At End of the Day, Big/Small Nonprofits Face Same Issue

Oct 12, 2013

In this second installment of "The Heavy Lift", a partnership between WABE News and Creative Loafing, WABE’s Jim Burress profiles two non-profits:  One’s mission is to provide tools to those in need.  The other’s is to provide tools to those in need. 

For the humanitarian relief agency CARE, people are its tools.  More than 10,000 of them work all over the world on everything from disaster relief to global health crises to women’s empowerment to finding safe places for displaced refugees. 

WABE's Rose Scott (left) speaks with CARE CEO Dr. Helene Gayle in Amman, Jordan. The non-profit is aiding Syrian refugees fleeing to the neighboring country.
Credit Courtesy: Rose Scott / WABE News

“To us, there’s no difference," CARE CEO Dr. Helene Gayle tells WABE's Rose Scott in Amman, Jordan.  The aid group is helping refugees who flee there from Syria.

“It’s people and people’s lives, regardless whether the conflict is a human-generated conflict or if it’s a natural disaster," she says. "It’s still people whose lives have been severely disrupted.”

While CARE makes no distinction, Gayle admits many who donate do. 

Natural disasters, for example, usually mean an instant influx of funds. But political crises are different.  Gayle says consider the current situation in Syria:

“The UN, for instance, is only able to raise 40% of what they asked for," Gayle says.  [It’s] similar for us, in fact less.”

Even so, CARE is a massive organization, both in terms of manpower and resources. Last year’s budget was more than a half-billion dollars.  

But CARE’s success isn’t measured by its growth, says CARE Vice President of Global Support Services Patrick Solomon.   It’s the opposite.

“The ultimate goal is that we’re trying to work ourselves out of business.”

That’s not Patty Russart’s goal.   

The tools she provides those in need are tools -- as in the hammer and drill kind. 

“I do everything from cleaning the bathroom to meeting with corporate executives," Russart says.  She's CEO of the Atlanta Tool Bank, which loans out some 191 different types of tools much like a library loans books. 

Customers are mainly non-profits that pay a nominal annual fee.  Many couldn’t do their work if they had to spend money for a cache of tools on their own.

“And the tools are going out, and we’re getting demand for more,” she says. “So every year I’ve been here we’ve been up anywhere from 10-15% in services.  And we’re already up 15% from last year.”

As the economy worsened, more people relied on the Tool Bank’s services.  As she shows off a tool covered in tattered  blue  paint,  Russart says  one benefit of the downturn was that unemployed people started to give their time.

“As you can see, like they get worn. So we have to repaint them, and that’s all done by volunteers," she says.

Russart joined the Tool Bank  five years ago.  She’d been a manager overseeing 16 fundraisers at a non-profit working with people who have developmental disabilities. 

“So I could really tug at your heart strings, pretty easily.  With the Tool Bank, not so much," she says. "I’m not going to make you cry over a shovel or feel bad. So I have to work at it a bit differently to make you understand how we are a critical need for the community.”

While lots of tools come in, lots of cash does not.  Russart says people don’t think about giving cash to a tool bank.   

But the three employees need paychecks—and electricity and water also cost money.  So her staff is drafting a four-year strategic plan to provide funding.

And that’s the thing about non-profits, big or small. 

Success isn’t measured in how much money’s in their bank accounts.  Even so, they must constantly fight to make sure there’s at least some there. 

You can read Creative Loafing’s take on the two non-profits in this week’s print edition and online.  A special thanks to Thomas Wheatley and Rose Scott, who contributed to this report.