The question is a fundamental one that pervades the world of nonprofit organizations: how to raise funds with limited time and resources?
Published reports indicate the overwhelming majority of the more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the U.S. are unable to sustain the revenues they need to carry out their missions. Compounding the challenge is the fact that fundraising can be an arduous and time-consuming task.
Funds2Orgs, an Orlando-based company established in April 2013, offers an answer. Moreover, led by Wayne Elsey, a footwear executive turned social entrepreneur, Funds2Orgs promises to aid economies worldwide while also reducing post-consumer waste in U.S. landfills. And his request is not to simply take his word—but to kick the tires (then donate your shoes).
Essentially, the company helps nonprofits raise funds by hosting fundraising events that collect gently worn used shoes. This year, the company is looking to expand collections to include clothing, purses, mattresses, cell phones and other electronic goods. Participating nonprofits are paid for what they collect, and the articles are distributed to support and sustain micro-enterprise ventures by low-income entrepreneurs in disadvantaged countries. Locals create secondary markets for the salvaged goods by selling them in places such as Haiti, Uganda and India. Such a micro-enterprise could entail a single table used to sell sneakers in an open marketplace or a street vendor peddling purses laid out on a blanket.
Developed over the past decade, micro-enterprises have become a global movement affirmed by governments, business leaders, not-for-profits, researchers, social change advocates and others. The concept adheres to the old saying “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; give him a way to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” Elsey estimates the secondary market for the items sold by Funds2Org’s micro-enterprises can represent more than 80 percent of commerce in developing countries like Haiti.
Imagine your Nikes finding their way to Grand Goâve, where 90 percent of city structures were destroyed during Haiti’s 2010 earthquake?
This is far from a short sale of candy bars and baked goods, Elsey asserts.
"We help organizations create their own branded shoe drives, and we give ongoing consulting, marketing, public relations and event support materials like collection bags, and even coordinate, handle and pay for the shipping of collected goods,” he says. “This business model removes the financial risk of event-based fundraising while making it as easy as possible to generate critically needed funds for our partner organizations.”
The most recentFunds2Orgs Fundraising Challenge ended on March 1, and involved charity, school, church, nonprofit and civic groups across the U.S. Organizations received payments in exchange for shoes, with groups raising more than 7,500 pounds also receiving iPad Minis. Elsey points to a United Kingdom study that reveals women typically own 20 pair of shoes but only wear five. “If that statistic is correct, every woman could donate up to 15 pairs of shoes alone,” he notes.
Since April 2013, the average nonprofit is generating more than $5,600 in revenue per event through Funds2Orgs, he adds.
For Elsey, the endeavor is a natural extension of his professional background. He began working in the footwear industry at 15 as a stock boy in a shoe store and advanced to fill a variety of executive roles. From 1999 to 2004, he was president/CEO of Footwear Specialties International, growing revenues by more than 400 percent. In 2005, he was named president of Kodiak-Terra USA, a footwear manufacturer in Texas. A year later, he founded Soles4Souls, a not-for-profit in Tennessee that to date has distributed more than 19 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries to victims of natural disasters and those living in abject poverty.
Elsey recalls the 2004 TV images of devastation in and around the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where more than 250,000 lost their lives following an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Among the scenes was a lone shoe washing ashore, “rocking his world” and spurring the creation of Soles4Souls.
In 2012, Elsey moved to Orlando to launch Wayne Elsey Enterprises, a three-tiered company that includes Funds2Orgs and works with both nonprofit and for-profit organizations on strategy, branding and development.
“As the founder and former CEO of a vibrant nonprofit, the branding, educating and fundraising were painful challenges for myself and fellow nonprofit leaders, keeping us up at night,” Elsey says.
Funds2Orgs continues to evolve. Last April, Funds2Orgs introduced Mini, Flash and Mega shoe-drive fundraisers to better utilize various levels of fundraising efforts. The Mini drive, for example, enables organizations to generate roughly $1,000 for collecting approximately 2,500 pounds of shoes.
Also, a new Micro-Enterprise Curriculum, available free of charge online, introduces students of all ages to micro-enterprises and the world of businesses. “Students uncover the basics of business and marketing, create their own business plans, learn how to create a budget, and discover how micro-enterprises are impacting the environment and their communities,” Elsey says. Each curriculum level has five modules: Basics of Business, Basics of Marketing, Micro-Enterprise Fundamentals, Creating a Micro-Enterprise Business Plan and Finances.
In addition, the first Funds2Orgs DEPOT in Haiti is opening in late 2014. Serving as a direct hub for micro-enterprise partners, the outlet will provide training and support for vendors to further fuel street-level operations and their overall local economies.
“It is all about offering hope to those hurting with whatever mission a charity pursues,” Elsey concludes. “We want to go right alongside nonprofit leaders to increase their reach and exposure while creating opportunities abroad for people to lead better lives.”