work, but through some cold cash sometimes.
Carolyn: Cold cash. That’s another exciting change that we just did later part of 2022. We have a matching gifts program. We’ve had a matching gifts program with the company for many, many years. Predates me. We enhanced it. When we went to this new technology, we enhanced the program.
We recognize that employees like to donate to a lot of different causes. We will match employee donations to any 501(c)(3). We will also match retiree donations to any 501(c)(3). All of this is done using that CE volunteer portal. We are more than happy to help in that way.
It also provides us as a company with an opportunity to support organizations that our employees care about that we may not necessarily naturally support. They may not directly line up with our three priorities of people, planet, prosperity, but we know they’re important.
Bill: All right. Good to know all that. I do want to ask you a question, though. If I’m a retiree, how do I get to the portal?
Carolyn: You need to contact us. Yes, firstname.lastname@example.org, I believe, is the email. We need to set up a profile for them. They need to contact us so we’ll get them all set up.
I have a great team that will work directly with them to make sure. They were just working this morning with a retiree that needed to get in and make sure that they could get access to all of these programs.
Bill: You hear that, retirees? I know that a lot of you have given your time and your sweat to these programs. You can continue to do that as a member of the Consumers Energy and CMS family.
Bill: Carolyn, we are getting close to the end of the podcast. Before we go, I would just like to ask, what message would you like our listeners to take from this conversation today?
Carolyn: Bill, I know we’ve had a rough couple years. All of us have. Even the whole year of 2022 was challenging. You think about inflation. You think about a lot of trauma for a lot of individuals and families across Michigan and across the United States.
There are ways to help people. The best way to help people, you’re also helping yourself. I encourage people to think about what they could do to make a difference for someone else, whether it’s maybe donating a little bit of money. It could be donating a little bit of time.
You’re not only making an impact on someone else’s life, you will be changed yourself. I can assure you. You will be, in many different ways. There’s ways to bring your family into that as well. Every little bit makes a difference. The need doesn’t always go away for other people. Anything that we can do to make a difference will be very, very much appreciated.
Bill: What a wonderful message. Thank you so much for sharing that. Thank you for coming on the podcast. You might not know this, but Carolyn has been really good about sending me the names of people who should be on the podcast.
A lot of the people you’ve listened to over this past year especially have come directly from her. It was a big score for me to get Carolyn to agree to come on the podcast. She never gave me her own name. It was always someone else’s. Thank you so much for coming on.
Carolyn: It’s been my pleasure.
Bill: Thank you to the audience for listening in today. The Me You Us podcast is proudly sponsored by Consumers Energy, leaving Michigan better than we found it. Remember, you can find the Me You Us podcast on all major podcasting platforms. Be sure to go out, find us, and subscribe.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. If you’re a veteran or you know a veteran who is in crisis, you can call 988 and press one for the Veterans Crisis Line.
Bill: Remember to tune in every Wednesday as we talk about the things that impact your personal well?being.
Transcription by CastingWords