Habitat For Humanity
I heard about Habitat in 1985, 10 years after its founding during a presentation at church. I thought it was the best idea I had heard – everyone contributes – everyone wins. Not a give-a-way but people helping people. Self-sustaining as the client owner pays back the cost of the home at no profit and no interest and the money provides the materials for more homes.
I was busy with the Strategic Direction start-up but I became active by volunteering on homebuilding sites with groups from church and as chairman of the Development Committee of Habitat for Humanity – Buffalo that did fund raising with individuals, churches, foundations and corporations and through events. We were successful in raising the significant up-front capital needed for the accelerated building program before the owner client payback cash stream became significant.
After closing Strategic Direction in 1996, I became more involved as a member of the board of directors with the additional financial responsibility responsibilities including:
- Recording mortgage & escrow accounts for the homeowners
- Paying escrow taxes and producing their yearly statements
- Paying suppliers and allocating expenses to the houses
- Providing monthly financial reports to the board and yearly data to our accountant for annual IRS Form 990 filing.
- Installed a central server computer network and implemented a Habitat sponsored total accounting system.
- Recruited volunteer lawyers and supervised the closing of the houses from Habitat to the homeowners.
- Implemented a system for development of individual donors that introduced interested people to Habitat through a meeting at a building site with followup efforts culminating in an “ask” breakfast event.
My work with Habitat became all consuming and I was ready for a change. A family trip out of the county provided the excuse so I trained others to take over my work and left the board. Upon returning from the trip I became involved with the Westminster Economic Development initiative. For an organization like Habitat to grow, dedicated board members need to inspire, lead and fund raise but not be totally involved in the in the everyday work. After I left, much of the work that I did as a volunteer was performed by paid staff. For various reasons professionalization was slow to occur in the Buffalo affiliate. Although the affiliate was successful in its mission, it’s output plateaued at 15 units per year. It continues to have difficulty breaking through this rate to this day even with a professional staff.
For a Habitat affiliate to succeed, significant factors need to be in balance. Appropriate client families, building sites, construction skills, site logistics and fund raising must achieve planned results to avoid frustration. Its management is no small issue.
Sponsored by the Small Business Administration of the Federal Government, SCORE recruits and trains business mentors to counsel small business clients and conducts low cost workshops on subjects of interest to small businesses. Each SCORE chapter develops its own area of focus.
I became involved in order bring this capability to the startup of WEDI and the West Side Bazaar.
I counseled, presented the business plan section of the start-up workshop, presented marketing seminars and was the chair of the marketing committee.
Most counseling clients, early stage startups in service businesses, appreciated the perspective offered by the counselors. SCORE introduced a structured counseling protocol to focus the sessions on the most critical issue of the clients. For businesses beyond the startup phase, the client and counselor were deeply focused on critical business issues with no easy solutions,
The major one day workshop, Starting and Managing Your Own Business, was well attended and well received. SCORE also developed a four day series with intensive mentoring by counselors. In addition SCORE counselors participated in Small Business Administration programs
I was never able to develop SCORE as counselors to West Side Bazaar merchants. Perhaps the reason was that for the merchants, it was necessary for mentors to be in their community to establish a necessary measure of trust. Further, the West Side Bazaar merchants preferred the ability to obtain frequent on-demand quick answers or references as opposed to a scheduled counseling session.
My contribution was to aid a client that was running a business to understand the business results, reduce the complexity and work toward solving smaller problems.
All this helped me to see that I want to be a part of building and strengthening businesses.