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 ā€” 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.

click here to give to the
GRASS-ROOTS FULLER CENTER

Chris Johnson
This post was written by
Chris Johnson is the Director of Communications for The Fuller Center for Housing, a multi-award-winning columnist for the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer and author of 4 books.

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