ACCP is excited to share our Q&A with this year’s Trailblazer recipient, Lynette Bell, President of Truist Foundation.
Tell us a little about your path to corporate philanthropy and your current position at Truist.
From an early age, my parents always instilled in me and my siblings the importance of service. My mother was deeply committed to supporting and uplifting others in our small town in Florida. I can recall accompanying her when she volunteered with Meals on Wheels because she believed in supporting all communities, including the senior population. I remember that as we were dropping off meals, my mother was friendly and courteous, and the recipients of the meals were always kind. She felt it was important to always give back. Having observed my parents as examples, I developed a keen sense of responsibility and duty to give back.
My career in the financial services industry started more than 30 years ago. I held operations, regulatory affairs, bank examinations, and compliance positions. I ultimately served in community reinvestment leadership positions, leading the community development program to support underserved communities, before becoming president of Truist Foundation.
Now, at Truist Foundation, I am leading an organization committed to collaborating with innovative companies and investing in communities to build better lives. I am focused on strategic philanthropy, deepening partnerships with nonprofits, and strengthening local communities in career pathways and small businesses.
How do you see the field changing and progressing in the coming months and years?
I see a future where more corporate donors transition from simply writing checks and walking away to investing in long-term, deep relationships with the organizations they support.
I strive to ground myself in research and data and building relationships to really grasp the needs of local communities. At Truist Foundation, we consistently seek opportunities to provide wraparound support that meaningfully impacts the organization.
That may look like developing creative assets to help them market and brand their work, offering their leadership training and development courses at our Truist Leadership Institution, convening multiple partners for thought leadership and problem-solving discussions, connecting organizations with our existing network of collaborators like MIT Solve, and more.
Corporate philanthropists are being called to focus their investments on hyperlocal programs where grassroots action is the priority. By funneling grants through the leaders and organizers living and operating in local communities, we can evolve investment to impact and create long-term change.
What do you wish those outside the field knew about corporate giving?
There is a misconception that most funding for nonprofits comes from major philanthropy when, in actuality, it only represents a small fraction of the income for successful nonprofits.
According to the National Council of Nonprofits, private philanthropy (which includes individual and foundation giving) makes up only 14% of the total annual revenue of the nonprofit community. While we are always proud of our corporate giving, it’s equally critical that we continue to support the capacity building of our grantees to realize all their potential and diversify how they are raising funds or building an organization poised for success.
I can allow our partners to expand their networks and community impact by co-creating solutions, uplifting nonprofit programs, providing resources, and offering wraparound support.
What is a strategy you use that has contributed to your effectiveness as a senior corporate citizenship leader?
Noticing and evolving my focus to mirror the trends impacting humanity has certainly helped me continue to be an effective citizenship leader with a pulse on what matters. Being a true public servant is about using observation and analysis to decipher how to best support others.
For instance, as our world continues to become more technologically advanced, leveraging technology as a strategy to maximize philanthropic impact has become necessary. Making dedicated investments in technology for nonprofits has allowed Truist Foundation to help organizations maximize efficiency and transform work in their communities. Technology can scale services, connect us to hard-to-reach places and build a new pipeline of opportunities for individuals and their families.
The pandemic underscored the importance of access to technology, and we saw first-hand the need to support communities as nonprofits experienced high demand for their resources. The pandemic required many organizations to pivot to virtual support and solutions. With a hybrid virtual environment here to stay, there is continued opportunity for philanthropists to help further expand technology access. Advanced technology and connectivity are no longer just a nice-to-have; for many, it is necessary.
What advice would you give someone new to corporate philanthropy or considering entering the field?
It is essential for those both new and experienced in philanthropy to understand that the role of businesses has changed in recent years. We have seen how corporations can act as positive changemakers in society.
Truist believes that businesses can only succeed if the communities and clients we serve thrive and have the right tools, access, and opportunities. When this occurs, we all win – together.
We must approach philanthropy by providing a hand-up to ensure all stakeholders and beneficiaries have an opportunity to thrive and succeed in a rapidly changing world.
Making inclusion a priority requires involving communities in the philanthropy process. To maximize impact, philanthropists—primarily corporate philanthropists—should leverage a local touch by identifying and collaborating with leaders on the ground. After all, these leaders know their work, needs, and communities best. It is impossible to infuse inclusion without intimate understanding.
What’s a favorite quote or saying?
Oprah Winfrey, one of the most significant individual philanthropists of our time said, “There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It’s how you become most truly alive.” I strive to honor my calling to give back to others every day. I feel like my best self when I can proudly reflect on the lives I have impacted for the better. Engaging in this work, whether in my career or personal life, has been my passion for as long as I can remember.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
I would describe myself as accountable, authentic, and visionary. Stemming from “the responsible and level-headed sister” role I played within my family growing up, I pride myself on following through on my commitments. At the same time, I value honesty, truth and meaning. Finally, I’m driven by having clear direction and purpose. Each of these three descriptors comes through vividly in my professional and personal life, and it is important to me that others understand my intentionality.
Share one person you admire and why.
My mother continues to be someone I greatly admire and always want to make proud. She has been a hard worker her entire life, and my work ethic has followed in her footsteps.