A refugee from Burma resettled by Church World Service in Durham, N.C., repairs a bicycle at a bike co-op. Church World Service is a partner of the nonprofit DurhamCares. Joanna Schiestl
The nonprofit DurhamCares seeks to make the Great Commandment a reality by building a process and infrastructure for meaningful giving to community organizations.
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.
“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.
“It’s because we’re sinful,” Kaestner said. “Because of the fall, we are sinful and about ourselves and, to various degrees, broken in our relationship to God, ourselves, our community and creation.”
Many things beckon, drawing our attention and our money, Kaestner said.
“At the root of it is a separation from God,” he said. “When somebody asks Jesus, ‘What do I do to get eternal life?’ and the answer is as simple as, ‘Love God, and your neighbor as yourself,’ but we continue to miss this, something is very wrong.”
Practical barriers can also make it difficult to give. People may have a vague desire but no idea how or where to start.
Churches sometimes fail to help parishioners see the opportunities. And some charities have not been good stewards, leaving many people reluctant to give, Kaestner said.
DurhamCares seeks to help overcome both kinds of barriers.
‘The best of the best’
Since its inception, DurhamCares has matched 337 volunteers with nonprofits, and 273 of those people have volunteered for three months or more, said Matt Miglarese, the organization’s match program manager.
David Schmidt exemplifies the “fit” that DurhamCares seeks. The sales and marketing executive, 31, heard about DurhamCares soon after moving to the community. A volunteer from the time he was in high school, Schmidt wanted to continue the practice in his new home.
He contacted DurhamCares and talked with Miglarese.
“He really took the time to understand what I’m good at, my background, my interests and hobbies,” Schmidt said. “He got a good idea of how to match me up with the right group.”
Schmidt chose StoriesWork, a nonprofit that uses storytelling to promote change in individuals and communities. He volunteers three to five hours a week, helping with marketing and advertising.
“DurhamCares got me easily connected to a group where I could consistently volunteer and use my skills to make a real contribution,” he said.
Batse had a similar experience. She contacted DurhamCares after hearing about it at church. Since spring 2011, she has spent two hours every other week volunteering for Helping Hands, a nonprofit that provides support for the elderly and others.
Respect and care for the elderly is a part of the culture in Batse’s native Ghana, so it’s a great fit, she said. As a first-time volunteer, she is discovering what Schmidt has long known: the benefits of volunteering flow two ways, both to the organization and to the volunteer.
“It just makes you feel good; it’s good for the soul and the mind,” Schmidt said.
During the match process, DurhamCares delves into the would-be volunteer’s interests, hoping to foster a long-term, solid volunteer relationship. This benefits both the individual and the organization.
At the Samaritan Health Center, one DurhamCares volunteer -- a retired hospital administrator -- worked several months getting the nonprofit approved for a federal program that pays the clinic’s malpractice insurance premium. That approval is saving the nonprofit $20,000 a year -- money that is plowed back into its core mission: faith-based provision of free medical and dental care to the poor.
“When DurhamCares sends us a volunteer, we know it’s going to be the best of the best,” said Chris Garrett, the health center’s director. “We know they are going to be an excellent fit for our organization.”
Speaking the language
Although such heartwarming stories are inspiring, one lesson Kaestner hopes to teach nonprofits is that stories alone aren’t enough to encourage donors to invest deeply.
All too often, charities simply don’t speak the same language that donors do, Kaestner said. Instead, leaders offer anecdotes without providing the hard data that potential donors want -- answers to questions like, “What difference are you making? How many people do you serve? What are your operating expenses?”
In the business world, hard data about results and success are expected. At Bandwidth, for example, Kaestner and others establish goals that all employees understand, and customers hold the company accountable for reporting and making progress toward those goals.
When nonprofits speak to the heart and not the head, affluent donors may offer only a token gift, out of courtesy -- much smaller than they are actually capable of making, Kaestner said.
“It’s as if [the nonprofits] are speaking Portuguese,” Kaestner said. “The language I’m used to is metrics, so speak to me in that language and impress upon me that you’ve got a handle on what the issues are. Speak to my heart and my head. But that doesn’t happen.”
The 29 partner nonprofits that participate in the DurhamCares “success platform” essentially agree to learn how to speak the language of metrics.
“Don’t talk to me about your activity; talk to me about your outcome,” Jones said. “If your mission is to mentor kids, how many kids will you mentor this year? If your mission is to help the homeless, how many homeless people will you help this year?”
When nonprofits apply to become DurhamCares partners, they provide specific goals, a plan for achieving those goals, and information about their operating expenses. Those who are approved commit to operate with financial transparency, state their goals publicly and provide quarterly updates, all of which are posted on the DurhamCares website.
Garrett said the partnership with DurhamCares has shaped the clinic from the time it opened in 2009.
“DurhamCares has helped us to be an outcomes-oriented nonprofit,” Garrett said. “It dovetails nicely with what large foundations require of us, a focus on outcomes-based performance.
“It helped us move from a vague, feel-good sense of doing good in the community to very specific deliverables.”
The clinic tracks health indicators such as the number of diabetes and hypertension patients, treatment goals for each, and the number who have met their treatment goals. That, in turn, helps the clinic carry out its medical mission and give a compelling message to would-be supporters.
Andrew Castle, the resettlement director of World Relief Durham, a local affiliate of World Relief, said the emphasis on metrics forces the organization to think through precisely what it wants to achieve.
In 2011, for example, World Relief Durham had two goals: relocate 200 refugees, with 65 percent becoming self-sufficient within six months; and connect 90 percent of refugees with a church partner for community support. As of Sept. 30, the nonprofit had relocated 143 refugees, with 83 percent self-sufficient within six months and 93 percent connected with a church partner.
“Rather than just saying, ‘We help refugees,’ with these concise goals we can tell people, ‘This is exactly what we do,’” Castle said.
In turn, partners that meet their annual goals are eligible to receive money at the end of the year from the DurhamCares “success fund.” To date, more than $275,000 has been raised and distributed by DurhamCares, either through the success fund or through designated gifts.
Networking the community
DurhamCares’ extensive contacts throughout the community are a source of expertise, counsel and advice.
With DurhamCares’ help, the Durham Economic Resource Center was able to submit itself as a case study to faculty members at Duke Corporate Education and receive advice about marketing and branding and how to create and build upon partnerships in the community, said CEO Jackie Brown.
The connections forged by DurhamCares, in turn, create other connections, she said. Two years ago, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke was looking for documentary subjects for students in a summer session, and DurhamCares connected several of its partners with the filmmakers, who made short videos about the organizations.
An employee of Deutsche Bank’s technology center saw the video about the Durham Economic Resource Center and was so moved that she rounded up a dozen bank employees to join her in volunteering there. They helped unload and sort merchandise for the center’s store and counseled clients on job interview skills; two became long-term volunteers.
“That all came out of our DurhamCares experience,” Brown said. Kaestner is encouraged when he hears such reports from DurhamCares partners and volunteers. But as you’d expect, heartwarming stories are not enough -- even for his own organization.
In three years, the organization has worked with 60 nonprofits, matched more than 300 volunteers, raised $275,000, and sponsored events and advertising materials that have been seen by tens of thousands of people. Kaestner, though, is not ready to declare the organization a success.
“The jury is still out,” he said. Though much of the organization’s impact is probably immeasurable, DurhamCares plans to redo its survey in two years to see what changes, if any, have occurred.
“If we find that the needle has moved, we won’t be able to take all the credit or the blame,” he said. “But the biggest measure will be whether people in the community volunteer more and give more than they did before. If that happens, we’ll take satisfaction being a part of it.”