Kelly, who will step down as Board Chair at the upcoming DSA Annual Meeting in June, has been a tireless advocate for DSEF and brought his trademark energy and creativity to the Foundation’s fundraising efforts. Charlie Orr, DSEF Executive Director, believes Kelly will continue to be a vocal supporter of the Foundation in the years ahead. “Tom has been our FUND-raiser-in-chief,” Orr says. “It’s where he has spent a lot of his efforts this past year. And he has also been FUN to work with. His energy level, his enthusiasm and his sense for what’s right are very contagious. He brought savvy direct selling experience to his leadership role, and he’s going to take that same level of energy and expertise to Silpada.”
That savvy experience comes from more than 30 years at Avon Products and now serves him well as President and COO of Silpada Designs, which Avon acquired in 2010. As he leaves DSEF, Kelly reflects on the critical work the Foundation does on behalf of the direct selling industry, as well as the challenges it faces in securing financial support to fund its programs.
“DSEF plays a really important role in supporting initiatives beyond the lobbying efforts of the DSA,” Kelly says. “This Foundation is good for our business, and we should take advantage of it.”
However, Kelly acknowledges that while DSEF has a committed Board of Directors, what DSEF does not have is the involvement and commitment of all direct selling companies.
“The reason the DSEF was founded was that the public’s perception of the industry was really bad,” says Kelly. “At that time, DSA executives founded the Foundation. Fast-forward to today and I think we are in a bit of a calm period. Right now people realize that direct selling companies are very legitimate.”
That new perception is in part due to DSEF’s partnerships with consumer advocates, educators and students, public policy officials, and members of the small business and entrepreneurship communities. The programs DSEF develops with these respected organizations and academic institutions create a better business climate for the industry.
“There is a risk that people don’t see DSEF as relevant today,” Kelly says. “If DSEF didn’t exist, you’d want to invent it because you’d want to influence academics, and you’d want to partner with consumer agencies. These are things that the DSA can’t do on its own; it’s really a lobbying group that works on government regulations. What the Foundation does is find partnerships through academics, organizations such as the Council for Better Business Bureaus and other groups that create this warm environment.”
Kelly’s hope is that the incoming DSEF Chair will continue to tap into the strong resources and talent of the DSEF Board. “My advice would be to continue to focus on programs that reach out to the academic world and support direct selling,” he said. “Continue to look at expanding DSEF’s reach. Right now we don’t have the participation we should. I think it is up to the incoming chair and Charlie to motivate and ensure that all direct selling companies and all direct selling executives don’t take the Foundation for granted—that they contribute to it and get involved in it to help companies grow.”