Love your neighbor
The nonprofit DurhamCares seeks to make the Great Commandment a reality by building a process and infrastructure for meaningful giving to community organizations.
January 17, 2012 | Name the issue -- poverty, hunger, homelessness -- and there’s a nonprofit addressing it. In Durham, N.C., however, one tiny but ambitious nonprofit is working on an issue as large as every other issue combined, a cause at once as big as the world and as intimate as the human heart.
The cause is the Great Commandment -- or, more precisely, the second half of that directive, the troublesome part that is so much easier said than done. You know the one, the part that follows loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.
“We exist to help people love their neighbor,” said Henry Kaestner, co-founder and the board chair of DurhamCares. “That’s why we’re here.”
The organization, founded in 2008, works to foster a culture of generosity in its community of 230,000 residents. It does that by connecting givers -- of both time and money -- to local nonprofits. It also supports those nonprofits by publicizing their work, raising money, and helping them use basic metrics that can persuade donors to give.
The organization currently works with 60 nonprofits: 29 “partners” that receive the full range of DurhamCares services -- and the opportunity to receive “success” funding -- and another 31 that participate only in volunteer matching.
Although supporting local nonprofits is what they do, it’s not an end in itself, Kaestner said. The organization’s real target is the people of Durham -- potential donors and volunteers who might wonder who their neighbors are and why they should care about them.
DurhamCares answers those questions the same way Jesus did, with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The story is foundational for DurhamCares, said Heather Jones, the executive director.
Questions to consider:
- Can you to match your expertise and resources to meet a community need, as DurhamCares did?
- DurhamCares helps nonprofits to clarify their goals and execute them urgently. What practices could you implement to do this?
- How can networking help your institution meet its mission?
- DurhamCares addresses the adaptive challenge of creating a culture of generosity. What human, intellectual and network capital is required to address your adaptive challenges?
- DurhamCares urges nonprofits to speak to the hearts and heads of donors. What stories do you tell about your institution? How do you measure outcomes?
“The Good Samaritan is about seeing the person in your path, stopping and being part of their life, and crossing boundaries,” Jones said. “The Good Samaritan didn’t throw money [at the problem] and ride past, but got down off his donkey and bandaged the man’s wounds and helped. We want to encourage the community to engage in that same way.”
With only a two-person staff and a handful of volunteers, DurhamCares is making a real difference, both for individuals and for organizations.
“I had never volunteered before,” said Judith Batse, a nurse who volunteers as a companion for the elderly. “It’s very rewarding, in the midst of my busyness, to give one or two hours that will help make a difference.”
Jackie Brown, the CEO of Durham Economic Resource Center, a partner nonprofit, said DurhamCares has exceeded her expectations. Her organization, a job training and placement program, has received skilled volunteers, heightened public awareness and access to expertise.
“We didn’t really know how this would shake out when we decided to partner with them,” she said. “But let me tell you, we have gained so much from this relationship.”
Separation from God
The idea for DurhamCares came to Kaestner during a small-group study on calling at his church several years ago. A successful entrepreneur and an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Kaestner is co-founder, with David Morken, of Bandwidth.com, a national business telecommunications company. Kaestner discerned a call to use his entrepreneurial and technical skills to help build the kingdom by helping people care about and, yes, even love their neighbors.
He and Morken, both evangelical Christians, decided to create DurhamCares. Before launching the organization, they commissioned a survey about charitable giving and volunteering in Durham and found that it was not what it could be.
Overall, the survey found, approximately 60 percent of Durham residents did not volunteer locally during the previous 12 months. And those who did volunteer didn’t do so much, with about 70 percent volunteering fewer than five hours for the year.
On average, people gave 1.6 percent of their income to charities and church, and 53 percent donated less than $100 for the year.
Those figures are comparable to -- and in some instances better than -- the national averages. But Kaestner said they could be better. At their core, he said, they reveal a profound problem: “People aren’t loving their neighbor.”
Why not? The reasons are both theological and practical.