This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.
By Gary C. Smith
Gary C. Smith is president & CEO of the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources, www.naeir.org.
It’s a given that with budgets tighter than ever, churches need to be creative in doing more with less. Yet many dismiss one very real resource because they’re convinced there must be “a catch.” But it’s not too good to be true.
That resource: gifts-in-kind organizations. These organizations collect donations of new merchandise from U.S. corporations and redistribute it to its not-for-profit members, including churches and schools, for free.
Free materials. Office and art supplies. Janitorial supplies. Sporting goods. Plus, tools, toys, software, books and media, personal care items, party goods, and more.
Churches can browse catalogs of donated supplies and request what they need, saving on supplies and limiting churches and their teachers’ out-of-pocket costs.
What’s the catch? There isn’t one. Typically, members pay a modest annual membership fee, plus nominal shipping and handling costs. That’s it. It ends up costing churches a fraction of what it would to purchase the same supplies through conventional channels.
Who’s doing the donating, and what’s in it for them? Companies like Microsoft, Stanley Tools, 3M, Rubbermaid, Rand McNally, Reebok, Gillette, Xerox, SC Johnson, Louisville Slugger, Hallmark and thousands of others participate.
One benefit is that they’re supporting meaningful charitable causes. At the same time, they’re taking advantage of tax deductions, reducing storage costs, clearing warehouse space, and avoiding hassles with liquidators. And instead of clogging landfills, they’re putting unused goods to use.
The rules are simple. Participating organizations must agree to act in accordance with IRC section 170(e)(3), which states that merchandise must be used for the care of the ill, needy or minors. It cannot be bartered, traded or sold. The merchandise can be given directly to qualifying individuals served by an organization or used in the administration of the organization.
Savvy churches and schools nationwide are taking advantage of this service to stretch their budgets.
For example, When the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Rockwood, Illinois, decided to build a float for their city’s lighted Christmas parade, they knew exactly where to go for supplies: NAEIR Grab Bag. Volunteers found all sorts of supplies—black felt and bells for the float, fabric to make the bags that kids carried to pass out candy, and wire to make halos for the little angels. They also found plenty of supplies in the Big Book like ribbon and decorative trimmings. They covered their float in black lights and ended up winning third place! The church was also able to stock up on toys and other goodies to send to over 6,000 kids all over the world who would not have had a Christmas otherwise.
As another example, the congregation of Northside Missionary Baptist Church in Berryville, Arkansas, has been using a ton of free merchandise from NAEIR to make a big difference in the South Pacific. They’re supporting a disabled American Veteran who has been serving the people of the Republic of Venautu for over 15 years. The church recently sent a 40-foot shipping container full of stuff to Tanna Island—a place that has almost no running water or electricity. With the free merchandise from NAEIR, the church has been able to help provide school education for thousands of children, as well as supply small village medical clinics.
In these days of slashed funding and shrinking budgets, the question isn’t if gifts-in-kind organizations are too good to be true. The question is: if your church hasn’t explored this option yet, what are you waiting for?