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Story Magazine

Third Quarter 2008

Pampered Chef Founder Relates Mission of Business, Philanthropy

by Kelsey Holm, Communication Specialist

Doris Christopher is many things: mother, daughter, entrepreneur, steward. Here, she discusses how all these roles have woven together to form a remarkable life of service. On June 26, Christopher was the featured speaker at Luther Seminary's Women in Philanthropy Tea.

Was there a certain person in your life who inspired your own journey as a steward and philanthropist?

I think I have to say my parents certainly were key in all of that. My dad had his own business--a small business.  For all of my life he owned his own gas station, and he was an auto repair mechanic, so that was certainly something I saw firsthand in my life. My mom, too, was an incredible role model. She worked full time for most of my life--and that was unusual in those days--and yet she still did it all. She made sure my sisters and I were very well taken care of. In all of this, my parents were not wealthy people, but they modeled for us the importance of giving back, mostly to the church.  We grew up with a strong model of that in our lives.

How does faith guide your giving and your business life?

I think faith is at the core of how I live my life and again goes back to the way I was brought up. My husband grew up with a similar set of values and strong faith from his parents. Both of us are very unified in our belief that we are stewards of whatever it is we have here. It's our responsibility to give back in any way we can and also to model faith-based stewardship.  We instilled our values in the business as we started the company.

What inspired you to start The Pampered Chef?

I would say my family, for a couple of reasons. I really went back to work because I felt it was an important thing for me to do. I had a wonderful education that my parents made possible, and I felt I needed to use those talents that I had developed at their urging. I also had the example of my mom working that enabled me to see how to be a working mother.  For the benefit of my family, I wanted to use my talents and skills in a meaningful way, and I wanted to be there as a mom and a wife. I wanted the joy of supporting my family.  That's what prompted me to find a different way to work, to allow me to prioritize my family time-wise, and that became the origin of The Pampered Chef concept.

How did you decide to build philanthropy into The Pampered Chef?

From the time that our business was really profitable, we started programs that allowed us and our consultants to give back, almost from the beginning of the business. We allowed people to have local fundraisers and use the business as a launch pad. When we hit $1 million, we realized that this company was blessed beyond what we expected. We also realized that this was not because of us, but because so many people had contributed their time and talent, and they were inspired by the concept of what we were doing. During the late '80s, we started to get our heads above water.  We were a growing business and wanted to do something in an organized, focused way. At that time we chose the first of three charitable programs.  The first one we launched in 1990.  It is a longstanding partnership with America's Second Harvest-- The Nation's Food Bank Network.  We started small and grew over the years. So far we've raised more than $13 million for America's Second Harvest, and it's growing at a fast rate.  The second program is a partnership with the American Cancer Society, where we sponsored education for early detection and education for breast cancer. That started in 2000 and we've raised more than $6.5 million to date for ACS. (The consultants) were very involved in selling the product and doing fundraiser shows contributing directly to those charities. The third one is a little bit different. I'm a graduate of the University of Illinois, and they had started a wonderful family resiliency program.  We adopted them as a charity [in 2000], to support research, fellowships and a lecture series. It's focused on building strong families in the face of today's challenging world.

Why is it important to you to share your experiences with women in philanthropy groups like the one at Luther?

I think it's important as a woman in business to mentor in a lot of different ways, and one of them is to talk about stewardship. I believe one of the things we do when we give is set an example for others.

Describe the most satisfying philanthropic gift you ever made. What about it made it so satisfying?

So many of the things we do are with faith-based organizations. It's a really strong principle in my life and in the giving we do. The other I think of as sort of a legacy kind of gift is in working with University of Illinois in the family resiliency program. I believe that has the potential to strengthen the family unit. It was important in my own life, and probably one of the most important responsibilities in my adult life is to nurture my own family. To be part of the research and teaching, and to support those learning and becoming future leaders in the area of family development-- that's a legacy and I think that will be something that will help our children and grandchildren and generations to come.

What advice would you give to a young woman starting out as an entrepreneur today?

I think the most important thing for anybody--young or old--is to really be clear about what it is that you think is your purpose in life. At the very most basic point of choosing your career, be as clear with yourself as you can about what drives you and really gives you joy. If you're able to land in a business or career you find joyful, then you're setting yourself up for the rest of your life to have fun, not work. That's the equation for success.

What advice would you give to a young woman seeking to begin or improve her charitable giving?

I think again you have to go with what tugs at your heart. Of all the opportunities you hear about--and we know there are many--what are the things that keep coming back into your mind in which you feel you can make a difference? What do you feel really is in line with your life's purpose and mission? Other advice is to give as soon as you can and give as you are able. It doesn't have to be a huge gift, but there is such joy in giving.

Who are your role models, and why?

The first and best role models in my life were my parents, and then I would go on and say my husband's parents.  In the important values of life they were very similar, but in the manifestations they were very different. My parents were basic and hardworking. They didn't have a lot of wealth. My mom was a basic cook but a good cook, and she cooked all the time for her family. My mother-in- law was an incredible cook and she also loved to entertain. She delighted in putting together beautiful, interesting menus. She kind of tapped into my creative juices and my mother tapped into the importance of being steady with the everyday kinds of things.  I was incredibly blessed by these two women.