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Gift-in-kind clearing house: matching problems to yield common solutions.

Ms. Richardson describes an innovative program that takes donations of surplus inventory, equipment, and supplies from business and industry and funnels these things to schools, colleges, and nonprofit community service organizations.

Match somebody's problem with somebody else's problem, and find a solution for both. That is the ultimate definition of service, and that's what the Gift-In-Kind Clearing House does. Here are a few examples.

* A paper manufacturer has extra stationery and copy paper. Second-graders need paper on which to practice their writing and arithmetic. It's a match.

* A research laboratory decides to replace outdated equipment. A technical high school needs equipment in its science lab. It's a match.

* A manufacturer of hot-air balloons wonders what to do with scrap materials. An art teacher needs materials for student projects. It's a match.

* An accounting firm moving to a new office buys new furniture to replace perfectly good furniture that doesn't fit the new space. A junior high school needs furniture for its office and library. It's a match.

The Gift-In-Kind Clearing House makes these matches every day through an innovative program that uses a regional Community Resource Center warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, to serve schools and nonprofits in the two Carolinas. A mail-order program serves community colleges nationwide. The program funnels surplus inventory, equipment, and supplies that have been donated by business and industry to schools, colleges, and non-profit community service organizations. Gift-In-Kind enables the schools and service organizations to obtain these materials for as little as 10% of normal cost.

For a true win-win situation, everybody has to gain something. Through Gift-In-Kind, schools and service organizations gain the needed materials. And thanks to the Internal Revenue Service (something you don't hear very often), the corporations can get a tax benefit from donating materials to qualified nonprofit organizations.

John Woods, a vice president of Branch Banking & Trust in Charlotte, North Carolina, has called the Community Resource Center program "a unique method that creates a win-win situation for corporations and nonprofits. The tax advantages and the reduced costs for members who reuse corporate by-products create this win-win situation," he explains.

The tax benefit arises because Gift-In-Kind is a nonprofit organization that serves other nonprofit organizations. Corporations can obtain up to 200% of the cost of the tax valuation of their donation, an attractive alternative to paying for storage or selling the same items to scrap dealers or liquidators at less than 10 cents on the dollar. Disposal of obsolete, discontinued, and out-of-date supplies, merchandise, and products through the Gift-In-Kind network can have a positive effect on profits and at the same time get useful materials directly into the hands of teachers and students. Moreover, more and more businesses have a strong incentive to support schools and colleges because they see the link between the quality of education and the quality of the work force.

Still, whatever the motivation, there is the problem of distribution - getting surplus materials to the people who need them. If every company with valuable surplus materials had to find a school and make arrangements for delivery, even the tax break might not offset the time and trouble. It's tough, too, for schools to contact the many companies that may have useful materials. That's where Gift-In-Kind comes in. Companies can simply ship their surplus materials to Gift-In-Kind, and for them the transaction is complete.

Another benefit to companies is the wide range of merchandise, supplies, and equipment that can be handled through the Community Resource Center network, because Gift-In-Kind serves every level of education, from preschool through graduate school, and also serves most major service organizations.

Visitors to the Community Resource Center see light fixtures, paint, pumps, electrical devices, piping, welding equipment, and laboratory devices all sharing space with medical supplies, office equipment, fabrics and sewing materials, computer software, books, paper, pens, pencils, art supplies, glue, tape, file cabinets, desks, and personal computers. The centers also accept used furniture and equipment if it's in good working order.

When a group of instructors from Isothermal Community College in the North Carolina mountain town of Spindale visited the Charlotte warehouse, an electronics instructor picked out computer cables while Evelyn Heflin, an instructor in the child care/teacher associate program, packed boxes full of decorative and plain paper, posterboard, and fabrics. "This is just wonderful," Heflin said. "It saves us so much in supplies. That saves the college money."

As budgets become tighter, schools and service organizations have become very creative in finding new uses for free or inexpensive equipment and materials. Upholstery fabric becomes the backdrop for plays. Second-graders use small plastic parts to practice counting. The nylon from hot-air balloons is transformed into decorations and costumes. Elementary students practice their printing and writing on ledger paper. Cartoning material becomes poster board. Computer storage racks are recycled as book and file holders.

Wilma Means, a teacher in Concord, North Carolina, who also advises a community club for girls, takes her club members on trips to the Charlotte warehouse. "The children like to go over to the warehouse and explore," she said. Means has become an advocate for the Gift-In-Kind program. "Any workshop I go to," she said, "I share the information with the participants. It's a way for businesses to get a tax write-off and at the same time help other people."

Schools and service organizations find the Gift-In-Kind system as easy to use as do the donor companies. A school pays a small fee and receives roughly 10 times the value of the fee in merchandise, an outstanding return by any standard. Then administrators, teachers, and other staff members can visit the warehouse periodically to take items they can use. The value of the items is charged against the school's "account."

Several levels of membership are offered. For example, an elementary school or small agency typically pays $300, which would entitle it to $3,000 in merchandise. Larger organizations or schools can receive a $5,000 value in return for a $475 fee. No other fees are charged.

Many schools and organizations receive even greater value through sponsored memberships. Because a small donation yields so much more in benefits, a community group might see sponsoring a school's membership as a particularly good way to support education and the local community. For three years now the chamber of commerce in Kannapolis, North Carolina, has sponsored memberships for every school in its district. Verbatim Corporation in Charlotte regularly donates supplies, and human relations manager Wayne Kale is a major supporter. "Business Surplus for Better Schools" is what Verbatim calls its program to encourage companies to sponsor schools as members of Gift-In-Kind.

Schools and agencies around the country need budget-stretching dollars so that they can devote more resources to providing primary services. Meanwhile, companies need to get rid of surplus inventory and equipment efficiently. Parent/teacher groups, businesses, and even individuals who want to support education in a way that puts the most dollars into the classroom now have a way to do so. With Gift-In-Kind, it's a match.

For more information, write to Gift-In-Kind, P.O. Box 560890, Charlotte, NC 28256, or phone 704/347-3477.

CELIE B. RICHARDSON is a freelance writer living in Concord, N.C.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Phi Delta Kappa, Inc.
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Author:Richardson, Celie B.
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Date:Jun 1, 1995
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