SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “grass-roots”

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “grass-roots”

(Photo: Doug Miller (left) is a generous financial supporter of The Fuller Center for Housing and an active volunteer who recognizes the direct impact made possible through The Fuller Center’s grass-roots mission. He helped build the home of Latisha Booker (right) in Lanett, Alabama, Millard Fuller’s hometown.)

This is the first in a series of blog posts about terms that define how The Fuller Center for Housing works to help families have simple, decent places to live. On Thursday, we’ll take a look at the meaning of “hand-up.”

A lot of political campaigns tout “grass-roots” efforts to convey their message. A lot of organizations, especially charities, like to describe themselves as “grass-roots.” But what does the term really mean?

No, it’s not the musical group who belted out great songs like “Let’s Live for Today” and “Midnight Confessions” in the 1960s. Nor is it a simple term to explain, but simplicity is at the heart of what “grass-roots” is all about — especially at The Fuller Center.

When Millard and Linda Fuller were forced out of Habitat for Humanity in 2005 — nearly 30 years after founding the nonprofit — it was heartbreaking for them, but Millard saw an opportunity. Tired of the corporate struggled he had enduring the previous 10 years or more, he recalled the simple days of the 1970s and early 1980s when his affordable housing ministry was just getting started.

Back then, they relied on generous individuals, a determined corps of volunteers and churches committed to putting faith into action. As Linda recalls of the early days:

“We lived at Koinonia Farm after returning from Africa in mid-1976, with a makeshift “office” in an old rat-infested, pecan-drying barn. It was hot in the summer, cold in the winter. We purchased a $2,500 dwelling in Americus as Millard’s law office and the first “real” office of Habitat for Humanity. The rotten porch was replaced with a neat brick entrance, painted and modestly furnished. I sewed drapes from bed sheets. In order for our family to live in town, we purchased an old house for $12,500, a 10-block walk for Millard to the office.”

Some might say Millard was too committed to living simply. Some might think it was an overcorrection for the lavish lifestyle he had gained as a millionaire businessman in the 1960s before giving it all away to serve others.

By the time 2005 rolled around, Habitat was not just a household name but had grown to have large offices in both Americus and Atlanta. Corporate influence on the board was growing. Fundraising, marketing and technology expanded. Habitat continued to grow by leaps and bounds. But Millard was concerned about the direction and the adherence to foundational principles. He wanted to ensure that a family “served” was actually a family housed. The head-butting continued until Millard and Linda got the boot from the nonprofit they had founded as an affordable housing ministry.

It didn’t take long for Millard to seize an opportunity from that disappointment — and he, Linda and current President David Snell founded The Fuller Center for Housing as a return to the founding principles with which they had set out more than three decades earlier. They vowed that The Fuller Center would not stray from its grass-roots, Christian principles — the same principles that proved so effective in the early days. They vowed to be transparent and used clear words like families “housed” when reporting success. A family who simply attended a class on home ownership or whose current housing situation was merely evaluated would not be considered “housed.” They knew that donors wanted results — homes built and repaired — more than peripheral and tangential activities that may never result in homes built or repaired.

Millard worked joyously and tirelessly for this restarted affordable housing ministry right up until the day he died unexpectedly in 2009. Linda said that his final years were some of the happiest of his life because he had been able to simplify and do what he really wanted to do with his life — help people in need. He was simply committed to putting faith into action. He was happy that he once again had a nonprofit that allowed him to make a direct impact without a hindering bureaucracy.

FCH headquarters

The Fuller Center remains a grass-roots ministry. Simplicity guides the mission. Despite having more than 70 U.S. covenant partners and 21 international partners, the nonprofit’s headquarters remains a donated former Chinese restaurant in which a handful of dedicated staffers are committed to running a lean operation. They have forsaken larger salaries and greater benefit packages to serve the ministry because they believe in it.

Because of our grass-roots commitment, 90 percent of donations go to work in the field with less than 10 percent going to overhead. (See latest independent financial audit.) Overhead is not inherently evil as it is important to keep the lights on and ensure that such dedicated staff is reasonably compensated for their efforts, but Fuller Center leadership is committed to maximizing every cent given to the ministry in the field where families are housed.

Because of our grass-roots commitment, individual donors know that their donations make a bigger impact. A $6,000 gift can build an entire house in some countries. Donors know the feeling of direct impact that brought Millard such joy in his final years.

Because of our grass-roots commitment, a company or business can work through The Fuller Center to build an entire community or transform an entire neighborhood. They can have far more direct impact. They can point to an actual project they made happen instead of simply sending out a press release about a large financial donation to a corporate nonprofit that went into the same ol’ big bucket with other such gifts.

The Fuller Center is committed to growing the impact this ministry has on families in need of simple, decent places to live. But we remain committed to the grass-roots principles that maximize the impact. In fact, the question has been raised more than once: How do we grow and remain committed to our grass-roots principles? A whole panel of concerned thought leaders who care about this ministry has actually been convened to consider this question and offer guidance on the subject.

We will never allow our commitment to growth to overtake our commitment to the simple, grass-roots, Christian principles that allowed this ministry to flourish in the first place.

So, what does the term “grass-roots” mean to us? It means simplicity that allows the greatest direct impact.

Fuller Center co-founder Linda Fuller talks about getting back to basic principles after leaving Habitat:

 

John J. Staton: Five decades of supporting Fuller ministry is all about hands-on faith

John J. Staton: Five decades of supporting Fuller ministry is all about hands-on faith

(Photo: Millard Fuller’s early work in Africa inspired the Rev. John J. Staton, who continues to support The Fuller Center for Housing’s work decades later.)

When Millard and Linda Fuller founded The Fuller Center for Housing in 2005, retired pastor John J. Staton was among the earliest supporters. Of course, when the Fullers went to Africa in the early 1970s to test the concept of partnership housing, he supported them then.

Today, at age 88, he continues to give every month. He is especially proud to support a ministry that gave Millard Fuller some of the happiest years of his life as The Fuller Center gave him an opportunity to return and recommit to the grass-roots, Christian principles that he and Linda began with decades ago.

“It’s incredible what The Fuller center has done and accomplished since 2005, and I’m glad I’ve been able to play a role” Staton says from his home in Carmel, Indiana. “I get a real sense of joy every time I write a check to The Fuller Center, and it will always be so. I’ll continue to give to The Fuller Center as long as I live.”

“What The Fuller Center is doing is based on faith. Millard built things squarely on the Gospel and on faith. It appealed to me as a hands-on example of following Jesus.” — John J. Staton

Staton, who grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, was Ivy League-educated at Dartmouth College, where he planned to become a doctor before going into ministry and attending Union Theological Seminary in New York City. It was that faith journey that would acquaint him with a young Millard Fuller, who also had experienced an abrupt change of direction in his life after giving up his millionaire lifestyle to serve others.

“He was deeply inspired by Clarence Jordan,” Staton says of Fuller’s relationship with mentor theologian Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farm. “I used to correspond with him even though I’d never met him, and I gave him some money for the work in Africa. That was long before they’d started Habitat or anything else.”

After the Fullers returned to the United States in 1976 and founded Habitat for Humanity, Staton’s correspondence with Millard continued. Eventually, Staton would bring Millard to speak at churches in Central Indiana and hosted the Fullers at the home he shared with wife Shirley. (Shirley Staton passed away in 2001.) After retiring from the pulpit, the Statons even came to Americus, Georgia, to volunteer with Habitat — John in development and Shirley as a guide at the Global Village and Discovery Center.

“The more I got to know Millard and Linda during those three months with Habitat, the more I admired what they were doing,” Staton says. Though he was frustrated by the Fullers’ dismissal by Habitat, he was eager to support them in their return to grass-roots, Christian principles with The Fuller Center.

“A lot of my connections to The Fuller Center are built on top of a friendship with him,” Staton says. “I believed in his mission. What The Fuller Center is doing is based on faith. Millard built things squarely on the Gospel and on faith. It appealed to me as a hands-on example of following Jesus.”

While spreading the Gospel through Millard’s “Theology of the Hammer” and by putting faith into action are what most appeals to him in supporting The Fuller Center, he also knows the importance of growing up in a decent home. He grew up in a solid middle-class home during the Great Depression, a home his parents purchased with a $10,000 inheritance from his great-grandmother.

“That was the only home I knew until I was out of college,” Staton says. “It’s still in good condition, although that lawn seemed to be huge when I had to mow it as a child. Now it looks like a postage stamp.

“But I have nothing but happy memories of that home,” he adds. “I fell in love as a senior in high school with a girl who lived just six blocks from me. I got to know every pebble in the street riding my bike back and forth between our two houses. I married that girl (Shirley, to whom he was married for 50 years) after college. I had a very happy childhood living in that house.”

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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.

click here to give to the
GRASS-ROOTS FULLER CENTER

University of Georgia library’s oral history collection features Linda Fuller

University of Georgia library’s oral history collection features Linda Fuller

In June 2015, Steven Armour sat down with Fuller Center for Housing co-founder Linda Fuller for a lengthy video interview that is now included in the University of Georgia Russell Library Oral History Collection. In that video, featured below, Linda talks for more than an hour about how she and Millard Fuller started the affordable housing movement, the early days of Habitat for Humanity and how they returned to their grass-roots beginnings by founding The Fuller Center for Housing.

 

 

Linda Fuller is nearing her goal of raising $75,000 in her 75th birthday year to support The Fuller Center’s work. Click here to help make her birthday wish come true.

Co-founder Linda Fuller celebrated at build in Macon, Georgia

Co-founder Linda Fuller celebrated at build in Macon, Georgia

Dozens of volunteers and supporters converged at a property on Matthews Drive in Macon, Georgia, on Saturday for two great reasons — to turn a once-vacant house into a like-new home for a family in need and to celebrate Fuller Center co-founder Linda Fuller, who is celebrating her 75th birthday this year.

Perhaps the only person on site happier than the family to see this project take flight was 95-year-old Grover Sassaman, a decorated World War II veteran who as the owner of Harley-Davidson of Macon is the oldest active Harley dealer in the world.

“Man, it hurt me because I always kept it top-notch,” Sassaman, who lived in the home from 1958 to 1968, said of the condition of the home before it was donated to The Fuller Center of Macon by Wells Fargo. “They’ve done a good job.”

During lunch, the group sang “Happy Birthday” to Linda Fuller and enjoyed cake after her first-born, Chris Fuller, told the story of how his mother never had big birthday parties when she was growing up as a child of the Depression. Fuller Center of Macon Executive Director Dianne Fuller presented Linda with a proclamation by Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, who proclaimed Saturday “Linda Fuller Degelmann Day” in Macon.

For more on the event, click the links below.

photo gallery from saturday’s event

HONOR LINDA FULLER WITH
A GIFT TO HER BUILDING FUND

read coverage of this event
in the Macon Telegraph newspaper

Happy 75th birthday, Linda Fuller! Your “Stop!” makes us “Go!”

Happy 75th birthday, Linda Fuller! Your “Stop!” makes us “Go!”

 

Support the #Linda75 campaign

For the better part of her life, Linda Fuller has been at the vanguard of the affordable housing movement — in fact, she gets the credit for starting it!

When Millard’s ambition to be a millionaire got in the way of his family obligations, it was Linda who said “Stop!” If she hadn’t put her foot down, the dream that became Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center for Housing might never have been born.

But it was. She and Millard gave away their wealth and listened to hear what God would have them do. He said, “Go and house the poor.” And, so, they did — first at Koinonia Farm, then in Mbandaka, Zaire, and then around the world with ministries that redefined volunteering and Christian charity.

Linda has noted that the phrase, “Behind every good man is a good woman,” is incorrect. It should read, “Beside every good man is a good woman.” And that is where Linda stood through Millard’s 40-year ministry. Since his death, she has continued to hold the banner high — raising funds, inspiring volunteers and reminding us all that the goal of No More Shacks has not yet been met.

Linda has noted that the phrase, “Behind every good man is a good woman,” is incorrect. It should read, “Beside every good man is a good woman.”

It is fitting that Linda wanted to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee Year by raising money and building houses. She’s set a goal of raising $75,000 in new funds and will be rehabbing a house with as many friends as she can muster in Macon, Georgia, on March 19. For Linda, being the First Lady of Affordable Housing is more than a title — it’s a calling.

So, on behalf of all of us here at The Fuller Center and, more, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of families who have a decent place to call home because you said, “Stop!” those many years ago, Happy Birthday, Linda!

If you would like to support Linda Fuller’s effort to raise $75,000 for her 75th birthday, click here.

Support the #Linda75 campaign

 

 

Celebrate Linda Fuller’s 75th birthday

Celebrate Linda Fuller’s 75th birthday

Click here to learn about the “Flat Linda” social media campaign.

CLICK HERE TO HONOR LINDA FULLER’S LEGACY WITH A GIFT TO THE #Linda75 CAMPAIGN.

Make a gift to the
Linda75 campaign

 

As the co-founder of Habitat for Humanity in 1976 and then The Fuller Center for Housing in 2005, Linda Fuller has spent nearly her entire adult life helping families have simple, decent places to live. Thanks to the efforts of Linda and her late husband Millard Fuller, millions of people have moved out of shacks and slums and into safe houses around the world

“Linda has long held that the old adage ‘behind every successful man is a good woman’ is inaccurate,” Fuller Center President David Snell said. “It should say that ‘beside every successful man is a good woman, and she has proven this correction to be true. While Millard’s is the name that is most associated with their housing ministry, he was the first to say that without Linda at his side it wouldn’t have happened.”

Linda will turn 75 on February 17, but Fuller Center partners, volunteers and supporters will be celebrating the occasion throughout the first three months of 2016. There will be a Lind-A Hand Build and celebration on March 19 in Macon, Georgia, as well as a nationwide campaign to honor “The First Lady of Affordable Housing” and raise $75,000 to build and repair homes in her honor.

“Linda Fuller is still swinging hammers on job sites, and, more importantly, she remains an inspiration to those determined to build a better world,” Fuller Center Director of Communications Chris Johnson said. “She is a genuine American hero who has never sought the spotlight for herself, but her legacy of service should be celebrated. Too few people know the story of this incredible servant leader.”

For more details about the life of Linda Fuller, see her biography page at FullerCenter.org/LindaFuller. To set up interviews or discuss story possibilities, contact Fuller Center Director of Communications Chris Johnson at cjohnson@fullercenter.org or 229-924-2900.

CLICK HERE TO HONOR LINDA’S LEGACY WITH A GIFT TO THE #Linda75 campaign.

 Make a gift to the
Linda75 campaign