Humility. Humanity. There’s a reason why these two words look so much alike—they are intended to go together.
Kelly Bruggeman, long-time Executive Director of the First Interstate BancSystem Foundation, knows this. It’s an approach to work and life she’s infused into her everyday for more than 30 years.
With dogged determination and a quiet, humble approach to leadership, Kelly has spent her entire career at First Interstate, spurring on and sustaining the institution’s unique brand of philanthropy and commitment to community.
But after more than three decades at the Bank, Kelly will retire as First Interstate’s Director of Community Relations and Foundation Executive Director on July 2, passing the baton to Interim Director, Stacey Black.
Thirty years of service is a lot to unpack, especially for someone as gracious as Kelly. Rather than reflecting upon her professional success in implementing countless programs across the Company, Kelly instead shifts the spotlight to the people she works with, the passion fueling their endeavors, and the relationships she’s forged along the way.
Kelly has seen the Bank grow and transform from a modest-sized privately held company to an $18.4 billion regional community bank—but one constant through the years has been the organization’s commitment to its employees, clients, and communities, Kelly said.
“The word ‘philanthropy’ literally means the love of humankind,” Kelly said, “and that sentiment is more important now than ever. My personal definition of philanthropy is the act of giving time, talent, and treasure.”
Several nonprofit groups are near and dear to Kelly’s heart, but she is especially passionate about CLIMB Wyoming, an organization committed to helping single moms overcome poverty.
Kelly has also played an integral role shaping philanthropic policy and business development for several nonprofit boards, including Philanthropy Northwest, the Montana Community Foundation, and the Montana Nonprofit Association—to name a few.
“I’d like to thank Kelly for graciously setting an example for others to follow,” said Mary Rutherford, President and CEO of The Montana Community Foundation. “She personally practices the joy of giving and makes it a priority to engage a diverse group of people while making meaningful connections.”
First Interstate President and CEO, Kevin Riley, echoes these sentiments.
“Kelly has represented the Company extremely well, imparting her passion for philanthropy and financial education to countless bankers, clients, and community members. We commend her for three decades of service and thank her for setting us up for continued success in the years to come,” Kevin said.
The Vision Whisperer
When Kelly took the helm at the Foundation in 1990, she found herself in an exciting position—able to implement and trailblaze new ideas. This is all the more extraordinary, considering Kelly (and the Foundation) was a team of one up until 2000.
During those early years, the concept of a donation or volunteer match program was novel, and Kelly was the first to institute those benefits into First Interstate’s best practices.
In addition to donating a portion of Company profits each year, First Interstate’s Foundation also matches employees’ personal financial contributions. That means if an employee donates $1,000 to a favorite nonprofit, the Foundation will match that contribution to total a $2,000 gift to that organization. What’s more, First Interstate also donates $10 per hour for volunteer efforts made at qualifying organizations. That means First Interstate literally pays nonprofit organizations for employees to volunteer their time. During Kelly’s tenure, First Interstate has gifted more than $60 million to nonprofits and community causes across a six-state footprint.
Kelly was also instrumental in launching First Interstate’s First Relief Program, which provides financial assistance to employees in crisis; Neighbors Feeding Neighbors, which provides a double-match contribution to organizations fighting hunger-related issues; and the Mini Bank program, which teaches schoolchildren financial literacy and money management skills for life—among others.
“More than any other, Kelly transformed our instinctive understanding of the importance of a bank’s commitment to its community, to be exemplar of well-executed, scalable, corporate philanthropy,” said Jim Scott, member of the Boards of Directors of both First Interstate BancSystem and the First Interstate BancSystem Foundation and Kelly’s long-time supervisor. “Because of her vision, leadership, and ability to build relationships inside and outside the Company, Kelly has been instrumental in creating a core competency at First Interstate that creates pride in us all, earns respect from community partners, and has changed the lives of many for the better.”
When asked how she achieves these feats, Kelly pauses, quietly reflects, smiles, and says her approach to leadership is one of a “vision whisperer.”
“For me, it’s not important that I have the idea or get the credit—I enjoy planting the seed, whispering the vision, giving my team the tools they need to be successful, and supporting them along the way.”
The concept of giving is an ethos for Kelly, one she fully intends to continue after her retirement from First Interstate. She plans on staying busy by maintaining a steady volunteer schedule and will be chairing the Montana Community Foundation.
For those interested in pursuing a career path in philanthropy, Kelly offers this advice: “find your own personal mission statement,” she said.
What’s her personal mission statement, you might ask?
“Mine is to help people find their philanthropic passions by encouraging the use of time, talent, and treasure at all levels,” Kelly said. “And always remember to pause and listen, because we all have something important and valuable to say.”
On behalf of everyone at First Interstate and the many people you have touched, inspired, and supported through the years, thank you, Kelly, for your dedicated years of service. Enjoy your retirement!