Cathy Lyttle, VP Corporate Communications & Investor Relations Worthington Industries

You have done community work for a long time – tell me about your journey.

A lot of my life and career is intertwined. I always say if you have passion around something there are ways to get involved. That’s the first step. Any organization you feel is doing a good job you get to know it by volunteering - not just jumping into a board position. Find your way that way.

Early in my career, I was saying yes to things because of the person asking verses feeling like I can really make a difference. You should really think about how you can contribute. I went on a couple of boards that were small and weren’t operating very well as a board and I didn’t have great experiences. As I matured - and I have to give credit to Leadership Columbus - I realized I could raise my hand to be involved in something but that I didn’t have to be on its board.

I believe in the role of sports in helping a community grow. It’s a place where we can all come together. I helped the Clippers build new ballpark downtown and also help lead the sale of tickets to bring the Crew here. I was part of the political campaign to get a sales tax passed to get a hockey stadium and arena downtown. That one didn’t work out and we had to find another way but we made it happen.

Throughout my career, I got to meet some awesome people. When I worked at The Chamber, I saw this community as one where you say, “I want to help,” and you can. You raise your hand and you can help. I got to know the community really well – how we think and who the players are.

I met John McConnell and we worked on the Columbus Blue Jackets together and, because of that, I went to Worthington Industries. The Chamber work and community involvement helped me while sitting on the other side of the table when I took over the Worthington Industries Foundation. The board and volunteer service I had done gave me the knowledge of the community and it was helpful in aligning priorities.

Sometimes when I was frustrated at my job, my community work would be the thing that would carry me through a rough week or a bad day. It made me feel like it was a good day when I could jump in on a community issue or help a non-profit, or give good advice to someone. That work stays with you and enhances what you do in your job.

You have to be engaged – you can’t just go to work and go home. You have to get out of office and do things – it makes you better at your job and a better person.

Tell me about your best board experience.

One board that I enjoyed was The Franklin Park Conservatory because I really liked the organization and Executive Director so it was one of the best experiences I have had. We thought big thoughts. There was quick engagement - I got my hands dirty – we jumped into a capital campaign and I helped tell the story.

My code is once you’ve served in a leadership role on a board at an organization you shouldn’t stick around on the board too much after that. You can still be supportive but you should let someone else step up and do it their way. I was only on the Conservatory board a year or two after my leadership role. After leaving the board I stayed engaged in other ways - I Chaired Hat Day and was involved in the current campaign. I continue to give and help raise money because I believe in it.

I’ve noticed you often mentor young professionals – what advice do you like to give young professionals?

I feel like, with all due respect to my male mentors in the news room and sports, I didn’t have a lot of female mentors. I had some, including my mom, but I didn’t have a lot of female mentors on the job. I think we need each other and so I always advise to look for a mentor, someone who can help guide you. I like to be helpful showing the way or being supportive. We all need someone that taps us on the back and says you are doing a great job or it will be better tomorrow.

I would tell young professionals that you have to be open, and getting out of your comfort zone is an important thing to do. In our careers, we need to say, “I was going to be this…” but somewhere along the way, I realized there are other things I could probably be impactful doing. Don’t just think this is what I trained for, this is my job, this is what I do. Realize that you have the skill set to do some different things. Acknowledge that and be open to those other opportunities.

This is the same for volunteer work. It’s not enough that we come to work and make donations and then go home and think the rest is someone else’s problem. Be curious and open. If you want to learn about something, people’s doors are usually open. They are willing to help. It might be coaching your kid’s ball team or getting involved in the PTA and when you have more time getting more involved with a nonprofit that needs your help. When you are in a position when you can help others it’s important that you do that. I don’t always know the people I reach out to but if I’m interested in something I call or email without knowing them. And I would say I hear back nearly every time.  We all should be helping each other. 

What are the characteristics of successful nonprofit professionals that you have seen? What makes some people really stand out?

Collaboration is used a lot but it’s critical.  I really like seeing an executive in a nonprofit appreciating the importance of connecting the dots to other organizations or community needs. It might not just be their organization that benefits but it can be for a greater good to connect to an additional organization or community issue. I also like people to be prepared. If you are coming in to talk to me don’t ask me about our foundation and our giving – you can find that information online. Instead, say this is what I’m thinking might fit with your giving or I need advice on how I might connect with another organization.  Maybe you want to discuss an idea or strategy and receive feedback.  That’s all good.

Being transparent, ethical, and having high integrity is important too. How leaders treat their staff and the people around them is always a good clue in terms of the health of the organization and if it’s going in the right direction. Good relationships with their board is key too.

You were honored as one of the most influential women to know in business in Columbus, did you ever dream about accomplishing something like that when you were young? 

I never had a five-year plan. I went to college to become a performing arts major and wanted to go to Broadway. I realized those jobs were a dime a dozen and switched majors. My family was involved in news and I thought I might switch to the newsroom.

Most days I feel like I’m just doing my job. I think of myself as a person who loves their community and wants to do good work. Getting recognized is nice but I never really dreamed about it.

A male mentor of mine told me once, “You are a staff person and you are working for someone. There is always someone to report to even if you are President of the organization.”  That stuck with me and it’s the way I approach my job and that keeps me honest. 

Tell me about Worthington Industries focus for charitable giving?

The Worthington Industries Foundation has donated more than $11 million to various non-profit organizations over the past 10 years in the areas of safety, health, community, and environment. We aid community causes in education, civic organizations, health and human services, and arts and culture. 

Are there any standard deadlines for support?

We don’t have a formalized process but we want people to know our fiscal year is June 1 to May 31 and we take grant requests once a quarter. We take them anytime. The website is more for requests that come from outside the Columbus area. In Columbus, we are accessible for personal conversations.

 How do you determine which nonprofits you will place board members?

We don’t have a ton of people on boards but we do try to align board placements with our giving. When we give big gifts we want to find the right person for what the organization needs. For example, they might need someone with a background in finance, HR, marketing, etc. We go to our senior leadership group and see if we can use this as a professional development opportunity for someone. If our executives demonstrate a desire to be on board we will talk to them about what might work for them.

How is special event support requested and which events are considered more favorably than others?

Special event support requests usually come from partnerships because we can’t do them all. When requests come in there is a menu of items we go through - is that an organization we have been aligned with? Do we have a board member? Is this event our only contribution to the organization? What other ways can we support them?

We also have legacy partners and organizations where we provide a combination of an operating grant and/or special event support. We are careful about signing on for special events because filling tables can be a full time job, but if it’s the best way to support the organization, we do it.

Do you consider support for Capital Campaigns?

Yes, we consider capital support but it comes down to community need and seeing if it is the right fit for us. We are always open to new ideas. Often capital support is for nonprofits serving a large part of the community and doing good work for social services, healthcare, and education. We also focus on the quality of life in our community like the Columbus Zoo, Clippers Ballpark and the Columbus Children’s Theatre.

Where should we go for more information?

Our website has our community impact report and overview of what we fund so it’s a good place to start.
https://worthingtonindustries.com/Company/Corporate-Responsibility/Community

If your organization meets our funding criteria and you would like to request funding, requests can also be emailed to WIFoundation@WorthingtonIndustries.com but we prefer a conversation prior and if you are in Central Ohio, we’d prefer in person and reserve the on-line requests for out of town organizations.