Power Profile: Orvin Kimbrough
President and CEO of the United Way of Greater St. Louis
Where fear once served as the root of motivation, now faith resides. Orv Kimbrough, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, emphasizes the importance of faith as the cornerstone for his life’s journey.
Kimbrough says his decision to pursue college was motivated by the fear of ending up in a challenging life situation like his parents faced. He says the decision to attend college changed his life, but when he failed classes his freshman year, he realized that fear could not be his main motivation.
“It was then that my faith became even more dominant in my life,” Kimbrough said. “You can be motivated by fear or you can be motivated by faith. One takes from you and one pours into you.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work from the University of Missouri-Columbia, he went on to receive master’s degrees in both business administration and theology. He then turned his education into action.
Spending much of his professional career working for non-profits, Kimbrough has most recently poured himself into the United Way of Greater St. Louis. The organization annually raises more than $75 million and has invested more than $2 billion into the St. Louis region since its inception in 1922.
Last year, United Way of Greater St. Louis was ranked as the No. 1 United Way campaign in North America. Kimbrough attributes the success to leadership from the governing board and staff, generosity of the community, and a unique strategy.
“We have a strategy that’s a little different than the strategy across North America,” Kimbrough said. “Our strategy is predicated on something called ‘customized philanthropy,’ which is, in effect, starting where your customers are and helping to meet their needs. It starts with us listening intentionally to our donors and being responsive.”
This strategy places corporate giving within the construct of citizenship. After one of the hottest summers on record, Ameren Missouri recognized that citizen customers with limited means were struggling and responded with a $5 million energy assistance program.
Energy assistance is consistently one of the top three needs for low income individuals. Kimbrough says the funds Ameren Missouri recently made available to aid limited income customers with their energy needs will be used as a stop-gap to assist individuals who cannot afford to pay their utility bill because of extreme heat and cold, and as a proactive measure to increase energy efficiency. He says these dollars will help people who have fallen on hard times and have the potential to save lives.
“When I was a young person, I lived in an apartment building in North St. Louis and I remember to heat our home, we turned the oven on and opened it,” Kimbrough said. “I know lots of households who do that, even though we know it’s not safe. But that was our reality; you do what you have to do. So perhaps (with this funding) we can save a life. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.”
Kimbrough says he is grateful for the continued support Ameren Missouri provides and is thankful for the people who make up the organization.
“Good companies are comprised of good people,” Kimbrough said. “You can’t talk about a corporation without talking about the people who are part of the company every day and make it what it is. These are our neighbors and our friends. These are people who we are doing life with. We are thankful for what Ameren Missouri does day in and day out.”