VP of Kids & Community Partners, Chuck Denning

The business of giving back

Armed with 20 years of operations experience in the retail industry, Chuck Denning joined Kids & Community Partners in July 2020, bringing a methodical business-like approach to our non-profit activist investing. He’s added depth and value to a department that will provide more than $500 million in non-profit work over the next decade.

“Chuck brings a level of operational expertise and business acumen to the department that we really lacked,” said partner and director of Kids & Community Partners Ryan Ernst. “The biggest impact he’s had is his work on developing processes – everything from how we measure impact, to how we pay invoices to how we analyze programs. We run Kids & Community Partners like a Connor Group department, not like a bolt-on non-profit, largely because of Chuck’s buy-in and efforts.”

Last year was arguably the best year in Kid’s & Community’s seven-year history. The Greater Dayton School officially opened its doors to students last August. Connor Kids Academy expanded to its second market and tripled the number of camp participants. Because of the relentless work of our associates, we contributed $16 million to our non-profit endeavors.

But the support we offer is more of an investment than a donation.

“We approach each program we vet like we would if we were vetting a business. We look at their leadership structure, their mission, and the steps they are taking to accomplish that mission,” Chuck said. “If we choose to invest in a program, we hold them accountable to their goals and mission. The programs we support need to live the Circle of Success the same way Connor Group associates do.”

Recently Chuck shared more about his background and transition to The Connor Group.

Tell us about your family and where you are from.

Originally from Greensboro, North Carolina. I was the youngest of three at the time. Later I wound up being right in the middle of four sisters.

We moved to Cincinnati when I was 4 years old. My parents got divorced shortly after. My dad’s work had him moving to Connecticut and then California. Later he moved to Toronto, then Texas and Arizona. So, although Cincinnati is home, I got to “live” all over the country for at least parts of the year.

I met my wife in 2000. I was visiting Cincinnati on a weekend leave from the Air Force, and she fell madly in love with me. Fast forward 23 years, and we have two kids and two dogs and are still in Cincinnati. My daughter Taylor is 15, and my son Connor is 13. Both are super active and keep our time monopolized. 

What were your first impressions of the culture?

The culture was as advertised. Nothing that was shared with me during the interview process turned out to be false – and that’s a good thing.

Great example, less than three months after I started, the Relentless Run was scheduled. At the time, organized races weren’t happening because of the pandemic. We didn’t let that stop us. We found a way. In fact, I recruited my whole family to run. It was my son’s first official run – and very motivating to him. That next year he ran two half marathons as a 12-year-old. Your workplace’s culture impacts all aspects of your life. I’m happy to work somewhere that I don’t mind bringing it home.

Who has helped you most in your time here?

I’ve been impressed by the willingness and commitment of everyone to help. It’s great to work in a place where someone’s success is important to everyone. That isn’t the case in other companies – I can tell you from first-hand experience.  

Individually, Larry’s helped me tremendously. I thought I knew what it meant to be strategic, but that was proved wrong. He continually challenges us to achieve the impossible, but not without the proper people, plans and processes in place.

Ryan has also helped since day one. It’s been great working to grow Kids & Community with him. 

What’s next for K&C? What are you most excited about?

The growth of our in-house programs – programs we own and operate. The Greater Dayton School will complete its first year this summer, adding another class next year. The move to the new campus is exciting. Connor Kids Academy will have its original cohort of 30 students entering their third and final year of the program. We will also add another 90 kids for a total of 180 this year, including in a new city. Also, Colin’s Lodge is exploring the addition of another location in the region.

We are also in the early stages of learning if there is a role we can play in helping address the mental health crisis kids face today. It’s too early to say, but if we determine there’s a program that we can develop to create a long-term, significant impact – that’ll be pretty exciting too.

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