In mid-March 2020, Kari Watkins shut the doors to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum and canceled the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon for the first time ever due to COVID-19. She was one of the first dominoes in town, she said, to make the call to close.
In the early days of panic and confusion, it was a tough call to make. Funding dollars would be lost, without a doubt. It was the 25th anniversary of the OKC bombing after all. The Saturday morning after she made the decision, Watkins said Richison called her.
“He made a call to me, and I’ll never forget it,” she said. “He said, ‘We’ll make sure you guys are OK. Don’t panic. You’re making the right call.’ It wasn’t always the most popular call with some people. But I think it was the right one, and he stepped up and was very generous.”
Richison pledged $1 million to the museum that morning, and Watkins said that amount is just about how much the museum lost because of the closure.
“He puts his money where his mouth is,” she said. “He talks about building community and giving back to the community, and he’s done that for us. And I don’t take that for granted. And, you know, a million dollars is a lot of money, and he didn’t have to do that.”
Marnie Taylor, Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits president and CEO, said once Paycom’s growth was established and strong, Paycom, along with the foundation Richison started — the Richison Family Foundation — “really believed in and understood the importance of being a really good community partner.”
“When they came on, they came on big and bold and worked very hard, I believe, to understand the landscape of nonprofits in Oklahoma City,” Taylor said. “It was important to Chad, and the rest of the leadership team, and they knew it was time to really get involved, really dig in and do the work and make a mark. And they have.”
Richison and Paycom’s philanthropic presence is far-reaching. Most publicly, the former Chesapeake Energy Arena became the Paycom Center in 2021 after Paycom paid an undisclosed amount for a 15-year naming rights agreement. (Chesapeake Energy paid $34 million for a 12-year agreement, for reference.) Just as notable have been multi-million dollar donations to Richison’s alma mater UCO ($10 million in 2015 and $4 million in 2017, both to the athletic department), the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the Homeless Alliance and the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. Paycom gave more than $1.3 million to nonprofits in 2022 through employee and corporate programs alone..
“We step up at $1.50 for every dollar that’s given, and sometimes we step up even more than that as an organization,” Bodin said. “And that just shows our employees that we are invested not only in what they’re invested in, but outside of that as well.”
But, Richison’s most under-the-radar philanthropic work might be the mental health nonprofit he founded in October 2015: the Green Shoe Foundation. The mental health organization provides a five-day retreat focused on childhood relational trauma that’s free to all participants.
“I had achieved almost everything I wanted to in my life and still felt there was more,” Richison said. “As I searched for why I felt the way I did, I identified parts of my background that helped form the person I was, both good and bad. The more I learned, the more I craved.”
Since it began, the foundation has held more than 400 retreats for about 2,000 people. And 95% of all attendees complete the retreat, Bodin said. In fact, he attended the retreat himself at Richison’s suggestion.
“He planted the seed with me,” Bodin said. “It took about three years for that seed to mature and for me to mature into the realization that I needed to go and work on myself. And for me personally, I can tell you that I am a better father today. Whenever you’ve gone through Green Shoe, what you learned about yourself enables you to see your children in a completely different way.”
Green Shoe Foundation just broke ground on a new expanded campus in Edmond.
“Mental health is critical to all health, happiness and success,” Richison said. “I have always found it fascinating that people will work out every day, eat healthy, lift weights, etc. They work out to strengthen their heart, lungs and muscles, yet people neglect the human brain, the most critical organ in our body.”
In addition, Richison has signed Warren Buffet’s The Giving Pledge, a promise by the world’s wealthiest people to dedicate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes.
“I want to give to sustainable organizations that create hope and opportunity,” he said. “I’d love for every adult to complete a Green Shoe retreat, which would lift many out of emotional poverty and reconcile generations of systemic trauma for millions. We would break the cycle and future generations wouldn’t experience the same fate as their parents, nor would they pass it down to future generations.”
This November marks 25 years of Richison growing his company, helping to diversify Oklahoma’s economy and giving back to the state where he’s from. With the company almost as old as he was when he started, the next 25 years stand to be as impactful as the first.