Unwanted Housewares Become a Lifeline for Big Brothers Big Sisters

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Savers, Value Village, Big Brothers Big Sisters, social enterprise, recycling, Leon Kaye, Seattle
Big Brothers Big Sisters Purple Donation Bins are a huge revenue boost.

Thrifting plays a huge role in reducing items going to landfill; it’s a must-do for any creative fashionista; and it helps create jobs ranging from retail clerks to truck drivers. But the reality is that many of us treat our thrift store runs as a year-end task. Not that anything is wrong with that: We are all busy, and as Dec. 31 creeps closer, many of us realize that we should scour through our closets and haul those unwanted items in order to free up space and score that coveted tax deduction.

But what about the people who would benefit more from the cash than the tax write-off? In addition, plenty of nonprofits need to raise funds, and relying on donations or grants is often not a sustainable path to ensuring that critical community development work and social enterprise can continue.

Collected unwanted goods presents an opportunity for nonprofits to raise money. But establishing a retail system requires a massive investment and also poses risks to the nonprofit.

Savers, which has been in business since the 1950s, provides that function for nonprofits. By linking up with Savers, nonprofits don’t have to pay for burdensome leases or take on the risk of re-selling items themselves.

To that end, the relationship between the for-profit global thrift retailer Savers and the century-old mentoring organization Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) offers a compelling case study of how such synergy can have a vast multiplying effect across communities. The ties between Savers and BBBS — which at some chapters has endured for over 40 years – reach beyond fundraising, as these two organizations together have created jobs while building a closed-loop economy from which everyone in the community can benefit.

TriplePundit spoke with Sara Gaugl, Savers’ director of communications, and Louis Garcia, CEO and president of BBBS Puget Sound, to gain insight on how both organizations benefit from their partnership.

Here’s how the Savers’ model works: Local residents, or nonprofits, can bring in unneeded items to a Savers Community Donation Center (sometimes branded as Value Village across the U.S. and Canada) that benefit a local nonprofit partner. Savers in turn pays the nonprofit partner for those items by the pound. The items of higher value are sold in the stores; others are either recycled or shipped to developing countries for resale. Savers employees strive to ensure that nothing goes to a local landfill. So while nonprofits can generate income, Savers invests its profits to pay its internal expenses, hire more workers, and expand and grow as any business would do.

The relationship between Savers and nonprofits vary. A larger organization may have the budget for a crew of truck drivers who can pick up and haul goods across town and then deliver them to a Savers or Value Village location. Other nonprofits are open to the idea, but just do not have the staff or experience to launch such an operation. “With some nonprofits, they don’t necessarily have the infrastructure or resources, so they need some guidance,” Gaugl told us. “But we love it when our nonprofit partners have the capacity to establish and manage this revenue generating business on their own.”

The bottom line is that the more logistics a nonprofit can handle, the more revenues they can earn from entering a contract with Savers. That flexibility allows Savers’ operations to help fund 120 nonprofits across the country.Depending on the size of the nonprofit organization and the other fundraising activities they perform, an arrangement with Savers can contribute anywhere from the single digits to as much as 80 to 90 percent of a nonprofit’s budget, Gaugl said.

To that end, Savers enters into a contract and negotiates with each nonprofit. If an organization prefers to minimize its investment in infrastructure and capital expenditure to get going, it receives less money per pound as Savers’ takes on the operational costs. A larger or more experienced operation, such as BBBS, contributes a larger share of the labor, so it receives a higher payout for the goods it collects.

“This is an incredible component of our revenue stream as it brings in dollars that are not restricted in terms of how we spend them,” said Garcia of BBBS Puget Sound, which operates in the Seattle metro area. “After all, we know the best way in which we can use that money as we seek to expand our mentoring programs.”

BBBS Puget Sound has a crew of truck drivers who pick up and drop off bins across the Seattle-Tacoma area. Some bins are the size of a small trailer, as one would see in a supermarket parking lot. Others are smaller, as in less than 100 cubic feet. But as Garcia explained, the retail operations of the organization he leads end there. “What’s great about Savers is that we’re not in the retail business, and we don’t want to be in the retail business,” he told TriplePundit. “The benefit of the partnership is that each day, my fleet of trucks and drivers can go to Savers stores and drop off the products, which is hugely convenient for us.”

This bond between BBBS Puget Sound and Savers goes beyond hauling goods, dropping off goods and cutting checks. Each organization has a history of assisting each other with volunteer projects. For example, Savers’ employees learned that a BBBS conference room used to recruit and train new members was in need of some updating and cosmetic touch-ups. The company ended up sending 30 employees, from managers to clerks, who did everything from cleaning and painting to installing a new projector.

“We saw that they were really excited to see, first-hand, one of the nonprofit partners they work with,” Garcia told us. “And we got to let them know what a difference that the makeover of this room helped with the recruitment of new mentors.”

Furthermore, BBBS has what it calls a “young professional council” that helps it us to recruit more mentors and collect more goods, which of course adds to Savers’ ledger, too. Hence, the economic multiplier: Garcia can hire another truck driver or clerks that help staff some of the organization’s purple-colored donation bins across town. Then there is the value-add that cannot be quantified — a sense of community, which leads to even more commitment from BBBS volunteers and mentees.

“We often hear from a shopper or supporter of Value Village: ‘I was so happy I put a bag of things I didn’t need into one of your purple bins,’” Garcia said. “It’s neat to know that our mentors are excited to contribute another way. So we take every opportunity to be clear: This is what it means to put something in one of our purple bins, and it’s an incredible feeling.”

Image credits: Big Brothers/Big Sisters Puget Sound

TVI, Inc. d/b/a Value Village and Savers is a for profit commercial fundraiser, accepting donations of secondhand clothing and household goods on behalf of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound of Seattle, WA. The required registration is on file with the Secretary of State’s charity program. Additional financial disclosure information is available by calling the Secretary of State at 1‐800‐332‐4483.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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