This week on The One Thing podcast by The Horton Group, our hosts, Robin Bettenhausen and Tom Kallai, spoke with Eric Holtrop, director of the Ozinga Foundation.
The Ozinga Foundation is associated with the Ozinga company, a fifth-generation family business primarily focused on ready-mix concrete. The foundation was established in 1995 to enable larger charitable giving and provide flexibility in donating funds. The Ozinga Foundation strives to positively impact in the community by supporting various charitable causes, particularly those serving the local Chicago area.
“I’ve been blessed and uplifted to meet so many different people and organizations through my role,” Eric says. “Chicago specifically has so many incredible people and organizations that fly under the radar and never make the news.”
Eric emphasizes the importance of building relationships with foundations like Ozinga and aligning requests with their values. He highlights the foundation’s preference for local community-focused organizations and suggests that nonprofits find connections within the foundation or its employees to strengthen their proposals. Eric also mentions the foundation’s support for in-kind donations of concrete and materials, which can be a unique way for organizations to partner with Ozinga.
Tune in as we shine a spotlight on the Ozinga Foundation’s extraordinary work and how it exemplifies the power of philanthropy and community support.
Hello and welcome to The Horton Group’s “The One Thing podcast.” I’m Robin Bettenhausen and I’m here with Tom Kallai and our esteemed guest Eric Holtrop. So Eric, I don’t know if you know this about me, but when I was in I think sixth grade and I was going to a small private school, I had the opportunity to meet Ruth Ozinga. She actually was a leader for me and probably seven or eight other girls in the school and completely sort of changed and shaped my life in her advice that she gave us and help me grow personally and also spiritually, so that makes me even more excited today getting to learn a little bit more about the hosting a foundation and how you’re really honoring the legacy of Ruth and Marty and others.
So, Eric, tell us a little bit about yourself and also about the Ozinga Foundation.
Thanks, Robin and thanks Gordon for having me here. It’s great to be here, and I view it as a privilege to represent almost Ozinga. And I myself went to Timothy Christian High School from there, I went to Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, which was the first time I heard the Ozinga name. When you park on campus, one of the first things to see is the Ozinga Chapel. You know, it’s kind of like, “Oh, who’s that?” or, ” Okay, maybe I’ll meet some of them,” and sure enough, there were two Ozingas at Trinity when I was there for a short time. The backstory there is their grandfather, the current owner’s grandfather, was on the original Board of Trustees to help start the school. They thought it be very needed and valued to have a Christian college and the southwest suburbs of Chicago. So, they were involved with the college when they were very beginning to when I went there and they’re still involved now.
And then so more about myself? So, I’m the current director first – not a number to manage the Ozinga Foundation. Ozinga itself is right down the road in Mokena, close by Horton here. We’re close to 2,500 employees of the main core business’s ready mix concrete – if you’re on the road and you see red and white trucks, that’s us, the red and white ready mixers. And yeah, very happy to be here.
So Eric, the Ozinga Foundation has been around for is it almost 30 years now?
Yeah, correct. So the Ozinga company, we’ll call it – or the empire, if you will – is 95 years young. We just celebrated our 95th anniversary last Saturday evening. We had a picnic, so all the co-workers and their families got to go out and just socialize and spend time with one other was a very fun day. Just the Center celebrating just the history of the company and then going forward. It is a fifth generation family business. So, the current owners are generation four, and there are six brothers and a cousin. And in 2012, their parents handed over the company from the third and fourth generation. And the vision is to the same thing we go to the fourth generation to fifth generation business. So this past summer, there were fifth generation kind of numbers interning at the company.
So the company is 95 years young and the Ozinga Foundation was founded in 1995. The primary reason there was as the company grew, assets grew. Foundations give you the flexibility to make some larger gifts as well as transfer funds and let them sit and accrue earned interest versus just always donating from the business account. And so in 1995, the owners had a strategy: let’s actually create a foundation, a family foundation and it’s been been used since then.
So, you have a portal that people can go and request to be considered. Tell us a little bit about that.
Yeah. Thanks Robin. So, the way that we’re structured is…there isn’t an OzingaFoundation.com page. We flow everything through the business and most of our donations are actually made from the business account. Very few gifts are made from the actual foundation. The foundation is almost become more of an asset holding entity. One of the reasons being is the family tends to be somewhat private in donations. So, we like to do things anonymously. And when you donate through a foundation everything can be seen online. You would just search, “Ozinga Foundation 990,” and you look up our giving history. So, as a strategy, what we’ve done is we make very, very few donations from the actual foundation and most of our gifts come from a donation account of the posing of business. So, if you go to and – I’m sure I’ll get flooded with requests as a good thing – www.ozinga.com/giving, it’s a web portal we created which I love. The website itself just holds me accountable and lets the board see how many requests come in and just tracks how long it took to respond. And then it also enables me, because I can be forgetful. Where was I at in the process? Did we receive a request, and then I reached out and I scheduled the Zoom call? Or maybe I went out there in person? Or is this just a request where they’re asking for the same amount as last year we can approve it? But it enables us to hold me accountable, but then also helps me to see where things are in the process. So, as things progress update the status and track it that way.
Because it’s not as easy as just pushing a button. There’s a lot of follow-ups, I’m sure.
I wish it was easier than pushing a button!
So, Eric, I’m lucky to know you and your family really well, and I know your heart is forgiving and I see the generosity that your family has.
So, what’s the most rewarding part – just given that you personally love to give – of working for the Ozinga Foundation?
Yeah. So, what I really view, kind of as a blessing, is I found a vocational call that I do something that I’m very passionate about for a a family that represents my values. So last February of If 2022, Ken Cook – who is a close friend of both of ours – he reached out to me and let me know that job was going to be opening up at Ozinga for a foundation director. I was like, “Oh that sounds like a really cool job!” At the time, I was doing banking with the primary focus of nonprofit and cash management and I was like, “I would love that. I did fundraising the past and it would be great.” So, when you work for a Family Foundation or a company on the giving side, you want to be able to represent their values and just represent their family really well in all aspects. And part of that is to make sure that what you would want to give to algins with what they would want to give to. So, stepping further back, the Ozinga family comes from a Christian Reformed background, as is myself. So, a strong component of being Christian is wanting to give back, do better. So, the company is setup…we’re tied at least 10% of pre-tax profits to local nonprofit organizations. And our giving is to both faith-based and non faith-based organizations, which is exactly how I do my giving with my wife. So, we have the majority of our giving will go to churches or where our kids go to school (a Christian school), but then there’s amazing organizations that help individuals with special needs or veterans causes. So, the giving of Ozinga and their heart really aligned well with mine. And so, it’s almost like a perfect match. I hope they think the same thing. Yeah, but yeah, so it’s really when you are a foundation director, you have to think “Okay, is this something that aligns with my core values?” And then if it does, you just kind of have the privilege of joyful generosity, where I’m able to approve donation requests to incredible organizations that I myself would not be able to do. So, I feel like it’s I get to give on behalf of my company but I have a lot of self pride and joy in what we’re doing.
Also great, because that’s 10 percent of a big number. Really, really cool.
And how that came about is, so, Marty Ozinga IV – he’s their current CEO – I’ve heard him talk about in 2012 when the third generation passed the company on to the fourth generation…one of the things that they said was – non-negotiable – is to giving. So, that’s something that the third Generation was doing, their grandparents are doing, their great-grandparents did is always giving back. And they really feel that they’re stewards of the business and they’re stewards of the resources, and that the cash or the money to the company has isn’t their own but it’s God’s. And so one way to glorify him and to serve the crown of his creation of our fellow man is to be generous with that. So, when their father handed it to the current 7 owners, he said, “Alright, you boys are responsible for making money and I’ll be responsible for giving it all away.” So that was like his joke – continue to be profitable so I can continue to give. And so, as the company grows, where I come to play as I’m able to give more away so it’s kind of fun.
Yeah, that’s great. I love that notion of non-negotiable is the giving. Like you could put that on anything. It looks great and it sounds great. And there’s no shortage of nonprofits that are looking for help and one of the ways that they look for help is from foundations like the Ozinga Foundation.
So, what what are some things that nonprofits should know about foundations like yours that they might not know?
Yeah. That’s an excellent question. So, I only I think that giving is very much a relationship. So, we all know that it’s very difficult to get a “yes” if there’s no connection between the organization and the donor. When I did fundraising, we could write the most beautifully crafted letter and you could make the best case about why your organization is worthy of your funds and how we would use them with wise discernment and it’s going to be a blessing to the people that would benefit. But if it’s just a letter, it’s very difficult because we all get so many letters. So, you know in the course of the day, I might get 12 mail solicitations and then about six requests on our website portal. So as a policy, we’ve 100% only gone with the website portal route. We talked about really the benefits of that for us. Just remote tracking and accountability standpoint.
Yeah, that’s a lot. I mean that’s like what 60 a week minimum? Multiply that by 52, I mean, yeah, there’s a lot coming in.
It’s fun and challenging so it goes back to relationships. So, for us the fact that we have 2,500 employees rounded, there’s a connection maybe not with me or the Ozinga family, but with our co-workers. So, on our web portal or just from a conversation with coworkers, it might be that a co-worker has a child with Down Syndrome. And their child goes to an after-school program until their parents networking and they pick them up and that’s a connection right there. That’s which we want to marry. Okay. There’s a there’s a local nonprofit organization serving individual special needs and they’re being a blessing to our co-workers. Or it could be as simple as – I know Robin’s kids are very athletic and they’re on the Frankfurt baseball team, Robin works at Ozinga, and she submits a request on their behalf for us to sponsor a Little League team. Those are very easy yeses, and there’s this connection right off the bat. Where we work, where our co-workers live, there’s a there’s an overlap. So, we want to support those local ministries that are a blessing to our co-workers. So, that’s an easy relationship. Then, there’s more of a personal level, where there might be co-workers serving on a board of a nonprofit and then they introduced me that way to them. So, it’s the easiest thing going back to your – hopefully, I’m answering your question now – the relationship side, because there are so many great nonprofit ministries just in the Chicagoland area alone. And if someone is just mailing requests or doing a cold call, it’s really tough to establish that way. So, I always say find out who the donor is, the foundation is or the organization. What connection can you make? And maybe leverage. And maybe it’s not Ozinga but Horton, for instance. You find out that Robin works there and you work at a nonprofit and kind of say, “Hey, I’d love to get together with you,” or, “Could you put me in touch with whoever manages your corporate giving just so I could tell more about the organization?” And it might be a “Not now,” maybe not “no forever,” because people are busy, but at least that seed has been planted where you’ve heard of the organization so that if they follow up with an email or a LinkedIn connection, you can be like, “Oh, yeah, that was Robin’s friend from Frankfort.” So, it’s very hard to do cold turkey. But if there is a connection I would utilize that first.
And then, know the organization’s values or like maybe what type of operations they would support. So, our mission statement is to make a positive impact in the community. So, we’re very much focused then on local community giving. So, if we received a request from an amazing organization in Wyoming, I politely would decline because we do not do business in Wyoming. So, find out the “where” and “why” they give. And a lot of foundations, they actually have on their website, “We want to give to these type of ministries and these areas – we’re going to give to Africa.” Okay. Well, I know that I’m in Illinois. I’m not going to be approved for that request. So, use your time and energy to find one that wants to give locally to the Chicago area.
That’s super helpful. I mean, I think most of us have done some fundraising and it’s good to know like if you’re reaching out, what is it?
What’s going to be that right fit?
I think you kind of answered it but anything you would say about like the things you wish applicants knew about the process besides that?
Yeah, so what now that you’ve you know, we’ve made a relationship maybe we set up a Zoom call. I always say before you would submit a request on our donation portal, but at least have had some interaction with me or someone in the company because once again, it’ll trigger a memory: “Oh, yeah, I knew that one was coming in,” or if it’s a co-worker, I can contact them and say, “Hey, I got a request,” and they put you down as a referral so I can get back in formation there. And then once you’re on portal, “Okay, someone always and is aware I’m going to apply,” make sure that you follow the steps. I’m not going to knock on anyone, but sometimes it’s as simple as they didn’t upload a W-9 and that’s a requirement and they attach some…I’d like to receive attachments that aren’t even W Niner. It’s like an “About Us” page and that’s great that they uploaded something, but they didn’t upload the right thing. So, it’s like, okay, now we’re going to have – before I even determine if this is a right fit – I would have to reach out to them for a W-9 when that all could have been avoided. So, I always say if you’re going to spend the time to write a grant request, know the organization, know their values, know why they give and then tweak your message to be crafted around that. So, I always say the most important thing is build your case statement. When you make your “ask,” really sell it so there’s a real clear and concise understanding what the donation request is for and how it would benefit the organization or how maybe the funds would be used, so that it makes it easy for me or someone else in my role to understand. Okay. This is where they operate and says their purpose. This is what their funds are for and then this is kind of their response time. So, I always we have in our request portal , “When’s your deadline or when would you like an answer by? Then we know, “Okay, this is quick,” or “It’s six months down the road,” miss a minute of this project takes place. I have the time then to set up a zoom call and we have to rush it. One of the things that I know that the Ozinga family myself and probably most of donors…we don’t like to feel the pressure of an urgent request. “Sorry things felt things fell through and this event is in two weeks and we’re finalizing our Sponsors page. Can you tell us today? Ca you tell us next week?” All right that and that’s thing that you wouldn’t get reproved but it makes it less joyful to give in that manner when it feels rushed or it’s like you’re getting a ComEd bill and it’s due to three weeks. You don’t have a time to connect and learn about one another right? And there are sometimes though that an urgent request would be necessary. So if it’s a local food pantry and their freezers went kaputz? Okay. Well, that’s an urgent situation. They’re going to reach out to their current donor base saying, “Thank you for your past support or thank you the gift this year. Unfortunately, this really terrible news: our freezers went out and we’re reaching out to all of our current donors to each contribute $1,000 or $5,000 to rebuild our kitchen and build our food pantry. Other so those situations it’s like, okay, we need to act now because their ministry is in crisis. If they don’t get a working freezer or whatever fits for the particular organization, they can’t fulfill their duties. So, we want to step up in those situations. Yeah. So if everyone else, you know, plays the long game when there actually is a crisis situation, it’s easier for myself or other foundations managed. So great question.
Very cool. Yeah I like that. You mentioned it feeling joyful to give.
So, from a personal standpoint, are there any situations or specific causes that maybe your eyes have been more open to through giving through the Ozinga Foundation?
Well, that’s an excellent question. So I’ll start out by saying one of the best parts of my job is every day, I hear about some amazing organization, whether it’s you know, we’re in southern Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and we’re in the small tip of Michigan or Florida. Well, if it’s a Florida organization, I’ve for sure. would never have heard of them before, so I get be blessed with hearing about some great organization from afar that I’ve never heard it before. And I would say for myself, being in this role has really uplifted me about Chicago. In particular, we always hear about high taxes, violence, corruption corruption corruption corruption. And then you and then you get the opportunity to meet and learn about so many organizations close to where we live and do business that are serving, you know, children in Chicago that are in such need, whether it’s an after-school program or a mentorship program. There are so many incredible people incredible organizations that never make the news. It’s always a shooting starts the news. I wish they would start with, you know, local organization X serve 45 kids over the the weekend, or local organization provided, you know, turkeys for 2,000 people. Because those are out there and unfortunately, negative press sells and that’s what we hear. But Chicago has so much good going on that flies under the radar. So, I appreciate that question, Tom, because I’ve been so blessed and uplifted by meeting so many different people and organizations. There’s just so much good on the world that unfortunately, it doesn’t get highlighted.
Yeah, that’s so neat and I just I can only imagine the good things that you get to see in your inbox every day. And so stop watching the news…the whole reason for this podcast is positive and get this out to the masses and maybe we can change that narrative a little bit. But Eric, I thought one of their thing because my dad actually was in Concrete Construction.
So, I know we’ve talked a lot about the financial donations. Do you ever do in-kind donations?
Yeah. Great question Robin. Probably the funnest approval we can send is if someone would request material support, whether that’s concrete or aggregate stone or sand being able to partner with on a project. So, someone would apply the same way they would for a monetary donation. They’d go to the website, but as opposed to requesting financial support of the form of cash, they tell us about their project. So, they typically will share who the general contractor is, about the one with most types of building projects and you know, if it is approved and the campaign goes through we’ll be able to go from serving 180 people here at 250 people a year. So on the higher, cubic yards is a front we refer to in the concrete world, the more cubic yards or more concrete supplies needed, that kind of goes from a rebate process where let’s just say someone’s looking to build a new school and it’s will say five hundred thousand dollars of concrete we would do an analysis, right? What would be our profit from that? And then we have a commitment to tithing at least 10% of local nonprofits. So, the starting point for them would be they would receive the 10% tithe on their profit that they’re paying for. So, it kind of tied back right directly to their organization. And then for smaller jobs…so, let’s just say it’s a good example the local VFW, they need a new handicap ramp. We would just do we review and possibly accept a 100% donation in context because it’s a smaller job and we just fully donate the project itself. And the reason I like those the most is because sometimes we get invited out to their grand opening afterwards and you can actually in going to go see that physical impact you made. You stand there and look, “All right, pretty cool, Ozinga played a role in this building being put up for the foundation.” People typically don’t see concrete, but we know . It’s fun to go and visit properties where we require that. So thanks for asking.
It’s really outside the box too, which is so cool and so different from what you know, most people would think is possible. So, just even knowing that that’s an option where you can present that or proposed that is super, super cool.
Well, Eric, we’re so glad to have had you here. I think what’s cool is that this is great to learn about the Ozinga Foundation, but also for our nonprofits that are tuning in to the podcast today just how you’re going to approach foundations like yours, I think is really cool. I do believe you’re going to have an influx of so kind of asks your inbox, and I’m so excited for you to hear what else is happening in the community, so thank you so much. I really appreciate you being a part of it.
Thanks, Robin and thanks for doing it was an honor to be here. I wish you all the best.
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