As a leader, I try to model the characteristics of someone who responds to injustice, takes risks, leads with a clear mission and vision, values team members, models integrity and humility and welcomes all.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Pulte Rickard.
Nancy Pulte Rickard, MPA, is a philanthropist and the President and Chairman of the Board at the Pulte Family Charitable Foundation, an organization that supports nonprofits and academic institutions that work to address humanitarian initiatives in the United States and globally. Nancy is the daughter of William J. Pulte (1932–2018), a humanitarian, builder, and the founder of PulteGroup. As President, Nancy advances her father’s legacy by providing leadership for the Foundation’s strategies, direction, and partnerships, such as the Pulte Institute for Global Development at the University of Notre Dame.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My dad William J. Pulte was born during the Great Depression. His journey was that of a hardworking vision-driven boy to an industry leader. He constructed his first home in 1951 at age 18 and went on to found and build Pulte Homes into a Fortune 500 company listed on the NYSE. My dad was a loving, faith-filled man who believed wholeheartedly in Luke 12:49 that “to whom much is given; much will be required.”
As a philanthropist, my father was a quiet giver. He shared his resources and faith to support organizations and communities that reflected his vision for a more caring and compassionate world. Religious leaders called upon my father to request help when a local church or school needed a roof and to support local soup kitchens and orphanages overseas. One of my father’s passions was building homes and shelters for those in poverty. My dad helped provide for families in Detroit with shelter, heat, electricity, and education for thousands of Detroit youth. He was a founding member of International Samaritan, a nonprofit dedicated to raising the standard of living in garbage dump communities through building housing, providing hands-on service, and advocacy work in Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Ethiopia.
It was important for my parents to teach their children from a very young age to be giving with our time, treasure, and talent. My dad’s philanthropic spirit translated into everything he did, including holiday traditions. We have a large family, and when my dad remarried in the fall of 1970, our family swelled from nine to fourteen children. Our first holiday season as a blended family was a game-changer because my parents saw Thanksgiving and Christmas as golden opportunities to teach us the importance of giving back.
At Christmas, instead of our parents lavishing us with gifts, all children (ages five to sixteen) would receive one gift from Santa under the tree — the exact same gift. The first year we received a five-dollar red roll-up sled from Kmart. Our parents used the money that they would have spent on our gifts to create an annual family Community Christmas Project. Each year, different family members would choose a local organization to support. Some of our organizations included those that supported people with disabilities, financially struggling families, and the elderly in assisted living facilities. The kids gathered the recipients’ names, ages, and sizes, to shop for gifts for the families. We also helped decorate, cook, and wrap gifts for a special evening that included everyone singing carols together. We learned the true meaning of Christmas through serving others.
Our parents also began a new Secret Santa tradition. We exchanged just one gift with only one family member, and the caveat was that we had to make — not buy — the present. We drew names from a hat to determine who would be the recipient of your handmade gift, and it had to be kept a secret until Christmas Day. The first Christmas started a little rocky, literally, with our younger siblings painting rocks as their gifts. However, it eventually evolved into an entire day of spending time together and the excitement of everyone opening — one at a time — their wonderful homemade creation from their Secret Santa.
We continued the family Secret Santa and Community Christmas projects for 16 years. Both the traditions became the impetus for us as children to develop servant’s hearts and become involved in philanthropy. The values and legacy of my father’s faith, kindness, hard work, and charity became the cornerstones of the Pulte Family Charitable Foundation and our work today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
During my childhood, our family often supported organizations that served people with disabilities through our family Community Christmas Project. Later in life, my husband, Kevin, and I became an aunt and uncle to our nephew Ryan, who has disabilities. As a toddler, Ryan started having seizures, which quickly catapulted his parents into a new sphere of life, with endless doctor visits and multiple surgeries. Half of Ryan’s brain was removed, which caused paralysis of his left arm and hand, and affected his gait and speech.
Watching Ryan’s journey allowed me to see first-hand the issues this underserved population faces with long-term care. There is an imminent question for all parents with a child with intellectual, physical, or developmental disabilities (IDD). “What will happen to my child when I can no longer care for them?” For Ryan and some of his buddies, that question was answered by building Champions Place, a residential home for persons with physical disabilities.
As president of the Foundation, I advocated for our Board to support Champions Place with a significant financial gift, and asked Pulte Homes to match our donation. Combined, these gifts helped launch Champions Place over the finish line, which was completed in 2020. Ryan plays on a wheelchair basketball team called the Titans. Champions Place provides a place for the Titans to gather socially and is now a home for Ryan, 15 of his teammates, and others to live their lives to their fullest potential.
Beginning with my childhood Community Christmas Projects serving the IDD community and continuing throughout our family’s path with Ryan’s journey, there is no doubt in my mind that these can align for a larger plan to advance initiatives for people with disabilities. I view “coincidences” such as these not as mere accidents but as “God-incidences.” Through experiences such as these, together people and circumstances are woven together to “accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Today, the Pulte Family Charitable Foundation works with twenty-five communities serving people with disabilities in the United States and seven countries, including Ukraine, India, Argentina, Brazil, DR, Honduras, and Mexico. We are currently in the early planning stages for a three-phase Champions Place model totaling 48 residential units for our IDD community in South Florida.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Our Foundation could have never accomplished our genuine desire to be global agents of change by our own power. In 2019, we endowed a $111-million-dollar partnership gift to the University of Notre Dame, which in part helped to create the Pulte Institute for Global Development. The Pulte Institute uses a multidisciplinary approach to find solutions that address the unique challenges our global brothers and sisters face in their communities.
As an integral part of the Keough School of Global Affairs, the Pulte Institute addresses global poverty and inequality through policy, practice, and partnership. The Pulte Institute designs, implements, monitors, and evaluates projects and programs that promote human dignity, empowering the world’s poorest and vulnerable populations to flourish.
The Pulte Institute seeks to work creatively and collaboratively with faculty, researchers, and students. Additionally, it maximizes impact through partnerships with government agencies, non-governmental agencies, humanitarian organizations, foundations, individual donors, and private corporations in the U.S. and overseas.
Beyond the lens of economics, inequality can be seen as a lack of access to those basic human rights we all require to flourish — rights such as food, shelter, healthcare, and education. Our hope is that the Pulte Institute for Global Development can be a transformational force for higher education and the fight against global poverty. To date, it has led and collaborated on 101 development projects that span the globe in scope and focus.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Each year we continue to expand our reach. In 2021, we served over 170 nonprofit organizations and academic institutions. One of my position’s greatest rewards is meeting with our grantees. On our site visits, we not only review the outcomes of their grants, but we have the opportunity to see their front line work firsthand and meet individuals whose lives have been impacted for the better. A grant may have helped a nonprofit expand programs, acquire new innovative tools, enhance vital services, and extend partnerships that empower communities. We highlight stories from our grantees on our social media and annual report, but there is nothing compared with the connection of being together in person.
One of our Foundation’s Areas of Giving is education. I believe it is through education that we create one of the greatest impacts in the lives of individuals. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world.” We support academic institutions and students through our William J. Pulte Scholarship programs. There are many paths in education. Our Foundation’s support for individuals includes scholarships to students for trade schools, colleges, and universities, grants for public schools, academic fellowships and research, and nonprofits serving individuals through educational initiatives.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The Pulte Family Charitable Foundation works to meet the basic human needs of the most marginalized members of the human family, including socioeconomically disadvantaged youth; the aged; persons with physical, emotional, and mental disabilities; and those with the fewest material resources. While we support organizations creating effective change in various humanitarian issues, two of our priorities have been in the fields of mental health and organizations that serve individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD).
In the arena of mental health initiatives, society needs to continue to expand education and resources for the complexities of mental and behavioral health. Although there is an increasing awareness that mental health services are essential, we have a long way to go to ensure services are equitable, affordable, and accessible and reduce any stigmas around seeking help.
Our family knows first-hand that you need not look any further than one’s front door to be touched by emotional and mental illness. It has been and continues to be a reality in our family but is rarely discussed in depth. In part, for my generation, it was too painful; we were just kids trying to survive — as was our mother, who suffered deeply from emotional and mental health issues stemming from childhood traumas. Mental illness carried a stigma and was something we didn’t discuss in polite society. You didn’t want people to think “badly” of you or your family. We were all supposed to buck up and solve our problems on our own because “everyone has struggles.” Not anymore; we as a family and the Foundation support those who work so hard to combat the mental health crisis.
In March 2021, the Pulte Family Charitable Foundation committed $3,000,000 to Florida-based Henderson Behavioral Health to support the organization’s Growing Strong Campaign. The gift was explicitly to support the development of Henderson Behavioral Health’s new state-of-the-art Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) and a Centralized Receiving Facility (CRF) on the Pulte Family Campus in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In April 2021, we committed $1,000,000 to the Pulte Family Foundation Adult Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit at the Justin A. Borra Behavioral Health Center, part of the McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital in Cheboygan, Michigan.
In both situations, the Pulte Family Foundation Board unanimously supported these initiatives. Through the Pulte name, we hope the Foundation can be a catalyst for others who want to help break the stigma of mental illness by shining a light on the topic. We are supporting my father’s legacy, but we are also honoring all who are suffering or have suffered from mental illness.
In the arena of the Intellectual Development Disabilities (IDD) initiatives, we need to continue to remove stigmas, expand resources and support for individuals with IDD and their caregivers, and increase the accessibility of residential homes so persons with IDD can live life to their fullest potential.
At the Pulte Family Charitable Foundation, we work with twenty-five IDD communities in the United States and seven countries globally. Our most recent initiative is focused on housing. We have come alongside one of our Southern Florida grantees, ScentsAbility, to build a place that young adults with mild to moderate IDD can call home.
In Florida, we have approximately 480,000 people with mild to profound intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD). According to The Florida Development Disabilities Council 2022–2026 Five-Year Plan, currently,
· Only 6% of Florida’s family caregivers received support from the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
· Florida ranks 49 out of 50 states in fiscal effort for persons with IDD on services and support.
· Over 21,500 individuals are on a waitlist for IDD services, ranking Florida as the highest percentage of all states for the number of persons on a waiting list.
· 75% of persons with IDD in Florida live with a family caregiver, and 31% live with a caregiver aged 60 or over.
One of the greatest concerns of families, particularly those with aging caregivers, is the imminent question, “What will happen to my loved one when I am no longer around, or if I am incapable of care giving at the level my loved one needs?” Except for the state-operated facilities, there are less than six housing communities currently in Florida, and of those, only 500 people total reside in them.
Upon turning twenty-two, all the benefits and services that an individual with IDD receives end.
In 2022, those whose parents are under seventy years old can receive up to the maximum monthly stipend from Medicaid is approximately $840. For those with parents over seventy or, if a parent is deceased, the amount is based on what the parents’ social security is /was from Medicare. This money is supposed to cover all medical, dental, physical therapy, food, transportation, and all related housing costs, including rent. This is an unbelievable stretch for most of these people. So many of them have multiple health issues that Medicaid alone cannot cover.
Politicians and communities have the ability to move the needle in improving the welfare and lives of individuals with IDD. Politicians can help change ineffective policies, outdated housing regulations, and the lack of financial resources for services IDD individuals twenty-two and older who have aged out of government support.
Communities can be more supportive of the building of housing for those with IDD in their communities. We need to increase community education to raise awareness and combat disabilities-based NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) opposition to zoning and housing developments that would support this population that needs protection.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I could not think of a better example of defining leadership than what the University of Notre Dame Center for Social Concern describes as “the strategic and intentional fostering of collaborative relationships that lead to collective action and positive change for the common good. When inspired by Catholic social thought, leadership is countercultural, others-centered, encourages the balance of contemplation and action, and nurtures a sacred disposition that motivates others towards acts of mercy and mobilizes a faith that does justice.”
As a leader, I try to model the characteristics of someone who responds to injustice, takes risks, leads with a clear mission and vision, values team members, models integrity and humility and welcomes all.
What are your “3 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I began my role as President of the Pulte Family Charitable Foundation when I was sixty-one. By this time, I had already learned many life lessons through personal life events and had a great life coach in my dad. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the way my father lived his life through example and all the verbal lessons he would give along the way helped prepare me for the next chapter’s responsibility of leading the Foundation. His wisdom taught me to stick with your convictions, that it’s ok to make mistakes and surround yourself with a good team. However, I certainly didn’t grasp these lessons’ enormity conceptually until I acted as the Chairman of the Board and President of the Foundation.
- In leadership roles, people depend on you to provide the vision, set the course, and see it through. That can be a daunting task when others don’t agree with you. Not everyone will see your vision. Stick to your convictions about what you feel is the right path to accomplish your mission and goals.
- It is ok to make mistakes…no, I mean, really, it’s ok. There is the saying that there are no losses in life — you either win or learn. Life does go on when you make a mistake. What is important is that we find productive takeaways from those mistakes. If you can learn something that will make you and your organization better, it is worth it.
- “It is lonely at the top” aren’t just words. As a leader, it can potentially feel isolating if you don’t surround yourself with a great team and colleagues. Nothing is ever accomplished solely alone. It is essential to cultivate connections to others in leadership roles who can offer comradery, perspective, and wisdom.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I do not think I am a person of enormous influence. I believe that I represent a foundation comprised of a group of talented people who wish to be a force of good in the world. Children, adults, and families worldwide find themselves overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control. Together with the collective efforts of our grantees, we are striving to create a sustainable impact locally and globally. In addition to our mission, if I could inspire a movement, it would be to expand the virtues of kindness, civility, and the practice of prayer. I hope we can continue to unite people through a shared vision of building a world where people live with dignity and security. Many people are already working on this type of movement, and it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to extend our platform to support their initiatives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite inspirational life lesson quotes are from Mother Theresa. Her timeless messages of peace, acceptance, love, humility, and community embody what it means to work in the humanitarian and philanthropic fields.
Two of my favorite quotes from Mother Theresa are, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot. Together we can do great things.” and “We can do small things with great love.”
My parents were the first to teach us as children that everyone can give back through the gifts of their time, talent, or treasures. Whether it is simply supporting our friends and neighbors under challenging circumstances, volunteering in our communities, or partnering with organizations on the front lines of addressing our world’s most pressing challenges, even in small ways, we can choose to make a difference.
Is there a person in the world or the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would like to have a conversation with Melinda French Gates. I respect her as a leader, an advocate, and a philanthropist. I appreciate that she uses her position to better humanity. At the Pulte Family Foundation, we continue to expand our humanitarian initiatives globally. Through the Pulte Institute for Global Development at Notre Dame, our work will be at the nexus of global development implementation and understanding through measuring effectiveness, understanding complex environments, and influencing policy. As our Foundation expands our partnerships for improving equity, health, and the well-being of communities globally, I believe Melinda could offer tremendous insights.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can connect to all our social media platforms on our website at pultefamilyfoundation.org.
This was very meaningful; thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Nancy Pulte-Rickard Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.