Make your charitable gifts go further by supporting grass-roots nonprofits

Make your charitable gifts go further by supporting grass-roots nonprofits

For 40 years, only a handful of familiar names came to mind when I thought of the words charity or nonprofit. Ask me which charities supported housing efforts, veterans causes, animal protection, etc., and I’d reel off the same names most folks would. The bigger, the better I assumed.

Then I applied for a job opening at The Fuller Center for Housing’s headquarters in Americus, Ga. I knew almost nothing about it, other than it was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller after they were ousted from the huge nonprofit that they had grown from a grass-roots mission into a household name. It was only six years old, so perhaps I could be getting in on the ground floor of another small nonprofit bound for corporate glory.

When I arrived for my first interview, however, this headquarters did not look much like the hub of an international operation. It looked like what it was and still is — a quaint building that once was a Chinese restaurant long before supporters John and Sue Wieland donated it to the Fullers’ new ministry.

Soon, though, I would learn from President David Snell what a difference grass-roots meant. It meant maximum impact in the field, not at a luxurious base of operations. My main job, he said, was to tell the story of The Fuller Center because, “When people find out what we’re doing, they tend to like us.”

Philanthropists and corporations could make a much bigger impact on people, families and communities in need if they distributed a large gift among several grass-roots nonprofits instead of making a single large gift to one massive, bureaucratic nonprofit.

I’ve found that to be true many times over. Certainly when I found out what The Fuller Center was all about, I liked it. I’ve met other good folks from grass-roots nonprofits doing similar work in the housing field or in such related areas as homelessness and health issues, and I liked what I’ve seen from them, as well.

Meanwhile, the more I saw from the giant, familiar nonprofits that get all the corporate donations and publicity, the more I was taken aback by where the money went and how they reported misleading results such as “families served.” Apparently terminology like that allows for a lot of wiggle room and the opportunity to inflate results to impressive, if not entirely accurate, levels.

That’s not to see most of them do an awful lot of great work. Some massive corporatized nonprofits generate real results. Some do well in pockets. Others sully the reputations of everyone in the nonprofit industry. Yet, over the nearly six years since I stepped into the grass-roots nonprofit world, I’ve realized a simple truth about grass-roots nonprofits that I wish every generous soul knew:

Philanthropists and corporations could make a much bigger impact on people, families and communities in need if they distributed a large gift among several grass-roots nonprofits instead of making a single large gift to one massive, bureaucratic nonprofit.

A wealthy philanthropist or corporation could transform a community in almost unimaginable ways if they distributed that large gift among several grass-roots nonprofits working together in a single location. That donor could not only more directly impact their areas of concern, but they also could foster synergy between grass-roots organizations that work in different areas like affordable housing, education, health, job training, environmental issues, veterans affairs and more.

It’s almost imaginable. Almost. But I can imagine it.

Unfortunately, too many well-meaning donations are funneled along the familiar paths and get familiar results. The support, though, that travels along unique paths tend to get unique results.

The Fuller Center for Housing is committed to the grass-roots principles with which Millard and Linda Fuller launched their affordable housing movement more than 40 years ago despite growing and seeing greater volunteer hours and more houses built and repaired than ever before.

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GRASS-ROOTS FULLER CENTER

50 college students, 5 different communities and 1 amazing spring break

50 college students, 5 different communities and 1 amazing spring break

For the second straight year, a huge team of Wittenberg University students on spring break drove to the Southeast last week — not to hit the beaches but to hit nails … a whole lot of nails.

Fifty came from the Springfield, Ohio, school for alternative spring breaks last week — driving hundreds of miles before splitting into five groups working with Fuller Center for Housing covenant partners in Atlanta, Perry, Americus and Albany in Georgia and Tallahassee in Florida.

Here is a location-by-location glance at the students’ stops along with additional links to media reports and more:


 

GREATER ATLANTA FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

atl-group-2Board member Jackie Goodman made sure that students got an overview of the many sights, sounds and tastes of the Atlanta area, while Director Mark Galey kept the students busy during the day, including a project for a Jewish family. At a time when anti-Semitic acts have been rising, Galey was glad that the students could express their Christian love for others while witnessing The Fuller Center’s commitment to ecumenicalism and service to all of God’s people.

“We had an incredibly great experience last week, working in partnership with students from Wittenberg University as our Christian ministry made needed repairs to the home of a Jewish family whom we had learned about through a member of their synagogue,” Goodman said. “The synagogue member was a member of NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) who knew Mark Galey through that organization, and brought the family’s needs to our attention.  Construction management students from Gwinnett Tech joined us to help supervise the project.”

“The homeowners (husband, wife, and two teenagers) worked alongside the volunteers all week,” Goodman added. “The husband, who has been employed in a low-wage job at Rite-Aid for more than 20 years, was able to take a week of vacation in order to be able to help, and the wife, who is a seamstress and works at home, also assisted with painting and repairs. I think I speak for the entire group when I say we did our very best to show God’s love in action, and I think the homeowners felt the love! The Atlanta Fuller Center appreciates the hard work of the Wittenberg students and looks forward to our future association with Wittenberg and other groups who are committed to helping improve living conditions for families in need.”

Click here to view Atlanta participant Jasmine Bryant’s
outstanding video about the group’s experience in Georgia.


 

PERRY GEORGIA FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

perry-group-1In Perry, eight students worked with local President Warren Johnson and two local volunteers — Coy Goff and Michael Boden — to repair the roofs of two elderly women, including Velma Robinson, who has lived in the same house all of her life.

“There are some good people in the world,” Ms. Robinson said as the students scraped off old shingles a day before replacing them with CertainTeed shingles provided by World Vision. “It’s a blessing for these kids to give up their free time to come help somebody like this when they could be doing something else. And I do appreciate them, very much.”

“We built two roofs but I think the best part is just the community that we’ve been hanging out with in Perry,” student Becky Schmitthenner said. “It was a great way to spend our spring break instead of just partying on a beach. It was so meaningful.”

Jenn Downing also worked with the Perry Fuller Center during her 2016 spring break. She could have headed for the beach this year but instead chose to be a team leader and return to Perry.

“This is so much more rewarding,” she said. “You’re still with your friends, you get to meet amazing people in a new place and you know that someone benefits from what you’re doing. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Fuller Center Director of Communications Chris Johnson said the students’ visit helps the small-town covenant partner garner media attention (including this front-page centerpiece photo in the Macon Telegraph), renews the energy of local volunteers and enhances relationships with church partners, including First Baptist Church of Perry, which hosted the students in a vacant house on its property.

Perry’s Houston Home Journal newspaper published an
article about the students’ work that you can read at
this link.

High-resolution photo gallery.

Chris Johnson, a columnist for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer,
used the students’ visit as inspiration for his latest article.


 

AMERICUS-SUMTER FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

americus-group-1In Americus — also home to The Fuller Center’s international headquarters — the students worked on a couple of different projects, including restoring a donated home to decent condition and helping transform a space above the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center’s headquarters into a transitional housing space.

“I got here thinking that we were just going to be painting and flooring, and then they showed us this place and told us we would be building an apartment,” Jessica Skoglund said. “Seeing this entire apartment come together has been the best experience I’ve ever had on a mission trip, honestly.”

Rachael Fink appreciated being able to work alongside people like Thad Harris, an Americus-Sumter Fuller Center homeowner partner who also has become a local board member and one of The Fuller Center’s most prolific volunteers, inspiring hundreds of people while rolling around job sites in his wheelchair.

“Ive learned so much about the community and I’ve absolutely loved hearing stories about the people who work with the Fuller Center,” she said. “It’s just been an incredible experience. You can’t make a difference without knowing the story and knowing other people’s backgrounds.”

You can view multiple slideshows of the students’
work on the Americus-Sumter Facebook page.


 

ALBANY AREA FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

albany-group-2In Albany, students saw the widespread damage caused by two bouts with January storms, the second of which spawned a devastating tornado.

While helping Ricardo Miguel’s family repair damage to their storm-damaged mobile home, the Wittenberg students also helped put a major initiative on the map, sparking media coverage of Albany Twin Storms Relief. Also known as “A2,” it is an effort to help families affected by the storm who lack adequate housing insurance or who have been overlooked by FEMA efforts. The Albany Area Fuller Center is a primary partner in the effort.

“This is amazing,” Miguel told the Albany Herald newspaper. “It is amazing to know that there are people in your community willing to help out when things are bad. I am overwhelmed.”

Speaking to WFXL-TV, Metta Devine-Quin said, “It’s a lot of damage. I have seen it before, and I sympathize with all of the people down here. Anything that we can do to help them, I just want to be able to do anything I can.”

See the complete story in the Albany Herald newspaper.

View the WFXL=TV report.

Facebook photo gallery with more than 180 pictures.


 

TALLAHASSEE FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

tallahassee-group-1In Tallahassee, Florida, students worked on five homes in a low-income community. Though most had little to no construction experience, they learned that it’s the passion for helping others that makes a difference.

“What I learned was that regardless of your previous skills, anyone can contribute anything to any cause, so that was a really rewarding experience for me,” Alex Quillin said.

Their efforts not only improved homes in the area, but they provided inspiration and hope for the residents — including some of the youngest residents.

“I was not expecting it to be this amazing,” Lydia Newton said. “We met a little girl who was living in a trailer. She was helping me and she told me she wanted to be like me when she grew up. She wanted to wear the apron and the gloves and help out and make a difference. It was really amazing.”

View WCTV’s report on the students’ efforts.


 

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